Just 80 miles from Columbus, the small town of Cambridge, Ohio has an abundance of recreational activities and a calendar full of special events. Cambridge has a growing foodie scene with breweries, food trucks, vineyards and a variety of restaurants.
Ten miles outside of town is Salt Fork State Park with beaches, boating, camping, golf, horseback riding and hiking trails. If you want to stay overnight, Salt Fork State Park Lodge has guest rooms and two-bedroom cabins for rent.
Cambridge is also the birthplace of John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. You can visit the John & Annie Glenn museum in nearby New Concord, just 15 minutes from Cambridge.
As the Christmas holidays approach, visitors flock to Cambridge to see the Dickens’ Victorian Village, when downtown Cambridge transforms into an 1850’s village. Starting in November, over 92 Victorian scenes are staged along Wheeling Avenue.
Anyone with a sweet tooth in southeast Ohio knows there’s only one place with a cure-all for your sugar cravings. Kennedy’s Bakery has been operating in the small town of Cambridge since 1925. The third generation family business is now run by siblings, Bobby and Patty Kennedy. On any given day, the world famous bakery is full of hustle and bustle and of course, incredible smells that loft down the street.
Kenny’s is known for their delicious devil dog pastries, traditional glazed donuts and white cake. Their most popular item are Chinese tea cookies. The cookies are so beloved that people all over the world place orders for them.
Everything is made from scratch including donuts, cookies, cakes, buns, and rolls.
CAMBRIDGE IS A small town in the foothills of Appalachian Ohio, and before my first visit, I didn’t know much about it. I was also skeptical — what could Cambridge possibly have to offer that I couldn’t find somewhere else? As a long-time Ohioan, I was pretty sure I knew the state like the back of my hand. And now, I’m pleased to say that I was wrong. I discovered a surprising amount of adventure packed into one little spot, and a few truths along the way.
1. Trends don’t necessarily start on the coasts.
Cambridge is home to the casual-yet-excellent Georgetown Vineyards, set on top of a ridge overlooking the city. You can sit out on the deck, eat a brick-oven pizza with your glass of choice, and look onto the vineyards or down to the beautiful, historic courthouse building. There’s live music many nights, and they’re kid and pet-friendly, too. Not a bad afternoon, any way you slice it.
It’d be easy to think that Cambridge just jumped on the winery bandwagon, but Georgetown has been around since 1999 (that’s a voting adult!). They’ve had nearly two decades to establish their vines and perfect their wines, and it’ll take at least an afternoon lounging in one of their Adirondack chairs to sample the list. Bonus: Their partnering with Southside Brewing Company means Georgetown is now a combo winery + microbrewery…how many of those have you been to?
2. Torpedo sauce is what your life has been missing.
I found more gourmet food at one store in Cambridge than I have in entire cities. McKenna’s Market sells Amish fry pies, sugar plum syrup, vintage pop, farm-fresh meats and cheeses, and about 30 different hot sauces. It’s like walking into Amish country in the city — and everyone knows the Amish do everything better. They do full-on meals, too. The McKenna’s Favorite sub is the best, but you have to try it with their secret torpedo sauce.
If you still have some breathing room after wolfing down one of those, perk up your afternoon with a cappuccino from Ladders Coffee Bar. For a fancy dinner, check out the Bear’s Den Steakhouse. Eventually, at least. Maybe not right after lunch.
3. More hiking is always better than less pie.
For a population of around 11,000, this little town has more than its share of green space. It’s home to miles of bike paths, hiking trails, lakes, and rivers. So spring for dessert. Go to Theo’s Restaurant, and go unabashedly for a slice of homemade mile-high lemon meringue pie. Heck, take pie to go. Take pie for the hike. It’s allowed.
But back to Cambridge — even the town park is no ordinary place. Cambridge City Park is a rambling expanse of playgrounds, trails, a baseball field, a pool, basketball courts, and even an ice cream stand. All this isn’t even addressing Salt Fork State Park, the state’s biggest. But let’s save that for later.
