Ohio’s diversity stretches from one end of the state to another. Soaring cliffs, waterfalls and sandy beaches mix with world-class museums and entertainment. From the shores of Lake Erie to spectacular state parks and big-city vibes, the Buckeye State is sure to roll out a genuine Midwestern welcome.
Here are five destinations to consider next time you plan a group trip to Ohio.
Columbus boasts history, art and outdoor attractions. Near downtown, quaint German Village looks much as it did 100 years ago. Brick cottages sit on limestone foundations graced by window boxes and slate roofs. At the Meeting House, a short video recounts the village’s history before groups take a guided neighborhood tour. The Book Loft, the nation’s largest independent bookstore, sells thousands of tomes displayed in 32 themed rooms.
Culture abounds in Ohio’s largest city. The Ohio Theatre is home to the Columbus Symphony, BalletMet and Broadway shows. Theater tours feature the legendary Mighty Morgan, one of the world’s few theater pipe organs still in its original home.
With no two shops alike, the Short North Arts District boasts some of the city’s best art galleries and coffee bars. The Pizzuti Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, a gift to the city from one of the world’s top 100 collectors, is housed in the architecturally rich Travelers insurance company building. The collection rotates exhibitions and hosts artist talks and special events.
“Quinci Emporium in the Short North Arts district is owned by an Italian culinary diva, and it’s part cook store and part event venue,” said spokesperson Amy Weirick. “Wine tastings, cooking demos and all sorts of classes will make you feel like you’ve made a trip to Italy.”
South of the city, Hocking Hills State Park comprises 10,000 acres of unbroken forest punctuated by soaring rock faces, craggy caves and rushing waterfalls. Besides the picturesque hiking trails, groups can zip line, take an ecology or geology tour and rappel. Wide-ranging group-friendly activities, including horseback riding, astronomy experiences at John Glenn Astronomy Park and nighttime moth safaris at Butterfly Ridge, are available.
As Ohio’s second-largest city, Cleveland boasts world-class art, culture, sports and rock ’n’ roll. Next February, the city hosts the NBA All-Star Game, which will commemorate the NBA’s 75th anniversary. Another highlight, Front International 2022 will feature local, Midwest and international artists during a triennial contemporary art event, held July 16 through October 2. The festival incorporates street art, museum displays and interactive exhibits in unexpected places and can serve as an informal art scavenger hunt.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum offers the immersive “Power of Rock Experience,” which features original footage from induction ceremonies that have been held every year since 1985.
“It’s like a concert experience, and you feel the sound,” said Nick Urig, senior manager of public relations for Destination Cleveland. “In the last few years, they’ve added ‘The Garage,’ with playable instruments like Fender guitars and drum sets, and video screens that offer lessons with an instructor so that people can actually play after they’ve looked at all the artist memorabilia.”
On the lakefront, groups can hop aboard the Nautica Queen or the Goodtime III and view downtown’s waterfront skyline on a lunch or dinner cruise with the option of live music. Edgewater Beach, located several miles from downtown, has a beach house and a bar and grill. At The Foundry, large indoor tanks allow groups to learn or try out their rowing skills. More experienced rowers can head to the Cuyahoga River on a customizable trip. According to Urig, it’s a fun group activity and the perfect place to try out the sport of rowing in a controlled environment.
Akron & Canton
Akron brims with culturally rich attractions. The Stan Hywet Mansion, home to one of Goodyear’s co-founders, is an architectural beauty filled with treasures from around the globe. The nationally recognized Akron Art Museum has a 5,000-object collection that consists primarily of modern art. Across the street, Summit Artspace hosts artists-in-residence and gallery space. On more than 800 acres, the Blossom Music Center is the area’s premier destination for outdoor concerts.
