Randall L. Schieber / Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau
IntroductionBeckoning visitors to the Midwest with a pleasing mix of down-home charm and contemporary flair, Columbus has become the country's 32nd-largest metropolitan area. Named after Christopher Columbus, the city invites exploration. Highlights are as assorted as the area's past residents. The itinerary includes stops at the 24,000-square-foot complex honoring a Masters golf legend and the former home of an award-winning author and cartoonist who attended The Ohio State University, one of the largest schools in the country.
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Inspector 76 / AAA
In DepthAuthor James Thurber said of his birthplace, “Columbus is a town in which almost anything is likely to happen and in which almost everything has.”
Yet Columbus is a city that almost wasn't. When Ohio gained statehood in 1803, it hadn't yet chosen a permanent capital. Political maneuvering almost landed the state government in Zanesville and Chillicothe.
In 1812, however, the residents of Franklinton, a county seat in the heart of Ohio along the Scioto River, tempted the state with 1,200 acres of land and a commitment to spend $50,000 to construct a capitol building and a penitentiary. Within a matter of days the general assembly accepted the offer, and Columbus was born on the opposite bank of the river.
The Civil War initiated a wave of unprecedented growth; the population soared and manufacturing and government became the city's primary industries.
The opening in 1873 of Ohio Agriculture and Mechanical College, later renamed The Ohio State University, spawned a new outlook for the city. Education was thrust to the forefront, and the intellectual atmosphere helped contribute to the forerunner of the computer, the development of the xerography process and numerous advancements in the medical treatment of the physically impaired.
Today the phrase “state of the art” is synonymous with Columbus, which ranks with Silicon Valley as a center for scientific and technological information. Ohio's capital built its solid reputation over several decades; it was one of the first cities in the country to offer citywide cable television and introduced such technology as the 24-hour banking machine, interactive cable television and the electronic newspaper. Thousands of high-tech companies now call Columbus home.
Besides its well-deserved reputation in the high-tech world, the city houses the headquarters of several Fortune 1000 companies, including L Brands and Nationwide Insurance. Columbus also is known for retail banking, insurance and real estate, and has emerged as a leading convention city.
Modern-day Columbus continually earns top accolades from highly regarded sources. In 2013 Forbes magazine ranked Columbus as a Top Place for Business and in 2011 as one of the Top 15 Most Affordable Cities to Live; CIO Magazine named it one of the Top 7 Cities for Finding IT Jobs; and Bloomberg Businessweek awarded it the title of Economically Strongest Metro.
Not to be ignored, the state of the fine arts in Columbus deserves equally high praise. The capital of Ohio offers an assortment of art-centered attractions, including the Columbus Museum of Art and the Wexner Center for the Arts. Other attractions combine art and nature. The Franklin Park Conservatory cleverly displays otherworldly glass pieces by artist Dale Chihuly in artfully presented gardens. And the Topiary Garden interprets the 1884 oil painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat with larger-than-life topiary bushes snipped into the shapes of Parisians at leisure.
In addition, colorful murals—Mona Lisa and a slightly skewed version of American Gothic among them—clothe many of the city's brick walls. A majority of these are in the thriving SoHo-like Short North Arts District, a once-blighted area now filled with independently owned boutiques, restaurants and pubs that owes its present-day popularity to citywide revitalization projects begun in the 1980s. The same efforts resulted in the urban renewal of downtown's Arena District, transformed from its former neglected state to an area brimming with restaurants, shops and nightspots as well as the Nationwide Arena, home to the National Hockey League's Columbus Blue Jackets.
The city's proud residents also have lovingly preserved a host of 19th-century homes in Victorian Village and German Village. More examples of Columbus's exquisite architecture include the Greek Revival Ohio Statehouse along with an array of churches, office buildings and homes in such styles as Art Deco, Gothic, Greek Revival, Italianate and Queen Anne.
By CarThe intersection of two interstate highways and a number of lesser routes makes Columbus accessible from all directions. The primary east-west highway is I-70, which spans about two-thirds of the nation and connects such cities as Baltimore, Md., Wheeling, W.Va. and Indianapolis, Ind.; I-70 passes through downtown Columbus, with convenient interchanges at major streets.
Closely paralleling the freeway is old US 40, which serves local traffic and provides a link to other downtown avenues. US 62 approaches Columbus from the northeast and southwest to bring the city a steady flow of in-state traffic, as does SR 16, combining with US 40 coming in from the northeastern suburbs.
Mainly an intrastate interstate, I-71 links Cleveland to the north and Cincinnati to the south, passing through Columbus and continuing southward to Louisville.
Running north-south through the city is US 23, which collects traffic from northern Ohio and Michigan as well as from southern Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. US 33, leading directly downtown, connects towns northwest and southeast of Columbus.
I-270 is a circumferential freeway that swings in a wide path around Columbus and, with interchanges with all major highways, provides a bypass of the city. I-670 combines with I-70 and I-71 to form a tight rectangle around downtown Columbus, offering the usual convenient interchanges.
Street SystemDespite Columbus' growth to big-city status, driving in and around the city is not as hectic as in many metropolitan areas. Driving from one end of downtown to the opposite end averages 25 minutes, and few suburban commutes take more than 45 minutes at non-peak traffic hours. Right turns on red are permitted unless otherwise posted.
Streets are organized on a grid system, with addresses beginning at 1 at the corner of Broad and High streets in the center of downtown and increasing as routes go out of the city. Numbered streets, running north-south, are divided by Broad Street; numbered avenues, running east-west, are divided by High Street.
ParkingParking lots and garages are plentiful downtown, with rates ranging from $2 to $10 Monday through Friday and generally decreasing on the weekends. Higher rates may apply during special events. On-street metered parking, costing 50c to $1 per hour, can be found along most downtown streets; parking is restricted to 3 hours or less at most meters. Park and Ride lots are at many suburban shopping centers. Credit and debit cards can be used at many of the lots and at parking meters.