4. Time travel is possible…at least around Christmastime.
Every November and December, Wheeling Avenue transforms into a Dickens-themed Christmas village. Life-size displays, handmade by local Cambridge artists, depict nearly 100 different scenes that make for a great walking tour. You’ll see tableaus from A Christmas Carol and re-creations of other Victorian-era activities, including a firefighting bucket brigade.
Bonus: Be sure to stick around for the Courthouse Holiday Light Show — it happens 5:30-9pm every night from November 1 to January 1. The ornate building gets bathed in 55,000 lights, not to mention the animated displays and two-story Christmas trees. It’s basically a surefire way to get in the holiday spirit.
5. Security cats are a real thing.
Nope, not an acronym for some kind of Segway/ATV hybrid. Penny Court Antique Mall has an impressive security officer — a cat named Turtle who will sneak-attack you with cuddles and guard you by plunking herself down in your lap. If you have the heart to break your attention away from her, you’ll find that Penny Court is a labyrinth of unique old furniture, books, and Cambridge’s signature glassware. You may sometimes find a band playing in the back of the shop, too, welcoming you to sit down for a while.
Cat in lap, of course.
6. You may go on a safari in two places: southern Africa, and the middle of Ohio.
Cambridge is just next door to the Wilds, one of the largest wildlife conservation areas in all of North America. This safari park and conservation center is housed on nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed coal mine land, where visitors can zipline, ride horses, and dart between butterflies in the butterfly habitat. This is not a zoo — this is something all its own, where every habitat is in the open air, but you’re more likely to see a cheetah than a goat.
If you’re over 21, you can spend the night in a yurt at Nomad Ridge, an exclusive, adults-only part of the Wilds. Each yurt has a big deck overlooking the adjacent meadows, so you can sit out there in the evening and watch rhinos wandering by. Can you do that in NYC? Didn’t think so.
7. Megafauna make cool pets.
Deerassic Park Education Center is home to the Megaloceros, an “Irish Elk” that went the way of the dodo over 10,000 years ago. You can check out a replica at the park after you’re done practicing your archery — or, rather, your archery tag skills. Think of it as dodgeball, but with bows and (foam-tipped) arrows.
Pro tip: Stop by on the last Wednesday of each month for Wild Wednesday and catch an expert talk on the glories of the great outdoors. I learned that shed hunting is not a hunter sleeping in a portable shed, as I imagined; it’s searching the woods for the antlers shed by deer every spring, which people use for chandeliers and other decorations. Who knew?
Some may argue that the Salt Fork State Park golf course, rated four stars by Golf Digest, is the crown jewel of the park. I’ve never been much of a golfer, but I had a great time wandering around the park’s trails and enjoying the peaceful silence. That’s the thing about even the best parks in Ohio — they’re rarely very crowded, giving you all the time you need to get that R&R with nature.
Salt Fork is only about a 15-minute drive from downtown Cambridge. It has a huge inland beach (there’s nearly 3,000 acres of water), 14 miles of hiking trails, a mini-golf course, 200+ campsites, and the Salt Fork Lodge, which itself has 53 cabins and 148 rooms (and yes, it’s overlooking the lake at just the right point). It’s way too easy to forget time here — at least for a weekend.
9. The big city is never far away.
Cambridge is located close to the middle of the Cleveland, Columbus, and Pittsburgh I-70 corridor, making it a perfect weekend getaway. If you live within striking distance, you can drive in after work on Friday, feast at the Bear’s Den, and then head to your yurt, drinking wine and toasting the passing rhinos.
You’ll have a whole weekend full of relaxing, fun stuff to do before heading back to the city on Sunday afternoon and work on Monday morning. When your coworkers ask what you did last weekend, just say, “Drank wine on the hills, chased cheetahs, traveled in time, and walked in the footsteps of giant elk. What about you?”
