Looking for the real Columbus? Here are some hidden gems

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With the ASAE conference coming this weekend, we offer a unique look at the city

A visit to Columbus can feel like entering another world. No, we’re not talking about green pastures and grazing cows, which so many out-of-towners envision.

Rather, you can visit Columbus and literally go to Other World, a new, 32,000-square-foot immersive art installation on the East Side. Walking through the facility, a marvel of technological innovation, can feel like traveling through a video game or stumbling on an alien realm.

That is just one of many hidden gems available to those attending the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) conference, which descends on Columbus from Saturday through Wednesday. Although the organization has laid out a pretty solid itinerary of “experiences,” including visits to Ohio Stadium and German Village, the area offers other options for those who choose to venture off the beaten path.

According to TripAdvisor, the No. 1 attraction in Columbus is a place that even residents don’t really know about: the Wagner-Hagans Auto Museum. Located in a nondescript building on the South Side, the museum includes vintage cars and license plates from around the globe.

More centered in Columbus history, the Thurber House might be easy to overlook as a destination for visitors. However, a proper tour of the museum and nonprofit literary center can unearth interesting tidbits about author and cartoonist James Thurber. You might even hear a ghost story or two. (Stay away from the stairs in front of the bathroom.)

Although ASAE attendees will get their share of interesting architecture and art by visiting the Ohio Theatre and 400 West Rich, it’s a shame that the Columbus Museum of Art wasn’t highlighted. But for those who want to experience best-kept secrets, a trip to Streetlight Guild on the Near East Side is in order. Opened in June by poet Scott Woods, the arts and events space currently features an exhibition by local legend Richard Duarte Brown, whose work frequently captures African American figures — past and present — in the city.

Like Woods, artist Mona Gazala is also committed to representing underserved demographics. Her community-based visual arts organization, Second Sight Project, involves residents in Franklinton, a neighborhood in transition as a result of redevelopment. The mission and exhibitions are well worth the trip.

Speaking of lovely sights, Hoover Reservoir Park in northern Franklin County is a little far from the other ASAE festivities, but massive Hoover Dam and the fishing and bird-watching opportunities are a reason to get on the road.

Upon arriving in Columbus, visitors probably will notice that the city is fast becoming the land of 1,000 breweries. The ASAE folks are rightly taking attendees to the veteran Barley’s Brewing Company. But given that the area is also aspiring to be a player in the sour beer industry, a stop by Antiques on High in the Brewery District is a must.

If out-of-towners are more interested in the bar experience than the beer, one could get lost staring at the decorations in the quirky Oddfellows Liquor Bar in the Short North. And a true speakeasy experience can be had at The Light of Seven Matchsticks underneath Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza and Live Music in Worthington.

Columbus has a lot of food options to offer. Because some ASAE attendees will already be in German Village, they should try the new Pierogi Mountain, which features inexpensive, filled dumplings in a building that was once the original Max & Erma’s.

Columbus isn’t known for having Creole culture, but it does offer tasty Louisiana cuisine. Chef Yonder Denise Bean-Gordon showcases her skills in the new Way Down Yonder on the South Side.

The goal in entertaining thousands of executives is to make a lasting impression and entice them to come back. Sure, they’ll probably remember the beauty of the Ohio Theatre or the skyline from the Scioto River. But time spent in a colorful art instillation or a secret car museum might give them better stories.

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