Akron is surrounded by lush Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and groups can hop aboard the popular Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for breakfast, dinner or wine tastings on the only passenger train that travels through the heart of a national park. The Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail bisects Akron’s downtown. Seasonal concerts and ice skating take place at several of the locks. Museums in nearby Canton include the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where visitors can watch Super Bowl replays and see the Hunt/Casterline Pro Football Hall of Fame Card Collection. The Maps Air Museum features 47 types of aircraft, such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon. And the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum preserves the history of his presidency. “Beside the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium offers behind-the-scenes tours when an event is booked at the museum or the stadium,” said Tonja Marshall, vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Canton. “The stadium’s nontraditional event spaces include the locker room or their sky terrace, which is actually the press box rooftop.” Within city limits, the Tuscan-inspired Gervasi Vineyard produces 100,000 bottles annually. Three restaurants offer private group dining, including The Bistro, which is housed in an 1820s barn. The Marketplace sells local art, top-of-the-line jewelry and gifts. Groups can add on an in-depth pairing tour, a cooking class or a tour of the on-site distillery.
Lake Erie Shores and Islands
Ohio’s Lake Erie makes island-style getaways a Midwestern reality from the moment your group steps onto Put-In-Bay, nicknamed the Key West of the Midwest. The island bustles with restaurants, bars and shops. At the dock, a tour train will pick up your group, and golf cart rentals are available. On one end of the island, the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie in its extensive visitor center. As the nation’s third-tallest monument, it rises 352 feet, and its observation deck affords panoramic views.
On laid-back Kelleys Island, nature takes center stage. The island’s North Shore Loop Trail skirts a rocky shoreline and half-moon sandy beach. Foodies will gravitate to several wineries, and the second-generation-owned Village Pump serves traditional fried perch sandwiches and brandy Alexanders. Both islands offer fishing charters, watercrafting and kayaking outings, biking and hiking.
“Just a short drive to the ferries in Sandusky, Sawmill Creek Resort was purchased by Cedar Point and has undergone a complete renovation with plans to reopen next year,” said Amanda Smith Rasnick, director of group accounts for the Lake Erie Shores and Islands Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The resort has its own marina, private beach and an impressive Tom Fazio golf course.”
On the Lake Erie peninsula, Cedar Point Amusement Park has entertained guests since the late 1800s. Many of the park’s 70 rides are great for families. Known as the roller coaster capital of the world, the park features 18 coasters, including the 120-mile-per-hour Top Thrill Dragster. Any time of day, the complementary one-mile sand beach welcomes guests who want to unwind. For a laid-back afternoon or evening, the award-winning Firelands Winery, the state’s largest producing and distributing winery, hosts tours and tastings in an upstairs room that accommodates large groups.
On the Great Miami River in downtown Dayton, Riverscape MetroPark offers paved trails among reflection pools and flower-filled gardens. It’s a hub for Dayton’s outdoor concerts and numerous festivals, such as the Dayton Celtic Festival and the Hispanic Heritage Festival. During the summer at downtown’s Levitt Pavilion, just six blocks away, free outdoor concerts take the stage from Thursday through Sunday.
Dayton is considered the birthplace of aviation, and several area museums focus on aviation and aerospace. The National Museum of the United States Air Force ranks as the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum. Personalized group tours and scavenger hunts, photo ops, special movie showings and “Dinner Under the Wings” are options. Indoor and outdoor exhibits display more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles, plus the museum houses a 3-D theater, the National Aviation Hall of Fame and simulators that deliver virtual reality rides.
Surprising to many, the Wright brothers engineered their flying machines at what is now the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. The park’s multiple sites include the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center, the Wright Cycle Company and the Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretative Center. The Wright Brothers National Museum has more Wright artifacts than any other place in the world, including the original 1905 Wright Flyer III that Orville donated, the only plane in the nation designated as a National Historic Landmark. The Wright family mansion, Hawthorn Hill, can also be toured.
“If you’re an aviation enthusiast, it’s like standing on hallowed ground,” said Bev Rose, director of marketing for the Dayton Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Next to the field where the Wright brothers learned to fly is the tarmac for Huffman Air Force Base, so it’s a full circle story of aviation.”