Columbus, Ohio, offers much to see and do

Susan R. Pollack
Special to The Detroit News

As a University of Michigan graduate with maize and blue in my veins, I harbored a natural aversion to all things Buckeye.

On the city’s main artery, High Street, the Short North Arts District features galleries, boutiques and cafes for eclectic shopping and dining.

But that changed on my first foray into enemy territory, Columbus, where legions of fans will head this weekend to witness the latest chapter in the legendary football rivalry between my beloved Michigan Wolverines and The Ohio State University Buckeyes.

To my surprise, I discovered that Ohio’s capital boasts an array of first-rate attractions and unexpected delights, starting with Dark Chocolate Peppermint, Pistachio & Honey and other eclectic flavors I chanced upon one morning at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. I mean, what’s not to like about ice cream for breakfast?

Jeni’s artisanal ice cream can be found at numerous spots around town, but I had my first taste in the city’s bustling North Market, which also happens to be a great place to rustle up provisions for a pre-game tailgate picnic.

Walt Keys pours craft beer at Land Grant Brewery in the emerging Franklinton district near downtown Columbus.

Here are some other gems worth experiencing before or after Saturday’s big game — or any time you visit Columbus:

Fox in the Snow: Beyond Jeni’s, I found more sweet treats at this comfortable, airy bakery cafe in a renovated garage in the Italian Village neighborhood. Think scratch-made sticky buns, frosted cinnamon rolls, cream-filled donuts and the mother of all egg sandwiches, plus hand-crafted coffee drinks. Yum!

Short North Arts District: On High Street, between the OSU campus and downtown, this artsy urban neighborhood of galleries, boutiques, clubs and cafes is great for people-watching and eclectic shopping. Check out the famed murals, including Mona Lisa sideways, at 742 N. Pearl and a whimsical take on Grant Woods’ classic “American Gothic” at 714 N. High. By night, admire the 17 color-changing lighted arches spanning the avenue, or relax any time in a pocket park. Two hotels, Le Meridien Columbus/the Joseph and the Hilton Columbus Downtown, showcase original artwork with local ties, while the nearby Pizzuti Collection features rotating exhibits of modern works, including the current “Cuban Forever Revisited.”

Franklin Park Conservatory: Few settings are more romantic than the John F. Wolfe Palm House, which is bathed in rainbow colors nightly, starting at dusk. The LED installation by light-artist James Turrell brings a colorful glow to the historic, 1895 Victorian glass house. Visitors return by day to inspect Dale Chihuly glass creations set amid the lush plants and palms. Now, during the holidays, elegant poinsettias, twinkling lights and a model garden railroad are on display.

German Village: Stroll cobblestone streets lined with historic architecture in this authentic, restored ethnic neighborhood, complete with Munich-style gardens in Frank Fetch Park. Fill up on German beer and food — including hickory-smoked Bahama Mama sausage and grapefruit-sized cream puffs — at Schmidt’s Restaurant und Sausage Haus, 240 E. Kossuth. Peek at artsy jewelry inside dozens of wooden drawers at nearby Helen Winnemore Craft, a German Village institution established in 1938. It’s said to be the nation’s oldest shop displaying handcrafted works by American artists. Browsers can get lost for hours in The Book Loft, which spans two blocks and boasts 32 rooms of books, music, posters and magazines.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium: Greet new residents, including endangered manatees and three Siberian tiger cubs, feed giraffes and stay until dark when the annual holiday “Wildlights” exhibit brightens the night. This is the zoo made famous by everyone’s favorite zoo director emeritus, Jack Hanna, a frequent late-night TV guest.

Topiary Park: Frolic amid the yews and other evergreens in this larger-than-life, garden re-creation of Georges Seurat’s famed post-Impressionist painting, “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte.” Sculpted in topiary and set against a pond, the lady with the umbrella, the man with the monkey and other figures from the painting make for a free and fetching photo opportunity in Old Deaf School Park, 480 E. Town Street.

Columbus Ale Trail: Pick up a “Brew Book” at any of 29 participating breweries (or an Experience Columbus Visitor Center) and sample craft beer from neighborhood nano-breweries to well-regarded production breweries. Four stamps earn beer-hounds an Ale Trail pint glass. Or, board the free downtown CBUS and hop among six downtown area breweries. The bus runs every 10-15 minutes between the Brewery District and Short North.

Wexner Center for the Arts: On the OSU campus, “The Wex” is the only Midwest stop for “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957,” through Jan. 1. The exhibit features over 200 multi-disciplinary works by artists including Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, and Gwendolyn and Jacob Lawrence. Or visit the Columbus Museum of Art, where admission is free on Sundays.

The Big Game: Saturday’s gridiron action takes place in Ohio Stadium, a double-decker, horseshoe-shaped facility locals call “the ’Shoe.” Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s at 411 Woody Hayes Drive.

Etc.: For more information, check

Susan R. Pollack is a freelance travel writer who lives in Huntington Woods.