SUMMER IS COMING TO AN END. The heat wave is about to break, the temperature’s about to drop, and food is about to get delicious. Autumn is apple season, barbecue season, chili season, and pumpkin beer season. Basically, it’s the best food season there is. So it’s probably time to start making a list of fall comfort foods you absolutely have to try before you die.
Here’s a start to that list. Fact: All of these foods are awesome, and you can eat them all in the southeastern Ohio city of Cambridge. Road trip, anyone?
Kennedy’s Bakery. Photo courtesy of Visit Guernsey County
As soon as summer ends, the world goes pumpkin crazy. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin beer, punkin chunkin…you’ve likely seen it all. What you maybe haven’t seen is a pumpkin cake donut. Kennedy’s Bakery makes them, and they’re insanely good. While you’re here, nobody would blame you for also trying a few of their other autumnal bakes, like pecan snails, maple iced bismarks, cinnamon apple danishes, and apple fritters.
Now is the time for fresh-squeezed apple juice and apple cider. Less well known is apple wine. On the edge of Cambridge, Georgetown Vineyards makes an excellent version. A sweet white that’s won numerous awards — including gold at the Tasters Guild International Wine Competition 2016 — its fresh, dry burst of apple flavor is all sorts of tasty.
Theo’s Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Visit Guernsey County
When I was a kid, my favorite fall days were whenever my dad decided to make chili. It was never the same recipe from year to year as he browned three different types of ground meat, then mixed in a veritable witches’ brew of spices, hot sauces, peppers, and sautéed vegetables. I would have to sit for a minimum of eight hours smelling the dish while he let it simmer.
You can skip the wait by checking out the homemade chili at Theo’s Restaurant in Cambridge. They follow the same method as my dad — a slightly different recipe, with varying degrees of heat, for whichever chef is working in the kitchen.
Following a summer of light meals, it’s good to go back to hearty, warming dinners. There’s a sandwich that ticks both those boxes, and you can only get it in Cambridge. The Camel Rider at Francis Family Restaurant is a steak or chicken pita topped with all the classic American fixings — special sauce, grilled onions, peppers, celery, melted swiss cheese, tomatoes, lettuce… Basically, it’s the perfect blend of America meets the Mediterranean.
Pizza Burger. Photo courtesy of Mr. Lee’s Restaurant
When God created autumn, he said, “What if I took all the great things about summer (delicious food, sunlight, and the fresh scent of fallen rain), and combined it with all the great things about winter (delicious food, fireplaces, and comfy clothes)?” And lo, autumn was born.
Well, Scott Lee of Mr. Lee’s Restaurant took a cue from the big man and combined the two best foods into a single, perfect superdish: the pizza burger. There’s nothing I can say about it that the name doesn’t say already. Perfection should be enjoyed, not commented upon.
Toffee gourmet apple
Little is more autumnal than a caramel apple, but maybe it’s time to try something new — like a toffee apple. Nothing But Chocolate does a gourmet version that gets three perfect dips: toffee, caramel, and creamy milk chocolate.
Fall is harvest season, which means it’s the best time of year to eat your veggies. Guernsey Kitchen takes full advantage of the bounty of awesome vegetables with the Earth Bowl, a seasonal grilled chicken salad served with local farm produce like sweet potatoes.
Fall is the best time to eat pizza. Bear with me for a second. In the summer, it sits too heavy in the stomach. In the spring, you’re trying to lose weight for the summer. And in the winter, you eat a pizza and can’t go outside to walk it off.
In the autumn, though, you’re trying to gain weight (you know, like a bear) for the long winter ahead. So it behooves you to eat as heavy a pizza as humanly possible. The obvious call is to get a full supreme from Wally’s Pizza and Subs in Cambridge. Order the 28-slice party tray version and you’ll get 2’2″ by a 1’6″ of everything you can cram onto a giant dish of perfectly baked dough. And Wally’s doesn’t skimp on the cheese.
