Discover the history, fun and flavors that make our 2015-2016 Best Hometowns great places to visit.
Families can take a walk on the wild side at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell, which features new interactive experiences and a herd of fresh, furry faces.
On the surface, the water might seem calm, but a walk through a tunnel quickly reveals a cool, underground cave. There, a wall of glass separates visitors at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium from a polar bear diving gracefully through the arctic-blue water. For one hour each morning, a new face also appears at the zoo’s Polar Frontier: Nora.
The polar bear (whose naming contest earlier this year garnered participation from people in 115 countries) is one of the zoo’s most popular babies, and she made her public debut in April. The past year also welcomed three penguin chicks, three tiger cubs, two silvered leaf langurs and six lion cubs.
“Babies are just adorable,” says Adam Felts, curator of the zoo’s Heart of Africa. “Also, the activity levels of the animals are really high when they’re babies.”
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium feels like a theme park broken into six geographic regions. These zones organize the more than 10,000 animals, which represent 600-plus species from around the globe. Besides North America and the Polar Frontier, zoo visitors can explore Asia Quest, Australia and the Islands, Congo Expedition, Heart of Africa and the Shores region.
Nora and the zoo’s other babies aren’t the only little ones having fun. A variety of interactive opportunities allow families to get up-close to some of the animals. Stretching across 43 acres, Heart of Africa opened in 2014 and offers camel rides, the opportunity to feed a giraffe and the chance to watch a cheetah run.
Entering Heart of Africa transports zoo visitors across the hemisphere to a Mudiwa Village, then to the edge of a 23-acre mixed-species savanna. A set of drums lines a plaza surrounded by tall grasses, welcoming guests to create their own rhythm inspired by the exotic creatures grazing in the background. And depending on the time of day, the watering hole attracts a rotating range of animals, from hyenas to zebras to ostriches.
“The idea is you never know what you’ll see at the watering hole,” Felts adds.
In May, the Shores region welcomed the interactive, ocean-themed Shores Play Park, complete with sea creature sculptures and water features. The 5,600-square-foot park is designed around a life-size whale illustration painted on the soft ground. The whale’s head and tail are three-dimensional, as if rising out of the ocean’s surface. “The whale spout will spit out water every 35 seconds or so,” says Andrew Cloyd, the zoo’s director of operations.
Kids can also test their trivia skills on a life-size board game with lights that direct them to move forward.
“It’s like you’re going on an ocean adventure by answering the trivia and fun facts about ecosystems,” says Cloyd. “It’s family-based and simple.” — Hallie Rybka
4850 W. Powell Rd., Powell 43065, 614/645-3400, columbuszoo.org
A trip to Hudson means finding plenty of great restaurants, and chef Shawn Monday is the culinary mind behind three of them.
At the corner of Library Street and Village Way, a crimson entryway punctuates a block of storefronts. Here, chef Shawn Monday’s One Red Door offers a rustic-yet-modern dining experience more than 20 years in the making.
That’s how long Monday has been cooking his way through northeast Ohio’s dining scene, first at his family’s business and later at the Inn at Turner’s Mill in Hudson. After spending time in the kitchens of Cleveland restaurants, Monday headed back south to open Hudson’s upscale Downtown 140 in 2004. When it was time for him and his partners to open their first solely independent venture, they stayed local.
“We could have opened up restaurants in other communities, but we knew the people, and we liked the people,” says Monday.
First & Main, downtown Hudson’s dining-and-retail development, was just five years old when Monday and his wife, Tiffany, and designer Michael Schwartz opened One Red Door in 2011. The menu features pizzas and pastas, seafood and steak entrees, charcuterie and cheese boards and a lineup of fun snacks.
But that debut came only after a major revamp to the space, which previously housed a different restaurant that seated 300 patrons. The Mondays and Schwartz built a wooden wall to create a more manageable 120-seat space and installed a concrete bar top. They then tied the look together with handmade, leather-seated chairs. “This kind of sets the tone for the design,” explains Tiffany. “A little bit edgy, but still warm.”
After opening One Red Door, the Mondays and Schwartz debuted Flip Side in the extra space next door.
“It’s just a burger bar,” Monday says modestly, but his attention to detail sets the place apart. He buys only grass-fed Ohio beef, and it’s always ground fresh. All of the sauces are made on-site, and the French fries are hand cut, too.
When it was time to consider their next venture, the restaurant owners looked across the street, where a California Pizza Kitchen had closed its doors.
