Best of Ohio

We discovered a diverse assortment of destinations, dining spots, museums, events and more for this year’s list of the best our state has to offer.

City Block
Rising from a hexagonal base to a square top, the new Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland anchors a busy corner in the city’s University Circle neighborhood. The structure’s mirror-finish stainless steel exterior reflects changes in its environment — light and dark, sun and clouds — and the artistic vision of its architect, Farshid Moussavi. Fittingly, MOCA’s inaugural exhibition — “Inside Out and From the Ground Up,” through Feb. 24 — focuses on how artists engage with architecture and concepts of space. 11400 Euclid Ave., Cleveland 44106, 216/421-8671.

Hot Dog Toppings

The hot dog has been reinvented at Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace in downtown Columbus. A small interior with a big personality, this one-of-a-kind dining spot offers patrons inexpensive and delicious hot dogs (veggie dog substitution available) and an impressive variety of beers. From bacon to tater tots, the innovative hot dog topping combos are sure to satisfy all who try them. Stop by during the week for theme nights: Don’t miss costume karaoke on Mondays. 248 S. Fourth St., Columbus 43215, 614/824-4673.

Air Fare
You don’t need to be a pilot to land a great table at 94th Aero Squadron in Columbus or 100th Bomb Group in Cleveland, but you might just see one there. Each restaurant is located adjacent to its city’s major airport, offering front-row seats to incoming and outgoing air traffic. At each place, you’ll find a full flight of fantastic food as well. Hungry? You’re clear for take-off. 5030 Sawyer Rd., Columbus 43219, 614/237-8887. 20920 Brookpark Rd., Cleveland 44135, 216/267-1010.
Place to Break Into a New Hobby
Instead of breaking glass, why not make some? Glass Axis is just the place to learn the secrets of creating fragile works of art. This nonprofit Grandview Heights studio promises its beginner classes will
teach you the “language of glass” as you produce your very own ornament, paperweight, tumbler, mosaic or other masterpiece. 1341-B Norton Ave., Grandview Heights 43212, 614/291.4250.
Path to the Rugged Terrain
Unleash your inner Evel Knievel on some of the state’s most popular mountain bike trails at Alum Creek State Park in Delaware. The park offers trails for riders of all skill levels — a two-mile loop trail will satisfy beginners, but there are enough ruts, stumps, roots, streams and ditches to challenge more advanced riders without being too treacherous. At the end of the ride, you’ll feel like a daredevil, minus the broken bones. Alum Creek State Park, 3615 S. Old State Rd., Delaware 43015, 740/548-4631,

Frozen Fun
IceFest is about more than 40 tons worth of ice sculptures decorating downtown Hamilton. The festival promotes culture and the arts, highlighting local artists and authors, while featuring “Landmarks of the World” — think Big Ben and the Taj Mahal — replicated in ice. Don’t miss out on the signature “Fire and Ice” gala Friday night as colored light displays illuminate the sculptures and a 10-block sculpture is quickly carved and set ablaze. IceFest, Jan. 18-19, Downtown Hamilton 45011, 513/895-3934.

Reason to Skip the Junior Mints
“Dinner and a movie” at Easton Town Center now has a new meaning. AMC’s Fork & Screen combines the movie theater experience with a casual restaurant complete with an ample menu of appetizers, sandwiches, entrees, desserts, beer, wine and cocktails, as well as traditional theater concessions. Fork & Screen guests must be 18 or older unless accompanied by a parent/guardian, which could be an additional perk for many moviegoers. Visit the AMC Easton 30 website for a list of current Fork & Screen films. 275 Easton Town Center, Columbus 43219, 888/AMC-4FUN.

Way to Develop Your Whiskey Palate
Barrel 44 Whiskey Bar is a whiskey lover’s paradise. With two locations in the Columbus area, it’s the perfect place for aficionados and beginners alike to try more than 100 different whiskeys, scotches and other spirits. For those who are still refining their tastes, the knowledgeable staff is available to answer questions and give advice. There’s also a restaurant with great menu options that pair well with whiskey or whatever you decide to try. 1120 N. High St., Columbus 43201, 614/294-2277.

Wright Site
The Westcott House in Springfield is a celebration of uber-architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style as well as the accomplishments of The Westcott House Foundation, which guided the transformation of a forgotten gem into a fully restored museum and education center. Built in 1908 for automobile manufacturer Burton J. Westcott and his wife Orpha, the home is beautiful inside and out — the exterior, with a terrace, gardens and pool reflects Wright’s philosophy of incorporating the building’s site into its overall design. 1340 E. High St., Springfield 45505, 937/327-9291.

