Hello and welcome to summertime! Today is the longest day of the year—plenty of time for you to sit down with your family and/or friends to map out your bucket list for this summer. Or...you could get a start on ours!
We've put together the ultimate list of summer activities in Columbus to ensure you have a summer full of fun. Just remember to wear sunscreen!
Go berry picking
Nothing tastes better than something you’ve worked for. And nothing tastes sweeter than something picked right from the dirt. Don the sun hats and sturdy shoes because we’re about to put you to work for your fruit! Here are more than 20 farms offering U-pick berry programs for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and peaches in central Ohio.
Support local growers at neighborhood farmers' markets
Do you know where your produce is from? Odd are if you don’t purchase them straight from a farmer, you’ve got no clue. Fuel your summer with goods pulled right from central Ohio dirt at local farmers' markets!
Besides epic memories, the best takeaway from ComFest is always the brightly-color plastic beer mug. Just remember to drink responsibly! Click here to read about the recent drama that went down with ComFest.
Celebrate freedom at Red White & Boom
Columbus' biggest Fourth of July celebration will be returning to downtown on July 3 for the largest fireworks display in the Buckeye State. Arrive early for the parade and stay late for the party!
Spend a day at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
This one is an absolute must. There's nothing like a warm summer day spent taking in the amazing animals at one of the best zoos in the country. Make sure to wave at the polar bears for us!
Gaze at the stars at John Glenn Astronomy Park
The John Glenn Astronomy Park is dedicated to sparking an interest in science, learning, and exploration by sharing with visitors the wonders of the sky, both day and night. Make sure to plan a trip to JGAP on a clear night to gaze at the wonderment of our universe.
Take in an outdoor movie
NightLight 614, a 21+ social outdoor film series on the banks of the Scioto featuring some of Columbus’s Best local food trucks, and craft beer & wine. Easton’s Movies by Moonlight series is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a lineup bigger and better than ever!
Spend a day at the drive-in
Since the 1950s, the South Drive-In at 3050 S. High St. has been Columbus premier destination for late night, big screen movie showings under the stars. And since the 1970s, it’s been the largest central Ohio location for…flea markets? Yes, indeed. Click here to read more!
Eat as much ice cream as humanly possible
Ice Cream is a pillar of summer. But where to begin? We think this list of the best alt ice cream shops in Columbus would be a sweet place to start.
If you're not elbow-deep in BBQ sauce at least one time this summer, you're not eating correctly. There is absolutely no better place to put your manners aside and let your carnivorous nature shine than at the Jazz & Rib Festival. Hot ribs, cool jazz.
The grass is lush, the butterflies are flying, and the sun is shining—the perfect al fresco dining experience. We've put together pairings of the city’s top places to fill up your basket accompanied by the best nearby park for the picnic of your dreams!
The campers, RVS, and pop-up tents will be returning to the outdoors this summer, serving as a home away from home for those looking to escape the city for a few days. It’s time to get outdoors, enjoy nature, roast some marshmallows over the fire, and get off the grid if not for a couple moments of bliss.
Splashpads: Free and fun water spraygrounds without the worry of deep bottoms or high dives. We don't know about you but to us, that seems like a home run, nay, grand slam. This summer, diversify your cool down routine by hanging at one of Columbus' many exciting splashpads.
Did you know Admission to Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Gardens is FREE to all residents of Franklin County, the first Sunday of every month, before 5 pm. And did you know FPC has a farmers' market? Plan your trip now!
Stop and smell the roses at the Whetstone Park of Roses
The Whetstone Park of Roses is just begging for you to stop and smell. It's the perfect place to pitch your hammock, take photos, and to enjoy the beauty of one of the largest public rose gardens in the U.S.
Sunbathe at Alum Creek Beach
It may not be the white sand beaches of Mexico, but we'll take what we can get. This public beach can be your seaside vacation if you have an imagination and tons of salty pretzels. A beach is a beach, right?!
We can’t be sure what dogs dream, but we’d imagine it’s a lot of neon yellow tennis balls, frisbees, bones, and playing fetch in ice cold water. Make your pup’s dream come true this summer with these awesome places to take your dog for a dip.
Eat 10 cent hot dogs at a Clippers Dime-a-Dog Night
Dime-a-Dog Nights are an important staple of summer, especially on the firework nights. But you can't go into this eating excursion without a game plan! Check out our Columbus Clippers Dime-a-Dog Night Survival Guide to expertly navigate your hot dog hay day.
Whenever the words “vegetarian” or “vegan” are thrown around, people’s defense walls go up as they instantly imagine bland salads or unseasoned tofu. Since both diets have become wildly popular trends in the world of eating, they are often associated with exclusive, healthy, clean, natural, raw, whatever...eating.
As a vegetarian, I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit. Sure, we vegetarians eat our share of salads, and occasionally tofu is substituted for chicken on our health-conscious dishes, but that’s not the full picture of our plates. Whether it’s loading up on carb-heavy sides, covering things in cheese (or vegan “cheese”), or living off the appetizer menu; living a plant-based diet can be just as much fun and games as any other fare - and here are a few dishes from around Columbus to prove it.
