Ohio’s Amish country. At every turn, I’m finding picturesque rural scenery punctuated by horse and buggies clip-clopping past barns and fields of hay.
I head into a home-based Amish shop near Berlin, Ohio to browse a selection of candles. A sliver of sunlight streams through the window, running against the side of a young girl’s face as she takes a whiff. She’s the shopkeeper’s daughter. When I ask her mother if I could publish the photo, say says, “I think so, but you’ll have to talk to the Bishop.”
These special moments, unique to Ohio travel, are everywhere across the state whether it’s chatting with the master brewer about his new batch of IPA in Cleveland, having a scoop of ice cream with a young entrepreneur in Columbus, or screaming your head off as you plummet down Cedar Point’s Millenium Force.
Any of the following weekend getaways in Ohio will be worth your while to better understand this incredibly diverse state.
Weekend Getaways in Ohio
Blend into the Melting Pot
During the industrial revolution of the late 19th century, Cleveland was considered one the richest cities in the world. The great city on a Great Lake produced a president and made guys like Rockefeller absurdly wealthy.
Enticed by the city’s prosperity, immigrants came from all over the world looking for jobs in manufacturing and construction, bringing their artistic sensibilities, customs and family recipes that are reflected in the many world-class cultural institutions, architectural treasures, and ethnic restaurants.
The walkable downtown core is the logical base for exploring the city. Professional sports, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Playhouse Square are all close by, while public transportation serves the surrounding neighborhoods.
Foodies love downtown-adjacent Ohio City for its concentration of culinary artisans and craft breweries anchored by the West Side Market, which is packed with vendors selling meat, fish, bread, spices, veggies and not-to-miss Old World specialties.
University Circle and More
East of the city, University Circle is home to the densest concentration of cultural attractions, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland Botanical Garden and the Cleveland Orchestra.
Discovering Cleveland’s other neighborhoods is as easy as sinking your teeth into chef-driven meals on East Fourth Street, a dumpling in Asiatown, pierogies in Parma, gelato in Little Italy or mofongo on the near West side. Bite for bite and pound for pound, Cleveland measures up as one of the best food cities in the world. A weekend may not be enough time to discover all of the city’s treasures, but a small sampling will have you craving for more.
Can’t-Miss Winter Fun: University Circle’s Rink at Wade Oval is open now through March 4, 2018. Activities include ice skating lessons, live music, open skating and special events.
trivago Hotel Tip: The Westin Cleveland Downtown
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Capital City of Kid-Friendly Fun
Like other towns on the Great Lakes, Sandusky boomed as a fishing port and commercial transportation hub but then had to reinvent itself after the advent of automobiles and trucks at the beginning of the 20th century. At the time, tourism was already on the rise with city dwellers, and the mile-long Cedar Point Beach was the place to be.
The original lakeside bathhouses, big band dance hall and amusement rides are long gone, but Cedar Point Amusement Park today draws millions of people with its 72 rides, including 16 thrilling roller coasters and a new one on the way for the 2018 season. Just before the delightfully-terrifying 300-foot drop at 90 miles an hour, the Millennium Force provides a birds-eye scenic view of Lake Erie and Sandusky.
Rollercoasters aren’t Sandusky’s only claim to fame. The town also calls itself Ohio’s waterpark capital because of the high concentration of indoor waterpark resorts. They all vary in size and style, but there’s plenty of wet and wild fun designed to keep the kids occupied and entertained all year long, rain, snow or shine. The African-themed Kalahari Resort boasts the largest indoor waterpark in the country and offers day passes to non-overnight guests. Its latest waterslide — the Storm Chaser — incorporates an interactive multi-level video game. Meanwhile, Great Wolf Lodge limits the waterpark to overnight guests only, making it a more manageable experience, especially with small kids.
While it’s easy to spend your entire time in a resort setting, there’s more to experience in downtown Sandusky itself. Take a ride on the antique carousel at The Merry-Go-Round Museum, then dine at one of the local eateries. Small City Taphouse‘s Asian-inspired menu is a surprising standout in the typically meat-and-potatoes town.
Can’t-Miss Winter Fun: Lake Erie is the shallowest of all the Great Lakes, which means it’s the first to freeze over in the winter, giving way to one of Sandusky favorite outdoor winter pastimes — ice fishing. If you’re a bit hesitant to try catching an award-winning walleye on your own, Captain Tony Muscioni of Air 1 Airboats offers ice-fishing charters in an enclosed heated airboat between January and March.
trivago Hotel Tip: Great Wolf Lodge
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Experience Another Way of Life
Few places in the United States can instantly transport you back to the 19th century like Amish Country where horse and buggy remain the preferred mode of travel. Holmes County, in particular, is home to the world’s largest settlement of Amish, a group of traditionalist Christians, who are known for eschewing the conveniences of modern technology and choosing simple living, plain dress and careers in farming or skilled trades, such as furniture making, construction and more.