Cid’s brisket. Photo courtesy of Cid’s Smokehouse Grill
People talk about summer as if it’s the best barbecuing season. Uh, no. Have you ever cooked over a hot grill during a heat wave? It’s unbearable. The best time for a barbecue is in the fall, when the weather’s a bit cooler, the air’s crisp, and you can use the smoking of meat as an excuse for sitting outside all day with a beer and some friends. If you’re not in the mood for smoking that meat yourself, head over to Cid’s Smokehouse Grill and get a few pounds of smoked brisket for takeout.
Steak and mashed potatoes
There may be no better meal than a grilled steak with mashed potatoes, and The Bear’s Den does it better than anywhere else. The beef is raised by the restaurant’s owners, Randy and Marijane Raber. It’s dry aged before being hand cut into steaks daily. And when served with mashed potatoes and gravy, it’s perfect.
Germany’s traditional Oktoberfest beer, Märzens are known for being light, malty, and slightly caramel-y. They’re just about the best thing you could drink on a crisp autumn day. Imbibe with a warm and pillowy salt-flecked pretzel and you’re truly in Bavarian heaven.
The best place in Ohio to get a Märzen is at the annual Fall Brew-BQ, which comes to Downtown Cambridge on September 17 this year. The street festival will feature local small craft breweries, including Homestead Beer Co., which brews a seasonal Oktoberfest Märzen. Prost!
I LIVED IN OHIO for the first 25 years of my life, and I didn’t make it to the southeast part of the state for the first 18 of them. I’d always dismissed out of hand anything that wasn’t one of the “Three Cs” (Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland). So naturally, I was shocked when I finally drove through. This place — the place I’d written off my entire life — was beautiful. An entire corner of my home state, unexplored.
One of the highlights of the Ohio Appalachian Plateau is the city of Cambridge. It’s a small, unassuming town, with just over 10,000 people. But its size is deceiving — this is an incredible place, particularly for a weekend trip (it is, incidentally, an easy drive from any of the Three Cs, as well as from Wheeling, Akron, and Pittsburgh). Here are eight ways Cambridge surprised me; I’m guessing it’ll have the same effect on you.
1. It’s paradise for anyone who likes being outside.
Outdoors fans aren’t going to do much better in the state of Ohio than the parks around Cambridge. Hit up Salt Fork State Park, home to the state’s biggest inland beach and some truly great fishing — cast a line for catfish, largemouth bass, walleye, or, just for fun, brag that you caught a couple crappies. Never cast a line in your life? The local Ohio Muskie Fishing guide company has been in the business for 27 years, and will do their best to get you a trophy Ohio muskie — and they’ll supply the gear.
Twenty miles outside of Cambridge is Seneca Lake Park, another solid fishing spot (think catfish, bass, and bluegills) and super fun to explore by boat — it’s part of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District’s chain of lakes and has 45 miles of shoreline to explore. The park is also a pretty cool place to spend the Fourth of July — they put on a fireworks show from the lake, which means you can watch colors light up the sky and the water.
2. The food is tremendous.
When you think of the foodie revolution, you normally think of big cities — New York, San Francisco, LA. But Cambridge is a small-town exception. Perhaps most notable is the Bear’s Den, a farm-to-table restaurant that only uses locally produced beef. Carnivores are spoiled for options in Cambridge, with Central Station Steak and Ale also serving up some excellent, never-frozen beef. Other highlights are the Italian-meets-Greek restaurant The Forum and the pie at Theo’s, where more than 80 years of experience and three generations of family ownership mean one pretty awesome pie crust. And if you’re just in the mood for a beer, some wings, and a chill dive-y feel, you can always head to the Park Circle Cafe.
