The Short North arts district in Columbus offers an array of nightlife and entertainment.

Columbus may only be a short drive away from Southwest Ohio, but its proximity doesn't mean it lacks travel location potential. Its closeness, paired with its eclectic attractions, make it an ideal place for a spur-of-the-moment vacation. The state capital offers creative culinary experiences, unique shopping opportunities and distinctive attractions without having to leave the state.

"This is an absolute gem of the Midwest," says Shiloh Todorov, director of Columbus's German Village society.

"A person who hasn't been to Columbus, or a person who hasn't been in a while, is best served by focusing on downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods," says Beth Ervin, director of communications for Experience Columbus. The Short North, German Village and Arena District are all within walking distance of downtown, each offering their own individual flavor and atmosphere. When describing the appeal of the neighborhoods, Ervin says, "You kind of just want to poke around in them."

Just north of downtown, and concentrated on High Street, is the Short North Arts District. John Angelo, executive director of the Short North Alliance, describes the area as a "funky collection of one-of-a-kind shops, galleries and restaurants. It's a mile-long stretch with over 200 destinations."

There are unique shops in every type of category. Lindsay Gallery specializes in folk art and is one of the most acclaimed folk art galleries in the country. Grandview Mercantile brings in 80 vendors to sell their wares.

"It's a destination unto itself," says Angelo.

"There are no chains of anything in the Short North. We're the home of limited brands," says Irvin.

The Short North also offers draws for the alcohol connoisseur. The Brothers Drake Meadery makes specialty mead from local honey and only sells it in the Greater Columbus area. As she raves about their seasonal flavors, Ervin says, "If you've never had mead, it's really quite an interesting experience."

Nearby is the Middle West Spirits Distillery, which specializes in locally grown wheat vodka. "They have a wonderful honey vanilla vodka and they have a stone fruit vodka as well as their flagship brand which is just plain ol' vodka," adds Ervin. The distillery regularly offers tours on Fridays, allowing guests to sample drinks while viewing the production process.

The German Village, a contemporary neighborhood in an old world setting, lies south of downtown. Built and settled by German immigrants in the 1800s, the village is the largest privately funded restoration project in the United States. The streets are lined with picturesque cottages, shops and restaurants. Todorov suggests that first-time visitors stop at the village's visitor center before they start to wander. There, tourists can talk to people who live and work in the district and pick up a map.

Because the village's shops and restaurants are scattered among houses, walking through is unlike walking through any of Columbus's other neighborhoods.

"The German Village area kind of begs browsing and you need to poke your way down the alleys and the brick streets to find really cool retail," says Ervin.

Stores like the Book Loft, which consists of 32 rooms of books, and Helen Winnemore's Craft, the oldest fine craft store in the United States, offer plenty of shopping opportunities. "[These shops'] longevity pulls people back. They will be among the reasons you will come back again," adds Todorov.

German Village also contains some of the city's finest restaurants. Local favorites Lindey's and Schmidt's can be tried on a $60 walking and tasting tour of the area. Hosted by Columbus Food Adventures, the tour starts at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and takes 14 people to six of the best restaurants in the area. "When you visit these kind of places, these are not tourist places, these are places where everybody goes," says Ervin.

Columbus also offers plenty of entertainment for the kids — and for your inner child. COSI, Ohi'™s Center of Science and Industry, is all about the do-it-yourself fun. The 320,000 square-foot building is right on the riverfront and perfect for families. The museum uses technology and hands-on exhibits to make science interesting for even the most unenthusiastic student. Where else could one get the opportunity to drive a rover on Mars or lift a car?

"I don't call it a science museum because I think it's fun," says Ervin. "But along the way you learn a lot. While you're having fun, you learn about science."

On the east side of town sits the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Featuring inside and outdoor gardens, the conservatory gives people the opportunity to bask in nature while still being in the city. Situated in an 88-acre park, the conservatory includes four glass greenhouses and the historic glass house conservatory. Built in 1895 and iconic within the complex, the building houses 43 different species of palm as well as special horticulture displays throughout the year.

The conservatory also mixes art with the gardens to create some special exhibits.

Beginning Sept. 25, it will host the works of British light artist Bruce Munro in a special nighttime exhibit. The exhibit will feature 10 large-scale installations, including a recreation of his acclaimed Field of Light. This particular installation features 25,000 individual lighted glass globes.

"We're in for a real treat," says Lori Kingston, Marketing Director for the conservatory. Kingston is particularly excited about the site-specific installations Munro is creating for the exhibit. One will be set up in the Desert Biome, while another will mimic a tropical rainstorm in the Pacific Island Water Garden.

Despite its close distance, Columbus still has much to offer the Ohio tourist. Says Kingston, "If you come to Columbus and you can't find something to do, it's on you."