Mansfield is home to what might be the most infamous prison this side of Alcatraz, the massive Ohio State Reformatory, which is best known for its starring role in The Shawshank Redemption. Start your visit with a self-guided prison tour, using new choose-your-own-adventure-style video kiosks with insights into the prison's history, Hollywood ties and haunted hot spots.
Afterward, head for lunch to Ed Pickens' Cafe on Main, where you'll find fresh, simple soups, salads and sandwiches, including a tasty roast beef sandwich the Shawshankwich, served warm with red onion and aioli.
Spend the afternoon browsing the Historic Carrousel District and its shops in Victorian-Era buildings. Carrousel Antiques is a four-floor treasure trove of antiques and vintage finds. Go for a spin on the giant, hand-carved merry-go-round at Richland Carrousel Park. The carrousel is under a heated pavilion so it’s open year-round. If you’re hungry, grab a bag of locally made Jones Potato Chips from the gift shop (we recommend salt and vinegar) and a bottle of one of the park’s Prison Break Sodas.
Just around the corner, unwind at Cypress Hill Winery over impressive California-style wines in a basement tasting room that feels like an urban grotto. You can grab a burger upstairs at City Grille or make a dinner at the winery out of pub snacks such as wings, blue cheese chips and deep-fried pickles.
Cozy up in a cottage with plenty of privacy and whirlpool tubs at Spruce Hill Inn. Wintertime guests can ski from their cottages to the Snow Trails slope next door.
Start your day at the Blueberry Patch, a family-owned farm where U-pick season lasts most of the summer and an appealing garden center and gift shop is worth a stop year-round. If you haven’t “tested” too many berries while you’re picking, fill up with sophisticated picnic fare from Blossoms Cafe. Don’t leave without a six-inch mini fruit pie (blueberry, blackberry or raspberry) and a couple of forks.
Dig into dessert in the rose garden or any of the 47 acres of perfect picnic spots at Kingwood Center. You can walk off your pie (or work up your appetite) exploring the seemingly endless formal and themed gardens at the former estate of 1930s brass tycoon Charles King. Gardens are open daily; mansion tours are given Saturdays.
Continue your exploration at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary, where you can make eye contact with an owl, feed an oriole, or chase a chicken. This 90-plus-acre refuge has a birds of prey exhibit, a walk-through songbird aviary, and eight hiking trails that meander through pine forest, meadows, marshland and along the riverbank. Admission is free.
For information: Richland County Convention and Visitors Bureau (419) 525-1300; mansfieldtourism.com