“We fell in love with pizza — with Neopolitan pizza,” says Monday, who opened 3 Palms Pizzeria in 2012.
Cooked in a wood-fired oven, Neopolitan-style pizza is a perfect platform for Monday’s creativity. The menu at 3 Palms includes a traditional margherita pizza and the diavola topped with spicy salami.
Furnished like a posh picnic site with wooden tables accented by industrial lighting, this restaurant is another bold-yet-welcoming space. But the star here is the imported Italian oven.
“It was made by a third-generation oven-maker in Naples,” Monday says. Oven size is determined by how many palms high the dome is, and the restaurant has a three-palm model.
“We thought it was a cool name,” he adds. “The oven is really what the place is all about.” — Frances Killea
One Red Door, 49 Village Way, Hudson 44236, 330/342-3667, onereddoorhudson.com; Flip Side, 49 Village Way, Hudson 44236, 330/655-3547, flipsideburger.com; 3 Palms Pizzeria, 60 Village Way, Hudson 44236, 330/342-4545, 3palmspizzeria.com
Old & New
Coshocton’s historic Roscoe Village merges a beautifully restored 1830s canal town with modern shops and restaurants.
The heavy rope goes slack as Rock and Bill — two hefty Percheron draft horses — slow their already gentle pace.
“Now, I should warn you all. The horses have jumped into the water before,” says Edward Finlay, captain and guide of the Monticello III, a 74-foot, horse-drawn boat that navigates Coshocton’s restored section of the Ohio & Erie Canal.
Nervous laughter trickles among the passengers. Finlay’s amiable reminder that life vests are on board, especially for this deep section of the canal, provides a brief moment of seriousness before the comical tour guide launches back into his jocular banter, asking his passengers to ponder what canal water quality would have been like in the 1830s. “You don’t see toilets on here, do you?”
Roscoe Village was a major stop along the once-bustling Ohio & Erie Canal, and the original Monticello was the first boat to dock in town in 1830. Commerce in Ohio boomed with the building of the canal waterways, dropping the shipping cost of goods from $125 per ton across land to $25 per ton across water.
Roscoe Village thrived as a result, and although it declined with the rise of railways, work to restore the hamlet to its original splendor began in 1968. Today, it offers a glimpse into what life was like in an 1830s canal town.
“There was a prominent businessman here in Coshocton, Ed Montgomery, who had invented the latex-coated glove,” says Jan Myers, former director of the Coshocton Visitors Bureau. “He and his wife lived on this hill above Roscoe, and they would drive through there every day … and think, Wouldn’t it be nice to fix Roscoe up kind of like a little Williamsburg? So they started gradually buying the buildings.”
The chance to experience the atmosphere of period homes and workshops along Roscoe Village’s main street draws curious tourists to Coshocton. The 45-minute canal boat ride offers a sense of pace, while the one-room schoolhouse, craftsman’s home and village blacksmith offer a sense of space. The side door to the village weaver’s residence opens to reveal a woman dressed in period clothing at the helm of an immense loom. The machine delivers a warm and deep thud as thread is woven into cloth.
“The family would have to provide the thread,” explains Stacie Stein, a living history weaver in Roscoe Village. “[And then] the weaver would have to dress the loom. This usually takes us three to five days. Families would spin thicker wool threads for winter clothes and thin linen threads for lighter cloth. Thin thread may take 15 to 20 minutes of weaving time per inch.”
The history lessons are matched with touches of modernity. Although 19th-century fare is not on the menu at The Warehouse Steak n Stein – housed in an original Roscoe Village building — the restaurant’s sweet potato fries (sticky from a drizzle of syrupy, house-made bourbon sauce) provide an ideal snack. Over at Medbery Marketplace, a gourmet grocer and cafe inside a former 1850s hotel, travelers can buy picnic lunches.
The restaurants and stylish shops interspersed among the historical exhibits give Roscoe Village additional appeal. The shelves of Canal Cargo are packed with perfumed candles, patterned handbags, and luxury bath and body care products, while Cottage Gate stocks plush pillows and homey wall art.
“They have kept the buildings that are a part of the historic tour, but there are individual shops and shop owners now,” says Myers. “It just brings a little different light to the whole place.” — Kara Kissell
600 N. Whitewoman St., Coshocton 43812, 740/622-9310, roscoevillage.com
With its variety of inviting specialty shops housed in historic downtown buildings, it’s easy to see why Tipp City has become a regional favorite.
