Sometimes I wonder who in the world would ever actually go to Ohio on vacation. I lived there my entire life (until I moved to Germany, obviously), and while it's home, I can't really see the appeal to any foreign or out of state tourists (yet somehow, Fodor's saw fit to publish a guidebook about it). Let's see, I lived in: Findlay, Van Buren, Bowling Green, Columbus and Oxford. Of these, Columbus and Oxford are the only two places I would recommend to visitors, although Findlay certainly has its charming areas. Columbus doesn't really have anything different from any other major city...and Oxford is the typical quaint, small college town that just happens to boast one of the best restaurants in which I've ever had the pleasure of dining.
Now that I live in Germany, going to Ohio IS vacation. I had several opportunities to be a tourist in my own state while I was home. Some of them, unfortunately, fell through.
Picnic with the Pops in Columbus
This is an annual summer event that occurs every weekend for about 2 months. It's on the lawn of Chemical Abstracts (where I was gainfully employed for 2 years, and despite that, never managed to go to a Pops event). This year, I had tickets, and by God, I was going to go. It was the Patriotic Pops too, which they always do the weekend before Independence Day. John Philip Sousa marches and fireworks whilst you eat a picnic dinner in the grass. What could be better? Well, there is one thing...the final Pops concert of the summer - the Ohio State Marching Band (AKA "The Best Damn Band in the Land"). What scarlet and gray blooded fan wouldn't get fired up hearing TBDBITL playing "Hang on Sloopy"? Go Bucks!
Alas, it was not meant to be. My poor grandmother fell and fractured her ribs, and so we had to give up our plans for the Pops to go and be with her and help out around the house.
Maybe next year.
The Columbus Zoo
This is one of the best zoos I've ever been to, but perhaps I'm biased. It IS a world-class zoo, and Jack Hanna, the director emeritus, has fame that reaches far and wide (you may have seen his many appearances on Letterman), so the zoo is well-known. It's improved a lot in the past few years. The relatively new Australian section is pretty cool (I like the nocturnal animal exhibit and the Lorikeet Garden, especially) and Asia Quest is a nice and fairly recent addition. They also bought Wyandot Lake, the water park, which was right next door, so next year, that will be incorporated into the zoo and it will be more of a theme park.
Above all else, my favorite continues to be the manatees. I've been lucky, until this year, to always catch them during their feeding times. This year, they were napping. But then again, so were most of the other animals.
Actors Theatre at Schiller Park (German Village, Columbus)
Free Shakespeare in the park. Need I say more? And it's GOOD Shakespeare.
This one didn't pan out, sadly. I had every intention of seeing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abridged], which is a play I have been dying to see for ages. But the plans were cancelled. Back up to Grandma's house to see some relatives that dropped in from Illinois. You know how it goes.
While I'm at it, I should mention that German Village itself is a great tourist attraction. If you're in Columbus for some reason, go there. It's a lovely European-style community with great restaurants, boutiques, and the best book shop in the world ever (The Book Loft - a 32 room Victorian house that is stuffed from floor to ceiling with books). The community hosts the city's annual Oktoberfest, which is a good time, if you like to Polka, anyway.
This is probably the biggest tourist draw to Ohio. There is Cedar Point amusement park, although I haven't been there since I was 19. (I no longer go to amusement parks after getting whiplash on a roller coaster and spending an entire summer in the chiropractor's office...this happened at King's Island down by Cincinnati, not at Cedar Point). There is Johnson's Island, which is a Civil War prison/cemetery (Confederate soldiers, obviously). There is Marblehead Lighthouse, camping, water recreation, etc. etc. Cheese Haven - a huge store devoted to cheese (didn't stop by there this time, although that was always a must-stop before when I was in the area). Close to that, there is a giant farmer's market, where we stopped to get fresh peaches and strawberries. It's the only one in the area, so you really can't miss it.
Our main reason for going - Kelleys Island and wine tastings. There are a few islands up there at Lake Erie that belong to Ohio (nearby Pelee Island is actually part of Canada). There is South Bass Island (AKA Put-in-Bay), which has enough bars to allow people to get wasted and screw around on golf carts all day. The thing to see there is Perry's Monument, which gives you a view of Canada on a clear day (well, the aforementioned Pelee Island, anyway). We opted for Kelleys Island, which has the world's largest glacial grooves, although I've seen them before and don't find them all that impressive. But it's an island filled with adorable cottages and huge, elegant bed and breakfasts, Kelleys Island Wine Company, restaurants, boutiques, the mandatory fudge and ice cream shops, mini golf, and the Butterfly Garden, which we also visited.
We had lunch almost as soon as we got off the ferry. We ate at a place called The Captain's Corner (it has a different name every time my parents go up there). While you would think that seafood would be the obvious thing to order, it's a bit of a risk, I think, considering how polluted the lake is (I do believe their fish is Lake Erie fish). I stuck to land animals, namely chicken...a chicken BLT wrap with homemade potato chips and coleslaw. It was okay. Seriously...just okay. I wouldn't enthusiastically recommend this place, but it had a fun atmosphere and the food was standard. They had an abnormal amount of Greek items on the menu, for a restaurant that wasn't specifically Greek (I highly suspect the owners are of Greek descent).
We went to two wineries: Kelleys Island Wine Company, which I already mentioned, and Firelands Winery, which is located on the mainland in Sandusky.
Of the two, Firelands Winery is by far the best. The lady who helped us with our tasting was super nice. When I told her that I live in Germany and was anxious to try their Riesling, she insisted that I sample the Gewurztraminer, even though it wasn't on the tasting menu. She wanted me to give her my honest opinion about how their German-style wines stacked up to the real thing.
Thumbs up, enthusiastically.
She also let me taste the Moscato d'Asti, again, not on the menu. I LOVE Moscato. This one was beautiful. My parents tried it too and looked at me like I was insane. It's a sweet, sparkling wine...more like sparkling grape juice than wine. But I love it. I can't help it.
If you're ever in the area, give those people some love. Their wines are amazing, and they have a fabulous gift shop. Tastings are only $1 (for the entire tasting, not just one sample).
There are other wineries in the area too, and it seems a new one is opening every year. We plan to go again sometime and try out some of these other places.
I really like the Lake Erie area. Parts of it are very cheesy (the Pre-Historic Forest and Mystery Hill, with the incredibly fake looking dinosaurs and mammoths, comes to mind) and some parts of it are rather run-down, but the islands are pretty, and some of the mainland areas are beautiful, especially around Sandusky, Marblehead and Port Clinton.
The drive from Columbus up to the lake was quite nice too. We went through a lot of charming, small rural towns. One thing I noticed was that the town could consist of five houses and a church, and there would still be a dairy bar. We stopped at the Daily Scoop in Bucyrus on the way home for some soft-serve cones.
Sometimes I have to take myself away from what is familiar and stay away from it for awhile in order to see it with fresh eyes. That was definitely how I saw this trip to Ohio. I suppose I could see the appeal, but I guess I just prefer places that are a bit more exotic.