About the City
Sales TaxColumbus has a sales tax of 7.5 percent and a lodging tax of 10 percent. There is an 11 percent concession fee on rental cars picked up at Port Columbus International Airport.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)(614) 645-4545
Fire (non-emergency)(614) 221-3132
Time and Temperature(614) 281-8211
HospitalsDoctors Hospital, (614) 544-1000; Grant Medical Center, (614) 566-9000; Mount Carmel Medical Center (Mount Carmel West Hospital), (614) 234-5000; The Ohio State University Hospital East, (614) 257-3000; The Ohio State University Medical Center, (614) 293-8300; Riverside Methodist Hospital, (614) 566-5000.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersColumbus' major daily, published mornings, is the Columbus Dispatch.
RadioColumbus radio station WTVN (610 AM) is an all-news/weather station; WCBE (90.5 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.
Visitor InformationExperience Columbus 277 W. Nationwide Blvd. Suite 125 COLUMBUS, OH 43215. Phone:(614)221-6623 or (800)354-2657
Air TravelPort Columbus International Airport (CMH), 7 miles east of downtown inside the beltway off Stelzer Road, is served by major carriers. A free shuttle bus runs to the terminal from remote parking areas. Taxi service is offered to downtown, with average fares between $25 and $28.
Rental CarsHertz offers discounts to AAA members; phone (614) 239-1084 or (800) 654-3080.
BusesGreyhound Lines Inc., (614) 228-2266 or (800) 231-2222, 111 E. Town St. between S. 3rd and S. 4th streets, serves Columbus.
TaxisYellow Cab, (614) 444-4444, is the largest cab company. Fixed fares are $3 base rate, $4.50 for the first mile, 45c for each additional 2/9 mile and $2.25 for each mile outside Franklin County. A $3 surcharge is added for fares originating at the airport.
Public TransportationCentral Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) provides bus transportation throughout the city and suburbs Mon.-Fri. 5:30 a.m.-11:45 p.m., Sat. 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 8-7. The basic fare is $2, express fare is $2.75 and transfers are free. Multiday passes and reduced rates for children and senior citizens are available. Passengers must have exact change. For details about routes and timetables, contact the COTA Pass Sales Office, 33 N. High St.; phone (614) 228-1776.
meermacatawa / flickr
EssentialsHear the Victory Bell ring at a football game at The Ohio State University. Weighing 2,420 pounds, the bell sounds at Ohio Stadium (411 Woody Hayes Dr.) after every Buckeye win. Get into the spirit of things by donning scarlet and gray, OSU's official school colors.
Visit the “Umbrella Girl” in German Village (588 S. 3rd St.), one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. In the 1950s, this bronze statue mysteriously disappeared from Schiller Park. The village dedicated a new version of the young girl, garbed in traditional Bavarian dress and carrying an umbrella, in 1996.
Taste such Mediterranean staples as tabbouleh and baklava, inhale pungent spices, bite into a juicy locally-grown tomato and snap up some snapdragons at the North Market (59 Spruce St.). This public farmers market on Spruce Street is the last of its kind in central Ohio.
Take a tour of a tropical rain forest, the Himalayan Mountains or an arid desert at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (1777 E. Broad St.), which also features the Palm House, a 12,500-square-foot glass structure built in the style of the Glass Palace at Chicago's World Fair and Columbian Exposition in 1893.
While in German Village, get some sweets for you and your sweetie pie at Pistacia Vera (541 S. Third St.), where glass cases are filled with delicate creations like melt-in-your-mouth macaroons and cookies, tantalizing tarts and tortes, and buttery croissants and brioche.
Lift a car all by yourself at COSI Columbus (333 W. Broad St.), a science center boasting a mix of education and fun. At COSI's outdoor Big Science Park, the Big Giant Lever exhibit lets you raise a 2,437-pound automobile. Or ride a unicycle on a tightrope several stories high in the center's atrium – yes, you can do it!
Coo at koalas at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (4850 W. Powell Rd.), one of the few U.S. zoos permanently housing the marsupials. Like the kangaroo, the koala carries its newborn, which is only about the size of a jelly bean, in a pouch. You can also go on a walkabout with gallivanting kangaroos, ogle polar bears swimming in icy waters and giggle at manatees and penguins cavorting in the aquarium.
Sam Howzit / flickr
Unearth a few gems in the Short North Arts District. This urban neighborhood on North High Street embraces an eclectic array of art galleries, restaurants, antique shops, coffee bars and hip boutiques selling everything from Indonesian baskets and Native American jewelry to vintage clothing and designer fashions.
Dip a spoon into a cup of Graeter's Ice Cream (2555 Bethel Rd.). Heralded as the best ice cream around, the creamy dessert is a lasting tradition in the Midwest. Try Graeter's best seller, Black Raspberry Chip, or Oprah Winfrey's personal favorite, Butter Pecan. Another sweet favorite is Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (714 N. High St.). Flavors include salty caramel and Riesling poached pear sorbet as well as such seasonal offerings as sweet corn and black raspberries.
Pose among the figures sculpted from shrubbery at The Topiary Park (480 E. Town St.) in Old Deaf School Park. You'll feel like you're actually inside the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by post-impressionist artist Georges Seurat. The park's beautiful landscaping lends itself nicely to a relaxing picnic and some Frisbee-tossing.
arek_malang / Shutterstock.com
Top Picks for Kids
Under 13View more than 10,000 animals, from beasts that roam the African savanna to animals that traverse the Arctic plains, at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (4850 Powell Rd.) in nearby Powell. Have a close encounter with land and sea animals by enjoying animal rides, shows and a tide pool touch tank.
If the kids are craving a cold treat, take them to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (714 N. High St.) at the North Market (59 Spruce St.). While you browse for fresh-picked produce, they can choose from a variety of flavors that change with the seasons. Local bakers, butchers, chocolatiers, farmers, fishmongers and florists sell their wares at the indoor market Tues.-Sat. 9-7 and Sun.-Mon. 10-5.
Even if your little ones aren't familiar with Georges Seurat's pointillism masterpiece “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” that inspired The Topiary Park (480 E. Town St.), they will certainly think the many topiaries representing the figures from the painting are pretty cool. Ducks—always popular with kids—hang out by the water, too. This a great picnic locale.
