A great way to explore a new city or town is to see if there are any themed trails set up by locals. They make it easy for you to get out and about to see the locations listed, and you’ll probably go into some places that you’d have otherwise missed.
That was my situation exploring the trails set up by Experience Columbus, Ohio. I only had a few days, so didn’t quite make it to their Columbus Ale Trail (although I do like craft beer) but had lots of fun exploring the Columbus Coffee Experience trail and the Made in CBUS Trail highlighting local makers.
On each one, four stops gets you a little swag prize.
Most tourism organization trails let you pick up a “passport” or stamp card in any participating business or attraction, although with some you may have to go to a central location like a Visitor Center.
In Columbus, I started the Coffee Trail at Stauf’s Coffee Roasters when I needed a caffeine boost walking around the pretty German Village neighborhood, then I hit Pistacia Vera and bought lavender shortbread cookies from their bakery, since I was already pretty wired and didn’t want more coffee right then.
A well-thought-out trail certainly has a central theme, but will also have places on it that carry more than just one thing. The Coffee Trail includes a couple of cafes and bakeries, which helps you avoid “theme fatigue.” Make sure you check out any trail by seeing how it’s laid out on a map, so it’s easier to find and visit those businesses that are located near one another.
My time in German Village included two Coffee Trail stops and one Made in CBUS stop (the local arts and crafts experts at Helen Winnemore’s.) The next day, I switched my attention and walking shoes to the Short North Arts District, centered on High Street a few blocks north of downtown Columbus. There are metal arches over the street that visually guide you to it.
Much of the focus of the Short North is the arts and art galleries – there is a Gallery Hop the first Saturday of every month – but I mostly wanted to check out the local shops and eateries.
First stop, of course, was the nearest place to me on the Coffee Trail, One Line Coffee, where I had a strong iced brew and chatted about photography with a local….
When you travel light, you don’t want to load up too much while shopping, but in following the Made in CBUS Trail I found interesting businesses like The Candle Lab. You can mix up a custom candle scent there, but I bought a pre-made gift set that was easy to pack. It’s called Herb Garden, with basil, rosemary, mint leaf, and lavender jarred candles. The basil one is burning as I write this.
Made in CBUS is a nice collection of local stops – a meadery, body care and soaps, letterpress printer, home decor, distilleries, jewelry, gifts, toys, health food/juice, plants, and clothing. If I wasn’t such a fanatic about not checking my suitcase, I would have gone on a slightly nuts buying binge.
One shop called Homage had lots of sports and pop culture references on their men’s and women’s shirts, including the one I bought which was a quote from Game of Thrones. The front says “What do we say to the God of Death?” and on the back, “Not Today.”
Reality check – I haven’t actually watched the Game of Thrones series; I bought it because the words of defiance made me laugh, THEN I learned their origin. Is that an embarrassing confession, or what?!
Bouncing between the two Trails and working my way over to the city’s famous North Market food hall, I went into another place on the Coffee Trail, but again didn’t get coffee.
The artisanal chocolates and treats at MMELO Boutique Confections are truly almost too pretty to eat.
I definitely ate them. Spectacular flavors to go with the artistry of the exteriors.
The nearby North Market on Spruce Street is a must-visit in Columbus. It’s been operating since 1876, and although the building housing it may have changed a few times, the spirit of good food and lots of variety still holds true.
There is parking right next to the Market, and you can buy food downstairs and eat at tables outside or upstairs, where this photo was taken….
The Market was busy when I was there, but it was a little after lunch, so the crowds had thinned. I did what I always do at food halls – walk all the around the perimeter first, to see what they have and what looks good before I make a decision.
The Satori Ramen Bar was packed, Destination Donuts looked tempting, I liked seeing Taste of Belgium and Flavors of India right next to each other, and look at this beautiful fresh pasta….
The Black Radish Creamery had a clever idea for what to do with small chunks of their cheeses….
My old friend Andy had been following my Columbus trip on Twitter, and after seeing many tweets from the North Market, he asked if I was going to do anything but eat all day….
I said, “Pretty much, then walk the neighborhoods, then get a coffee.”
He tweeted back, “Awesome. Invite me next time. 🤣🤣🤣.”
I definitely should; he would love it.
It’s not on the Trails, but I can’t let a Columbus visit go by without mentioning Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. They sent a food truck down to South by Southwest in Austin a few years back, and when I tried it I was smitten with their unique, imaginative ice cream flavors. In addition to their booth at North Market (where the business started in 2002) I also made an evening stop at the Jeni’s in Short North.
The mural on the side of their building is perfect for the U.S. Midwest….
There’s a big table in back, so we squeezed in and dug in….
Both of the Trails have worked to find businesses across the city, including a few out in the suburbs, where I stopped into Celebrate Local in the large, nicely designed Easton Town Center outdoor mall.
They had shelves and shelves of Ohio products, and I was in there longer than I expected.
Busy travelers who want to support local artisans and businesses (and who also like the idea of a built-in itinerary) should look and see whether a destination has trails like the ones in Columbus.
For inspiration…. Grand Rapids, Michigan has the Beer City Brewsader passport, Louisville, Kentucky has a Hot Brown Hop, the Kawarthas Northumberland area in Ontario, Canada has the Butter Tart Tour, and Dallas has the Margarita Mile.
I got quite a walking workout following trails in Columbus, Ohio, but my reward was a full tummy, caffeinated brain, and the satisfaction of spending lots of time in cool neighborhoods popping in and out of local businesses.
Doesn’t get much better than that.
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