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Best Hometown Getaways 2018

If you’re looking to hit the road this summer, check out these finds we discovered while visiting our 2017–2018 Best Hometowns.

Snook’s Dream Cars, Bowling Green
Jeff Snook’s tribute to his father’s collection of cars and related automobile memorabilia offers a welcome blast from the past. 

Between the globe-topped gas pumps emblazoned with the famous Texaco star and the antique signs promoting Coca-Cola and Delco batteries, Snook’s Dream Cars looks like a service station lifted from the 1940s. Instead, it was built in 2002 to display the impressive collection amassed by Jeff Snook’s late father, Bill. A step inside the front door takes visitors into a carefully curated museum featuring classic cars and plenty of Americana.

“It is just full of memories for a certain generation,” Snook says.

The museum’s first room resembles the office of a mid-20th-century filling station, with the walls and display cases lined with collections of vintage parts presented alongside their original advertising: chrome door handles, radiator caps and smoking accessories that include old in-car cigarette lighters.

“Back in the ’40s, you could buy car parts at a gas station. No two-liter pop, no lottery tickets, it was stuff for cars,” Snook says.

The museum’s next room houses automobilia that ranges from vintage pedal cars to a vast collection of Texaco promotional items that includes oil cans, pens, salt-and-pepper shakers, greeting cards and a toy tanker truck. Then, it’s time for the main attraction: the classic cars — displayed in a large garage decorated to resemble a Bowling Green streetscape.

“This is the rarest one right here,” Snook says, pointing to a silver sports racer. The 1956 Lotus Eleven is a full-fledged racecar. Snook even takes it out on the track every now and then.

“It’s a living museum, so I drive the bloody things,” he says.

While Snook has a love for vintage British sports cars, his collection also includes a diverse selection of classic American iron, such as a rare 1933 Cadillac and a 1966 Pontiac GTO.

“I’m not really into muscle cars,” Snook says, “but it’s kind of fun to get out on the highway and tromp on it.”

Visit website for hours; $6, children $4; 13920 County Home Rd., Bowling Green 43402, 419/353-8338, snooksdreamcars.com

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The Ohio Light Opera presents 'Anything Goes'
The Ohio Light Opera, Wooster
The College of Wooster’s resident professional theater company presents a summer’s worth of beloved stage shows. 

Whenever stress arises on summer afternoons, Laura Neill, executive director of The Ohio Light Opera, heads for the College of Wooster’s 394-seat Freedlander Theatre. Tension melts away as she watches a few moments of one of the rehearsals inevitably in progress at this time of year.

“There’s a saying that you should always be around things that make you a better person,” Neill says. “Well, this troupe makes me a better person. Their work feeds my soul.”

Neill is not alone in her ardor for Wooster’s resident professional company, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this summer. Each year, more than 20,000 theater lovers attend productions that are part of the ensemble’s celebrated repertory, which ranges from mid-19th-century light operas written by Viennese, French, Hungarian, German and British composers to mid-20th-century treasures from American musical theater.

“The Ohio Light Opera is constantly evolving,” says Neill, who’s been executive director for 21 years. “Our mission, which we stay true to, is to present the most popular operettas in their original form, along with classic musicals. Through the years, we’ve added works from the golden age of Broadway that bring new audiences in. But we’re still committed to the devotees who love traditional operetta, including rarely produced pieces.”

A cast of approximately 150 actors, singers and tech crew members from across the country present 60 performances of classic works from mid-June through mid-August. Productions, which are staged on a rotating basis, feature lavish costumes, sets and a full orchestra.

Grammy Award-winning baritone Lucas Meachem (who played Marcello in the Metropolitan Opera production of “La Bohème”) and soprano Natalie Ballenger (most recently seen as Maria in a world tour of “West Side Story”) are two of the notables who have honed their talents in Ohio Light Opera shows before enjoying successful careers in the national spotlight.