At the Ohio State Fair , held from late July through early August at Ohio Expo Center (717 E. 17th Ave.), kids will be amazed after touching exotic animals at the free petting zoo and riding with their parents on Kiddieland rides. Peruse agriculture and creative arts exhibits, witness livestock competitions, ride a few of the more than 70 thrilling midway rides and work up an appetite for some of the hundreds of fair foods, including 30 types of food on a stick.
TeensTeens will be thrilled zipping around town on a Segway tour while learning about many of the city’s popular sites. Guides at SegAway Tours of Columbus (400 N. High St.) provide instructional/practice sessions before leading a guided tour.
Easton Town Center (160 Easton Station) is an open-air shopping mall with nearly 200 dining, shopping and entertainment venues, including a 30-screen AMC & IMAX theater. After shopping at favorites like American Eagle, Hollister and PacSun, nosh on a burger and fries at Flip Side (3945 Easton Station.).
Have a couple hours? Try one of the several zipline experiences offered at ZipZone Canopy Tours (7925 N. High St.). You'll soar above 20 acres of central Ohio's forests.
Graeter’s Ice Cream (2555 Bethel Rd.) boasts that it has the world’s best ice cream; fussy foodies and persnickety teens will agree. The craft ice cream and gelato will tantalize your taste buds. Take a self-guiding tour of the production facility to view the dense ice cream being created in spinning French Pot freezers.
Can’t wait for St. Patrick’s Day? Teens can don green garb and head to Dublin for the Dublin Irish Festival (5200 Emerald Pkwy.) held in August; it offers more than 20 activities, games and inflatables as well as Highland sports competitions and energetic Celtic dancing and music. Fun contests include the most freckles, greenest eyes and reddest hair.
All AgesDemonstrations, exhibits, movies, a planetarium and live shows at COSI Columbus (333 W. Broad St.) teach science concepts and take the mystery out of technological advancements. Build a bridge, control waves in a tank, dissect computers, lift a car using a lever, maneuver a rover on a Mars-like landscape and split a laser beam. Daredevils can ride a unicycle on a wire suspended 17 feet above ground.
German Village (588 S. 3rd St.) has enough small-town charm to captivate the entire family. Take a self-guiding tour past parks, residences, restaurants and shops along the red-brick paved, tree-lined streets and you might glimpse fossils in the limestone stoops and foundations. Dine on hearty German fare at Schmidt’s Restaurant und Sausage Haus (240 E. Kossuth St.) followed by French pastries at Pistacia Vera (541 S. Third St.).
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ShoppingColumbus is a natural for discovering bargains and hard-to-find items. If you like the time-saving convenience of shopping at malls, choose from these: Easton Town Center, off I-270 exit 33 at Easton Way; The Mall at Tuttle Crossing, off I-270 and Tuttle Crossing Blvd. (in Dublin); and Polaris Fashion Place, off I-71 and Polaris Parkway.
The sprawling Easton Town Center, off I-270 exit 33 at Easton Way, is a shopper's delight. Set up as an old-fashioned open-air village market, the upscale center has more than 200 retailers and restaurants, including Banana Republic, Barnes & Noble, Bose, Burberry, Chico's, Coach, The Container Store, Crate & Barrel, Gap, H & M, Macy's and Nordstrom. Quaint, British-style red phone booths and fountains sprinkled throughout the center add panache to this already chic center. Five free parking garages allow for plentiful parking.
If you'd rather ferret out more unique merchandise, explore the city's shopping districts and specialty shops. Local bakers, butchers, chocolatiers, fishmongers, florists, farmers and ice cream makers sell their wares at the North Market, 59 Spruce St. On Saturdays during growing season (May-October), more than 20 farmers set up shop. Saturdays also feature live music, and festivals are held throughout the year. In operation since 1876, the indoor market is open Tues.-Sat. 9-7 and Sun.-Mon. 10-5.
Step into the brick-fronted shops in the restored 19th-century German Village, south of I-70/I-7 on 3rd Street, where shopkeepers will give you a warm “Wilkommen” as you peruse delightful caches of books, home decor and even baked goods. Wandering through the 32 rooms of books in the labyrinthine The Book Loft, 631 S. 3rd St., might make you feel like a mouse in a maze. Instead of finding cheese, though, you'll find countless numbers of books, many with a discounted price. Be forewarned: Some staircases are narrow and you may have to step aside to let another customer pass.
The relaxing scent of French lavender bath products permeates the first floor of Caterina Ltd., European Housewares, Art & Gifts, 571 S. 3rd St., where armoires and tables are stacked with vibrantly colored Italian ceramics, Polish pottery, and French and German linens; the shop also showcases local artists in galleries on the second and third floors. Pick up a crusty loaf of pumpernickel or some flaky Old-World-style apple strudel made from generations-old family recipes at Juergen's German Bakery and Restaurant, 525 S. 4th St., where you can also snap up hard-to-find imported European foods. Pistacia Vera, 541 S. 3rd St., is a modern French patisserie; try melt-in-your-mouth pastel macaroons in flavors like lavender honey and black raspberry hibiscus, flourless passion fruit Chambord and chocolate bombe tortes, and pastries such as pain au chocolat and orange brioche.
The Short North Arts District, along N. High Street from Poplar Street to Smith Place, offers boutiques, antique shops, restaurants and eclectic art galleries behind restored 1930s facades. Posh Pets Boutique, 743 N. High St. treats pet lovers to irresistible items like pearl-studded kitty collars, dog T-shirts with cute sayings like “favorite grandchild,” fruit-shaped crocheted toys and The Ohio State University pet beds and hooded sweatshirts.
Tigertree, 787 N. High St., deals in trendsetting apparel for 20- and 30-something women and men by Fred Perry and Ben Sherman as well as newer labels like Dear Creatures and Ace & Jig. Sweet floral dresses and cute tops for the gals, and plaid shirts and casual pants for the guys are mixed in with pendants, backpacks, vases and pillows. Rowe Boutique, 718 N. High St., carries a well-edited collection of contemporary fashions by lines such as Lauren Moffatt and Foley & Corinna, curated by former PR director Maren Roth, who earned her stripes in New York City handling accounts for fashion designers.
