Category: cheapskate guide

Cheapskate Guide To: Columbus, Ohio

Travel tips to lovely Columbus, Ohio! Where to find $1.50 tacos, $3 movies, and free old-fashioned arcade games! //

The Heart of It All, The Buckeye State, Round on the ends and HI in the middle… no matter what you call it, Ohio is quite possibly the most quintessential middle-America state. (Look, I know it’s not technically anywhere near the actual middle of America so don’t tweet me about it, just roll with the metaphor here). And smack dab in the center of this vast state is Columbus, the capital and my home.

I’m Val Geisler, Ohio girl, former theatre kid (and theatre kid at heart), writer, and digital strategist for creative business owners. When Sarah started her Cheapskate City Guide Series, I knew I had to share the best of Columbus, my home and pride of joy.

While I moved away like any Ohio kid does after college, I’ve found myself right back where I came from, running my business and raising my family in this fair city. As it turns out, you CAN come home. And since I’ve been back I have invited everyone I know to come visit the town the Ohio State Buckeyes built.

Fall in the Midwest is amazing. The leaves on the trees are changing, the air is chilly enough for a cozy sweater and a warm apple cider, and football reigns supreme on Saturday afternoons.

And while you can certainly spend a pretty penny coming to Columbus for a Buckeye game and an evening at the new Le Meridian hotel, The Joseph, I give my friends (ahem, that’s YOU) the “local roots” tour and we do the city on the cheap.

Want to come to Columbus for less than $100 per day (including where you stay overnight)? Here’s your guide to making it happen.

Cheapskate Guide To: Columbus, Ohio

Cheap Lodging in Columbus

Camping season in Ohio ends with the close of October so many campgrounds will give you off-season (read: cheap) rates once November hits if you want to risk the weather. Alum Creek State Park is just 13 miles from the center of the city and tent camping is open year round.

Cheapskate Guide To: Columbus, Ohio

For something a bit more “indoorsy”, Airbnb has the best deals in the city. This is going to be the majority of your daily budget here in the most active areas of Columbus but getting a tiny house all to yourself or sharing the included breakfast(!) with your host or even hitting up the campus area youth hostel for their private rooms and hot tub makes it all worth it.

If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!

Cheapskate Guide To: Columbus, Ohio

Cheap Things To Do In Columbus

Columbus Museum of Art – free on Sundays
Recently renovated so it’s fresh fresh fresh, this art museum is world-class and completely free on Sundays.

Short North Gallery Hop – 1st Saturday of every month and free
Apart from the cost of any artwork you may or may not be purchasing, Gallery Hop is completely free for anyone who wants to stroll in and out of the ever-growing number of art galleries in the famous Short North District. Nearby bars and restaurants typically offer specials for the crowds and you’re bound to find a food truck or two along the way.

Ohio State University – free (umm, unless you’re paying tuition)
An architecturally stunning campus, OSU gives any tourist a place to roam for hours. Mirror Lake, The Wexner Center for the Arts, and the famous Oval are just a few of the favorites most locals will point you toward. If you’re a sports fan, don’t forget to stop by Ohio Stadium for a peek at that center field. The views from the bleachers are legendary.

Topiary Park – free
Ever wondered what a horse would look like if it were carved out of a bush? What about an entire scene plucked out of the famous French Impressionist Georges Seurat’s paintings? You can find out at Topiary Park where you can wander freely among animals, people, and buildings all made of greens. If you want to stop inside the Visitor’s Center for more details and to warm up a bit, make sure you’re there early since they close at 4pm daily.

North Market Farmer’s Market – free (until you purchase something and then it’s all the dollars)
Columbus’ only indoor year-round market is completely free to walk into but bring your wallet for everything you’ll find inside. Taste (as much as you want of) Jeni’s Ice Cream, grab a warm pretzel from Brezel, sniff a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from Market Blooms, or head upstairs to share a park bench with strangers at Hot Chicken Takeover.