Book Inspiration
Book lovers are invited to experience the people and places they read about. The Ohioana Library Association’s On the Road series offers meet-and-greets with authors and visits to locations throughout Ohio that writers love best. 614/466-3831.

Way to Get Spooked All Year-Round
If you wish Halloween were an all-year event, then Ghostly Manor Thrill Center in Sandusky is the place for you. Featured on the Travel Channel’s “Best Places I’ve Ever Been,” this nationally ranked thrill center boasts the title of “scariest haunted house” in Ohio. With a virtual roller coaster, mini golf and skating rink, Ghostly Manor offers four unique attractions all in one location, guaranteeing fun for the whole family. 3319 Milan Rd., Sandusky 44870, 419/626-4467.
Park Restoration
The 150-year-old Washington Square Park in Cincinnati recently got a facelift. What was once an underused green space in the heart of Over-the-Rhine is now an 8-acre park with activities for all ages (and species). Highlights include a dog park with a creek, a splash park with more than 130 jets synchronized to music and lights, a playground with equipment based on (continued on Page 64)historic local structures, plus a bandstand, performance stage and civic lawn for year-round events. 1230 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202.

Place to Get Dolled Up

Take a nostalgic look at favorite and forgotten toys at the Children’s Toy and Doll Museum. Each room of the historic Queen Anne-style house is dedicated to antique toys and unique dollhouses, including the Circus Room, which contains an extensive miniature circus. Kids will love taking a ride on a hand-carved carousel horse and other hands-on toys and games in the Children’s Playroom. 206 Gilman Ave., Marietta 45750, 740/373-0799.

Way to Ascend Athens County
Hop on Ohio University’s four-floor-scaling escalators in Baker University Center — the school’s 183,000-square-foot student union that opened in 2007 — and you’ll be riding Athens County’s first escalators, which provide a pleasant ascension through the beehive of university activity. The whole trip standing still will take you one minute and 12 seconds. It’s not the quickest way through Baker Center, but it might be the most scenic route as you enjoy the atrium skylight and a view of each lively floor.

Place to Unleash Your Inner Artist
The art and wine worlds collide at Wine & Canvas in Columbus. Held at various galleries and wineries all over the city, Wine & Canvas gives aspiring artists a chance to recreate a painting of their choice with step-by-step instructions from a local artist while they unwind with a drink (or two). It’s a great place to bring friends or meet new ones and enjoy painting in a fun, social environment. 614/745-6513.

Way to Meet the Amish
We all know that Amish Country is a world unlike any other — from pastoral views of farms and fields to luscious homemade pies and jams. Now, the Inn at Honey Run in Holmes County invites you to gain an understanding of what it’s really like to be part of the world’s largest Amish community. Guests can sign up for hour-long horse-and-buggy rides offering picture-perfect tours of the rolling countryside and the chance to chat with Amish drivers about their culture. Each $125 tour accommodates up to three Inn at Honey Run guests. 6920 Co. Rd. 203, Millersburg 44654, 330/674-0011.

Celebration of a Big Idea
Ever since the Dayton Accords settled the Bosnian war in 1995, a number of locals have worked to establish an image and identity for Dayton as a city of peace. Today, the Gem City boasts the Dayton International Peace Museum ( downtown; the Missing Peace Art Space (, a small art gallery dedicated to peace-themed works; and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize (, the nation’s first and only prize for literature about peace and nonviolence. The prize has been given since 2006 to such noted writers as Tim O’Brien, Elie Wiesel, Studs Terkel, Geraldine Brooks and Barbara Kingsolver.

Source for Vinyl
LP lovers will find a kindred spirit at Blue Arrow Records and Boutique in Cleveland’s North Collinwood neighborhood. In fact, it’s a baby-boomer’s dream. Owner Pete Gulyas fills his shelves with more than 7,000 pristine, vintage LPs in the affordable 50-cents-to-$12 price range. (He stocks pop-culture magazines and pulp-fiction novels, too.) Oh, and watch where you’re walking: The store’s flooring is comprised of 1,000 album covers Gulyas laid by hand. It’s an extraordinary stroll down Memory Lane. 16001 Waterloo Rd., Cleveland 44110, 216/486-2415.

