Ohio Life

Best of the Best Hometowns

Here are a few of the reasons why Archbold, Lebanon, Nelsonville, Oberlin and Hilliard are Ohio Magazine Best Hometowns. 


Music Festival
Each May, some of the biggest names in music head to the Nelsonville Music Festival for one of the summer festival season’s most unique weekends. With past performers including Willie Nelson, the Flaming Lips, Loretta Lynn, Neko Case, George Jones, Wanda Jackson and more, Nelsonville’s event (this year May 18–20) is one of Ohio’s most eclectic. The fest takes place on the campus of Hocking College at Robbins Crossing and is hosted by Stuart’s Opera House. 3301 Hocking Pkwy., Nelsonville 45764, 740/753-1924. nelsonvillefest.org

Degree Program for the Outdoorsy

Hocking College’s Wildlife Resources Management program couldn’t be taught in a better location than southeast Ohio’s Wayne National Forest near Nelsonville. Students gain strong ecology, conservation and botany knowledge. Data collection, population sampling and map reading also give graduates an edge in the wildlife-management job hunt. hocking.edu

View of Autumn’s Colors
A Hocking Valley Scenic Railway Foliage Train ride takes passengers on a 22-mile journey through the reds, oranges and yellows of autumn, while providing a narrative about Hocking Valley history as the train glides past historic landmarks such as canal locks and former industrial sites. The 1920s train cars travel just over two hours roundtrip to Logan or Haydenville and stop at Robbins Crossing, the living-history village at Hocking College, providing a leisurely weekend activity each October. 33 W. Canal St., Nelsonville 45764, 740/753-9531. hvsry.org

Historic Sandwich Shop
Nestled in a corner of the 1830 Dew House hotel, the one-room FullBrooks Café’s small size doesn’t match its big sandwich appeal. Freshly made bread-and-meat creations offer a variety of toppings such as hummus and pesto. With a street view of historic shops lining Nelsonville’s square, the lunch stop offers more than a quick bite. 6 Public Square, Nelsonville 45764, 740/753-3391. athensohio.com

Visitor Center
An ideal spot for hiking, Wayne National Forest has 300 miles of trails to explore. The Wayne National Forest Welcome Center ensures visitors get the most out of the 834,000-acre lands sprawling across 12 counties. Places not to miss in Athens County include the Shawnee Tower Lookout, the only remaining 1930s lookout point in Ohio, and the rock shelter of Tinkers Cave. Day trips can be spent hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing and observing wildlife. 13700 U.S. Rte. 33, Nelsonville 45764, 740/753-0101. fs.usda.gov



Reason to Hop Aboard
When the conductor shouts “All Aboard!” at the Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad, you don’t have to be told twice — especially when the red rail car hosts one of its many crowd-pleasing events.  Schedule a trip during the “Train Ride with Clifford,” “Pumpkin Patch Express” or family-favorite “A Day Out with Thomas,” which features storytelling, musical entertainment, plus a meet-and-greet with Sir Topham Hatt. The railroad even celebrates current trends through events like the recent Harry Potter-themed ride. 127 S. Mechanic St., Lebanon 45036, 513/933-8022. lebanonrr.com

Way to Paint the Town

Folks stroll downtown Lebanon on an ordinary day, but when the Warren County Festival of the Arts makes its annual return to Mulberry Street, thousands come out for the colorful festivities. More than 50 artists — potters, painters, jewelry makers and others — showcase and sell their crafts. Catch live demonstrations when painters literally put brushes to canvas during the event. Mulberry Street, Lebanon 45036, warrencountyarts.org/events.html

Tried-and-True Burger
You might not need a menu at Village Ice Cream Parlor — the establishment’s atmosphere practically begs you to order a juicy, All-American burger, followed by an ice cream dessert. Try the signature Single burger, with all the standard toppings found atop a quarter-pound patty. If that’s not enough, attempt the Double Stacker or the Bacon and Pimiento Cheese Burger served on rye. Then wash it down with an ice-cream soda, complete with a cherry on top. 22 S. Broadway, Lebanon 45036, 513/932-6918. villageicecreamparlor.com

