AN ALTOGETHER ADVENTURE
In Grove City, Ohio
at the Crossroads of Heart-pounding & Heartwarming
By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler – Your Tour Guide to Fun!
Some of the best travel discoveries are found where big-city excitement meets idyllic solitude. It’s where tradition greets innovation; the rare one-stop, offering anyone an excursion of their calling, whether it’s for group adrenaline or solo repose.
Both pursuits often lead to the same destination—renewal. No matter if it’s team-building fun or a self-reflection, both are found in Grove City.
Sojourn to the outskirts of town to splash paddles into moving waters, pedal air deep into lungs, and meditate along a garden labyrinth. Go on a quest to dodge splattering paint, race drones, and kick a hole-in-one. Then, reunite in a charming small town center over a mouthwatering dish, on a patio over drinks, or at a festive gathering in the closed-off streets.
Whether the idea is thrill or chill, and some places offer both, the first stop should be to gear up with information and accessories at Grove City Guide + Gear.
It’s the place to obtain apps, maps, and guides before exploring the surrounding area. The vibe inside combines innovative activities and resources with the tried and true. It reverberates throughout the community in the smiles that hint of experiencing something—for the lack of a better term—cool. If a family hike is ahead, they offer a peanut butter and jelly trail mix for the kids. River-bound friends will want dry bags—just in case. Bird-watchers may enjoy a hang-it-anywhere hammock. And if someone’s mobile device needs charging, they can hop onto the stationary bicycle and pedal until the green light turns on.
When you get the green light, go explore Grove City!
Bicyclists know that sometimes things just aren’t right when the bike comes off its car carrier. If that’s the case, no worries, take a spin up to Heritage Cycles. Just look for an elevated storefront with a 10-speed bursting out of the wooden wall just above the brick stoop. Inside is often the hypnotic sound of tires spinning in the air amidst repair. Background chatter is usually between a bicycle specialist and someone contemplating a new ride.
The two-wheeled fun has just begun. The Grove City area is a lovely choice to pedal away the day. Equipped with maps to 25-miles of well-maintained bicycle paths and boulevards, the routes are safe for walkers and in-line skaters too. Group rides start at the bicycle shop year-round and span 10 to 40 miles, just enough to deserve a rewarding treat afterward. And if a day of biking isn’t enough, visitors can go on a bike camping trip at a nearby state park or at Trapper John’s Canoe Livery.
Trapper John’s is set up in a rustic log cabin. Its front porch invites strangers to strike up conversations and share a few laughs. After grabbing a canoe or kayak, it’s time to paddle the easygoing National Scenic Big Darby Creek.
“It’s a great way to get the family back to nature,” said Jason Kaufman, owner, and operator of Trapper John’s. “In a time when we’re dominated by technology, this is a way to get the kids and family outdoors and away from screens.”
Paddling options are also available at Scioto Grove Metro Park and the Scioto Canoe Livery on the Scioto River, as well as the Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park on Big Darby Creek. Whenever someone dips in, ahead are bound to be turtles and other fun critters basking in the sun on top of rocks or logs. Beavers are sometimes busy working on their huts. The social paddlers may join together to create a flotilla of fun and laughter. Others like to pull up their paddles and listen to the songbirds against the trickle of water. Perhaps one of the more enjoyable times to be one with this natural world is while floating under a canopy of stars on a twilight trip.
If the kids return from the river’s edge eager to play on a screen, take them to experience a “real-life video game” instead. That’s how Dave Pando, owner of LVL UP Sports Paintball Park describes the feeling of many first-time paintball players.No video game in the world provides the all-around sensory experience of running through the purple haze of a smoke grenade.
“When you put on a pair of paintball goggles and walk around some of our huge ‘maps’ for the first time, customers often describe the experience as feeling larger than life,” Pando said.
Jaws drop upon seeing the astonishing two-story Valken Village. This flagship field has 100-foot wood walls to navigate. It’s the largest playable paintball structure in Ohio. Across the mega-park are 250,000 square-foot themed scenario fields, six acres of wooded play, an X-ball field and more. Every level of player is welcome, and anything that anyone needs to play is already there at the pro shop. Many fresh “war stories” grow taller by the minute under the large sheltered picnic area.
Couples love playing with the low-impact paintballs which splat without a sting. It’s the perfect first-date that guarantees to leave an impression without the mark.
Another competitive outing combines soccer with golf. That’s right. It’s called FootGolf!
This zany fun is found at Grove City’s pioneering business, Kickmaster Footgolf. Players tee off for this peculiar sport on an outdoor golf-style course. A soccer ball is used. Just like golf, the goal is to keep the number of kicks to get the ball into the hole under par.
“Kids who have been here before are excited to share this experience with those who have never been,” said Deborah Guzzo, co-owner of Kickmaster Footgolf. “The ones with eyes open wide with excitement make it evident who’s here for the first time.”