Amish Country Ohio
Berlin, Walnut Creek, Millersburg, and Sugarcreek are centers for tourist activities with restaurants, bakeries, and shops all selling Amish-made products. Bring an appetite because delicious home-style cooking and mouth-watering pies await at places like Boyd & Wurthmann in Berlin or Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen in Mt. Hope.
For a glimpse of everyday rural life, ramble along the rural two-lane roads and stop at the many home-based businesses that advertise their offerings along the fenceline with signs that read: “Fresh eggs,” “Candles for sale,” and “Baskets are at the house. Please come on in! Thank you!”
Alternatively, take a more in-depth tour from Berlin with A Taste of the Backroads and LaVonne DeBois will point out the differences between the area’s Old and New Order Amish, while introducing you to some of the families she has worked with in her 25 years as a tour guide.
Can’t-Miss Winter Fun: A winter wonderland awaits at The Farm at Walnut Creek, which offers one-hour horse-drawn sleigh rides during the winter months as long as there is at least three inches of snow on the ground. Advanced reservations are required for the excursion, which includes a stop to feed some of the farm’s many animals and a warm drink at the end.
trivago Hotel Tip: Berlin Grande Hotel
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An Incubator for the Entrepreneurial Spirit
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “as Ohio goes, so goes the nation” in reference to U.S politics. But when it comes to food and retail fashion, the state’s capital city of Columbus has historically set trends. As a test market for large companies like Wendy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch and the parent company of Victoria Secret, and Bath and Body Works, shopping and dining is an ongoing experiment, especially at Easton Town Center, a shopping, and entertainment complex designed as a self-contained small town.
Short North Columbus
There are plenty of other unique experiences in this city full of fashion designers, artists, innovators and small business owners who aren’t afraid to try new things and take a few risks. Stroll through the Short North Arts District for non-traditional art venues, restaurants, and boutiques. Street performers and vendors add to the vibrancy of the area during Gallery Hop, held on the first Saturday of the month. Pass time designing your own scented candle or signature fragrance at The Candle Lab, and taste the creative flavors of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream.
German Village Columbus
The city’s early entrepreneurs settled south of downtown in what is now known as German Village, one of the most atmospheric neighborhoods in the Midwest with brick streets lined with charming restored homes. The German influence is alive and well at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus.
Thirsty? You can find a number of craft breweries and entertainment options concentrated in the bordering Brewery District.
Can’t-Miss Winter Fun: With illuminated displays and whimsical exhibits created by Chinese artisans, the Ohio Lantern Festival is a celebration of light and culture taking place now through January 7 at the Ohio Expo Center & State Fairgrounds. Live performances of traditional Chinese acts are held every evening at 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. with an additional performance at 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays only.
trivago Hotel Tip: Sheraton Columbus Hotel at Capitol Square
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Where History Takes Flight
Before North Carolina was declared first in flight, inventors Wilbur and Orville Wright were busy working on their heavier-than-air flying machine in the back room of their Dayton bicycle shop. It’s also where they perfected, tested and manufactured subsequent designs, including the Model B, the first ever mass-produced aircraft. To this day, the legacy of the two brothers is alive throughout the town where there are many other sites that will thrill aviation enthusiasts and history buffs.
Wright Brothers Museums
The Wright-Dunbar neighborhood, where the Wright brothers lived and worked, is a good place to start. The Dayton Aviation History National Historic Park maintains the interpretive center and several buildings of note, including one that housed The Wright Cycle Company from 1895 to 1897. Elsewhere, the National Park Service oversees the Huffman Prairie Flying Field and the Wrights’ mansion known as Hawthorn Hill. Carillon Historic Park displays an original 1905 Wright Flyer III, but for those looking to take to the air, then Wright B Flyer, Inc. has your ticket to ride in a Wright replica.
Dayton continues to play a role in the present and future of flight. The National Museum of the United States Air Force has the world’s largest collection of aircraft on display, ranging from the Wright Brothers 1909 military flyer to modern-era stealth fighter jets and spacecraft.
History is alive and well in Dayton’s drinking establishments and restaurants as well. After reliving a century of historical aviation events, unwind with a drink at the atmospheric Century Bar, nationally recognized for its dedication to bourbon. The Pine Club is known for its delicious steak and a dining experience that hasn’t changed much since the doors opened in 1947.
