One of America’s best displays of architecture waits in Columbus, where the downtown mixes 20th-century masterpieces with 19th-century structures.

One of America's best displays of architecture waits in Columbus, where the downtown mixes 20th-century masterpieces with 19-century structures. Names like I.M. Pei and Eero Saarinen left their mark here, earning Columbus recognition from the American Institute of Architects as America's sixth-best city for architectural innovation.

How is a town of 45,000 people packed with buildings and art created by designers known even by people who know little about design? The answer: J. Irwin Miller. In the 1950s, the local Cummins Engine Company executive set out to draw world-class workers to Columbus by elevating the entire town's attitude via design. He subsidized public buildings, as long as a renowned architect designed them, because he believed that, "Mediocrity is expensive."

The result is a town filled with more than 70 buildings created by famed architects-including churches, fire stations, schools, homes and office buildings. That means the anchor of any weekend here (45 miles south of Indianapolis) should be an architecture tour.

Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church and Henry Moore's Large Arch sculpture
Henry Moore's Large Arch frames Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church

What to Do

Architecture tours A free self-guided tour covers more than 70 works including public art such as Henry Moore's Large Arch. For a fee, bus tours with volunteer guides bring character to buildings around town.

The Commons The glass-enclosed community space includes restaurants and a play area with a huge children's climbing structure.

The Commons
The Commons

Miller House and Gardens Considered a leading example of modernist architecture, the 1950s Miller House and Garden feels like it could be a set for Mad Men; visitors gush over the groundbreaking conversation pit and the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the beautifully manicured grounds.

Miller House
Miller House

Where to Eat

450 North Brewing Company Beers like the Copperhead Amber pair with pizzas cooked in a brick oven at this gem surrounded by vineyards and farmland.

4th Street Bar and Grill Breaded pork tenderloins share the menu with mahimahi tacos and burgers with kimchi.

The Garage Pub and Grill Enjoy live entertainment with your standout pub food and 14 beers on tap.

Zaharakos Enjoy handmade ice cream served under the glow of Tiffany-style lamps at this 117-year-old soda fountain.

Henry Social Club Check out the extensive wine list and steaks or seafood at the swanky here.

Where to Stay

Hotel Indigo Midcentury modern touches show in the furniture, artwork and color scheme at this 85-room hotel. Rooms are gorgeous, with hardwood floors.

Hotel Indigo
Hotel Indigo

The Inn at Irwin Gardens An early-20th-century Italianate-style inn features the original Edwardian furnishings and sunken gardens designed to resemble the ruins of Pompeii. Breakfast includes fresh-baked rolls, egg dishesand parfaits.

Inn at Irwin Gardens
Inn at Irwin Gardens

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