The lost wonders of Egypt, the found wonders of glass artist Dale Chihuly, and the absolute wonder that is the Midwest’s largest state fair.
That’s what Columbus has to offer the seasoned traveler this summer, and there’s more besides that.

Columbus, the largest city in Ohio and the 15th largest in America, promises a plethora of attractions, activities and cultural opportunities for the single tourist and visiting family alike. From the German Village historic district to the Short North Arts District, nightlife and excitement abound.

There’s the nationally renowned COSI, or Center of Science and Industry, which is currently exhibiting “Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science.” Franklin Park Conservatory, meanwhile, is showing off its signature collection of Dale Chihuly glass artworks. And, of course, this month’s venerable Ohio State Fair is a must-see for everyone who considers themselves Ohioans.

“Off the top of my head, I’d say first-time visitors shouldn’t miss the Columbus Zoo,” says Scott Peacock, media relations manager for Experience Columbus. It’s just been rated No. 1 zoo, there’s a brand-new baby elephant, and a new waterpark next door.

“And there’s COSI,” adds Peacock. “It is ranked the No. 1 science center in America byPARENT magazine.”

“Our main attractions are the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and Zoombezi Bay (waterpark),” confirms Mary Ogg of the Delaware County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We also have the Olentangy Indian Caverns, Perkins Observatory, Delaware State Park, Alum Creek State Park, golf courses and lots of antiquing and shopping.”

In nearby Grove City, James Hale, executive director of the Grove City Area Visitors & Convention Bureau, will point you to the Gardens at Gantz Farm and Arboretum: “The focus of the gardens is herbs, plants which are useful because they contain an essential chemical that provides fragrance, flavor, dye, insect repellent or medicine.” Other highlights include Beulah Park racetrack (home to a Hot Air Balloon Festival in late August), Big Splash waterpark, shopping in the historic Town Center, and the model aircraft EJet International Air Show at Field of Dreams Airport in September.

Here are details on some attractions not to be missed on your visit this summer to Ohio’s capitol city and the adjoining regions:


Center of Science and Industry

The Center of Science and Industry (COSI) is a massive facility that spans the length of nearly four football fields. Exhibits in this $125 million structure include “Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science” (which continues through Labor Day) as well as a variety of permanent “learning worlds” (Big Science Park, Ocean, Life, Gadgets, Progress and more), which feature anything from an underwater station to a Midwestern town street scene, circa 1898, to a laboratory in the sun. Theaters include the Extreme Screen Theater, Dome Theater, Motion Simulator and Simulation Zone.10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. $19.75, $18.75 for seniors, and $14.75 for kids ages 2 through 12. 333 West Broad St., (614) 228–COSI or www.cosi.org.


Columbus Zoo and Aquarium/Zoombezi Bay

Say hello to Beco (BEE-co), the Columbus Zoo’s new baby Asian elephant, born this year on March 27. His name combines the names of his mother (Phoebe) and his father (Coco). Beco is on exhibit every day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Columbus Zoo — which is actually located in Powell in Delaware County — offers other creature features that its Cincinnati counterpart might not. Highlights include the Wings ’n Play Things Park, an insect-themed playground; the Florida Coast display; an African Forest: Congo Expedition rain-forest park; a restored 1914 carousel complete with 52 exotically carved horses; and the Pachyderm Building, the world’s largest indoor elephant exhibit.

The zoo’s aquarium features Discovery Reef, a 100,000-gallon saltwater aquarium that includes sharks, stingrays, and brightly colored fish. Thousands of pieces of man-made coral and wave-producing equipment combine to offer visitors a scuba diver’s view of the ocean life that surrounds a coral reef. And a touch pool invites guests to feel coastal animals such as horseshoe crabs, sea stars and sponges.

Finally, Zoombezi Bay is a full-scale waterpark (requiring separate admission) featuring 23 acres of rides, such as Wild Tides wave pool, Croctail Creek lazy river, Roaring Rapids and Barracuda Bay tree house and sprayground.Zoo hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (through Labor Day, then zoo closes at 5 p.m. in the fall). $12 for adults/children 10 and over, $7 for seniors and children ages 2 through 9. Zoombezi Bay hours are 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily (closing times can vary from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on certain days). $29.99 adults, $24.99 children and seniors. 9990 Riverside Drive, Powell, (614) 645–3400 or www.columbuszoo.com.


Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Garden

Franklin Park Conservatory owns a signature collection of Dale Chihuly glass artworks, and this summer, the entire collection is being remounted in an exhibition titled “Chihuly: Reimagined.”

Housed in a 12,500-square-foot glass structure built in 1895 in the style of London’s Crystal Palace, Franklin Park features a simulated tropical rain forest, Himalayan Mountains habitat, desert, Pacific island water garden and tree fern forest. Other displays include a bonsai garden and an orchid collection.10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (Wednesday till 8 p.m.). $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and $5 for kids ages 3 through 17. 1777 East Broad St., (614) 645–8733 or www.fpconservatory.org.


Gardens at Gantz Farm and Arboretum

If you’re an herb lover, you’ll want to make a stop at the Gardens at Gantz Farm in Grove City. The farm displays 10 unique gardens such as the Garden of Yesterday, Garden of Today and Garden of Tomorrow. Interest points include culinary plants, herbal oils used as fragrance, medicinal chemicals, pigments to color fabrics, a knot garden and a cutting garden. A self-guided tour is available at the park, or the brochure can be requested in advance by mail.Daylight to dusk daily. Free. 2255 Home Road, Grove City, (614) 871-6323 or www.visitgrovecityoh.com.


Ohio State Fair

Spectacular midway rides, goofy rodeo clowns, a crazy carnival atmosphere, and king-sized country and pop stars such as Kelly Clarkson, Kenny Rogers, Demi Lovato, Rascal Flatts and more. What other event could we be talking about but the Ohio State Fair, one of the state’s biggest tourist draws (which, interestingly, began in Cincinnati in 1850 before eventually moving here).

Rides and attractions on the midway include Figure-Eight Racing, the Model Train Show, Pig Races and Skyscraper (carts spinning in a 360-degree circle, creating the same 4g force you’d feel in a fighter jet). There are also multi-breed horse shows, a youth horticulture fair, livestock competitions, rodeos, daily parades, nightly concerts and stunt shows. The least-busy days are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, if you want to avoid the crowds. (Almost a million visitors come to the fair annually.)9 a.m. to 10 p.m. from July 29 through August 9. The carnival midway is open 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. $10 for adults, $8 for children ages 5 to 12 and seniors. Children under age 5 admitted free. All kiddie rides take one $1 coupon, spectacular rides take two $1 coupons, and super-spectacular rides take three $1 coupons. Celeste Center and Ohio State Fairgrounds, 17th Avenue exit off I-71, (877) 644–3247 or www.ohiostatefair.com.


The Gorilla in the Room: Jack Hanna
If Columbus has a face, it’s that of celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna.

During his three decades with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Hanna has emerged as the city’s No. 1 personality and homegrown TV star. In the doing, he’s helped transform a quaint collection of reptiles and mammals into a nationally recognized showplace.

More than 1.5 million tourists annually visit the zoo, which is home to more than 6,000 animals representing more than 700 species. There is plenty of room for expansion on the zoo’s 580 acres. A $20 million Polar Frontier, highlighted by the return of polar bears visible underwater, is scheduled to open in spring 2010. In upcoming years, the zoo plans to create a 75-acre African savannah and a South American exhibit. Long-term goals may incorporate a resort-style hotel.

“The Columbus Zoo is now one of the premier zoos in the country. It’s growing beyond comprehension,” says Hanna, whose well-known media persona includes dressing in khakis as he routinely bears creatures, all great and small, on shows such as theLate Show with David Letterman,Larry King Live andGood Morning America. Along the way, he’s visited every continent on Earth on a variety of goodwill and ecological endeavors.

The conservationist travels 260 days out of the year on behalf of the zoo. “I’m never in the same bed two nights in a row,” Hanna says.

The high-profile appearances have paid off — attendance at the Columbus Zoo has spiked more than 400 percent since 1978. And, Hanna has just released his new autobiography, Jungle Jack: My Wild Life. (On a personal note, Hanna and his wife, Suzi, have three daughters, including Suzanne, who lives in Cincinnati.)

“I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes,” Hanna says. “I could have never dreamed the life that I’ve lived, being a part of building one of the most phenomenal zoos in the world, traveling the world like Marlin Perkins.