Columbus is number one on a best places list: 10 things to do within walking distance from downtown.

My friend over at Wallet Pop, Tom Barlow has outlined several reasons why Columbus is the number one spot on Forbes list of best places to retire. As he noted, that’s great news for those of us who already live here. It will save moving expenses later in the golden years.

Along with being a great place to retire, I have to say, Columbus is one of the best cities to visit if you are looking for variety whether its edgy or sedate, ethnic or traditional, outdoors or indoors.

Like Tom mentioned, having a car would make a visit easier because COTA, the public transportation system has issues, but even for backpackers, Columbus would be a good few days stop on a cross-country itinerary. There are many places within walking distance of the Greyhound bus station and the main arteries of the city bus.

With the person arriving by bus in mind, if I were heading to Columbus, here are places not to miss, all near the downtown and in a walkable distance. Although, the COTA buses that go along Broad St. and High Street would save time. The interest range covers the arts, history, famous people, science and nature. With the list I’ve given, you’ll be busy.

  • Ohio Statehouse. Because Columbus is the state capital of Ohio, the capitol building has a prominent place downtown. There are free daily tours. The tour is an interesting way to find out about the history of the state and learn about the architecture of the times. Plus, it really is a gorgeous building. The statehouse lawn is used for concerts, art exhibits, rallies and Civil War reenactments.
  • Across from the Statehouse is the Verne Riffe Center where the Ohio Arts’ Council’s, Riffe Center Gallery and the Studios in the Riffe Center Theatre Complex are located. The gallery offers creative and unusual exhibits on a rotating basis and the theatre complex offers a variety of performances ranging from modern dance to children’s’ theater to experimental type plays.
  • Columbus Museum of Art. This museum has exhibits that change regularly. The most recent is Objects of Wonder from the Ohio State University. Of the permanent collection, artwork is consistently rotated. (Eat lunch here.)
  • Franklin Park Conservatory. An elegant greenhouse that adds lush greenery and vibrant color to life any time of the year. The houses around the conservatory are grand, although a couple of blocks off you’re in territory that shows what happens when people with money head for the suburbs. The gift shop is superb. Each night, the glass Palm House is illuminated by a light show installation by artist James Terrell.
  • King Arts Complex offers exhibits and performances that highlight African American contributions to the arts. There is an important mural called Middle Passage that was created to evoke the feeling of being on a slave ship. The mural was painted in a connecting passage between two sections of the center.
  • Ohio Theatre, Palace Theatre and Southern Theatre, offer a theatre trifecta of historic gorgeous buildings built during the time period when ornamentation and rich fabrics were key. Between them, you can see the top notch performances. In this past year, I’ve seen The Lion King, Avenue Q, the Columbus Symphony, the Nutcracker Ballet, David Sedaris, John Prine, Ralph Stanely and the Stanely Brothers, and Promusica, among others. Each theatre and others can be accessed through CAPA,Columbus.
  • Topiary Garden in back of the Main Library (Columbus’s library system is number 1 in the U.S. as well.) In addition to the lovely flower beds, bushes are trimmed to represent Seraut’s painting “In the Park.” Stop in the Main Library for coffee and a cookie at the snack bar. The library is a gorgeous, stately building–one of my favorites.
  • James Thurber’s house. James Thurber, the humorist who penned “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” grew up in Columbus. Now his house is a museum as well as a literary center that hosts several author readings year round.
  • Kelton House. Another house museum. This Victorian house was inhabited by members of the same family for 125 years and was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
  • BOMA (Bar of Modern Art) Here’s a place to finish of the evening. Originally a statuesque Methodist church, the original stained glass windows and building details have been adapted for dancing, music, art and fine food.

One place you might stay if you have some cool cash, is the Westin Great Southern Hotel. Connected to the Southern Theatre, this is where Thurber hung out in the bar.

For extensive information about other parts of Columbus and more things to do, head to Experience Columbus, the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Of course, there’s more to do. I haven’t even touched on places away from downtown except for Franklin Park Conservatory.

The first photo at the beginning of this post by Nutsy Fagan was taken from COSI, the science museum, another worthwhile stop. While you’re walking here, check out the replica of the Santa Maria, Columbus’s ship–Columbus the explorer–where Columbus got its name. How? Why? Not sure.

Remember, these are downtown, I didn’t cover German Village, the Short North, the Brewery District or the Arena District. Those are also close to downtown and within walking distance if you have a good pair of shoes, or hop on COTA.