If you’re in Columbus, Ohio, over the next few days, I have a to-do list for you.
Oh, right, you’ll be busy on Saturday night. That’s when the Oklahoma Sooners visit the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Horseshoe for a showdown of college football titans. Now I remember why we’re all going to C-bus.
But I was lucky enough to get to go last year, too, when Tulsa played at Ohio State a week before the Buckeyes came to Norman.
While I was in Ohio’s capital city, I immersed myself in Buckeye lore and got a behind-the-scenes tour of the football team’s incredible facility.
And when I wasn’t touring the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex or doing my radio show at the 97.1 The Fan studios or watching The Ohio State University roll The University of Tulsa or digging into a three-way at Skyline Chili, I was getting to know Columbus, or at least its highlights, taking notes and taking photos so you, Sooner Nation, could follow my path a year later.
So, here we are, on our way to Columbus. If you’ve got a few hours to kill, I have just the thing for you …
WHAT TO SEE
Woody Hayes Athletic Complex
No matter what else Sooner fans do in Columbus, they must make time to admire the Buckeyes’ glorious history, all encased in one big, glass-building trophy room that houses Ohio State’s eight national championship trophies and seven Heisman Trophies, as well as every bowl trophy the program has ever won and much more. There are plenty of other displays that would remind Sooner Nation of their Barry Switzer Center trophy room. Another dynamic element is a small theater that plays hype videos and a thundering, almost ear-splitting audio soundtrack on a loop. It puts fans in the gameday mood, to be sure.
Easton Town Center
Simply put, Easton has it all. There are some 60 dining options, from casual to upscale, from Mexican to Mediterranean, from brewhouses to ice cream shops. There is world class shopping, from tech to sporting goods, from golf to jewelry, from toys to clothing and accessories for everyone. And there’s a comedy club, an arcade and a movie theater. Chill out by the fountains before kickoff, it’ll be good for your mental health.
The Arena District
Downtown ballparks and concerts — what’s better than that? The Triple-A Columbus Clippers play here (Huntington Park is regularly named among America’s top minor league ballparks), and so do the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets (unfortunately, it’s offseason at Nationwide Arena). As such, city planners have built a wonderful dining and entertainment district around those destinations. Want a really great show? Tim McGraw and Faith Hill play Nationwide Arena on Thursday night — perfect for early arriving Sooner fans. Shop this vibrant downtown district from dozens of options for dining and drink. Oh, and food trucks.
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Every day at noon, catch a glass-blowing demonstration (or make your own creations Wednesday and Thursday from 6-9 p.m.), and at 1 and 3 p.m., watch a mass butterfly release. Walk through a display of dazzling topiaries focused on endangered animals. This Sunday at the Columbus Zoo includes free family-friendly presentations with various animals. And by all means, stroll through the stunning, peaceful gardens outside.
It’s not that spectacular on the outside (Oklahoma City’s capitol building has a more striking exterior), but the cupola is breathtaking from inside. Free tours begin in the Map Room, where a giant map depicting every Ohio county sprawls on the marble floor. Remember, this has been one of America’s political centers since it was built in 1857. This week (Wednesday through next Tuesday), go to the West Lawn to feel the poignant power of the annual 9/11 Memorial, a display of 2,977 U.S. flags — representing the number of victims killed on 9/11 — in the shape of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the crash site in Pennsylvania.
The Ohio State University
Of course you’re going to the game. And when you do, you must linger around the exterior of Ohio Stadium. It’s a beauty. But don’t overlook the rest of one of America’s largest and most beautiful college campuses. The architecture is wildly varied and striking, from hundred-year-old art deco to nouveau designs. Walk from one side of the Ohio Union to the other and marvel at the intricate floor and arched ceilings. The Oval, at the heart of campus, might remind visitors (just a little) of The Mall at New York’s Central Park, and it’s where the College GameDay crew is set up. Hale Hall was America’s first public university student union when it opened in 1910, and it’s now on the National Register of Historic Places. Mirror Lake is currently under renovation and won’t be finished until spring 2018, but it’s worth a look. Thompson Library is the largest of 13 libraries on campus; at least poke your head inside. The RPAC is America’s largest university rec center — think about the millions of dollars a school this size has put into its students’ physical well-being. The Garden of Constants (giant numbers and letters erected here and there) is a peaceful stroll right next to the stadium. And the Wexner Center for the Arts features incredible galleries, a café and a cool gift shop.
