Boaters on Grand Lake St. Marys near the shore in Celina (photo courtesy of Grand Lake Region CVB)

5 Ohio Best Hometowns to Visit this Summer

From our state’s largest inland lake to a storied historic home turned museum, our Best Hometowns 2023–24 communities offer destinations that should be part of your travel plans.

Grand Lake St. Marys Celina
This 13,500-acre lake provides plenty of space to spread out for those who want to boat, fish and bird-watch or just relax along the shore.

The lighthouse near downtown Celina is just one sign that the city’s ties to Ohio’s largest inland lake go deep. Despite being surrounded by northwest Ohio farmland, there is a strong shore-town atmosphere. It has long been known for its Celina Lake Festival (July 26 through 28 this year), during which funky amphicars cruise out onto the water and, more recently, for its new waterfront development, Boardwalk Village, which brought island-style townhome and cottage rentals to Celina.

Dug by hand between 1837 and 1845, the 13,500-acre Grand Lake St. Marys today draws travelers to the area for boating, fishing and bird-watching. The lake was designated as a state park in 1949, but it was originally created to serve as the largest of three feeder lakes needed to help the Miami & Erie Canal maintain its proper depth.

“It’s very unique in the fact that it is almost 200 years old, and it is the largest hand-dug, man-made lake in the world. ...” says Dave Faler, park manager at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park.

The state park campground in the lakeshore community of St. Marys has campsites and cabin rentals, while Celina’s walkable downtown provides off-the-water diversions with restaurants like The Anchor and the James Watson House.

Algal blooms in the lake made headlines nearly a decade ago, but efforts to naturally filter the water through wetlands has improved Grand Lake St. Marys’ water quality, resulting in a natural playground that both locals and travelers can enjoy.

For more information about destinations in Celina visit To learn more about the Grand Lake Region, visit

Interior of Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster (photo courtesy of Decorative Arts Center of Ohio)
Decorative Arts Center of Ohio Lancaster
The museum, housed in a historic home in the center of town, offers a window into the past and also hosts art exhibitions.

What was once touted as the finest house in the city still stands along where Main Street rises from the heart of downtown Lancaster. The Reese-Peters House, built in 1835, was first the home of Mary Elisabeth Sherman and her husband, William James Reese. Her younger brother, William Tecumseh Sherman, was a renowned Civil War general, and their childhood home is next door, operating as a museum that tells the story of the family’s life.

In 1842, Mary Elisabeth and her husband left Lancaster, and the Reese-Peters House was donated to the community over a century and a half later. In 2000, it became home to the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio. Its first floor is a testament to the design trends of the time, not only when the Reese family lived there but also when the well-known Rising family resided there during the 1880s. The home boasts a double parlor that highlights design trends that would have been popular throughout the home’s occupancy by these two families, with the Rising Room showcasing styles of the 1880s.

“It’s not like we’re telling the story of the families who lived here, and they just stepped out for the day,” says executive director Jason Crabill. “We use their stories as a jumping-off point to anchor who was here, but we really talk about the space.”

The gallery space on the home’s second floor hosts rotating exhibitions of art across different mediums. This summer, visitors  can check out “Mod: Visual, Social, Cultural Renaissance of the 1960s” (through Aug. 25). Showcasing the culture of the decade through fine art, furniture and fashion, the exhibition lends itself to the museum’s mission of celebrating art in the everyday.

“We generally define decorative arts as utilitarian objects — useful objects — made to be beautiful,” Crabill says. “They’re not just functional, they have beauty.”

145 E. Main St., Lancaster 43130, 740/681-1423,

Woman on rope bridge at Scioto Grove Metro Park in Grove City (photo by Rachael Jirousek)
Scioto Grove Metro Park Grove City
Sitting at the edge of this Columbus suburb, these 620 acres offer trees, trails and a rope bridge that the kids will love.

Grove City was named for the abundance of trees left standing as its settlers cleared the first roads. Over the decades, the community grew into a bustling suburb with lots of new development, great city parks and a downtown district full of shops and restaurants.

Take a roughly 5-mile drive from the center of town to Grove City’s western edge, and you’ll find Scioto Grove Metro Park, part of Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks. Opened in 2016, the 620-acre natural area has six hiking trails that cover about 8 miles. A favorite is the 1.8-mile REI River Trail, which offers a swinging rope bridge that kids enjoy bouncing along as they cross a portion of Grant Run. There is also a backpacking trail and five campsites that can be reserved for overnight stays, so families can bring their little ones out for an adventure.

