Maybe you could only picture the bobblehead mascot Brutus the Buckeye when you heard that Columbus, Ohio, was to be the host of this year’s USAV girls’ junior national championship (June 28-July 7). But this unique city has much more to offer than just winning college sports teams. Boasting delicious and unexpected restaurants, plenty of shopping, and invigorating outdoors attractions, this Midwestern Mecca is sure to provide ample entertainment for the pilgrimage of juniors players and their families this summer.
For as landlocked at Columbus may be, there is a surprisingly vibrant sand volleyball community. Flannagan’s (6835 Caine Road) is a full service bar with a pool and outdoor sand courts that has hosted Barefoot Wine open-level tournaments in the past. During the summer they have open play every day from noon until 6 p.m. The VolleyPark (5501 Sandalwood Blvd.) also has their own bar, Izzee’s Barefoot Bar & Grille, as well as open play hours on Friday (5:30 p.m.-close) and Saturday (1-6 p.m.). Friday nights are free, while Saturdays cost $5 to play. The Fred Beekman Park at Ohio State (2200 Carmack Road) has four sand courts that are open to the public as well as tennis and basketball courts, baseball and softball fields, plenty of open space for picnicking, and paths for running.
The North Market (59 Spruce Street) is a rare find in city dining and unbelievably convenient to the volleyball tourist, as it is located directly across the street from the convention center. A public market with vendors peddling everything from Bavarian pretzels to boba tea and all edible goodies in between, the North Market is a culinary experience that can’t be missed. One highlight is Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, a creamery that carries flavors you aren’t likely to find elsewhere, such as Wildberry Lavender, Riesling Poached Pear Sorbet, and my personal favorite, Savannah Buttermint. There’s also Hubert's Polish Kitchen featuring authentic Polish dishes whose recipes were passed down through generations of cooks to the stand’s owner, Hubert Wilamowski; and Firdous Express—owned by Abdul Aburmaieleh, a bodybuilder who is active in the annual Arnold Classic Body Building competition (another convention center favorite)— where you’ll find fresh lamb, hummus and other delicious Mediterranean dishes. The market also hosts a farmer’s market every Saturday and an artisan’s market every Sunday.
Easton Town Center (160 Easton Town Center) is an open-air shopping mall with a plethora of purchasing and browsing options. A twenty-minute drive from downtown, Easton has the region’s only Nordstrom, as well as other upscale stores such as Burberry, Crate & Barrel and Oakley. It also boasts mall favorites the girls will appreciate, from American Eagle to Forever 21 to H&M. Easton has a comedy club, and AMC theater and enough restaurants to satisfy each of the variant tastes amongst the players (and the parents!).
The Short North Arts District, just down the street from the convention center, offers an alternative shopping option, calling itself the “art and soul” of Columbus. Posh Pets Boutique (743 N. High Street) will keep your dog or cat outfitted in decorative collars and carriers, GrandView Mercantile Co. (873 N. High Street) is part antique vendor and part homewares consignment store, and Homage (17 Brickel Street) offers sometimes regionally themed tees that honor moments and personalities from pop culture, sports, and politics. The Short North area also has restaurants in a wide variety of themes as well as art galleries and bars.
Sometimes you don’t want to spend your entire trip eating, swimming in the hotel pool, and watching balls ricochet between the four walls of the convention center. Luckily, Columbus has plenty of activities with which to mix up your trip. The COSI museum (333 West Broad Street) was voted the number one science center in the country by Parents magazine. The museum’s interactive and educational exhibits will entertain everyone in your traveling caravan. The Franklin Park Conservatory (1777 E. Broad Street) houses 400 species of plants and a collection of glass art from Dale Chihuly, as well as a glassblowing pavilion. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (4850 W. Powell Rd.) is a full-spectrum experience: animals, amusement park rides, and a water park, all in one location. Also, the well-known Jack Hanna was the zoo director from 1978-1992, and still retains the zoo as his home facility. The Arena District (Nell Ave. & Nationwide Blvd.) is the center of nightlife in Columbus. Hosting many of the big music acts that pass through the city, as well as the home court for most of Columbus’ professional sports teams, the Arena District has a venue for every flavor of bar hopper. The Big Bang is a dueling piano bar that pits two pianists against each other every night, while The Three-Legged Mare fills the local Irish Pub niche. Gordon Biersch Brewery brews its own lagers on-site.
Originally published in June 2012