George Washington once said of Marietta: “I know of no country where I should rather fix my habitation.” For the first 28 years or so of my life, I agreed wholeheartedly before I finally relented to the big city’s call. While Hocking Hills rightfully gets a lot of attention as an outdoor-enthusiast destination, National Geographic listed only one spot in Ohio in its 2009 feature of the country’s “100 Best Adventure Towns.” Fittingly, it’s the state’s first city: Marietta. The Pioneer City is more than just an adventurer’s dream, however. From beer bars to live music, antiques to history, just about anyone can find something to discover in this majestic river city.
Dives, dance halls and beer meccas, oh my!
First things first: booze. Marietta’s downtown and west side neighborhoods are littered with numerous spots to wet your whistle. They’re all within walking distance of each other, so a veritable boozehound’s bar crawl can be had quite easily. Whatever your predilection, don’t miss the following watering holes:
Marietta Brewing Co.: From stouts to shandys, this 17-year-old brewery offers a range of solid brews in a charming setting. Huge artful murals — one of which recreates a picture of early 20th century Marietta brewers — adorn the pub’s exposed-brick walls, making the spot the quintessential Marietta experience.
The Galley/Adelphia: Rumored to be haunted by a ghost named Charlotte, the craft-beer mecca The Galley and its adjacent concert hall, The Adelphia, is located in a former “house of ill repute.” The bar/restaurant features a well-curated 24 taps, and the concert venue has hosted acts ranging from Southern Culture on the Skids to Bubba Sparxxx.
Harmar Tavern: A west-side dive home to the “soon-to-be-famous fried-bologna sandwich.”
Turn down(town) for what!
From antique shops to fashion boutiques, art galleries to a Coca-Cola museum and ice cream/soda pop shoppe, you won’t find a more eclectic and bustling downtown in a small town. The highlight, however, is justAJar Design Press, a letterpress that practices the age-old crafts of typesetting and woodblock printing. The design team of Bobby Rosenstock and Sarah Alway have created posters for the Nelsonville Music Festival, Belle and Sebastian and The Flaming Lips, among others. Give ’em a shout ahead of time, and they’ll give you a personal tour of their loft.
Quaint community festivals
The biggest and most famous is the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival (Sept. 5-7), but my favorite is the newly established Rivers, Trails and Ales Festival, a weekend long celebration of Marietta’s diverse outdoor offerings and beer scene. Dive in Aug. 7-10 with kayak tours, organized mountain bike and road rides, trail runs and the ever-popular Mighty Muskingum River Raft Race where participants race their own hand-crafted vessels.
Adventure City, Ohio
Speaking of outdoor pursuits, you’d be remiss to leave Marietta without exploring the area’s diverse outdoor offerings. Tour the city’s two major rivers and other creeks and streams via kayak or enjoy a more leisurely ride on the Valley Gem sternwheel boat. Join local fishermen at Devol’s Dam, or avoid the water altogether and use two wheels to discover the dozen miles or so of single-track trails within the city’s limits. Or embrace the city’s slower side with a more comfortable bike ride along the walking/biking trail that stretches along both major rivers.
Explore the city’s rich history
Short of visiting one of the country’s original 13 colonies, you won’t find an American city with more historical roots. The roads are lined with bricks, the houses adorned with plaques declaring this one home to a former vice president and that one “The House of Seven Porches.” Even the cemeteries are worth a look-see. They’re flat-out beautiful, for one, but they’re also filled with more Revolutionary War soldiers than anywhere else in the country, and one cemetery’s even home to a large Hopewell burial mound.
Photos courtesy of The Galley, Marietta-Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau, JustAJar Design Press and Robb Decamp.