Zoo Sounds
Music is in the air at the Toledo Zoo. Grab a lawn chair and a blanket and join the animals on a warm Sunday night to enjoy a free concert performed by the Toledo Symphony Concert Band at the zoo’s historic amphitheater. The amphitheater also hosts big-name pop and rock concerts; past performances have included Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bare Naked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan. Make sure to check out the zoo’s website for this season’s “Music Under the Stars” schedule and other upcoming performances. It’s sure to be a roaring good time! 2700 Broadway St., Toledo 43609, 419/385-5721.

Course to Use Your Mashies and Niblicks
Long ago in Scotland, the first golf courses ranged in length from five to 25 holes, greens were made of sand and players referred to their clubs as mashies and niblicks. Glenlaurel Inn has reproduced this ancient experience — right down to the hickory-shafted clubs — with an eight-hole course open to guests at its Hocking Hills hideaway. Fore! 14940 Mt. Olive Rd., Rockbridge 43149, 800/809-7378.

Tot Spot
Ozo Play Café in Cincinnati offers the best of both worlds: a secure place for children to play and a lounge area for parents to relax, drink coffee and watch from a safe distance. Children ages 6 and under kick off their shoes and get to work on little scooters, a small slide and numerous other kid-friendly activities while parents enjoy drinks from Coffee Emporium and fend off tantrums with snacks available on-site. The best part? No cleanup. 10004 Montgomery Rd., Cincinnati 45242, 513/834-9459.
Homage to Ohio Pottery
Sarah Webster Vodrey, director of the Museum of Ceramics, boasts that East Liverpool is “The Pottery Capital of the Nation,” and has the museum to prove it. The museum’s collections reflect the city’s glory days when local potteries made more than 50 percent of the nation’s ceramics. Today there are still important potteries in the area. The museum is the only institution “devoted to ware by hundreds of potteries in a small area and spanning three centuries,” Vodrey says. Collectors swoon over Lotus Ware, made in the 1890s and called the “finest porcelain ever produced in the United States.” The museum, housed in a grand former post office built in 1909, is on the National Register of Historic Places. 400 E. Fifth St., East Liverpool 43920, 330/386-6001.       

Venue for Amish-Themed Theater

It doesn’t matter that most of the audience already knows the plot because they have read every Amish-themed romance book ever written. They still cry in joy and sadness at the Carlisle Inn’s small, intimate theater in Sugarcreek, featuring professional actors. “The Confession,” a musical based on three novels by Beverly Lewis, returns to the stage June 4–­Aug. 17. From Aug. 22 to Dec. 21, the musical “Half-Stitched,” based on Wanda E. Brunstetter’s novel, finishes the 2013 season. Matinees and evening shows are available, as are package deals with lodging and dinner. 1357 Old Rte. 39, Sugarcreek 44681, 330/852-2586.

Piece of Sports History
The history is a bit obscure, but the early football team known as the Dayton Triangles, named after their home field at Triangle Park on the city’s north side, was one of the earliest teams in what came to be the NFL. Though the team has been gone since 1929, one of its two original locker-room buildings still exists. Run down and nearly forgotten at Triangle Park, it was recently saved by the city and Dayton History, the local history organization, which moved it earlier this year to Carillon Historical Park. It’s currently undergoing restoration and will open to the public next year. 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton 45409.

Pickle to Be In
For more than 80 years, Tony Packo’s has served their famous Hungarian hot dogs to Toledoans from the original Front Street store. Though their hot dog chili sauce may be the brand’s signature, the Really Chunky Garlic Dills are the best pickles in Ohio — crispy, crunchy, huge hunks saturated in a spicy blend of garlic and pepper. If strong garlic isn’t your favorite, there are many more pickle varieties to choose from. 1902 Front St., Toledo 43605, 419/691-1953.

Sweet Deal
It’s the Cookie Monster’s sweetest dream: bargain-basement bites from one of the country’s most prolific cookie creators. Once a year — usually the first weekend in March — Westerville-based Cheryl & Co. clears out its warehouse by slashing the prices of its excess chocolate chips, buttercreams and other tasty morsels. The time and place for this year’s sale haven’t been set, so keep checking in with Cheryl to find out. 800/443-8124.

Rogues Gallery
Tucked into a corner of Cleveland’s downtown Justice Center is the Cleveland Police Museum, which offers a fascinating look at the city’s law-enforcement history. Exhibits highlight heroes, such as former safety director Eliot Ness, as well as villains, whose mug shots line display cases. The museum also pays tribute to the department’s motorcycle, K-9 and mounted police units. 1300 Ontario St., Cleveland 44113, 216/623-5055.