The seven-show playbill for 2018 features Adler and Ross’ “The Pajama Game,” the tale of romance between a factory foreman and union boss; Rodgers and Hart’s 1937 smash “Babes In Arms,” centering on a group of teens staging a vaudeville show; Cole Porter’s “Fifty Million Frenchmen,” the 1929 comedy about a Paris playboy with girl problems; “Candide,” Bernstein’s 1956 comedic opera; “Iolanthe,” a satiric take on British government Gilbert and Sullivan penned in 1882; Offenbach’s 1868 “La Périchole,” filled with Parisian comedy, satire, parody and farce; and Lehár’s “Cloclo,” a lighthearted romance written in 1924.

“Life gets more complicated every day,” Neill says. “The Ohio Light Opera shows were written in a simpler time and are filled with uplifting dialog, music that envelops you and, for the most part, happy endings.” 

The Ohio Light Opera 2018 season runs through Aug. 11. For more information, call 330/263-2345 or visit ohiolightopera.org.

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Marietta Adventure Co.
Marietta Adventure Co., Marietta
Ryan Smith’s outdoors shop can be your guide to hiking, biking, paddling and more in southeast Ohio. 

 
Marietta was the United States’ first permanent settlement located north and west of the Ohio River, and that adventurous spirit remains part of the town to this day. Outdoor lovers flock here for the town’s bike trails, waterfront and proximity to the quarter-million-acre Wayne National Forest that carpets southeast Ohio. 

The Marietta City Trail System — a network of mountain biking and hiking trails stretching a total of 35 miles — is located within the city limits, but that’s just the beginning of the ways to explore.

“In the area in general, we have five trail systems and almost 200 miles of trail just within a 30- to 40-minute radius of downtown,” explains Ryan Smith, owner of Marietta Adventure Co.

His full-service bicycle and kayak shop offers rentals as well as bicycle repairs. The store will haul kayakers up the river so they can float downstream and offers basic paddling instructions and route suggestions for beginners and families.

“Our Indian Acres trip on the Muskingum River is just an hour on the water,” Smith says. “A lot of times, for kids that can be the end of their attention span.”

Boating is also popular here, and the Marietta Harbor offers seasonal and overnight docking, fuel pumps for motorized boats, pontoon-boat rentals and a concession stand with Velvet Ice Cream and other snacks. Each July, the city revs up with professional powerboat racing during the Marietta Riverfront Roar, and in August, the Rivers, Trails and Ales Festival returns with four days of group road biking, mountain biking and paddling, as well as trail runs, kids hikes and more.

“It started out for similar reasons as starting the shop — just creating a festival that would shine a light on all these great outdoor assets that we have,” Smith says. “It keeps growing. There’s something for everyone to do.”

219-B Second St., Marietta 45750, 740/538-0801, mariettaadventurecompany.com

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Villa Sanctuary in Milford
Historic Downtown Milford
This Cincinnati suburb offers a vibrant downtown shopping district filled with boutiques, great food and longtime favorites. 

 
Located along the banks of the Little Miami River, Milford has long been a place of commerce. The town was incorporated in 1836, but the first settler arrived here 40 years earlier — a Revolutionary War veteran named Rev. Francis McCormick.

In the years that followed, the town laid out its first lots along the river that now winds between downtown and the Little Miami Scenic Trail, which stretches 78 miles between Cincinnati and the city of Springfield.

It follows then that Milford sports a sense of adventure. That’s perhaps most notable at Bishop’s Bicycles, which operates a small shop in the former train depot where the bike path travels through Milford. It’s a place to grab a snack and get a quick repair made. 

Bishop’s Bicycles’ main shop, located along Milford’s Main Street, has a long history as well. Founded in 1890, it bills itself as the oldest continuously operating bicycle shop in the United States.

But what makes downtown Milford an attractive place to spend an afternoon is that new businesses have added a vibrancy to the street. Over the years, antiques shops have been replaced by small boutiques and specialty stores, quality restaurants and the Little Miami Brewing Co., which opened within the past year.