Sweet Homemade Treats
Just like nothing beats a home-cooked meal, the same applies to the made-on-the-premises sweets at the Golden Turtle Chocolate Factory. Owned and operated by Ted and Joy Kossouji, the shop has a mini-factory in back that churns out chocolates and candies including the Texas Tortoise — caramel-covered pecans — Dreamy Creams, Almond Toffee and other creations. But if there’s no time to fit in an actual visit to the delightfully sweet store, order online and get a box — or two — delivered straight to your door. 120 S. Broadway, Lebanon 45036, 800/345-1994. goldenturtlechocolatefactory.com

Place to Indulge in a Multi-Course Dinner
Take a bite out of history at The Golden Lamb and enjoy a lavish meal from recipes dating back to the inn’s founding in 1803. Start with delectable appetizers like lump crab cake with sweet corn relish and red pepper aioli, followed by salad and, ultimately, the main course. Choose from a selection of pastas and meat dishes — specifically, the inn’s namesake served alongside mint jelly. For a fitting finale, choose from a tantalizing spread of desserts. 27 S. Broadway, Lebanon 45036, 513/932-5065. goldenlamb.com



Gathering Spot
It’s no wonder everyone congregates at The Feve. Since the name means “bean” in French, the coffee house and deli is the perfect place for Oberlin College students to take a study break and visitors to drop in for a cup of joe. The eatery is known for its wide selection of sandwiches (the smoked salmon BLT and chicken cordon bleu earn rave reviews). On weekends, a smorgasbord of brunch favorites is served from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. 30 S. Main St., Oberlin 44074, 440/774-1978. thefeve.com

Spot to Reclaim Your Youth

It’s billed as a place where “contemporary moderns” can find vintage clothes and household décor, but Ratsy’s Store is so much more. Ratsy (it’s a childhood nickname) Kemp keeps her shop’s shelves stocked with treasures such as Spider Man comics, record players like the one you spun your 45s on and outta sight attire guaranteed to have you doing the Hustle in no time. 95 S. Main St., Oberlin 44074, 440/774-9172. ratsysstore.com

Place to Experience the Material World
From calico, a la “Little House on the Prairie,” to prints from days “Gone with the Wind,” to feedsack designs of the ’40s, Olla Mae’s Drygoods has just the fabric you’re looking for. Customers count on the eclectic emporium to find a world’s worth of textiles from Africa, Australia and Asia, and fabric created by designers Amy Butler and Kaye England. 5 S. Main St., Oberlin 44074, 440/776-0309. ollamaes.com

Shop to Be Bead-Dazzled
When it comes to fashion, there’s nothing like exercising your flair for accessorizing. Visit Bead Paradise, and you’re guaranteed to leave with a look that’s truly your own. The shop carries stones and gems from around the globe — including an impressive selection of vintage Belgian sequins dating back to the ’20s and Lucite looks sported in the ’60s. Best-sellers include beads crafted from crystal, turquoise, shells, onyx, brass and bronze, which you can string on Greek, Indian or American leather, silk or ribbon. Customers can craft jewelry by themselves or get loads of personalized attention in classes offered by expert — and patient — staffers. 29 W. College St., Oberlin 44074, 440/775-2233. beadparadise.com
Wright Site
Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright was known for his innovative designscapes that exquisitely harmonized interior spaces with the great outdoors. One of his Usonian designs — intended to answer demand for beautiful, middle-class homes after World War II — is the Weltzheimer/Johnson House, which he completed in 1949. The home features a flowing floor plan, distinct public and private wings, built-in furniture and glass walls and doors made to let the sun shine in. Tours are given on select Sundays. 534 Morgan St., Oberlin 44074, 440/775-8671. oberlin.edu/amam/flwright.html



Restaurant to Taste Ripe Plantains
Long before roasting Chiquita bananas over a campfire became a popular pastime, plantains were steamed, broiled and fried. Nobody does it better than Starliner Diner. The popular squat little banana is your first clue this is not a typical ’50s diner with a jukebox. With a menu that includes Pizza Cubana, Yucatan Marinated Chicken Breast and Mexican Chorizo, the restaurant’s fare leans toward Hispanic and anything south of the border. But there are American folk art murals on the wall and an atmosphere where the 1960s hippie scene meets the local Chamber of Commerce. Locals love it, and we would fill our sombreros with the cilantro lime dressing if we could take it home. 5240 Cemetery Rd., Hilliard 43206, 614/529-1198. starlinerdiner.com