One man's trash is another's treasure at Rag-O-Rama, 3301 N. High St., a consignment shop where you can also find patent leather go-go boots, candy-colored Afro wigs and a sea of racks filled with gently used vintage and modern clothes, most contributed by college students. Among some recent findings: Paige Denim jeans, an Odile top and Chloe sunglasses.
It's practically a rule that college towns have to have a used record store, and Columbus is no different. Used Kids Records, 2500 Summit St., fills the bill with a collection ranging from Nat King Cole to Florence + the Machine. Vinyl geeks can excavate for quasi-buried treasure to stock their collection, quite cheaply in fact; most used records and CDs sell for under $10. Used Kids' well-informed clerks are not the pretentious music snobs you might expect and will gladly help you in your search for hard-to-find discs. The go-to shops for avid Buckeye boosters are College Traditions, 286 W. Lane Ave., and Conrads College Gifts, 316 W. Lane Ave., which carry everything from sweatshirts to dog collars to football-shaped soap dishes with The Ohio State University logo.
Behold beautiful objects from decades and centuries past at Columbus-area antique malls. Try Eclectiques Antique Mall, 3265 N. High St.; Grandview Mercantile, 873 N. High St., in the Short North District; Greater Columbus Antique Mall, 1045 S. High St., and Heritage Square Antique Mall, 1865 Brice Rd.
Bob Hall / flickr
NightlifeYou might think that Columbus would be hard-pressed to satisfy the entertainment needs of its diverse populace of college students, entrepreneurs and suit-and-tie business types, but guess again. Whether you're a mellowed-out jazz aficionado, a fist-pumping rock fan or you just want to dance until you drop, you'll find a night spot in Columbus that suits your fancy.
Sometimes the best place to experience a city's music scene and feel its flavor is a local “dive” bar. You can hear live jazz almost every night of the week at the saloon-like Ruby Tuesday (not affiliated with the national chain restaurant), 1978 Summit St. This long-lived local haunt has been open since 1973 and yes, it was named after that song. Phone (614) 291-8313.
Dick's Den , 2417 N. High St., also fits right in to the “dive” category and is a favorite with the college crowd since it's on The Ohio State University campus. Rough-hewn wood and an old jukebox mark the décor of this fairly nondescript hangout. It's not a rock and roll bar as you might expect of the usual college juke joint; instead, blues, soul and jazz bands play Wednesday through Monday and there are bluegrass jams on Tuesday. Phone (614) 268-9573. Also on the OSU campus is the Wexner Center for the Arts, High Street and 15th Avenue, where you can catch underground acts like indie songstress St. Vincent, or enjoy screenings of alternative and foreign films; phone (614) 292-3535.
The Short North Arts District has its fair share of evening entertainment and is easy to spot, especially at night, with colorfully lit high arches that stretch over North High Street from one side to the other, luring lounge lizards and barflies like moths to a flame.
If it's cold outside, baby, Barrel , 1120 N. High St., has just the thing to warm you up. Have the barkeep mix you a hot toddy from its more than 80 varieties of whiskey, or, if the weather calls for something on the rocks, go for an Old-Fashioned or a Rusty Nail (just like Dad used to drink). This whiskey bar and restaurant is located in a building that was a speakeasy and brothel more than 100 years ago, which adds to its mystique. Phone (614) 564-9058.
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Going downtown? The Arena District has a small but diverse mix of entertainment choices. Conveniently, three of them reside within just a few steps of each other. The Basement , 391 Neil Ave., is the place to go to see the coolest underground acts, both locally and nationally known (at least to those “in the know”), including acts like Fall Out Boy and The Whigs. The dark, intimate space comes complete with thrift-store sofas and graffiti-covered walls. EXPRESS LIVE! (formerly LC Pavilion), 405 Neil Ave., is a concert venue where bands that are too famous to play at the Basement perform. Arctic Monkeys, Buddy Guy, Indigo Girls, Insane Clown Posse and The Killers are just a few current acts that have played here. The walls at A & R Music Bar , 391 Neil Ave., are plastered with 30 years' worth of concert posters and photos of well-known performers. Live bands don't play here, but it's a popular pre- or postgame gathering spot convenient to nearby Huntington Park or Nationwide Arena, as well as a perfect place to stop in for a cocktail after a concert at EXPRESS LIVE!, right next door. Phone (614) 461-5483 for all three Neil Avenue venues.
For something completely different, make your way to The Big Bang Dueling Piano Bar , 401 N. Front St. Despite its name, it's not just a couple of pianists having a faceoff. The show, which mixes music and comedy (and alcohol if you so choose), almost requires audience participation, so be prepared to take part in a sing-along or even go on stage, all in the name of a good time. Phone (614) 233-9999.
R Bar Arena , 413 N. Front St. is not your usual sports bar. Yes, it has pool tables, sports memorabilia everywhere you look, beer-drinking sports fans and flat-screen TVs, but take a closer look. This bar is devoted to the sport of ice hockey and the memorabilia (jerseys, hockey sticks, pucks, framed autographs) are covered with the logo of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who play at Nationwide Arena. R Bar is within walking distance of the arena, so it's a natural gathering spot for hockey fans. Phone (614) 221-4950.
Bach Festival Society
Performing ArtsThe Columbus Association for the Performing Arts, (614) 469-1045, brings to the area productions including well-known musical performers and plays. Professional theater and Broadway shows visit area stages on a regular basis; PNC Broadway in Columbus performs at the Ohio Theatre and Palace Theatre; phone (800) 294-1892.
Jazz is prevalent in Columbus, with the Jazz Arts Group's Columbus Jazz Orchestra playing the familiar Big Band sounds of Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman; phone (614) 294-5200. The 17-piece big band plays a subscription series at the Southern Theatre, 21 E. Main St.; phone (614) 469-0939 for tickets. The ProMusica Chamber Orchestra also offers concert series at the Southern Theatre; phone (614) 464-0066. Aspiring musicians comprise The Ohio State University Jazz Ensemble, which performs on campus.