“That’s what our backpacking trail is designed for,” says Kurt Fortman, park manager of Scioto Grove Metro Park, “people new to it or families that want to get involved or even families that want to take their young kid backpacking for the first time.”

He adds that each Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks location has an element that sets it apart from others in the system. Scioto Grove Metro Park’s unique feature is an archery range, including one with 3D targets shaped like animals. One of the most recent additions to the park is a fire tower that was relocated from Jackson County. The 100-foot-tall tower is open to climb, giving visitors an overhead view of the area.

“This park’s got a little bit of everything,” Fortman adds, noting that there is also a drone field and opportunities for fishing and kayaking. “It’s not just one thing. So every day is different.”

5172 Jackson Pike, Grove City 43123, 614/949-1078,

Exterior of Heritage Village Museum buildings in Sharonville (photo by Matthew Allen)
Heritage Village Museum Sharonville
Walk through the past at this unique history destination with a collection of 19th-century buildings that were moved from locations across the region.

Standing just beyond the white picket fence of the Elk Lick House, it’s tough to imagine that this beautifully frozen-in-time structure was nearly buried under the waters of Harsha Lake, as a casualty of southwest Ohio’s East Fork Reservoir project. That was until the Miami Purchase Association, an organization dedicated to preserving historical homes in the region, stepped in.

“What they ran into is that some of the homes they wanted to preserve could not be kept at their original location and on their original foundation,” says Steven Preston, executive director of the Heritage Village Museum in Sharonville. “So, they took those on anyway, and that’s what we have out here.”

In the early 1980s, the Miami Purchase Association split into two entities: the Cincinnati Preservation Association, which continues its work preserving structures in their original location, and the Heritage Village Museum, which oversees a collection of relocated buildings that were constructed between 1804 and 1891 and help illustrate what life was like in the region during the 19th century.

Located at Sharon Woods Park, the Heritage Village Museum sits surrounded by nature. Eleven of its buildings were moved from other locations, while two replicas were built on-site. Historic structures include the 1804 Kemper Log House, one of the two oldest buildings in Cincinnati, and the Fetter General Store, which was built in Clermont County shortly after the Civil War. Museum programming and special events aim to tell the story of the region in new and more inclusive ways.

“We are trying to better represent Cincinnati culture, Cincinnati history as a whole here,” Preston says, “making sure that we have the tools and the place to demonstrate the diversity that actually was Cincinnati in the 19th century.”

11500 Lebanon Rd., Sharonville 45241, 513/563-9484,

Concert at Falls Outdoor Co. in Cuyahoga Falls (photo courtesy of Falls Outdoor Co.)
Falls Outdoor Co. • Cuyahoga Falls
Adventurers will find a lot to love here, but an adjoining shop full of fun apparel and a brewery next door make this a must-visit spot.

Rows of outdoor gear ranging from colorful tents to sleek kayaks to lighter-than-they-look backpacks rest alongside items that even the less adventurous can use, such as comfy hiking socks, baseball caps and Kavu rope bags. JT Haught’s Falls Outdoor Co. supplies everything adventurers need for their next trek — be it a weekend wilderness excursion or an afternoon day hike. It feels right at home in this city near Cuyahoga Valley National Park that offers easy access to its namesake river.

“I’ve always wanted to do my own thing,” Haught explains. “I’m pretty passionate about the outdoors. I just felt Cuyahoga Falls as a community is so outdoorsy. We needed something like this down here.”

The shop moved to its current Front Street location, about 7 miles from Ohio’s only national park, in July 2023 after previously operating out of Cuyahoga Falls’ Jenks Building. But when Haught found the vacant building space on Front Street, he saw opportunity.

The Social Dept., a shop specializing in hand-printed apparel featuring Ohio-centric designs, is in the adjoining space, while HiHo Brewing Co., which serves pints, pizzas, snacks and sandwiches, is located just across the parking lot. Collectively, the trio of businesses reflect the hometown pride and love for the outdoors that is infused in Cuyahoga Falls itself. Although Haught’s shop is packed with gear to help customers make a getaway into nature, he is all about building community by hosting events that bring people together.

“We do fires all the time — live music, get-togethers, cookouts,” he says. “We try to gather the community as much as we can. I didn’t want to just be retail. I want to be a gathering spot for people to share their stories and adventures.”

1727 Front St., Cuyahoga Falls 44221, 330/537-9060,