Jack Nicklaus Museum
An ideal tribute to golf’s greatest, not far at all from the Woody Hayes Center in the heart of the OSU athletic complex (swing by the Jesse Owens track while you’re there). It’s a 24,000-square-foot “immersive journey through Jack’s brilliant career. But it’s more than just a commemoration of Nicklaus’ achievements on the course. Visitors leave struck by the family stories told throughout the displays.
St. Joseph Cathedral
You want architectural brilliance, a manmade classic of the highest magnitude? This is it. St. Joseph Cathedral, built in High French Gothic style similar to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, celebrated its first mass in 1872 and has been saving souls for the last 145 years. The arches are simply mind-blowing. Guided tours are available weekdays and Sunday afternoons by appointment.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Statue
Yeah. An eight-foot, 600-pound bronze statue of Ah-nuld, the Governator himself, sits atop a pedestal outside the Columbus Convention Center at the corner of High and Spruce Streets. If you think that’s a bit weird, he’s in his vintage bodybuilding speedo, in full glorious pose from his 1970 Mr. World title won at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Columbus. In 2012, Arnold returned to unveil the statue of himself (it’s a replica of one outside the Schwarzenegger Museum in Austria). Unfortunately, Veterans Memorial Auditorium was razed in 2014, and the statue has moved once or twice. Still, Arnold returns every March for the Arnold Sports Festival, which includes a bodybuilding competition.
WHERE TO EAT
Easy Living Deli
There’s only one, and it’s just west of campus. Better yet, it’s owned and operated by former Buckeyes placekicker Vlade Janakievski, who was Uwe von Schamann’s counterpart in that famous 1977 Sooner victory. Even better, it’s wall-to-wall Ohio State memorabilia, autographed goalpost pads and timeless photos that just wash over you as you eat. Oh, and that’s the best part of all: Vlade’s sandwiches are beloved throughout Columbus. He and his crew (including some family) often cater to the athletic department, and lunch rush can be like stepping onto a crowded subway train. But don’t leave, just hold your ground and you’ll soon be on the next train to culinary delight. Vlade fixed me the Urban Meyer Special — corned beef, pastrami and pepper cheese on an Everything bagel (keep in mind, it’s not on the menu) and it was magnificent.
Listen. I love a good, southern Oklahoma chili cookout. But there’s also room in my stomach for what Ohioans call chili — and that’s Skyline Chili. It’s not traditional chili. It’s different. It’s less spicy, more runny. But don’t hate. Don’t be a chili snob. Embrace the difference. I stop for Skyline every time I’m in Ohio, and I always bring back a four-pack. This year, I might come home with eight cans of Ohio’s best.
Hounddog’s 3 Degree Pizza
It’s typical excellent gourmet pizza. Oklahomans will recognize some of the flavors from places like Hideaway or Andolini’s. I’m a sucker for any pizza joint’s meat lover’s pie, and Hounddog’s is as succulent as there is. You can get what the locals call Ohio pizza (cut in squares, toppings and sauce to the edge, thin crust) or an almost infinite variety of other combinations.
Graeter’s Ice Cream
I don’t know exactly what goes into hand-crafting French pot ice cream, but I like it. For Okie reference, Graeter’s is a richer ice cream than Braum’s, served in a homier shop (no burgers, fries or groceries, just ice cream). I’ll probably go to Graeter’s again just because I love it. But …
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
… I’ll probably also find a Jeni’s. It’s been ranked the No. 1 place to eat in all of Columbus. Think about that, No. 1 in a college town of nearly a million people. Brambleberry Crisp? Savannah Buttermint? Salted Peanut Butter with Chocolate Flecks? Yes please.
Rumored to prepare the best burger in all of Columbus, so how could I go elsewhere? I enjoy bleu cheese on a burger … and fried egg on a burger, and bacon on — well, anything. Mission accomplished here. It’s a small place and there’s often a pretty good wait. And if your party isn’t all about the burger, they have a full menu: subs, salads, sandwiches and chicken.
I had a quick breakfast at Tommy’s on my way to the airport, and I’m glad I did. Just west of downtown, Tommy’s is a retro ‘50s or ‘60s-type diner that serves comfort food: pancakes, hash browns, corned beef hash, sausage, bacon, omelets, etc. — all the breakfast basics. They also have a solid lunch menu.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.