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Opera Columbus presents several major opera productions throughout the year; phone (614) 461-8101 for information or (614) 469-0939 for tickets. BalletMet, (614) 229-4848, produces classical and contemporary works.
Community groups also provide a full schedule. Gallery Players at the Jewish Community Center offers productions, including musicals; phone (614) 231-2731 for tickets. Contemporary American Theater Company (CATCo) performs in the Riffe Center, 77 S. High St.; phone (614) 469-0939 for tickets. Grove City's Little Theatre Off Broadway performs comedies, dramas and musicals; phone (614) 875-3919. Short North Stage performs in the 1920 Garden Theater, 1187 N. High St.; phone (614) 725-4042. Available Light Theatre is at 77 S. High St.; phone (614) 558-7408.
Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front St., presents a schedule of performances blending seemingly unrelated forms of entertainment like sketch comedy, live rock and roll and new media; phone (614) 416-7625.
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SightseeingAn excellent vantage point from which to view the city is the 40th-floor observation deck of the Rhodes State Office Tower. The building, Columbus' tallest structure, also can be toured. Phone (614) 466-7361 for more information.
Bill Koontz / flickr
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Columbus in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Columbus.
Day 1: MorningStart out your 3-day stay in Columbus with an unusual breakfast: ice cream. Swing into Graeter's Ice Cream and check out the history and education center to learn about this Ohio company. If you're staying near downtown and thinking about a trip to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Graeter's is on your way (13 miles north of downtown, to be precise).
Continue seven miles north to nearby Powell and you'll find one of the country's top-rated zoos, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium , a definite must-see. The name may sound familiar; Jack Hanna, an animal expert who often appears on television shows, is Director Emeritus. It's preferable to spend a day here, but even a few hours will give you a good sampling of the zoo's top exhibits. Don't miss the Kangaroo Walkabout, where more than a dozen bouncy marsupials hop about freely on the grass or lounge under shady trees. A short, 1-rail fence is all that separates you from the delightful roos. Make sure you visit the polar bears and koalas; for the rest of your tour, take a gander at birds, moose, trumpeter swans, gorillas, bison, wild cats, Asian elephants, Arctic foxes, reptiles, sharks, manatees, penguins, flamingos...the list goes on.
Day 1: AfternoonWhen your stomach starts growling louder than a Western lowland gorilla's, you'll find plenty of provisions around every corner of the Columbus Zoo. Carts, food stands and sit-down cafés dole out munchables ranging from sweet treats like funnel cakes, ice cream, fried Oreos, scones and smoothies to savory choices like pizza, sandwiches and wraps, hamburgers, salads and cappuccino.
You may end up spending the day at the zoo, but if you leave early enough, drive over to the Ohio History Center . If your kids normally find museums boring, they'll be thrilled when they step foot inside this one, especially when the first thing they see is a gigantic, life-size replica of a mastodon skeleton. Parents and kids alike will be intrigued by such Civil War artifacts as civilian clothing and well-worn battle flags, Native American arrowheads and beads, and cars from the mid-20th century. Kids can also play in a log cabin and use computers to learn more about Ohio's natural history.
Day 1: EveningTime for dinner? Martini Modern Italian wins points for its ambience alone, with red and white modern décor, white leather chairs and massive sparkling chandeliers, but its menu earns it a gold star. Albeit on the pricey side, the restaurant offers a palate-pleasing range of pasta, chicken veal and seafood entrées as well as martinis in offbeat flavors like citrus tarragon or pineapple sage.
For a more casual evening, grab a brew and a hot dog while you cheer on the National Hockey League's Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, 200 W. Nationwide Blvd. If minor league baseball is your thing, watch the Columbus Clippers, Triple-A National Champions in 2010 and 2011, play at Huntington Park Stadium, 330 Huntington Park Ln.; the state-of-the-art ballpark opened in 2009.
Day 2: MorningPerhaps some freshly baked croissants or scones and just-plucked strawberries will hit the spot for breakfast, in which case head to the North Market, 59 Spruce St., a mostly-indoor farmers market that will put a smile on the faces of foodies and locavores. Marked by a huge neon sign, the bustling market holds vendors hawking everything from farm-fresh produce and spices to bakery treats and international foods, and its open daily.
Day 2: AfternoonWhile away the afternoon with a stroll in the Short North Arts District, along North High Street from Poplar Street to Smith Place. Wander in and out of independently owned boutiques, antique stores and art galleries in this bohemian shopping area; you'll find merchandise ranging from affordable antiques to trendy and expensive designer denim.
All that walking and shopping can make anyone's stomach growl, so get a table at Marcella's Short North and tuck into pizza baked in a Neapolitan stone oven; braised veal meatballs make for a savory appetizer, and the homemade pasta can't be beat.
For spectacular frozen treats that have won rave reviews nationwide, head to Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams for out-of-the-ordinary flavors like wildberry lavender, beet cake with black walnuts, and coriander raspberry.
Day 2: Evening
Quinn Dombrowski / flickr
Incurable chocoholics will want to save room for dessert at Le Chocoholique, 601 N. High St. A bakery case holds a massive collection of exquisitely decorated chocolates that look like miniature works of art. The flavors are equally artful and include Velvet Elvis (peanut butter, banana and bacon-flavored), chipotle cherry and limoncello espresso. Or have a Picasso-esque slice of cake with a cappuccino; it's all served by chic, well-mannered college girls. Take a window seat, savor your sweet indulgence slowly, and watch the locals stroll by.
Day 3: MorningLet the peaceful surroundings at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens give you a gentle start to your third day in Columbus. Commune with nature as you drift through the gardens and gaze at a Bonsai collection, exotic orchids, and a Pacific Island water garden, just a few of the conservatory's highlights. Inside the property's centerpiece, an impressive 1895 Victorian greenhouse made entirely of glass panes, are tropical flowers and more than 40 varieties of palm trees. Blown-glass orbs and reeds in gem-like hues by artist Dale Chihuly add another dimension to the horticultural collections.