If this hybrid sport wasn’t novel enough, Kickmaster also offers glow-in-the-dark footgolf. Imagine returning to work or school and describing an outing here. It may go something like Bill Murray’s “Cinderella Story” in the movie Caddyshack, “It looks like a mirac…it’s in the hole!”
This may make disc golf (also known as Frisbee golf) seem old-fashioned, but an 18-hole course is just a putt away at Scioto Grove Metro Park. No matter how far apart the shots, family and friends are drawn closer together by the buzz of conversation.
A buzz of a different sort is heard at Scioto Grove Metro Park’s drone field. It’s free to use and open daily for flying enthusiasts to explore the friendly skies. This is a place where competition can easily take flight. Drone racing is all the rage, and it’s not just racing, but also maneuvering at high speeds through pylon obstacles. Pilots even have special goggles that give them the view from the drone as if they were sitting in the cockpit.
“Scioto Grove was a blank slate for us to open the doors to innovative ideas and design where nature and recreation could coexist,” said Larry Peck, Deputy Director of Columbus & Franklin County Metro Parks.
The parklands are largely former farmlands, so added attractions aren’t going to displace anything of significance. Prairies were introduced and riverfront woodlands can grow and expand with plenty of remaining open space to accommodate drone fields, disc golf, and 3D archery courses without disturbing wildlife.
“This is one of the most fun projects in my career,” Peck added. “I thought the 3D archery course was genius.”
The 3D archery course was introduced by Geoff Hamilton, Park Manager of Scioto Grove. Archers of any experience level can trek over a half-mile into the woods a safe distance from any other park activities. Life-size foam animals can be spotted along the way for archers to take aim and fire from designated shooting points. The easier prey is deer, raccoon, wild boar, and coyote. The more difficult foam wildlife to hunt is elk, antelope, turkey, and bear. There are even dinosaurs lurking around.
Some people, however, prefer shooting with a camera. These visitors can be found quietly enjoying the sanctuary of hiking trails, backpacking through the woods, or geocaching in the serene 620-acre Scioto Grove Metro Park. This park has tons to explore, from forested riverbanks to colorful prairies, and from scenic bluffs to a must-see suspension bridge. The entire park is also pet-friendly!
Along the seven miles of trails, nature-buffs may cross paths with placid anglers, gorgeous Great Blue Herons, or Snowy Egrets. In order to immerse oneself completely into nature, a backpacking trip is a way to go. Backpackers are free to roam the park on alternating weekends from April to October. Primitive trails lead to several elevated camping pads, complete with a fire ring and free firewood.
Whether hiking or backpacking, geocaching is always a fun activity to include with the journey. The park has a GeoTrail with 20 different caches, each with varying degrees of difficulty to locate or for terrain to navigate. There’s a prize for those who find all of the caches. When discovering a geocache, there’s a certain euphoria somewhere between finding the lost car keys and Roald Amundsen reaching the South Pole.
Perhaps the most challenging discovery of all is getting in touch with one’s own spiritual center. To find that before heading back into the hustle and bustle of downtown, visit Gardens at Gantz Park.
This place of contemplation is comprised of a historic farmhouse and its horticultural treasures. The herb gardens of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow offer a sensory escape. Gantz Labyrinth is the perfect place for those seeking a rebirth. It’s an ancient meditation tool that is designed for rumination along the way. The stone designs circle to the center of the labyrinth physically, and circle to the center of one’s being, symbolically. Then, it releases its surveyors back into the world from which they came.
In this case, it’s to reunite in Grove City and explore the town’s culture through art, food, drink, and festivities. The rendezvous point to continue this altogether adventure is where it began—Grove City Guide + Gear.
This time, take note of the gallery inside. It displays alluring pieces by a master painter and local artist, Dave Lane. A pair of paintings, in particular, depicts a girl dreamily gazing into the rearview mirror, imagining the possibilities. Those possibilities are captured throughout the town and at a couple of special events celebrating the world of art.
What is now the longest-running music and arts festival in Ohio had its humble beginnings in a Grove City alley. The Arts in The Alley Music & Arts Festival kicks off every fall season with a parade followed by over 100 juried exhibitors who display fine art, photography, jewelry, pottery, glass, woodworking, and more. The weekend event also invites food trucks offering anything from fish sandwiches to funnel cakes, all set to music in the air.
Then there’s the Wine & Arts Festival in the heart of Grove City’s historical area. It’s the second-largest festival of its kind in Ohio. Winemakers and artists come from near and far every June to arouse the senses with stimulating tastes and visions and then marinate it with sweet music and a variety of locally grown dishes.
The town’s founder, William F. Breck, envisioned Grove City’s potential as early as the mid-1800s. He laid plans for the Woodland Hotel, which would entice travelers to spend the night as they traveled through the capital just up the road. Although he wasn’t around to see it, Grove City becomes a destination in its own right. The Kingdom Theatre, now called the Little Theatre Off Broadway continues to attract large audiences for its six live shows per season, including two musicals, two comedies, and two dramas. It is known for big-time talent and small-town intimacy, where the actors get to know their audience.