Angry Baker Olde Towne East | 891 Oak St.
Angry Baker has found a way to cover things in cheese and still please the vegans. The AM Philly comes loaded with sauteed mushrooms, onions, and peppers with tofu scramble atop a fresh and soft hoagie bun. To keep it in true “cheese/steak” form, they top the entire masterpiece with vegan cheddar cheese and a little vegan mayo. The sandwich is every bit as flavorful as a regular Philly, plus it’s just as messy to eat. I recommend a few squirts of Sriracha on it, but then again, I recommend that on everything
Woodhouse Vegan Pop-up | 1038 N High St.
Keeping it cheesy, but plant-based, comes from the vegan pop-up at Oddfellows with the Buffalo Mac. The entree is relatively simple, but that just means more chances to really focus on flavor. The Beyond Meat “chicken” strips are marinated in buffalo sauce to really pack a punch and then is topped with more buffalo sauce and dairy-free ranch dressing with a bed of dairy-free mac and “cheese” to dig into. It’s finished off with some raw red onion and scallions to fully recreate that buffalo-style experience. Keep an eye out for Woodhouse’s first brick-and-mortar location setting up shop in the Italian Village.
Hadley’s Bar + Kitchen | 260 S Fourth St.
Cauliflower is the new favorite vegetable amongst dieters for being low-carb. It’s inviting to a variety of flavors, and it can be used in many creative ways. At Hadley’s, the fried cauliflower resembles the bar-style boneless wings you might be craving since ditching meat. It’s the little things you miss as a plant-eater (like dipping sauces). So finding a place that offers three different sauce options—Dr. Pepper barbeque, house hot, and General Tso’s—is quite a gratifying moment. Dunk these addicting suckers into Hadley’s house-made ranch or bleu cheese and you’ll be fighting your carnivorous friends off as they ask to try a bite.
Melt | 4206 Worth Ave. & 840 N High St.
Usually Melt’s sheer amount of dairy usage is enough to scare off any vegan within a 10-mile radius, but that all changed once Melt added an entire menu dedicated to vegan options. There are tons of options to choose from, but the Parma, Italy might take the caloric crown when it comes to plant-based indulgence. The sandwich features vegan chicken (or fried tofu) smothered in basil marinara with roasted garlic and vegan mozzarella cheese all in between two crusty pieces of garlic toast. It might not hurt to park a little further away from Melt just to burn a few extra calories on the way to and from devouring way too much food.
The Joe Vegan Sloppy Sandwich
Lineage Brewing | 2971 N High St.
“Have some more sloppy joes! I made ‘em extra sloppy for you!” If that scene from Billy Madison still haunts you any time you go to break out some Manwich from the cupboard, put that canned sauce down and go to Lineage. Immediately order a beer to wash away the memory of the lunch lady, and then snag the Joe Vegan sloppy sandwich off the menu. It’s a hearty combination of lentils and kidney beans in the iconic sloppy joe sauce, and it’s topped with raw onion and your choice of vegan cheese sauce or cheddar cheese. Throw in a side of potato chips and it’s like being a teenager all over again except this time you didn’t have to steal your dad’s beer.
Vegan Barbeque Jackfruit
Alchemy | 625 Parsons Ave.
& 1439 Grandview Ave.
Jackfruit is a delicate fruit that tastes almost nothing like fruit. It’s a great vessel for sauces and flavorings, but if it’s not cooked properly, it can turn into a mushy mess. Thankfully, Alchemy has perfected this process with their vegan take on a classic barbeque pulled pork sandwich. The jackfruit is tender, but stays in form on the roll. For added texture and taste, the sandwich is served on a crunchy ciabatta roll with carrot cabbage slaw in an herbed cashew cream.
Barrel On High | 1120 N High St.
Don’t turn your nose up on Brussel sprouts, these green brain-looking vegetables are great for absorbing flavor and they have that “meaty” taste. At Barrel on High, these Brussels are oven-roasted and tossed into a Thai chili sauce making them potentially your new favorite thing. While the Thai chili brussel sprouts are worth tripling up on and calling it a dinner, might I point you in the direction of the Impossible Burger as well. The Impossible Burger has grown to fame because it resembles every aspect of meat while remaining plant-based, and Barrel’s straight-up approach of making an American classic go vegan will have you double checking the menu to make sure it’s not actually beef.
Who doesn’t love the excitement and exclusiveness of a secret?When former Columbus TV anchor/reporter turned travel writer Anietra Hamper was approached by a publisher to find 90 places that Columbus may not know about, she couldn’t resist.Brushing up her old-school investigative journalism skills, Hamper set about to enlighten her city about its oddities with Secret Columbus: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. And when I got the chance to road trip with Hamper to visit some of those places, I couldn’t resist either.Patriotic RockWe’re walking the Sullivant Trace Trail while Hamper describes Franklinton’s 1897 Centennial event, which took place right here. (She also casually mentions we’re on yellow alert for chiggers.)The community built a natural amphitheater in the park, held parades, gave speeches, shot off fireworks, and had their pictures taken with a massive glacial boulder painted for the occasion.