Day 3: AfternoonIf you're ready for a little adventure, COSI Columbus , a science center that mixes education and fun, is your kind of place. Have you ever tried to lift a car or ride a bike on a tightrope? Here's your chance! Use a giant lever to raise a 2,437-pound automobile or ride a unicycle on a tightrope several stories high. Split a laser beam, maneuver a spacecraft and submerge yourself in a submarine. During live shows, watch rats play basketball as you learn about operant conditioning or learn about weather as you step inside a cloud.
Willkommen to the German Village , just a few minutes away from COSI by car. The charming red-brick homes, cafés and shops fronted by flower-filled window boxes are a visual treat; just watch your step as you tread along the village's equally charming yet uneven cobblestone sidewalks. Stop at a local bakery for some apple strudel or pumpernickel bread, and wend your way through 32 rooms at block-long The Book Loft, 631 S. 3rd St., a literature-lover's delight. Browse local art and European ceramics, pottery and linens at Caterina Ltd., European Housewares, Art & Gifts, 571 S. 3rd St.
Day 3: EveningBefore you say auf wiedersehen, polka on over to Schmidt's Restaurant und Sausage Haus in German Village, where you can feast on German favorites like wiener schnitzel, bratwurst and potato pancakes as well as Schmidt's signature jumbo cream puffs. On weekends, tap your feet and slice your schnitzel to the high-energy sounds of polka and oompah duo Squeezin' n' Wheezin'.
AttractionsIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
After moving to the newly designated capital of Columbus in 1816, state officials would wait more than 40 years for a finished Capitol building. A cholera epidemic, harsh winters and other setbacks delayed construction. Today, visitors can tour the splendor of the Greek Revival-style Ohio Statehouse , which features historical exhibits, artistic treasures and limestone from the banks of the Scioto (sigh-OH-toe) River.
Just across the river to the west is COSI Columbus , a AAA GEM attraction. Shoot water cannons, drive robotic rovers and travel through time at this interactive science center, all while expanding your knowledge of the world around you. Live shows and special events add to the stimulating atmosphere as you learn about such concepts as centripetal force and erosion.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium , another long-standing city favorite, is home to more than 600 species, hundreds of which are threatened with extinction. Dedicated to preserving wildlife, the zoo protects such endangered creatures as bald eagles and leopards. This AAA GEM attraction is one of only three facilities outside of Florida exhibiting West Indian Manatees. The marine mammals live in a 190,000-gallon indoor aquarium at Manatee Coast in participation in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Program until they can be released back into the wild.
Just north of Columbus in the city of Delaware are the Olentangy Indian Caverns , a collection of natural caves formed by an underground river millions of years ago. Artifacts on display indicate the Wyandot Indians sought refuge in these caverns from harsh weather and such enemies as the Delaware Indians. Visitors descend a concrete stairway into the maze of passageways, some descending as far as 105 feet below the surface.
At the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in nearby Pickerington , three major exhibition halls display an ever-changing collection of motorcycles, from a 1912 Indian racer to a 2005 BMW K1200R. Photos, sculptures, riding gear, literature and awards illustrate the story of American motorcycling through the years.
Golf is another beloved diversion in Columbus, the birthplace of Jack Nicklaus. At The Ohio State University sports complex, the Jack Nicklaus Museum lets visitors pore over items related to his remarkable career. Six of the golfer's Masters Trophies, his Masters green jacket and his 1975 PGA Championship wedge are just a few of the mementos. A pictorial essay chronicles Nicklaus' record-breaking career.
Another Columbus son is memorialized at The Thurber House . Author, humorist and cartoonist James Thurber lived here with his family while attending OSU. Visitors can sit on 1900s-era furnishings, play the downstairs piano or touch the typewriter Thurber used while working for The New Yorker.
Just around the corner is the Columbus Museum of Art , sure to inspire visitors with its works by Henri Matisse, American painter Edward Hopper and Columbus native George Bellows. Norman Rockwell, who painted for The Saturday Evening Post for more than 4 decades, is also represented in the museum's permanent collection. The restored main building features the Center for Creativity which engages visitors with art and activities.
Children's toys are the main focus at Mid-Ohio Historical Museum—Doll & Toy Museum , south of Columbus in Canal Winchester. Also known as The Doll and Toy Museum, this attraction presents thousands of toys including collector dolls from the 1920s, more modern collections such as “Star Wars” and Disney memorabilia, and G.I. Joe action figures. Barbie, who is actually a revamped version of a popular German doll named Lilli, also makes an appearance.
Step into a work of art at The Topiary Park , a botanical depiction of the Pointillist painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” A local sculptor re-created French artist Georges Seurat's most recognizable work in this whimsical garden of clipped yews.
A Bonsai collection, exotic orchids and a Pacific Island water garden are just a few of the highlights at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens . The glass structure was built in 1895 in the style of the Glass Palace at Chicago's World Fair and Columbian Exposition in 1893. As visitors walk through this AAA GEM Attraction, they'll find vibrant blown-glass pieces by artist Dale Chihuly interspersed throughout the natural exhibits.
Another tranquil spot is the 150-acre Wahkeena Nature Preserve in Sugar Grove, some 35 miles away in Fairfield County. Wahkeena is an old Yakima Indian word meaning “most beautiful,” and these forested sandstone cliffs merit the name. Along the nature trails, hikers may come across native orchids, 26 types of ferns, countless birds and such wildlife as the state animal, the white-tailed deer.
A scenic nature preserve surrounds lovely plantings of daffodils, daylilies and more than 2,000 species of plants at Inniswood Metro Gardens in Westerville . Once headquarters for the Anti-Saloon League, the leading group for prohibition in America, Westerville was known as the “dry capital of the world.”
In nearby Lancaster is The Sherman House Museum , birthplace of General William Tecumseh Sherman and his brother, U.S. Senator John Sherman. The house museum contains family mementos and period furniture. Named Tecumseh after a Shawnee Indian chief, General Sherman led his army on the famous March to the Sea, carving a path of destruction through Confederate Georgia during the Civil War.