As festive as Grove City can be, it still has its small-town charm. Many café patios echo with chatter under canopies of leafy trees and colorful hanging baskets of flowers. Pedestrian-friendly sidewalks are lined with bricks, matching the historic buildings they lead to. Old-fashioned street lamps light the way for safe passage by night. The abundance of mom and pop shops and family-run eateries provide an eclectic blend of unique offerings.
Then there are the four-stories of antiques and hard-to-find merchandise at Country Hearth Primitives. Shoppers can browse the wares of 30 plus vendors to find what wasn’t even on their mind but is now a must-have, as a nostalgic operating metal Ferris wheel.
Sometimes, a piece of old furniture needs life breathed back into it. For that, people can head to The Farm Table on 62. This growing boutique strives to remain quaint and is doing a fantastic job of it. This place exudes community spirit. In addition to repurposing furniture and offering home decor solutions, it carries non-GMO products from local farms, emphasizing the importance of health-consciousness. Not to mention, their baked goods are to die for.
Healthy eating options are plentiful in this progressive yet traditional town. The Garden Bar is the perfect stop for a hearty bite for breakfast or lunch on the go. This place specializes in boxed lunches with freshly crafted sandwiches. Visitors can learn about why they sell more chicken salad with grapes than anything else.
Another favorite stop for fresh, locally grown foods can be found in the open-air Farmers Market from late May to early September. Area farmers bring their spring and summer harvest to the tables lining the sidewalks and offer homegrown peaches, apples, tomatoes, and sweet corn on the cob, for starters. The energy it brings every Saturday morning is matched by the balloon man and magician engaging with the crowd. However, the “green” scene of the year is, hands down, Grove City’s EcoFest in late August. It’s all about better living. Even the neighborhood park has solar lighting and equipment made from recycled materials. It’s the perfect time to learn about rain harvesting and pollinators, or how to make a salad in a jar.
Throughout town, fresh air is enjoyed. It’s clear by the number of patio dining spots lining the curbs. One of these is Michael’s Hibachi. Yes, it seems everyone here is on a first-name basis. The Asian inspired dishes at Michael’s have an Ohio influence. For instance, people can try the Buckeye sushi roll! Another nice patio environment is found at Planks On Broadway, recognizable by its bright white fence. This is Grove City’s oldest continuous business. It threw open its saloon doors back in 1854, offering drinks and hotel rooms.
Whenever an out-of-towner visits a place, the best thing to learn is where the locals like to hang out. In Grove City, one of those places is Hop Yard 62. And growlers (personal jug to carry beer) are welcome!
“Many of our customers like to say it’s the kind of place you walk into where everybody knows your name,” said owner Tammy Solt, owner of Hop Yard 62, with an understanding wink. “Cheers!”
But the names that may need repeating are the 21 rotating taps providing craft beer by the sample, flight, half pour, or full glass. There’s always something new, except for maybe the Lost Coast Tangerine from Eureka, California. It remains on tap because of its popularity. Something not found anywhere else is the Hop Yard 62 Beer Cake. It’s a faux wooden cake that offers all 21 flavors. The bartenders are conversational and educational, always happy to make recommendations. Not only do local customers enjoy it here, but so do many of the nearby eateries because Hop Yard 62 allows its customers to BYOF (bring your own food), or have it delivered.
On the far side of downtown is a two-in-one place that the locals enjoy for beer and wine. Grove City Brewing Company was the first microbrewery in town. It’s also part of the Columbus Ale Trail. The tall walls and big-screen televisions hang over the sprawling bar which falls between a dining room, where a full menu is served, and the glass-enclosed brewhouse, where the magic happens right before customers’ eyes. Inside are towering stainless steel vessels that have names like fermenter tank, brew kettle, mash, or lauter tun. People can enjoy a glass with a fried pretzel and spicy mustard. It’s a carny dish, and perfect for this jovial atmosphere.
Next door is Plum Run Winery. The tasting room is a microcosm of the Grove City ecosystem: It offers activities that range from spa nights to painting classes. Be sure to sign-up for the Wine and Canvas Painting Class offered on the second Tuesday of every month.
For the true spirit of Grove City, or spirits, people can visit in August for Bourbon Tasting. Distillers come from Kentucky to Cleveland and beyond to share what has been aging for at least two years: inside oak-charred barrels. Attendees may enjoy samplings before purchasing their own bottles of the good stuff.
That said, an altogether adventure in the diverse world of beverages wouldn’t be complete without offering non-alcohol options. Nestled next to an old house-turned-bookstore is a warm place to chill: Transcend Coffee. It’s where many Grove City explorers retreat to catch up with family or friends over a green brew or lemonade with lavender. Undoubtedly, Grove City is that altogether adventure. Last but not least, visitors can use the free wifi to share their experience.
By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler – Your Tour Guide to Fun!