When it comes to Oktoberfest, Columbus is simply wunderbar, as they would say in Germany.
Organizers of the free weekend event include the group-friendly Schmidt’s Restaurant und Sausage Haus in German Village. Oktoberfest takes place over a three-day weekend every September.
It has found the perfect home at the Ohio Expo Center and State Fairgrounds, north of downtown. There, three century-old buildings that feel like German bier halls provide 100,000 square feet of weatherproof space — plenty of room for people, Polkas and oompah bands. Parking is plentiful for a small fee.
The site is flat and compact, with a food hall (giant cream puffs or deep-fried Reubens on a stick, anyone?) and a bier hall that pours Ohio craft beers and German-style brews. The Klaberheads, Toledo Holzhacker and other popular bands perform on two stages as the Tuba Troupe and other roving musicians stroll through crowds. A yodeling contest and karaoke make for memorable moments. Artisans sell wooden toys, jewelry, soaps and other handcrafted items. Festivities get off to a fast start with a run on Friday night followed by a ceremonial tapping of the keg.
Fair brings Country Living to life
For many, the pages of Country Living magazine feel like home — or at least a home they’d love to live in. The popular lifestyle magazine has found a way to bring its colorful pages to life with a series of weekend events called Country Living Fair. In Columbus, the fair is held in the 19th-century Ohio Village at the Ohio History Center, a perfect vintage setting for the three-day event, held every September.
In addition to some 200 artisans and craftspeople selling everything from vintage linens, antique furniture, handmade jewelry, repurposed garden decor, ethically made clothing, zero-waste home goods and beef jerky, the fair offers a lineup of well-known creative forces. Among them this year is Annie Sloan, the woman behind Chalk Paint®, who will give insider tips and demonstrate ways to inventively use her paint, and Nancy Fuller, cookbook author and Food Network star, who will talk about baking, sign cookbooks and talk to fans about their favorite bakers from “Spring Baking Championship.” Others in the speaker lineup include Kimberly Schlapman, Little Big Town vocalist and author of the best-selling cookbook “Oh Gussie,” and Kim Leggett, award-winning interior designer and author of “City Farmhouse Style.”
See bright leaves and foraging bison
For fall foliage enhanced by wildlife, take a drive out to Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park. Bison that were recently reintroduced to the park graze in two fenced pastures; the park’s 7,000 acres stretch along two National Scenic Rivers and are pocketed with wetlands and prairies. To elevate the drive to an educational experience, arrange for a docent or a naturalist to talk about the protected landscape.
Reap the benefits of a bountiful harvest
Fall harvest is a time of bounty, and, sometimes, bewilderment. What to do with armloads of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme? The Ohio Herb Center in Gahanna has become known for classes that show students simple ways to preserve crops, such as freezing herbs in olive oil so the cubes can be dropped into soups and stews come winter.
Two holiday bright spots
Two Columbus favorites entice visitors in the fall and early winter with displays along their pathways. In late September, Franklin Park Conservatory replaces summer flowers with bunches of mums and pansies and piles of bright pumpkins along paths. On November 16, as the holidays near, trees made of poinsettias or Christmas trees bedecked in hand-blown glass ornaments replace fall foliage during Conservatory Aglow.
Beginning in mid November, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium also glows each evening as millions of LED lights are plugged in for the 30th year of Wildlights. Night falls around 4:30 p.m. so groups should plan to arrive then and beat the post-workday rush. They’ll have plenty of time to enjoy hot coffee and cocoa as they see many of the zoo’s 10,000 animals in a new light. Visits with Santa, photos with Rudolph and train rides make it a fun family event. During Wildlights, the zoo stays open until 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday through the first week of January.
Easton exudes holiday spirit — and shopping options
Easton, a village-style shopping complex, sparkles in November and December with lights wound around trees, strung merrily above streets and wrapped around its more than 50-foot Christmas tree. More than 230 stores put shoppers in the spirit to find gifts for everyone on their list. Weekends are especially lively with horse drawn carriages, carolers, brass quartets and Christmas tree light shows. Nearly every major national retailer is represented, as well as many Columbus favorites including Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Homage and Buckeye Corner.
Tours show you the lights
Several companies, including Columbus City Adventures, offer holiday light tours. SegAway Tours of Columbus’ two-hour jaunt allows groups to cover more ground as they speed along on segways, listening to holiday tunes via a personal wireless system. Tours are nightly from late November through December 23, and groups larger than the standard eight-person tour can be accommodated with advance notice.
Along the way, groups take in the Grand Illumination along the Scioto Mile, the Festival of Lights at Columbus Commons and a grand tradition since 1932, the State Farm Christmas Corner. On weekends at this life-size Nativity scene, musicians and singers encourage everyone to sing along. Holiday window displays in the old Lazarus building, across from Columbus Commons, are another favorite. The windows are dressed up in holiday themes, just as they were in downtown’s heyday, when children pressed their noses against the cold glass and made their Christmas wish lists.
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