Brad Price’s Villa Sanctuary is just one of the shops along Main Street that illustrates this evolution. Price spent his career in high-end jewelry design before the recession prompted a change of plans.

When he got the opportunity to lease the building at 32 Main Street, in the heart of Milford’s historic downtown, he moved forward with his home furnishings and gift shop.

“I looked at a whole bunch of other options, and I still do jewelry, but I’ve always loved home furnishings,” says Price, who opened Villa Sanctuary in 2015. “And this is all a mix of old and new.”

Across the street at 20 Brix, shoppers can grab lunch or dinner along with a great selection of wine. Its sister restaurant, Padrino, located nearby, is known for its pizzas, pasta and hoagies.

Roads Rivers and Trails serves as an adventure land for outdoor lovers, and the Coolest Toys on Earth delivers what its name promises, stocking a lineup of memory joggers that’ll whisk you back to childhood.

New downtown Milford shops in recent years include Jackson Whitacre, a high-end clothing and home furnishings store, as well as Harvest Market, a convenience store that focuses on fresh, local and chemical-free foods.

Another new addition has been a reboot of sorts. Chocolatier Bambi Merz took over Auel’s Fine Chocolates’ recipes and now makes beautiful and delicious confections at Tickled Sweet.

“We love Milford,” says Merz, who resides in the Western Hills area of Cincinnati on the other side of town. “So for me to buy a building here ... I just planted knee-deep.”

For more information about these businesses and a  full list of downtown Milford merchants, visit downtownmilford.com.

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Ariel-Foundation Park in Mount Vernon
Ariel-Foundation Park, Mount Vernon
The site of the former Pittsburgh Plate Glass factory is now a 250-acre public park honoring the city’s glass-making heritage.

 
From the ground, the steel spiral stairway curling around Ariel-Foundation Park’s towering smokestack seems a manageable climb — easy even. But start your way up, and things change. The stairway’s open design and the observation deck’s 140-foot height offer a challenge that makes reaching the top all the sweeter.

Once you get there, you realize there’s no better way to take in the full expanse of Mount Vernon’s 250-acre public park, an inventive and unusual place. Remains of structures from the property’s former life as a Pittsburgh Plate Glass factory stand like ruins among the pathways and lakes, while a river of remnant glass spills down one hillside.

The park’s design celebrates the city’s industrial heritage and those who worked here. It has also transformed a local eyesore into a place that’s become a point of community pride.

Ariel-Foundation Park opened on July 4, 2015, the completion of an idea that Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis presented in 2000. As park manager Scott Zimmerman recalls the project’s earliest days, it’s hard to envision the place as he first saw it.

“This section is what the city purchased in the year 2000,” he says, pointing out across one of the park’s three lakes. “It was this lake and the middle one, and it was about 86 acres. When we came in here, there was nothing but gravel and weeds and some geese, and that was it.”

The Urton Clock House and Museum offers a look into the property’s history and even houses the factory’s original time clock. The building serves as a nice starting point to any first visit to the park. After that, a climb up the nearby Rastin Observation Tower not only gets your heart pumping but offers a preview of the park’s various offerings.

The southern half of the property houses two open areas, known as The Meadows and The Terraces. Just to the east, the Tree of Life Labyrinth offers a place of introspection and reflection, while the adjacent Schnormeier Event Center hosts community gatherings.

The northern half of the property is where you’ll find the park’s three lakes as well as public pavilions. The scenic Kokosing River borders the north side of the park, and the Heart of Ohio and Kokosing Gap trails pass through its southeast corner, bringing in bicyclists traveling through the area.

Keep an eye out, and you’ll see the small memorial to Jeff Oliver, the late Mount Vernon parks superintendent who oversaw the Ariel-Foundation Park project. Zimmerman was his foreman.

“He loved this park. This was his and my cherry on the top of our careers,” Zimmerman says. “This was something we started from scratch and took a lot of pride in. So, we got a bench and a plaque there for him, and that’s his tree.” 

10 Pittsburgh Ave., Mount Vernon 43050, 740/501-9293, arielfoundationpark.org

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