Can’t-Miss Winter Fun: Layer up and head to the Five Rivers MetroParks for sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice fishing or naturalist-led winter hikes within the 16,000 acres of natural spaces. Or glide around the open-air ice rink at RiverScape’s MetroPark, which stays open through the end of February.
trivago Hotel Tip: Marriott at the University of Dayton
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Where Good Vibes Bubble Up
Yellow Springs has a colorful history and not just because it got its name from a natural spring that’s so rich in iron ore that it paints the surrounding rock a yellowish-orange hue. After it was discovered sometime around 1800, people began flocking to the area to seek out its curative properties, including the town’s founders, a communal group seeking a utopian society. It failed to materialize, but the ultra-liberal Antioch College planted roots in town and Yellow Springs has quickly earned a reputation for being progressive and inclusive.
Yellow Springs is now a mecca for artists and creative thinkers who contribute to the vibrancy of this quirky and quaint community where nothing is cookie cutter. Independent-owned shops, galleries and restaurants reign supreme along Xenia Avenue, the main artery through the small village. Visitors can dine on locally-sourced seasonal specialties at The Winds Café, discover bohemian style at Heaven on Earth Emporium, and find one-of-a-kind gifts from Bonadies Glass Studio and Yellow Springs Pottery.
Duck down Keith’s Alley to feast your eyes on colorful mural art en plein air, but for a walk on the even wilder side, visit the town’s namesake springs, located within the Glen Helen Nature Preserve, a thousand-acre nature preserve owned and managed by Antioch College. There are 25 miles of footpaths crisscrossing the grounds around the Outdoor Education Center and a Raptor Center that rehabilitates injured birds of prey.
Can’t-Miss Winter Fun: From now until the end of the year, Clifton Mills puts on a festive light display with more than 3.5 million twinkling lights synchronized to music. The Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill is considered one of the best in the state, if not the country.
trivago hotel tip: Mills Park Hotel
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Gateway to the Great Outdoors
The Hocking Hills region has enchanted visitors with its natural beauty since the first inhabitants came to the area about 7,000 years ago. The area is known for stunning waterfalls that cascade into deep gorges and acoustically resonant recess caves carved into sandstone cliffs. Adventure awaits those ready to lace up their hiking boots and explore the deep corners of the park’s rugged wilderness.
Hocking Hills State Park
Stunning throughout all four seasons, the 2,000-acre Hocking Hills State Park consists of six areas with their own set of forested trails. Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, Cantwell Cliffs, Conkle’s Hollow and Rock House all have spectacular geologic features. A great half-day hike on the statewide Buckeye Trail connects Old Man’s Cave — Hocking Hills largest recess cave — to Cedar Falls and then to Ash Cave. Also in the Old Man’s Cave area, the new Hemlock Bridge Trail and Whispering Cave trails lead to the previously inaccessible Whispering Cave, which at 275 feet across and 105 feet high is second only in size to Old Man’s Cave.
After working up an appetite on the trails, treat yourself to guilt-free southern cooking at Millstone BBQ. The mouthwatering pulled pork or tender beef brisket comes with a basket of delicious cornbread muffins.
Can’t-Miss Winter Fun: Hit the trails to see Ash Cave, which is famous for its waterfall that freezes from top to bottom in the winter. Alternatively, join the more than 5,000 outdoor enthusiasts for the annual Winter Hike at Hocking Hills on January 20, 2018. Between 9 and 11 a.m., free guided hikes will start from the Old Man’s Cave Visitor Center.
trivago Hotel Tip: Holiday Inn Express Hocking Hills-Logan
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Good times in the Queen City
Whatever your idea of fun might be, there’s a good chance Cincinnati has you covered. Family-friendly staples like the Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinnati Museum Center and Kings Island certainly help the Queen City earn a soft spot in the hearts of traveling kids, but its nightlife options and affordability make it a special place for grown-ups, too.
The go-to place for barhopping, dining and shopping is in Cincy’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood (or OTR for short). The area has undergone a huge renaissance with locally-owned businesses breathing new life into restored buildings. For beer worshippers, there’s no better place to sip than Taft’s Ale House, a three-level brewery, bar, and restaurant housed in the old St. Paul’s German Evangelical Protestant Church. Other essential stops include Findlay Market, Graeter’s Ice Cream and Rhinegeist’s brewery and taproom with cornhole, ping pong, picnic tables and a 4,500-square-foot rooftop deck with views of the city and surrounding seven hills that make up greater Cincinnati.
