48 hrs in Columbus, OH – USA

Until last fall, I had heard ho-hum remarks about this place. With a little help from the Internet, before I knew it I was drafting up an inspirational wish list as I packed my Paris gifts and camera.

Beyond the “best city to…” labels, successful business reviews and the flat aerial impression – a handful of buildings does compose a skyline -, Columbus (15th largest in the US) turned out to be a casual city with an edge and worth digging around. There are pretty things, good eats and eclectic places to scout.

Wex © Tristane de la Presle

Wexner Art Center: we were lucky to be in town during the Annie Leibovitz 156-image “Master Set” – on view publicly for the first time. The “Wex” as called by locals is THE forward-thinking modernistic center for contemporary arts (dance, theater and films not seen anywhere else in town) as witnessed by its high-caliber artist line up. No fuss, no attitude, no lines… just friendly service and exceptional large prints of vibrant personalities hanging on plain white walls under high ceilings and drenched in natural light. The WexBlog is fun to peruse to dig a little further behind the scenes. www.wexarts.org

Short North: taking one’s time to stroll through this artsy district (a 1,5 mile stretch along High Street), is surprisingly entertaining if you push doors and ask for insiders’ picks. Art hunt along the Mini Mural Project (ten works of artists with ties to Columbus are selected by local galleries + enlarged + printed on vinyl to be viewed by all on the exterior walls of buildings). You can download the map with locations online.

Peek inside a handful of inspiring boutiques managed by well-traveled and passionate entrepreneurs. The welcome is authentic and it’s fun to learn about the designers as you browse through their selection. My favorite addresses were Bungalow Home for the vintage furniture, lighting, objects and jewelry – Texas ranch meets SoHo loft; Brigade fashion for men – boho seeks independent up and coming designers made in the USofA  that are hard to find in the Midwest apparently; One Line Coffee Shop where educational-sustainable-seasonal-single farm-design and hand poured all mix; Rowe Boutique where a former New-Yorker reminds us that we’re happy she’s there to save us women in need of retail and fashion therapy; Tigertree for its quirky gifts, cards and accessories – a cross between Madmen and Downton Abbey; milk bar for the fashionista meets americana type; OnPaper for its whimsical trip down all-things-paper lane plus a place where I discovered www.loveybride.com (check out her Pinterest boards).

Every first Saturday of the month, galleries open late into the night so you can mingle with locals to live music and bargain with street vendors. Galleries, boutiques, bars and restaurants… the whole strip plays the game of “Gallery Hop”. And to top off a good day of shopping, head to Marcella’s Wine bar for a much-deserved break.

North Market: created in 1876, this cozy indoors market tightly packed with small independent business and local producers (fishmongers, bakers, butchers, florists, Chinese or Italian caterers…) hovers a world of flavors all under one roof. A great place for lunch on the whim, to indulge in artisanal sweets or to revive your fondest memories from European markets. Loved the home-made chocolates, the italian pasta, the cards at the flower stand, the Belgian waffles, the fresh fruits and veggies. Jeni’s ice cream seems to draw the crowds + rare reviews; I found the flavors too complicated and rich. I later discovered Graeter’s ice cream in the Bexley residential area. Now here’s an authentic American-style deli-bakery with hearty simple flavors and serving generous scoops. www.northmarket.com

Pistacia Vera counter © Tristane de la Presle

We skipped the brewery and historic walking tours around the German Village (a 19th century working class area now buzzing with bars and restaurants), nonetheless made time for a proper girls’ break at the dessert boutique and café Pistacia Vera, followed by a stroll through the 33-room  Book Loft – a maze-like home turned bookshop – and apparently one of the nation’s largest independent book stores! According to local friends, the G. Michael’s bistro nearby is a great for diner. www.germanvillage.com

North StarNorthstar Café: whether you’re needing to scratch your shopping itch for all-American brands at J-Crew, A&F, Henri Bendel, Restauration Hardware, Williams Sonoma, Apple, West Elm, Pottery Barn, Gap…or Michael Kors at the outdoor Easton Shopping Outlet (15mn by car), or scouting the latest local spots in Short North (see above), you can’t go wrong at Northstar Café! This fresh American eatery reinvents the meaning of organic, from Ohio-soil ingredients all the way to take-out containers and clothing. The signature burger that came out of the display kitchen is a must and most of the dishes are out of the ordinary. Tried four times over the course of one week, Northstar was wholesome ;o)

So what did I think of Columbus? Loved it. Shared it.

N2S: next visit, don’t miss the zoo and university

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