3. There’s wine right here in the middle of the Appalachian Plateau…good wine.
The Appalachian foothills don’t get the credit they deserve when it comes to wine. Seriously, one of the coolest things you can do in Cambridge is visit Georgetown Vineyards. Resting on a ridge overlooking the historic downtown, they feature a delicious selection of dry, sweet, and semi-sweet wines. There’s plenty of alternatives to the good oldfashioned cab sauv here — try the red raspberry, cranberry, and rhubarb pours. Not a wine fan? No big deal. They also serve their own craft brews ( Southside Brewing) and brick-oven pizza. It’s kind of the perfect date night.
4. The town has been in the glass-making business for over 100 years.
Cambridge is particularly well known among glass collectors; it was once home to the Cambridge Glass Plant, formed back in 1873. The factory building was torn down over a hundred years later in 1989, and residents weren’t happy, lamenting that “the skyline of Cambridge would never be the same.” Life went on, though, and Cambridge hasn’t lost its glass obsession. Glass collectors can still get their fix at the National Museum of Cambridge Glass, or by touring the modern-day Mosser Glass factory — founded by a former plant manager at Cambridge Glass back in the ’50s who started his own company in a chicken coop.
Want something to take home with you? You can shop for hours at Country Bits, comprising 10,000 square feet and more than 70 independent vendors, from artisans to bakers to people who’re really into model steam engines. Hunt for antiques at Penny Court, which has been open for more than 20 years and features no shortage of Cambridge glass for sale. If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, there’s also the Towne House, a local favorite for over 30years.
In August, Cambridge hosts the Salt Fork Arts & Crafts Festival, where some 100 artists of all types — potters, metalworkers, jewelry makers, painters, photographers, you name it — converge for a three-day festival judged by a jury and open to the public for endless perusing.
5. Cheetahs and rhinos roam freely in the nearby woods.
The Wilds is an extension of the world-renowned Columbus Zoo and is a short drive from Cambridge. It’s a 10,000- acre safari park that, unlike most zoos, allows animals to roam in open-range habitats. And it’s not just your typical Ohio wildlife — The Wilds is home to cheetahs, ostriches, zebras, and giraffes, among others. The Midwest might not exactly be synonymous with safaris, but you can go on one here. Even better: You can stay in
a yurt tucked in the trees next to the animals’ pasture areas while watching for African painted dogs through your binos.
6. Downtown Cambridge is quintessential Americana.
There’s nothing quite like that small-town, It’s a Wonderful Life feel you get in some Midwestern towns. It’s a look that’s on the wane, as more cities succumb to modern architecture and strip malls. But Cambridge’s Historic Downtown, founded in 1803, is still about as quaint and charming as they come. A small group of locals has been working hard since 2003 to re-energize the downtown core, and it seems to be working. The Main Street strip hosts a farmers market every Friday during the summer, and between the local chocolatiers at Nothing But Chocolate, the Amish cheeses sold at McKenna’s Market, and the snippets of history at the Guernsey County History Museum, you could spend a wonderful weekend merely walking up and down the mainstrip.
7. It’s a pretty awesome place for kids.
Take The Wilds — where you can ride horses or go on a zipline course — and add in the dozens of other outdoor activities within a short driving distance, and Cambridge makes a great base from which to explore the rest of southeastern Ohio with your kids.The town is also home to the Learning Jungle, a toy store and educational center where you can shop for games or stock up on supplies for the kids’ next science fair project. If you come on the right weekend, you can participate in the “Princess for a Day” event, where kids dress up, make chocolate crowns, and ride around in horse-drawn “princess carriages.”
8. The local calendar of events is extensive.
Downtown Cambridge hosts amazing events throughout the year. Aside from the weekly farmers markets, there are historical walking tours (Cambridge is the hometown of Hopalong Cassidy and the birthplace of astronaut and Senator John Glenn), art tours, a yearly classic car show, a motorcycle festival, barbecues, October Fest, and a DickensVictorian Village over the Christmas season — not just a cute little replica, but 93 scenes including 167 life-sizeDickensian mannequins recreating classic scenes from Victorian society.
It doesn’t really matter what week you’re visiting — there will be something cool going on in Cambridge.