Ohio State vs. Cal
Ohio State University's passion and legendary tailgating are well known. What I didn't expect to find in this Midwestern city is southern hospitality. This year Columbus celebrates its 200th anniversary. From young kids to lifelong residents, fans bleed scarlet and gray. Walk into any place and yell "O-H" and everyone will respond with "I-O!" Ohio State passion extends beyond Columbus as this team symbolizes the people's pride in their state.
Game day tips
While I hung out with a number of Cal fans over the weekend, Friday night saw me being warmly welcomed by Ohio State fans Andrew and Bailey at The Little Bar (home to Tiney Gate – one of the best tailgating spots near campus). That was the beginning of the hospitality I found in Columbus, as Ohio State fans came up to me in bars, restaurants and on the street to talk during my entire visit.
With that politeness and helpfulness I received from Ohio State's passionate fans, you won't have too many problems wearing your team colors – that is unless you're a Michigan Wolverine. This made it all the more welcoming to join the Buckeye fans on gameday as they live for their fun pre and postgame football traditions. However, friendly fans, Heisman trophies and championships are just a part of the Ohio State tradition.
The Ohio State Marching Band may have the biggest following of any band in the country. Before each home game, TBDBITL ("The Best Damn Band In The Land") holds skull sessions at St. John Arena where they perform before thousands of fans. Make sure to arrive early and get a seat to hear one of the nation's best college bands.
For the best tailgating, wander down Lane Avenue and through the parking lot to experience the full Ohio State tailgating experience. The Varsity Club is one of the biggest tailgates in the country, as fans enjoy music, beer and the staple pre-game activities. Tailgating is as important as the game, from freshly grilled food, to games of cornhole, to camaraderie shared among thousands, some of which don't even have a ticket to the game.
Before the game starts, grab your seat to see the band spell "Ohio" as a trombone player dots the "i." Experience the game with more than 100,000 fans screaming and cheering for their team. After the game, many fans head home, while others continue to party late into the night at the bars near campus and in the Short North area on High Street near downtown.
For hotels, game and activities, Columbus is an easy city to walk but renting a car will help you get around Columbus. Parking options are limited, so if you drive into the city, be sure to pay close attention to parking garages and street parking.
Where to stay
If you are traveling to Columbus for the game, the Arena District near downtown and Olentangy River Road are your best accommodation options. Columbus hotels near the fairgrounds can save you money, but the location isn't as desirable.
Near the Arena District, the Hampton Inn & Suites, Hilton, Hyatt and Courtyard by Marriott offer 3 and 4-star hotels for those looking for a comfortable place with a moderate budget. While these are located a few miles from the stadium, you are still in the heart of downtown.
Hotels near Olentangy River Road are more budget-friendly and closer to the stadium, although these sell out quickly for games so it is best to book far in advance. The Fairfield Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Red Roof Inn, Hilton Garden Inn and Varsity Inn offer clean, simple rooms in a 2 or 3-star hotel.
Near the Columbus Fairgrounds, the Days Inn and Comfort Inn are the most affordable options with easy access to the stadium. I will note that these hotels aren't as desirable due to their location near the freeway. Another option is The Blackwell, a 4-star hotel located near campus and run by the business school.
Where to eat/drink
Columbus has become a great food destination for locals and visitors. There is something for everyone too. From great vegetarian options, cool food trucks, ice cream and sweets to a plethora of cafes, restaurants and bars, travelers won't have any trouble feeding their hunger.
In the Short North area on High Street, Northstar Café offers delicious vegetarian options. Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace offers affordable and unique hotdogs downtown. Columbus also has one of the best local markets in the country, North Market, where you can find inexpensive and delicious food. For more options, don't be afraid to try the more touristy destinations of Schmidt's, Katzinger's Deli and Thurman Café.
For those who have a craving for ice cream, try indulging your sweet tooth at Jeni's Ice Cream. This ice cream store serves up some delicious Ugandan Vanilla Bean ice cream. It was one of the most delicious Vanilla Bean ice creams I've ever tasted. I savored every bite and then washed it down with some Whiskey and Pecan ice cream.
If one sweet isn't enough in Columbus, grab a late night cookie at Insomnia Cookies. Enjoy a different kind of sweet treat at DK Diner in the Grandview neighborhood, where you'll find an affordable breakfast or lunch, including a donut sandwich (eggs, cheese, your choice of meat on two glazed donuts) for just $5.00!
Food trucks such as Dinin' Hall are located throughout Columbus. If you aren't sure where to go or what to eat, walk from High Street near campus to downtown to find a number of options. After just a few days in Columbus, I knew it was a few extra pounds that I was bringing home as a souvenir.
What to do
Columbus is a sports town devoted to the Ohio State Buckeyes. However, there are plenty of things to do in Columbus for the young and old.
If you love sports, watch the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets or the MLS team Columbus Crew. You can get an Ohio Stadium tour or Ohio State campus tour if you make reservations as well.
Columbus is very family-friendly with many activities for kids. The Columbus Museum of Art has two floors of art along with special exhibits and local artists. The Wander Room encourages kids to explore their creative side while the museum has hands-on activities in nearly every room. On Sundays, entrance to the museum is free.
Drive a few minutes outside of Columbus to enjoy animals from North America, Asia, Australia, Africa, and more at the Columbus Zoo. If you love the outdoors, Columbus has a number of parks and trails, including a rock climbing wall, children's play area, trails and an Audubon Center at Scioto Audubon Metro Park. COSI, the Center of Science and Industry, offers one of the best interactive science museums in the country with fun, educational activities for kids. And finally, if you enjoy nightlife, there are plenty of bars and clubs located near campus, the Arena District and the Short North area.
Jeremy Branham lives in Sacramento, California and is a budget traveler, sports fan, and travel enthusiast. With his College Football Travel Tour, he explores the culture of college towns as travel and sports collide. Get more stories and photos from the College Football Travel Tour along with destinations, travel tips and stories, travel guides, and hiking adventures on his blog Budget Travel Adventures.