Civil War weapons, Native American art pieces and a mastodon are just a few of the artifacts you'll see at the Ohio History Center , the flagship museum in the Ohio History Connection's statewide system of historical sites. The 271,000-square-foot center houses five permanent exhibits as well as temporary exhibits. The neighboring 1800s Ohio Village is open during signature events, including games of the Ohio Village Muffins and the Lady Diamonds, teams that play vintage baseball according to Victorian rules.
Traditions also run deep in German Village , a historic downtown district. St. Mary's Catholic Church, built in 1868, may be the focal point, but the village's charm is reflected in small cottages with wrought-iron fences along tree-lined brick streets. Around Third Street, restaurants and shops keep travelers satiated during a day of sightseeing, offering everything from sauerbraten to specialty cheese and European housewares.
Affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art and Technology stirs the creative spirit. Wander the Art Works Gallery for inspiration, take a class on glass blowing or become a scientist in the first floor laboratory. There's always something new to discover at this innovative center in Newark .
Also in the vicinity is the Newark Earthworks , three major segments of earthen enclosures built by Ohio's prehistoric peoples. Experts speculate that the Great Circle, nearly 1,200 feet in diameter, was a ceremonial hub. The 50-acre Octagon Earthworks and the square Wright Earthworks most likely served religious and social purposes.
South of Columbus, the Wagnalls Memorial in Lithopolis displays memorabilia relating to the Funk & Wagnalls Co., publisher of dictionaries and encyclopedias. The former estate houses two Norman Rockwell paintings that served as covers for the company's early publication, The Literary Digest. The attraction also exhibits art from other former Funk and Wagnalls illustrators as well as a collection of Chinese keepsakes.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
Whether you're sightseeing, shopping for souvenirs or strolling through such historic neighborhoods as German Village, Columbus' restaurants tempt at every turn. On the menu are local landmarks as well as newer spots creating a buzz in the culinary world.
On the first level of the Miranova office tower is M at Miranova , a marquee restaurant and bar overlooking the Scioto riverfront. Eclectic American dishes influenced by European and Pacific Rim flavors include Chilean sea bass with shrimp dumplings, veal mignon with shitake mushroom sauce, lobster mashed potatoes and fresh sushi rolls. A dynamic wine list features selections from around the world. Dramatic lighting, ceiling-high sheer curtains and a comfortable outdoor patio are icing on the cake—which at M is filled with a liquid chocolate center and accompanied by Tahitian vanilla ice cream.
For another restaurant with a hip and relaxing cosmopolitan atmosphere, head to Martini Modern Italian, a storefront eatery in the Short North Arts District. Just past the dining room's stark white pillars, you'll see busy chefs preparing a wide variety of authentic Italian appetizers and entrées. Specialties include herb-seared tuna with parmesan risotto, shrimp scampi served over beef tenderloin and rosemary-cured, orange-glazed pork chops. A separate martini bar and an impressive wine list round out the dining experience.
With white tablecloths and an intimate, candlelit dining room, The Refectory Restaurant & Bistro has been a fine-dining tradition in Upper Arlington since 1980. The 19th-century structure—a former church attached to a schoolhouse—showcases a world-class wine cellar with more than 700 selections. Reflecting the classic and contemporary cuisine of the chef's homeland of Lyon, France, the menu features beluga caviar, mild-spiced duck and venison with plum bordelaise sauce and lyonnaise sausage. Among the tempting desserts are a traditional vanilla crème brûlée and a European cheese plate.
Just east of Columbus, City Barbeque attracts crowds of diners for its down-to-earth Southern specialties, from barbecue chicken and ribs to pulled pork and brisket. The simple dining room features wooden picnic tables adorned with the necessities: rolls of paper towels and a variety of secret-recipe sauces. Made-from-scratch side dishes include such home-style favorites as greens with pork, corn pudding and baked beans. The restaurant also offers carry-out service— you can even order a whole smoked hog!
Aromas drifting from Cafe Istanbul also tempt shoppers at Easton Town Center. Decorated in the style of a Turkish bazaar, the cozy establishment features a wide selection of Mediterranean dishes. Meat and vegetable specialties include moussaka, stuffed cabbage and okra with lamb morsels. A traditional fish entrée from Rize on the Black Sea includes a choice of salmon, flounder or tilapia broiled in a vegetable sauce. The restaurant also makes its own desserts and occasionally features live entertainment. For a breath of fresh air, dine on the seasonal outdoor patio.
Other shopping districts keep hungry visitors just as satisfied. Polaris Fashion Place is home to Molly Woo's Asian Bistro, which specializes in Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean dishes. Its comfortable, modern Asian dining room is a great place to unwind after a hectic day of bargain-hunting in northern Columbus. Although courteous servers are on hand to offer recommendations, ordering is still a daunting task with such delectable choices as Kung Pao calamari and Mongolian hot pots filled with ginger-sake shrimp and scallops. Enhance these Eastern flavors by sampling Molly Woo's white tea blended with Valencia orange peels.
The Carriage Place shopping center in Dublin is home to the Chile Verde Cafe. Featuring authentic northern New Mexico cuisine—generally more spicy and flavorful than traditional Mexican dishes—the popular family eatery serves up enormous helpings of barbecue-grilled fajita burritos and spicy Southwestern crab cakes. The zesty salsa is prepared fresh, while a large selection of Mexican beers and margaritas are on hand to wash everything down.
Nestled along a row of Grandview Heights stores, Spagio draws attention for its blend of European and Pacific Rim cuisine as well as its eccentric ambiance. Fascinated passersby gaze through the windows at the dining room, where star-lit tree branches and clusters of glowing umbrellas hang from the ceiling. The menu runs the gamut from traditional Italian antipasto, wood-fired pizzas and potato gnocchi to hoisin-glazed duck and Delmonico steak. Adjacent to the restaurant is a wine shop offering several thousand bottles of premium wine, a wine-tasting area and a cigar lounge.
Two-story Schmidt's Restaurant und Sausage Haus, a German Village landmark, has served customers since 1886. The eatery re-creates Old World Germany through its signature cuisine—dished up by servers in traditional Bavarian garb—and charming décor, along with live music on most nights. German beers and microbrews complement the restaurant's sausage platters, Wiener schnitzel and cabbage rolls. A buffet also offers a large selection of German and American recipes. With all that food, you may have to make a separate trip for dessert; choices include apple strudel and whopping, half-pound cream puffs.