“It’s like they were going to manufacture this massive media event…that would put Franklinton on the map,” Hamper explains. “People would hear about Franklinton because they had such a grand celebration.”
Afterwards, the boulder became a prominent landmark and a source of neighborhood pride. Fifty-one feet in circumference and partially hidden by vegetation, it’s not quite as prominent today, but still visible from the boardwalk.Despite the warnings of parasites, I step off and start crunching through the underbrush, Hamper right behind. I feel quite rebellious until I see the graffiti and the trash; that’s when I feel an urge to start climbing.Sh*t. There’s a man on a bicycle staring at us. We freeze. Hamper grabs her pepper spray. Fortunately for this guy, he has better things to do and leaves. And we’ve got more stuff on our list too.See boulder at 22 secondsPsychiatric Hospital CemeteryHamper drives us through the ODOT complex and turns on an access road until it dead ends.
“You ready to be creeped out?”
We’re at the gate of the State of Ohio Old Insane and Penal Cemetery, where patients of the old Columbus Mental Health Hospital now rest after their remains went unclaimed.Hamper indicates the newest section of graves—around a hundred nondescript, functional markers: name, date of death, and perhaps an age or year of birth. Then she wanders into the open field, searching the ground.Finally she points to something—a brick-sized, ground-level marker. F13306. Female. Patient number 13306.
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As I stand parallel to the marker, a shocking reality silently spreads across the flatness—rows and rows of markers stretching the length of the field. Hamper counted over 800 anonymous graves in one visit.
“No one knows who they are. No one will ever know who they are,” Hamper sighs. “What a sad thing.”
During the cemetery’s 54 active years, mental illness was routinely treated with controversial procedures such as electroconvulsive therapy, lobotomies, and forced sterilization.That context makes Hamper’s next stop even more horrifying.Within the section of newer graves is a stone bearing a single word: Specimens. Which means… body parts? …biomedical waste? …experiments? Whatever lies beneath, a marker strongly suggests human remains.But not all is macabre. There’s Mary Rickman, buried in 1958. Her stone, with a floral design etched in the corner, is clearly a replacement, displaying her full name and the word “Mother.”My throat tightens a bit. In this field of the lost and unwanted, someone has found family again.
Olentangy Amusement Park, Zookeeper’s Office and QuartersOn the road again, Hamper tells me something that becomes the biggest mindf*ck of my day.From 1880 to 1939, the southwest corner of Clintonville was home to the country’s largest amusement park. As we drive through the site, now the Olentangy Village apartments, Hamper describes the amphitheater, the zoo, the rides, the gardens, the high-class entertainment, and the swimming pool decorated with sand (hauled from New Jersey) and seashells to create a beach.Picturing all that isn’t the difficulty. It’s that my hometown, which has always struggled with a bit of an inferiority complex, could optimistically pull off something so world-class, so distinctive. (It would try again in 1992 with AmeriFlora with far less successful results.)
“It was very ornate. It was a fun, family-friendly place to go, or a place that you might go on a date,” Hamper explained.
And virtually all of it—roller coasters, Japanese gardens, the fun house—has disappeared. The one remaining structure is a stone house located where North Street curves into Neil Avenue—the zookeeper’s office.Hamper takes me there, zipping through her old neighborhood. We park in front of an unassuming two-story house with a stone exterior and sage trim. It’s now being used as rental property.
“I grew up right around the corner from here,” Hamper mused. “I’ve driven by [this house] hundreds of times growing up and you have no reason to believe that it was anything special.”
But that’s the beauty of secrets. Most don’t hide themselves. They simply wait for you to complete them.Hamper points to the wrought-iron fencing running along the street, one of a few fingerprints left from the grand park’s earlier days.I gaze through it and imagine a beautiful, breezy day like this 90 years ago, with bathers by the pool, canoes running the Olentangy River, screams from the arcade, and I can feel the escape, the vibrations of happiness and excitement which still seem to exist here. And that’s exactly where Hamper wants me to go.
“I guess that’s what I hope people will do with the book: find these things because it’s fun and it’s cool, and it’s something to do. But more than that, I want to feed your brain. I want you to learn something. I want you to care about the world in which you live.”
Columbus native Anietra Hamper covers destinations around the world for regional and national publications including AAA, USA TODAY, TourismOhio.com, Columbus Parent magazine, and official Visitor Guides for several counties in Ohio. She’s won numerous industry awards for travel writing and television news reporting. She is a recipient of the YWCA Women of Achievement Award, Jefferson Award and Congressional Award, and is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Copies of Secret Columbus are available on Amazon.com.