Cheapskate Guide To: Columbus, Ohio

Goodale Park – free
After a trip to the North Market, stroll on over to Goodale Park to burn some of those ice cream calories. You have your choice of walking paths, green spaces (typically complete with dogs playing frisbee), playgrounds, or tennis courts to play on. Goodale Park is often home to festivals throughout the summer (like the hippie-loving Community Festival) and the gazebo hosts events year-round.

Cinemark Carriage Place – $3
Yup. $3 gets you into any movie, anytime, no special matinee pricing here. Carriage Place is a bit off the beaten path and you’ll need to grab an Uber or Car2Go (which there are plenty of) if you don’t have your own wheels to get there. Oh, and Carriage Place shows movies at the same time as all of the other theatres – no second-run movies here, friend.

16-Bit Bar & Arcade – most games are free
Re-live your glory days with a round of Frogger, Galactica, Asteroids, or, my personal favorite, Burger Time. The majority of the games are free so 16-Bit gets crowded fast, you’ll want to get there early if you intend to have some serious gaming time.

Olentangy Trail – free
Walk, skate, jog, stroll, or bike down the 20 miles that make up the Olentangy Trail. Following the path of the river with the same name, this trail is Columbus’ favorite way to get sweaty outside. Whatever you do, be sure to follow the signs on the trail and keep an eye out for those bikers who think they are training for the Tour de France (aka – please don’t get run over).

Cheapskate Guide To: Columbus, Ohio

Cheap Things To Eat In Columbus

Full disclosure: I’m typically an eat-at-home kinda gal and now that I’m cooking for a toddler and my husband, eating out is getting tricky (and expensive). I consulted with my buddy Nick Dekker, local food celebrity (foodlebrity?) and founder of Breakfast With Nick and he clued me in to some of his favorite spots in the 614. Turns out, my top eats are Nick’s too. Kinda makes me feel like I know a thing or two about food in this town outside of my own kitchen after all.

Build your own sushi – WHAT?! Yes, indeed. Fusian makes sushi incredibly accessible, even for folks who don’t know/like sushi. Bonus points to this spot for their wealth of veggie options.

Dirty Franks – the most expensive thing on the menu is $7 so….
Dime A Dog night only happens a few times a year at the ballpark so when it’s not baseball season and I’m craving a hot dog, it’s off to Dirty Franks for the best in town. They have a tiny hole-in-the-wall place downtown (my favorite) and a new Westgate location that is bigger and less crowded (better for groups). So, yes, Dirty Franks is known for their hot dogs but it’s the tater tots – TOTS, YOU GUYS – that I really go for.

Huong Vietnamese $6-$8 for most entrees
Hands down the best pho in town. Also, Nick tells me I have to try this savory crepe thing call the banh xeo but every time I go I fill up on banh mi and pho gah. Next time, Huong. Next time.

Da Levee a large gumbo is $7, a po boy is $9
You know when you’re traveling with that person who gets super hungry and can basically eat everything around them and they won’t be satisfied with a tiny entree with no sides for $30? Yeah, that’s me. Trust me on this when I say that you should just stop what you’re doing and take them to Da Levee for the most Cajun/Creole food you can get on a plate in one sitting.

The Cheapskate Guide To: Columbus, OH

Kolache Republic – sweets are $2, savories are $4
Satisfy both your sweet and savory cravings alike with tiny Czech pastries called Kolaches. They make awesome sandwiches out of them at Kolache Republic and the owners are constantly dreaming up new menu items for their little bakery.

Los Guachos – $1.50 tacos
The first time I stepped inside this north-side spot, I was transported back to the taco huts I frequented on my honeymoon in Tulum. But it’s not just the giant carved wooden chairs and Mexican music that captivate me each time I go, Los Gauchos was voted #3 tacos in America by Food Network and their al pastor tacos are the real deal! There are several other items on the menu and it’s consistently packed at lunch time. Be sure to load your choices up with the green cilantro sauce and get ready to crave this taqueria for months to come.

Columbus-lovers: I KNOW I missed/didn’t include roughly 432 other places to eat/sleep/visit on the cheap in our city. Please tell me your favorites in the comments so we can all plan our next trip together.