New Little Restaurant
The name speaks for itself: Nine Tables is tiny, but it’s gaining a big reputation for its menu. Open for just a year, the Athens restaurant is listed on Urban Spoon’s roster of America’s Most Popular High End Restaurants. Reservations are necessary for the five- or seven-course prix fixe meals ($50 and $75, respectively). Menus change monthly, reflecting seasonal ingredients; recent selections included caviar and crème fraiche canapés, stuffed mushrooms with red pepper aioli, trout amandine and flourless chocolate torte. 9 N. Shafer St., Athens 45701, 740/707-4966. 9tables.

Eco-Friendly Place for a Picnic
Thanks in large part to a federal stimulus grant, visitors to Village Green Park, the popular splash pad and amphitheater in Powell, can find some shade (or shelter, if it’s raining) in a picnic pavilion that has a roof covered in solar panels. So while you’re enjoying a concert, picnic or a day at the playground, the shelter is supplying power to the municipal building ... and giving new meaning to the term Village “Green.” Village Green Park, 47 Hall St., Powell 43065, 614/885-5380.

Day in the Country
From fresh berry picking and pumpkin patches to educational corn mazes and agricultural-themed activities, Sweetapple Farm offers fun adventures on a family-owned farm. There’s also the Sweetapple Farm Autumn Market, where local craftsmen and cooks sell everything a country kitchen needs. Don’t forget to make a wish in the Wishing Well, the largest one in the Mid-Ohio Valley; proceeds go to charity. 149 Sweetapple Rd., Vincent 45784, 740/678-7447.

Band Routine
The Ohio University Marching Band’s Gangnam-style routine is a YouTube sensation: One video alone has more than 2 million hits. In fact, the dance’s originator, Korean pop star Psy, called the Marching 110’s effort “touching” in an Australian newspaper, and noted, “That was like, wow, I can tell their effort to prepare that. That was huge.”

Way to Get Wet
Springfielders decided a great way to help revive their downtown would be to add an amenity that lures athletic young recreationists during the day: They created a set of rapids designed for kayakers on Buck Creek, the waterway that flows between downtown and the Wittenberg University campus. Located at Snyder Park, the whitewater area opened in 2011 and has become a popular destination for paddlers from across the Midwest.

Place to Bulk Up on Oatmeal
Do you have oatmeal every morning for breakfast? Stock up at the Ashery Country Store in Ohio’s Amish country. Choose oat bran, steel-cut groats, whole oat groats, old-fashioned oatmeal or organic quick oats, avail- able in inexpensive bulk packages. Steel-cut oats take the longest to cook, but have a rich nutty, chewy flavor. The family-owned store has stayed humble and helpful since it opened in the 1960s in a neighbor’s basement. Other bulk goods include baking ingredients, noodles, spices and candies. 8922 St. Rte. 241, Fredricksburg 44627, 330/359-5615.

Labor Day Celebration
If you’re near Indian Lake, you might enjoy the famous Ring of Fire ceremony practiced by the residents who have homes around the shoreline. At 9 p.m. on the Sunday before Labor Day, flares, torches and bonfires are lit around the perimeter of the Logan County lake, creating a dramatic, reddish glow. The tradition began in 1961 with the manager of the amusement park that used to operate at the lake.

Ohio History Lesson
The Campus Martius Museum in Marietta traces the state’s early and pioneer history in the city where white settlement of the territory started in 1788. Among the artifacts on display is the Rufus Putnam House, part of the blockhouse that was the state’s first fort. It still stands on its original location, under roof at the museum. Administered by the Ohio Historical Society, the museum is a fun place to learn about the original settling of the state, plus its Native American history. 601 Second St., Marietta 45750, 740/373-3750.

Way to Get Up to Speed
When leisurely rides just aren’t cutting it anymore, grab your helmet, don some aerodynamic spandex and head to the Cleveland Velodrome. Opened last summer, the state’s first velodrome offers space and classes for cycling on a super-speedy, oval-shaped, banked bicycle track. Don’t have your own fixed-gear bike (required for riding)? Rent one of theirs and climb on for an adrenaline fix. 5033 Broadway Ave., Cleveland 44127.

Party With the Animals
Every year, the animals are put to bed and then thousands of merry-makers descend on Cleveland Metroparks Zoo for the party of the summer: Twilight at the Zoo. More than a dozen bands play rock, country, blues and more throughout the 165 acres, where complimentary beer and food sustain partygoers throughout the night. Twilight regulars hire limos and party buses, which will once again line the parking lot at this year’s 29th annual gala on Aug. 2. 3900 Wildlife Way, Cleveland 44109, 216/661-6500.