The hillside neighborhoods, including Mt. Adams, Mount Auburn, Walnut Hills, Fairmount, Fairview Heights, Clifton Heights and Price Hill, were once small villages that have since retained their town centers and unique personalities. These communities, along with the city center, initially thrived because of easy access to river transport. Steamboats carried passengers, products, and livestock, especially pork, to distant ports up and downstream, but these days, Smale Riverfront Park is designed for recreation over commerce.
The 45-acre downtown park has walking paths, an old-fashioned carousel, giant piano keys, and a splash pad, plus gently sloped green spaces for picnicking while watching historic sternwheelers float by.
Can’t-Miss Winter Fun: From now until President’s Day, lace up your skates at O’Keefe’s Ice Rink, an outdoor ice arena located at Cincy’s downtown Fountain Square, which also has food trucks, live music, and other events throughout the year.
trivago Hotel Tip: Hilton Cincinnati Netherlands Plaza
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Swamps, Bogs, and Marshes, Oh My!
Until the 1850s, the Great Black Swamp — an oozing mass of mud, water, trees, plant life and disease-carrying mosquitoes — blanketed Northwest Ohio and Indiana. Illnesses like malaria, cholera, and typhoid ran rampant among those who tried to settle in the region. As soon as they could, immigrant farmers fell trees and drained the wetlands, which created fertile farmland in its place. Now, only about five percent of the swamp remains in places like Metzger Marsh, Magee March, and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge near Toledo.
The swampy edge of Lake Erie is full of native treasures, such as trillium, frogs, great blue herons and other waterfowl, not to mention a ton of migratory birds, especially warblers, that stop to rest and refuel in the nutrient-rich wetlands as they journey between the tropics and their summer nesting grounds in Canada’s forests. Flocks of birders from all over the world come in early spring and late fall to get a glimpse of migrant songbirds, but the area is a magnet for all kinds of nature and recreation lovers, too.
Maumee Bay State Park and Beyond
With Lake Erie and preserved wetlands at its doorstep, Maumee Bay State Park is a natural place to base a stay. The property is surrounded by 80 acres of swampland accessible by a two-mile elevated boardwalk. An on-site nature center and bike, kayak and boat rentals, make exploring easy. Meanwhile, Toledo is a short drive away for visits to the Toledo Museum of Art, the Toledo Zoo or dining at Real Seafood Company located at The Docks — a riverfront restaurant complex that happens to have a great view of Frogtown, one of the nicknames for the city on the swamp.
Can’t-Miss Winter Fun: Maumee Bay State Park has outdoor recreation and birding opportunities all year long. In the winter, rent cross-country ski equipment at the state park lodge, then head out on the three-mile-long Mouse Trail looking for wintering birds, especially raptors, as you go.
trivago Hotel Tip: Maumee Bay Resort & Conference Center
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A Tale of Two Rivers
Located at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers, Marietta was founded in 1788 by the first Euro-American pioneers coming to the Northwest Territory. The town also had significant importance for ancient indigenous cultures that built mysterious ceremonial and burial mounds thousands of years earlier. While those first settlers sought to preserve Marietta’s ancient earthworks, many were dismantled a century later for construction projects in the quickly growing river town and trading center.
Three segments of the Marietta earthworks are maintained as public parks today: Mound Cemetery, Quadranaou Park, and Sacra Via Park. To find out more about both Native American history and that of America’s initial westward expansion, visit the Campus Martius Museum.
Nearby, the Ohio River Museum preserves the history of the area’s river system from its natural origins to the golden age of steamboat travel. After walking through the three exhibit buildings, take a guided tour of the W.P. Snyder Jr., the last intact steam-powered, stern-wheeled towboat found in the country. The Valley Gem, a working sternwheeler docked next door, offers narrated sightseeing tours on the river from May to September.
Ohio’s first adventure town also has boating, kayaking, and canoeing opportunities on both the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, plus 30 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails on shore. Alternatively, take a tour with Hidden Marietta to uncover the secrets and mysteries of the town or explore it on your own, stopping for a bite to eat at The Levee House, the only remaining, original riverfront structure.
Can’t-Miss Winter Fun: The large earthwork complexes created by Adena and Hopewell cultures had several purposes, including operating as astronomical clocks to record the passage of time. Marietta’s Sacra Via Park, the site of a former ceremonial walled pathway leading from Quadranaou Park to the Muskingum River, perfectly aligns with the winter solstice sunset. At 4 p.m. on December 21, The Castle archaeologist Wes Clarke and others gather in the park to watch the last rays of light shine up the Sacra Via before sinking behind Harmar Hill.
trivago Hotel Tip: Quality Inn Marietta
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All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.