P.S. 7 travel tools I will not shut up about till you buy

photos by: columbus arts festival // Alum Creek State Park // “tiny house” artist bungalow // Cozy room for 1 with breakfast // The wayfaring Buckeye Hostel // Columbus Museum // Short North Arts District // Goodale Park // 16-bit Bar // Fusian // Dirty Franks // Da Levee // Kolache Republic // cc

The Cheapskate Guide To: Minneapolis + St. Paul

Cheap Minneapolis on $60 a day? Lodging INCLUDED?! Yup. Tons of great ideas for free/cheap places to stay, things to do, food to eat. // yesandyes.orgWith some regularity, sweet readers will ask me for travel advice to our beautiful Twin Cities and if I was being really honest, my answer would be “Go to Trieu Chau and order the bun chay with fried tofu and then dig around the Frogtown Salvation Army.”

Because that’s what I do 230 times a year.

But I want to do better for you! September is a goooooorgeous time of year to visit the 612/651. You can frequently find incredibly cheap flight to the Twin Cities from Denver or Chicago and bus tickets for less than $20. We’ve got an Amtrak station so you can even train it!

Because I wanted to keep this travel guide crazy affordable, I tried to assemble an itinerary that would allow you to stay and play in MSP for around $60 a day – lodging included.

If you’ve got a bigger budget, feel free to ignore my camping suggestions and save money by eating at a cheap, amazing deli or checking out a $3 matinee.

How to Visit Minneapolis – St. Paul For Cheap

Cheap Minneapolis on $60 a day? Lodging INCLUDED?! Yup. Tons of great ideas for free/cheap places to stay, things to do, food to eat. //

Cheap Places to stay in Minneapolis

(Sub)urban camping or cabins near Minneapolis
Yes, really. You can pitch a tent 15 miles east of Minneapolis in one of Afton State Park’s 28 campsites or in Three Rivers Park in Plymouth. If you’re traveling with friends who aren’t afraid of roughing it a tiny little bit, you mustmustmust rent a yurt or a camper cabin.

You can rent a three-person yurt for $55 or a four-person, architect-designed camper cabin for $68. Camper cabins are super popular so make reservations well in advance.

Rented rooms around Minneapolis
There’s a surprising number of super affordable rooms on good ol’ Airbnb. There’s a well-reviewed tiny house (re: shed) with a lofted bed, a nice big bedroom out in the suburbs for $30 a night and a super cute $45 room in quiet, cool NE Minneapolis.

If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!


Cheap Things to do in Minneapolis St Paul

Minneapolis Institute of Art – free/donation appreciated
Oh, what’s that? A world-class museum for zero actual dollars? With pieces from Monet and Matisse and 40,000-year-old artifacts? Dontmindifido! Special exhibits cost extra, but the main galleries are always free.

The Walker Sculpture Garden – free
There’s a reason every single Twin Citian you know has suggested that you go here: it’s lovely and it’s free. The spoon cherry is iconic, but I personally love Frank Gehry’s 22-foot glass fish and Jenny Holzer’s quote benches. My favorite is “There is a period when it is clear that you have gone wrong, but you continue. Sometimes there is a luxurious amount of time before anything bad happens.”

Como Park Zoo + Conservatory – free/donation appreciated
The Como Park Conservatory will absolutely bowl you over with its Great Gatsby-ness – you just know Daisy is about to flounce out those doors, spilling a martini all over her dress. Have a peek through the hot house flowers and see if you can find Chloe The Sloth. If you’re there on Saturday or Sunday, take a spin around the gorgeously restored carousel!

travel-guide-minneapolisThe Guthrie’s Endless Bridge – free
The Guthrie itself is a gorgeous, decidedly not-cheap, nationally-renowned theater. But! You can walk in the door and take one very long escalator ride up to the ‘Endless Bridge,’ The Guthrie’s cantilevered lobby that stretches more than half a block from the building face. Buy an overpriced drink and appreciate the view!