Marriage of Food and Art

Food lovers and art aficionados gather at Hayley Gallery and ella Restaurant in New Albany. Gallery owner Hayley Savage opened the art space in 2007, then partnered with Amy Schottenstein to open ella in 2011. The gallery features work from more than 50 local artists, while chefs at ella, which is an acronym for “eat local love art,” emphasize locally grown ingredients on the menu. Selections include local cheese antipasti, balsamic grilled Amish chicken and pan-seared Lake Erie walleye. Artwork from Hayley Gallery spills over onto the walls of ella, and the constantly changing exhibits and seasonal food choices mean there’s always something new to see and taste at this union of the senses. Hayley Gallery: 270 E. Main St. (U.S. Rte. 62) New Albany, 43054, 614/855-4856. ella Restaurant: 266 E. Main St., 614/855-4600.

Display of Hand-Eye Coordination
Sponsored by the National Rifle Association, the National Rifle and Pistol Championships at Camp Perry on Lake Erie have developed into what some consider America’s “World Series of Shooting Sports.” The championships, held for five weeks during July and August, test competitors’ marksmanship in a variety of formats and events including the President’s Rifle Trophy Match Shoot-Off. The 2013 First Shot Ceremony will be held on July 8. 1000 N. Lawrence Dr., Port Clinton 43452, 877/672-6282.

Military Salute
Take time to thank our fallen heroes and active military as you stroll down the Boulevard of 500 Flags in Eastlake. What began in 1995 as a memorial honoring past and present service men and women has since blossomed into the nation’s largest permanent display of flags, with more than 1,000 names listed on plaques attached to them. In the aftermath of 9/11, a monument was added featuring two beams from the World Trade Center, part of a lamppost and pieces of debris from the lobby. 35150 Lakeshore Blvd., Eastlake 44095

Fitness Motivation

Calling all fitness and sports fanatics! Get ready to boost your heart rate and commit to a healthy lifestyle at the 25th anniversary of the Arnold Sports Festival and Fitness Expo, held at several Columbus venues including the Convention Center, Feb. 28–Mar. 3. Co-promoted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the event is the largest in the country, with over 18,000 athletes and more than 45 sports and other events, including 12 Olympic sports. The Fitness Expo offers 700 booths featuring the latest trends in equipment, apparel and nutritional supplements. Fencing, weightlifting, boxing, archery, gymnastics and amateur bodybuilding are just a few of the events that draw huge crowds every year. For a full list of events, visit 400 N. High St., Columbus 43215, 614/431-2600. For ticket information, visit

Creative Effort
For a smaller institution, the Zanesville Museum of Art has an impressive collection that includes works by Cezanne, Rembrandt, Matisse and Grandma Moses; Asian, Indian, African and Pre-Columbian objects; and decorative arts including Tiffany glass. Visitors can view a rotating selection of permanent collections along with ever-changing temporary shows featuring a wide range of artistic styles and time periods. Additionally, the museum hosts competitive exhibitions, including this summer’s “Superlatives II: Ohio Quilts 2013,” June 1–Aug. 3. 620 Military Rd., Zanesville 43701, 740/452-0741.

“How on earth did that get there?” It’s the first thing one thinks upon spying the Benson Ford Shiphouse, a landmark in Put-in-Bay. Perched atop a cliff overlooking Lake Erie, it’s the last place one expects to see the prow of a ship. Once part of a Ford Motor Company shipping vessel built in 1924, a portion of the ship was relocated to South Bass Island in 1986 and converted into a totally unique private vacation home that retains its original black walnut wood and brass fittings. The home has been featured on HGTV and the Travel Channel.

Reason to Stay Downtown after 5 p.m.
Columbus Commons, a bustling mixed-use development in the heart of downtown, has everything from parkland and a working carousel to live summer concerts, and serves as a hub for other activities and events in the capital city. Currently under construction as part of the nine-acre space is phase two, which will feature retail stores and apartments. Columbus Commons, 160 S. High St., Columbus 43215, 

Spot for a Spot
Matcha Jade Bliss, Moroccan Mint, Kenyan Royal Golden Safari, Pacific Breeze — conjuring up  images of turquoise waters and intoxicating tropics, the exotic names of the teas available at Essencha Tea House in Cincinnati stimulate the senses. Whether you are a tea fanatic or simply have questions about the different loose-leaf varieties of oolong, rooibos and green teas that line the shelves, this Japanese-style teahouse is a perfect place to warm up. Offering a seas