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Unveiling My CL Fair Adventure: Columbus, Ohio Edition

For years, attending one of the famed CL Fairs had been a cherished dream, patiently biding its time on my bucket list. But this year, I decided to seize the moment, embracing the philosophy that life is simply too short to keep postponing our dreams (#lifeistooshort). Now, I must admit, this blog post comes a tad later than I initially intended. You see, I was grappling with a case of self-posting-phobia. But, as fate would have it, the CL Atlanta Fair is just around the corner, so I figured, why not share some of my tips and stories that might come in handy?

My destination of choice was the CL Fair in Columbus, Ohio—a decision that was all but serendipitous. The September weekend aligned perfectly with my schedule, and I was eager to explore a city that was entirely new to me. Besides, what better way to usher in the fall season, right? Naively, I anticipated the gentle embrace of autumn weather. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted with a sweltering 90-degree heat coupled with what I’m convinced was 110% humidity! Well, they say life’s an adventure.

Ohio was not entirely unfamiliar to me, but Columbus was a first-time encounter. It struck me as quintessentially Midwest, nestled conveniently next to my home state of Illinois (at least that’s how it felt to this Chicago girl). I opted to stay at one of the hotels listed on the event’s website, offering a special deal for attendees. My choice was a downtown hotel, allowing me to immerse myself in the city’s vibrant scene, particularly its dining options. However, it became apparent that everything in Columbus was about a 20-minute drive away—be it the airport, the hotels, downtown, or the Fair.
The Fair spanned from Friday to Sunday, with early bird entrances on Friday and Saturday. Determined to make the most of my adventure, I booked a red-eye flight from San Francisco on Wednesday night. This allowed me a precious day to explore Columbus on Thursday before the Fair commenced, as well as an opportunity to acclimate to the time difference. With fingers crossed, I hoped for an early hotel check-in the following day to squeeze in a nap. To aid my slumber on the plane, I armed myself with Advil PM, earplugs, a cozy scarf, and perhaps a glass of wine. It was a strategy that yielded a few precious hours of rest. I touched down at 6 am, promptly secured a rental car, and set off to explore!

First on my itinerary was breakfast, and my “research” (a.k.a. finding a spot with strong coffee and delectable breakfast fare) led me to Katalina’s Cafe, not far from the Ohio State University campus. I savored my meal outdoors, as the heat and humidity had yet to unleash their full force. Katalina’s offered a unique twist with tables functioning as art canvases for guests to write on. The menu featured mouthwatering breakfast tacos and pancake balls—a delightful creation that combines the essence of a pancake with the charm of a donut, complete with filling! Trust me, you’ll want to try them (#yum).

Thanks to my trusty Roadtrippers app, I was able to plan my sightseeing adventure, carefully sequencing my visits to coincide with their opening hours. Given that it was still quite early, I had some time to kill before places started unlocking their doors. So, my first stop was Ohio State University—a sprawling, picturesque campus adorned with historic buildings, expansive green lawns, and enthusiastic students savoring the college experience. It almost felt like a sneak peek into my son’s potential future, complete with football, ROTC, and a Midwestern-style cafeteria menu!
Next up was the North Market, an indoor haven situated in downtown Columbus within the Arena District. This bustling marketplace was home to an eclectic array of food vendors, merchants, restaurants, gift shops, and a wine & beer store—an ideal place to discover locally sourced beverages and bring some back to the hotel room. The market showcased products from local and national sources, and to my pleasant surprise, I even stumbled upon one of our hometown cheeses. If you’re seeking suitcase-friendly souvenirs, North Market Spices is your go-to destination.

The journey continued with a visit to the charming German Village, a delightful stroll down memory lane and a fitting pursuit for an antique enthusiast like myself. German Village pays homage to the significant German immigration to Columbus in the 1850s. This historic district encompasses over 200 acres and boasts red brick houses, brick-lined streets, German-style taverns, unique shops, art galleries nestled within the architecture of a quintessential German neighborhood. At Schmidt’s Fudge Haus, I found candies and trinkets that transported me back to my youth—Charleston Chew, Chuckles, Lunden’s throat drops, you name it! And let’s not forget The Book Loft, a bibliophile’s dream with 32 small themed rooms filled with books. If you can’t find a book here, it probably doesn’t exist. Each room even had its own playlist of music, adding to the ambiance!
But the standout highlight of this area had to be the Golden Hobby Gift Shop. This heartwarming non-profit, operated by the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, supports senior citizens who are skilled in crafting. The shop spans two floors within a beautiful old school building, where seniors not only craft but also manage the shop. I unearthed some incredible gems and shared hearty chuckles as I reminisced about crafts my mother and aunts used to create.

Can you recall these from your own childhood? Perhaps they were the result of Girl Scout projects?

And with that, my first day in Columbus came to a close. I checked into my hotel and indulged in a well-deserved nap. I opted to dine in the hotel that evening, given my fatigue and the early morning call for the early bird entrance. The gates were set to open at 8 a.m., and the hotel offered live music and delightful cocktails—a perfect choice.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual tour of Columbus! It’s a city that has certainly left a mark on me, one I’d happily return to in the future. The people are warm and welcoming, navigation is a breeze, and there’s an abundance of experiences waiting to be explored. Until next time!