Walk around one of a jillion* lakes – free
* slight exaggeration. In fact, there are 20 lakes within Minneapolis’s city limits and you can bike, rollerblade, walk or run around most of them. Lake Calhoun is Minneapolis’s busiest lake and is frequented by tons of athletes, cute dogs, and surrounded by drool-worthy mansions. 

The Riverview movie theater – $3
And if you go, you’ll probably see me because I am there every time the movies switch out. For $3 you can see second-run movies on a huge screen, in comfortable stadium seating.

The lobby has been beautifully restored to its gold-veined-mirror mid-century glory AND THEY — USE REAL BUTTER ON THE POPCORN. Really and truly a must-go.

Minnehaha Falls – free
Conveniently, these inner-city waterfalls are just a mile and a half from The Riverview and – NBD – they inspired Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha.

Rule breakers constantly jump the fence and tromp around behind the waterfall; do with that information what you will. If your don’t want to risk you neck on slippery rocks on a cliff face, you can stare at the waterfall while eating a $5 fried fish sandwich from Sea Salt.

Rent a Nice Ride – $3 for an hour and a half
Did you know that Minneapolis is the only U.S. city on a worldwide index of bike-friendly cities? Use our Nice Ride bike sharing system and take advantage of our bike lanes, bike-friendly public transport and 5.5 mile Greenway! There are Nice Ride stations all over the metro area and it only costs three dollars for an hour and a half if you’re a member!

Walk across the Stone Arch Bridge – free
Take a million photos. Nurse a coffee. Feel the wind in your hair. Admire all the cute dogs. Check out the food trucks that are frequently parked nearby.


Cheap Things to eat in Minneapolis

Trieu Chau – $6-7 for a giant entree
An amazing, award-winning Vietnamese noodle house deep in the heart of St. Paul’s Frogtown. I go here so often, the manager cheered when I told him I got married. I swear by the bun chay or the spicy lemongrass mock duck.

Like any self-respecting hole-in-the-wall, it’s cash-only and it’s right on the green line if you’d like to explore our fair cities via lightrail.

Blue Door Pub – Giant burgers for $8, fancy grilled cheese for $6
The Blue Door is one of several bars that claim they invented The Juicy Lucy – Minnesota’s famous cheese-filled hamburger. I don’t know who invented it, but I don’t care because The Blue Door has a build-your-own grilled cheese option.

I’d suggest going early, late, or calling an order in because they don’t take reservations and a 45-minute wait is not uncommon.

Anything at Midtown Global Market
The Midtown Global Market serves as a business incubator for fledgling businesses, many of which happen to be amazing, interesting restaurants. Get the famous Holy Land Deli hummus or try The Rabbit Hole’s Harold and Kumar Poutine with kimchi, pork curry gravy and chipotle aioli (!!!)

Hard Times Cafe – so cheap you can’t even stand it
A stronghold for crust punks, students, and socialists, this place has amazing vegan food for a pittance. I’ve eaten hashbrowns in 20 different diners around Minnesota and theirs are, hands down, the best. Of course, they don’t even have a website so I can’t tell you their prices but they’re incredibly low.


The Weinery – $3-5
I bet you didn’t expect a vegetarian to be recommending a hotdog/bratwurst/sausage joint, did you? Luckily, they have lots of vegetarian and vegan options! You can dress up your dog with fried onions, green peppers, mayonnaise, the kitchen sink! Of course, they also serve hand-cut fries and root beer floats.

Granny Donut – 80 cents for 1 donut
Granny Donut is technically located in West St. Paul BUT IT IS WORTH THE DRIVE DON’T QUESTION ME. Operated by the same family for 20+ years, open 365 days a week, serving fresh-made donuts for 80 ever-loving cents, this gem is located in a strip mall like all good bakeries should be.

I love their cherry glazed cake donuts and allegedly their apple fritters are so good people FedEx them to friends out of state.

Whew! I’m sure there are tons more fun, cheap, amazing things to do in the Twin Cities that I’ve missed. Fellow Minnesotans, add your suggestions in the comments!

P.S. How to live out of a suitcase – glamorously

photo credits: m01229 // minnesota monthly // // wikipedia //tastespotting // bochalla // wikipedia // cc