The Short North
Columbus abounds with intriguing neighborhoods, a few of them with a strong gay presence. Most popular is the hip and arty Short North, whose main drag, High Street, is lined with gay-friendly bars, restaurants, boutiques, and galleries. A block west you'll find leafy and beautiful Goodale Park, which is where Columbus Pride takes place each June - it's a lovely spot for a stroll on warm days. The neighborhood stretches north from downtown, around the Columbus Convention Center and I-670 underpass, to about King Avenue and East 7th Avenue, a span of just over a mile. You can shop for GLBT and Pride-related gifts and books at Suite Q(815 N. High St.), which is operated by the city's gay media company, Outlook: Columbus. The city's LGBT community center, Stonewall Columbus, has its offices and a drop-in space at 1160 N. High Street.
Notable shops include a handful of favorite chains like American Apparel and Utrecht Art Supplies, but one-of-a-kind independent boutiques dominate here. TORSO (772 N. High St.) has a strong gay following for its underwear, club gear, and accessories; The Chamber (1182 N. High St.) is the city's only gay erotica and fetish shop, with a full supply of S&M gear, safer-sex supplies, lubes, and leather jocks and chaps; Big Rock Little Rooster (654 N. High St.) and Ladybird (716 N. High St.) lead the way in edgy women's fashion. Bink Davies (668 N. High St.) bills itself a "modern day general store" and carries a mix of urbane and campy gifts and housewares, while you can find a fascinating range of fair-trade hand-made crafts and products at Global Gallery (682 N. High St.). The ginormous consignment shop ReVue (881 N. High St.) and its adjacent antique marketplace contain thousands of treasures for the home.
The Short North has a fast-rising gallery scene with close ties to the queer community - check out spaces like 83Gallery, Studios on High, and PM Gallery. There's a Short North Gallery Hop the first Saturday of each month. Speaking of art, note the plaque honoring realist painter George Bellows on High Street - Bellows was born and raised in Columbus, living from 1882 to 1925, and became famed for his gritty, sometimes homoerotic paintings of urban life.
Short North Stage (1187 N. High St., 614-725-4042) is a well-respected professional theater presenting musicals and plays at a handsome space, as well as cabaret and comedy in the Green Room.
At the northern end of the the Short North, two artisan businesses have been making waves for their high-caliber adult beverages. Partly gay-owned, Middle West Spirits (1230 Courtland Ave., 614-299-2460) produces exceptional Oyo Whiskey as well as three top-notch Oyo vodkas, including a classic version, one flavored with honey and vanilla, and another flavored with stone fruit - tours are available weekly. And neighboring Brothers Drake Meadery (26 E. 5th Ave., 614-388-8765) makes tasty, honey-based mead wines, which you can sample in the on-site bar, along with Ohio-made beers and spirits.
Ohio State University Campus and Clintonville
Things remain interesting in Columbus as you continue north up High Street, first reaching the neighborhood of Ohio State University's campus, which runs from about 7th Avenue for 10 blocks up to Lane Avenue. You'll find a number of fun shops and affordable, student-favored restaurants along here. Be sure to check out the Wexner Center for the Arts, a superb contemporary art museum on OSU campus.
Then just north of campus, High Street becomes the main commercial for Clintonville, an eclectic mixed residential and commercial neighborhood that's steadily developed a reputation over the years as a popular place to live among gay men and, somewhat more visibly, lesbians. Businesses like the Clintonville Community Market and Boomerang Room Vintage have a strong LGBT following, as do several restaurants and cafés around the neighborhood.
Downtown and Arena District
Due south of the Short North is downtown, a neighborhood primarily of office buildings and political concerns, but for its western edge, which is home to the lively Arena District. This planned entertainment zone contains Nationwide Arena (where the NHL's Blue Jackets hockey team plays) and Huntington Park (home to the Columbus Clippers Triple A minor league baseball team), along with many restaurants and clubs, although little in the way of establishments with significant GLBT followings.
One of the city's biggest cultural draws is downtown's Columbus Museum of Art, which is especially strong on German expressionism and American modernism. Other popular diversions, especially in warm weather, include the verdant Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Garden, an 88-acre complex dating to the 1890s and showcasing plants from every climate zone on the planet. COSI Columbus science center is a great rainy-day attraction with dozens of engaging interactive exhibits.
The Ohio Statehouse is, itself, worth a visit - it's open for free guided tours throughout the week (with limited hours on weekends), or whenever this mid-19th-century Greek Revival building (which, notably, lacks a dome) is open, you can stop inside to explore on your own. Nearby, you'll find downtown's Theatre Row, which is home to three excellent, historic performance spaces, the Ohio Theatre, Palace Theatre, and Southern Theatre, plus the state-of-the-art Capitol Theatre at the Riffe Center. On the east side of downtown, the 1928 Lincoln Theatre is one of the Midwest's performance spaces dedicated to African-American and jazz heritage.
Just a couple of blocks south of the Ohio Theatre and the statehouse, beautiful Columbus Commons is a 9-acre park that opened in 2011 on the site of a former shopping mall. It's now the site of events and festivals all year-long, some popular food carts during the day (plus two cafés), and colorful gardens. It's a nice example of restoring green space to a densely developed city center. Not far from here, as you head south and west closer to the river, the Brewery District is worth a visit. Once the home of five breweries, it's now a lively area of restaurants, bars, and some mixed-use developments.
Additionally, just west of downtown, East Franklinton is one neighborhood that many see as having great potential - one highlight here, 400 West Rich Street gallery and arts space, occasionally holds events and parties with an LGBT following.
South of downtown, historic German Village is a 233-acre haven of cobbled lanes, wrought-iron fences, flower gardens, redbrick cottages, and two-story homes, many dating to the 1840s through early 1900s, when the city - and this neighborhood - experienced an enormous German immigration. Quite a few gays and lesbians live in German Village, which is also home to many of the city's best restaurants, plus a handful of diverting shops.
Among the latter, the Book Loft is a justly famous 32-room emporium of books set inside adjoining redbrick buildings that date to the mid-19th-century. In the south end of the neighborhood, Schiller Park is a magnificent swath of gardens and greenery that's ideal for stroll. It's named for German poet Friedrich von Schiller, of whom there's a statue in the park.
It's a 30-minute drive north of downtown to the suburbs of Dublin and Powell to reach one of the most impressive attractions in the state, the world-renowned Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, which TV personality and zookeeper Jack Hanna has made famous (he was director of the zoo until 1993 and continues to promote it). The impressive facility is home to more than 700 animal species and is divided into five key regions (African Forest, Asia Quest, Australia and the Islands, North America, and Shores). The complex also includes Zoombezi Bay water park, Jungle Jack's Landing theme park, and the renowned Safari Golf Club.