On a breezy summer day, kids ride bikes up and down Tipp City’s Main Street, stopping at Sweet by Kristy to grab a bag of candy or a fresh-baked cupcake before heading next door to Cairns Toys, an old-school store with a friendly staff that’s willing to let things get a little messy in the name of fun.
“It’s just such a neat downtown with the variety in all the little shops,” says Melissa Cairns, whose toy store has been a Main Street staple for 18 years. “It’s like having your own little outdoor mall but in a real downtown.”
With its proximity to interstates 70 and 75, the small downtown is packed with enough interesting choices to make a road trip worthwhile.
“People are tired of going to big-box stores,” says Cairns, adding that she has regulars who visit a few times a year from as far away as Michigan and Indiana. “We try hard to get to know the customers.”
Stop by The Golden Leaf for specialty blended loose and bagged teas, fresh roasted coffee beans or lunch in the adjoining tearoom. Owner Jayne Lewis prides herself on using mostly organic, wild-crafted and fair-trade items.
“We have, if not the largest, one of the largest tearooms in Ohio because we can seat up to almost 50 people,” says Lewis. “We [also] have a store where you can buy holistic blends that we blend here and also tea blends, medicinal blends and fresh ground coffee.”
Those looking for interesting home decor pieces should head to The Iron Dog Salvage & Antiques, a shop filled with reclaimed and repurposed antiques, architectural salvage and raw materials lovingly selected from older homes, industrial buildings and barns.
“Sometimes we find things that are collectible items — like a spinning wheel out of an old game at a carnival — that make really neat wall art and home decor,” says owner Terri Bessler.
The area’s restaurants are a draw as well. People travel to Tipp City to dine at Coldwater Cafe, and it has some sophisticated menu choices, including weekly features of game meats such as ostrich and antelope.
“We have awesome restaurants,” says Cairns, “and a great little community feel.” — Jessica Esemplare
For more information about Tipp City’s shops, visit downtowntippcity.org.
Sawmill Creek Resort in Huron draws plenty of boaters, but it also offers a wealth of activities on land. Whether you want to relax, dine or explore, you can do it here.
Docking on the south shore of Lake Erie at the 176-slip marina is one way to arrive at Sawmill Creek Resort, but you don’t need to be a boater to enjoy the Huron destination’s 235 acres of activities ranging from golf to dining to a quiet walk along Lake Erie.
Thanks to its half-mile shoreline, Sawmill Creek is connected to the water, and kayaking and personal watercraft rentals are available. In addition, the Sawmill Explorer offers cruises on the Huron River and Lake Erie. Built in 1954 and formerly named the Dispatch, the boat once ferried passengers back and forth from Sandusky to Cedar Point.
“It’s nostalgic, very peaceful, and there are great views off of this ferry as you’re traveling,” says Greg Hill, CEO of Sawmill Creek Resort.
There are also a number of off-the-water leisure activities, including the 18-hole Tom Fazio Championship Golf course, tennis and volleyball courts and the 490-acre Sheldon Marsh Nature Preserve next door. There’s also the Sawmill Creek Shops, located in a large barn built in 1887, and four on-site restaurants that offer guests a range of dining options without ever having to leave the resort.
Although Sawmill Creek first opened in 1972, a 1990s update to The Lodge added decor that plays to the history and heritage of Ohio. Hill, whose background is in interior design and construction, collaborated with Ohio multimedia artist and designer Al Parkinson to transform the formerly traditional hotel lodging into a comfortable and attractive space.
“There were no wooden beams in the lodge when I came here,” explains Hill. “But now we have used artistic things and Ohio’s natural and early cultural histories to build Sawmill Creek into what it is today.”
Murals, paintings and sculptures depict Ohio’s past and present wildlife as well as early Native Americans. Hill also relocated a museum collection of North American Woodland Indian artifacts to the lodge. Visitors can view clothing and other tribal items in specially built display cases located throughout.
Sawmill Creek aids guests who want to get out and explore by offering a Lake Erie Winery Tour and a package that includes tickets to nearby Cedar Point. Sawmill Creek is also playing on people’s interest in where food comes from with a rural farm tour.
“There is a lot of interest in locally produced food now,” says Hill, “and this is a good county for that.” — Jill Sell
400 Sawmill Creek Dr., Huron 44839,800-729-6455, sawmillcreekresort.com