German Village also is home to Lindey's. Featuring exciting American cuisine, the establishment fashions itself after an Upper East Side New York bistro. The dinner menu features jumbo lump crab cakes, linguini with shrimp and clams and Lindey's signature tournedos of beef. Lunch and children's menus also are available daily, while brunch is served on weekends. Live jazz plays most Thursday and Friday nights. Stay awhile after your meal to sip a Spanish cappuccino or a New Orleans-style hot toddy with dessert—and who could resist the tiramisu or croissant bread pudding with banana caramel sauce?
Paradise awaits beer aficionados at the historic Brewery District's The Columbus Brewing Company. After a long day of sightseeing, unwind with any one of their six handcrafted ales, or order a tasting flight and sample them all. The hip, casual eatery offers much more than just suds, though. Aside from a large selection of white, red and sparkling wines, the Short Street restaurant features wood-fired pizzas, buttermilk-fried catfish, pecan-crusted chicken and such Cajun-inspired dishes as shrimp served with grits and andouille sausage.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
The Ohio State University Jazz Festival in April features college and high school bands. Origami, kite-making, cultural displays, martial arts performances, cooking demonstrations and an open market selling exotic Asian goods are on tap at the Asian Festival , held Memorial Day weekend in Franklin Park.
The Memorial Tournament in late May and early June epitomizes the rich history and traditions of golf. Started in 1976 by Columbus native Jack Nicklaus, the PGA Tour event takes place at Muirfield Village Golf Club in nearby Dublin. A portion of the proceeds benefits Ohio charities.
In June the Columbus Arts Festival features music, dance and theater performances, arts, crafts and food. On the last Sunday in June a walking tour of the renovated homes of German Village is offered in the Haus und Garten Tour . Festivities include gardening demonstrations and a watercolor competition. The city celebrates our nation's independence with Red, White and Boom in July.
If there's one don't-miss festival in town, it's the Columbus Jazz and Rib Fest in July. Some 400,000 people bring their bibs to this event, which boasts performances by premier jazz artists and local bands—plus 50 tons of barbecued ribs. After sampling the award-winning food, relax to mellow tunes.
In late July to early August, Columbus is the home of the Ohio State Fair , probably the biggest shindig in the state and one of the largest fairs in the nation. Held at the Ohio Expo Center off I-71 between 11th and 17th avenues, the 12-day event, which is attended by more than 800,000, has livestock displays, exhibits, midway rides, entertainment and food. The fair has been held since 1850.
Early August's Festival Latino attracts growing crowds with Latin American music and food as well as educational workshops and cultural performances. Traditional and modern music and dance are highlights of the 3-day Dublin Irish Festival in August. Cultural draws include Irish storytelling and English Civil War reenactments. Also in August, Reynoldsburg residents celebrate the birth of the commercially sold tomato at the Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival .
In September private residences are opened during the Short North Tour of Homes & Gardens . In mid-September is Country Living Fair ; inspired by the popular magazine, it features more than 150 booths filled with antiques and handcrafted goods, seminars, music and food. Polka bands, bratwurst, beer and thousands of people combine at the Ohio Expo Center in September to give Columbus one of its grandest celebrations: Columbus Oktoberfest .
The Columbus Italian Festival takes place Columbus Day weekend and revolves around St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. The convening of the All American Quarter Horse Congress also in October, brings one of the world's largest quarter horse shows to the city. It attracts more than 650,000 people to the Ohio Expo Center and includes horse-judging contests and educational lectures.
Stand on the sidelines to cheer thousands of runners in the Columbus Marathon in October. Ranked as one of the top U.S. marathons, the course is mostly flat with a clover-leaf design, looping through downtown and the surrounding suburbs.
In mid-October, head to Circleville for the Circleville Pumpkin Show , which hosts fall exhibits and activities centered around pumpkins.
Wildlights , held mid-November through New Year's in Powell, includes musical performances, animal exhibits at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, an ice-skating rink and a display of holiday lights. The year ends with First Night Columbus , a community-wide event featuring dancing, music and fun in downtown.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Inspector 10 / AAA
A Knight in Khaki ArmorSince the early 1980s, a shaggy-haired man in a safari outfit, holding an ostrich chick or a tiger cub, has intrigued TV audiences across the globe. Jack Hanna, known to many as “Jungle Jack,” appears on talk shows, publishes books and continues to promote the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, the attraction that helped him achieve widespread recognition as an animal authority.
Tapped to direct zoo operations in 1978, Hanna initiated sweeping changes at the previously run-down facility. In his most visible modification, cages evolved into more naturalistic habitats. His appearance with rare twin gorillas on “Good Morning America” garnered national interest in the Ohio zoo, and attendance quadrupled under his watch. In addition to improving public relations and subsequently gaining zoo funding, Hanna favored a hands-on approach to the job—he regularly picked up trash, parked cars, served refreshments and filled in wherever help was needed.
It is interesting to note that Hanna holds a degree in business and political science, not zoology. He grew up on a farm in Tennessee, and at the age of 12 became a veterinarian's volunteer. Following college, Hanna opened a petting zoo in his home state but closed it after a resident lion mauled a child. From 1973 to 1975, Hanna served as the director of a small zoo in Sanford, Florida. He went on to become the executive director at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium—and one of the city's biggest celebrities.
A regular wildlife correspondent on “Good Morning America” and a frequent visitor to both the David Letterman and Larry King sets, Hanna has discovered the advantages, as well as the pitfalls, of a career in the spotlight. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) criticizes his handling of animals as exploitative and negligent. The group cites injuries to bystanders, including politician Newt Gingrich and anchorman Charlie Gibson. According to PETA, Hanna's public appearances also cause unnecessary stress to baby animals. Hanna counters that he works to educate people about wildlife protection. On his TV show, “Jack Hanna's Into the Wild,” he frequently visits organizations involved in animal rescue and habitat conservation.
Grahm S. Jones / Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
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