Reason to Appreciate Modern Voting Booths

The voting wagon displayed at Historical Village at Weaver Park in Hilliard is typical of the mobile polls that were pulled by horse or tractor from 1880 to 1940. Old wagons were often retired to back yards. Many homeowners thought they just had an old tin shed on their property until they discovered four wheels, sunk long ago into the ground. franklincountyohiohistory.org

Place to See TV Dinosaurs
The years 1928 to 1955 may not all be the Golden Age of Television, but it was certainly a time of important broadcast innovations. Visitors to the Early Television Museum see sets primarily from those years, including mechanical televisions (those without picture tubes), itty bitty screens and the first color offerings. Hundreds of televisions are on display, including do-it-yourself kit TVs that were housed in homemade cabinets. The TVs come from across the globe and, according to museum attendant Larry McIntyre, many still work. 5396 Franklin St., Hilliard 43206, 614/771-0510. earlytelevision.org

Religious Outreach
Only about 30 percent of the activities at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center are strictly or officially “religious.” Completed in 2006, the center also serves as a community gathering place, educational facility, art gallery, sanctuary and a beautiful setting for weddings. Under the guidance of Khaled A. Farag, the director of outreach programs and one of the center’s founders, activities reflect more than 40 different cultures in the region. Wishing for transparency in both the physical and political senses, the center’s huge windows encourage sunlight and observations from the local community. 5001 Wilcox Rd., Hilliard 43016, 614/527-7777.  

Community That Loves Its Police Dogs
When the City of Hilliard’s Division of Police recently retired Brix, its beloved police dog, with full honors, the city was without a K-9 unit. The division went to residents and businesses to raise the $11,000 it needed for a trained police dog and equipment. According to Chief of Police J. Douglas Francis, about $34,000 was collected in less than eight weeks. That generosity allowed for the purchase of three Belgian Malinois shepherd dogs named Erko, Eros and Oz, along with maybe a few dog bones.



Way to Stick It To Your Diet
There’s a reason the Chocolate Stix at Al-Meda Chocolates are well-known — not only are the toffee-like chocolates delicious, but the secret recipe has been developed to perfection since the company’s beginnings in 1924. Pick some up at the company’s store in Archbold or order from the website. 23050 County Rd. E., Archbold 43502, 800/343-0333. al-meda.com

Reason to Leave a Paper Trail

Whether you’re an avid scrapper or more of an occasional one, the Scrapbook Korner has you covered. The huge store sells every scrapbooking material you could possibly need, holds classes, offers photo printing and more. The only store of its kind in the area, it often attracts scrapbookers from surrounding states. 1411 S. Defiance St., Archbold 43502, 419/446-9439. scrapbookkorner.com

Place for Year-Round Holiday Cheer
Just can’t get enough of Christmas? The holiday spirit is alive year-round at The Candy Cane Christmas Shoppe. Even people from surrounding states make the trek to the shop for decorating inspiration from themed Christmas trees and to buy ornaments, garlands and non-holiday goods in this renovated school with a lifesize nativity scene. 22897 U.S. Rte. 20-A, Archbold 43502, 419/445-5828. candycanechristmas.com

Setting for a Sock Hop
No one would blink an eye if you wore a poodle skirt and saddle shoes to Mom’s Diner. From the chrome-plated exterior to working jukeboxes on each table, the ’50s diner is a throwback to mid-century Americana. Don’t miss the homemade pie and milkshakes. 213 N. Defiance St., Archbold 43502, 419/445-5060.

Place to Get Back to Nature
Today, the fields of Northwest Ohio make it hard to imagine that the land used to be the Great Black Swamp. But not at Goll Woods State Nature Preserve, a wild, old-growth forest — home to some of the largest and oldest (some date back 200 to 400 years!) trees in the state. ohiodnr.com/location/goll_woods/tabid/942/Default.aspx