Ohio Adventures: A Butler County Bucket List

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The United States is a really big place. With 50 states and more than 320 million people, this country of mine is perhaps one of the most diverse in the world.

And while I understand why the average international traveler only focuses on a few states when they visit the US (the most popular seem to be New York, California, and Florida, with maybe Nevada for Las Vegas or Arizona for the Grand Canyon thrown in), I feel bad for the states that get left out – because every state in the union has something unique to boast about.

This has inspired me to start exploring more of my own country as a tourist – and especially the places that are close to my home in Ohio that so often get overlooked.

Covered bridge at Governor Bebb MetroPark
For example: Governor Bebb MetroPark!

I've spent most of my life in northeast Ohio. Even though I travel a lot all around the world, this is (and probably always will be) home. But I've been a terrible traveler when it comes to the rest of Ohio.

While the northeast is great, other parts of the state are pretty darn cool, too. I've just never really considered them as places to visit as a traveler.

Until now, of course!

When I got an email from the Butler County tourism board inviting me to come and check out the area, I had to go and Google the county to figure out where in Ohio it even was (shh, don't tell them!). I knew nothing about the area, what there was to do, or whether I would even have enough to write a full post about.

But I decided to go anyway.

And I'm really glad I did! Because Butler County is quirky and cool, and is a perfect part of Ohio to visit if you're already in a southwestern city like Cincinnati or Dayton.

Mural in Hamilton, Ohio

A Butler County Bucket List

And, in order to show you all the cool and quirky things to do in Butler County, here's what would end up on my bucket list for the area:

5 things to do

Butler County was founded in 1803, the same year that Ohio officially became a state. This means that this part of Ohio has more than 200 years of history! Here were some of my favorite things to do:

The Donut Trail

Donut Trail in Butler County, Ohio

In 2016, Butler County officially launched the Donut Trail. This “trail” features 10 independent, family-owned donut businesses spread throughout the county. I LOVE this concept – not only does it allow you to eat some delicious donuts that don't come from Dunkin, but it's a fantastic way to promote and support local businesses, some of which have been around for generations.

Amanda on the Donut Trail
I also LOVE these punny signs – each shop on the Trail has a different one!

My partner Elliot and I hit the donut trail with our Donut Trail Passports (if you get a stamp at all 10 locations, you get a free t-shirt) on a Sunday morning. We visited Stan the Donut Man, Kelly's Bakery, and Jupiter Coffee and Donuts, and I immediately fell into a sugar coma afterwards.

Jungle Jim's International Market

Jungle Jim's International Market
Quirky Jungle Jim's. This is the Cereal Bowl Band aboard the SS Minnow, which serves as the office for the store's seafood department.

Google Jungle Jim's, and you'll be told that it's a grocery store. But I'm here to tell you that this 6-acre behemoth is so much more than just a grocery store! Jungle Jim's is a tourist attraction in its own right, with its funky decorations, giant cheese tower, and more than 180,000 food items from around the world. For locals, they even offer frequent festivals, tastings, and other educational events.

It was not at all difficult for us to spend hours here.

Weird soda flavors at Jungle Jim's
Would you dare try any of these weird soda flavors??

(If you want the grand tour, check out this live video I did at Jungle Jim's.)

Butler County Historical Society / Historic Hamilton

Benninghofen House in Hamilton, Ohio

I'm a sucker for old houses, and so thoroughly enjoyed touring the Benninghofen House connected to the Butler County Historical Society in the historic part of Hamilton. Hamilton is the seat of Butler County and, like many cities in Ohio, is having a bit of a renaissance right now after having suffered some rough years.

The Benninghofen House dates back to the Civil War years, and still boasts some original carpeting and wall paper, along with period furniture.

Inside the Benninghofen House
Inside the Benninghofen House

It's also worth it to take a stroll along the streets near the historical society to admire some more of Hamilton's beautiful old homes. You'll also find some new art galleries and boutiques just a few blocks away – Sara's House on High Street was my favorite!

Sara's House in Hamilton, Ohio
Sara's House

Voice of America Museum

Voice of America Museum
This building is a beast and was built in the '40s to withstand bombings!

Located in nearby West Chester, The National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting is a museum-in-progress that's going to be really, really cool when it's finished. The museum is located in the 1940s-era Bethany Relay Station building, which was responsible for broadcasting the Voice of America radio show all over the world for decades. (Literally – this building sent the program out over radio waves to countries as far away as Germany and Brazil!)

Voice of America Museum

Right now, the museum is only open one Saturday per month as they complete exhibits and renovate the building to make it more accessible. In September 2017, though, the museum will be open every Saturday and Sunday, and by summer 2018, they hope to open to the public four days per week in order to tell the story of both the Voice of America, and radio broadcasting in Ohio and beyond.

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park

Lastly, I highly recommend heading out to the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park for an afternoon if the weather is nice. This sprawling park is dotted with dozens of huge sculptures that belonged to Harry T. Wilks, who bought the land in 1987 and began the park as a way to encourage appreciation of both the arts and the outdoors.

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park

Hit the trails on foot, or rent an “Art Cart” (a golf cart) to zip around the park. And definitely bring a picnic if the weather is nice!

4 places to eat/drink

No trip would be complete without some good grub! Here were some of my favorite places in Butler County for food and drinks:

Jupiter Coffee and Donuts – Jupiter is on the Donut Trail (and they do make delicious donuts!), and is also an awesome place to get your daily coffee fix. They roast and grind their own coffee beans weekly, and their prices are super reasonable.

Jupiter Coffee and Donuts
Inside Jupiter Coffee and Donuts

Municipal Brew Works – Looking for a good pint that will support a local business? Head over to Municipal Brew Works in Hamilton for some craft beer and a cool vibe. If the weather is nice, expect an outdoor patio feel with picnic tables, a food truck, and maybe a few games of cornhole.

Municipal Brew Works

Municipal Brew Works
A tasting flight of craft brews runs only $8!

Jag's Steak & Seafood – This upscale restaurant in West Chester isn't easy on the wallet, but it has been named the best steakhouse in Ohio and one of the best in the nation, so I suppose you get what you pay for! (It's great for a fancy date night or anniversary.)

Dinner at Jag's
Scallops and filet mignon at Jag's!

CineBistro – Dinner and a movie more your style? Why not do both at the same time at the CineBistro at Liberty Center, where you can have a full meal as you watch a movie on the big screen! (I really hope this trend migrates its way up to the Cleveland area soon…)

Where to stay

We stayed at the new AC Hotel by Marriott right at the Liberty Center shopping/entertainment complex. It's in a convenient spot to visit all of the places listed above, and is right off I-75. I loved the modern rooms and sleek layout of the hotel, and you can expect friendly Midwestern hospitality from the staff.

Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here

AC by Marriott at Liberty Center

As you can probably tell, I was pleasantly surprised by my visit to Butler County. There are exciting things happening here – people my age are moving back home to open new businesses and really breathe new life into the whole area surrounding Hamilton. Add to this some fun attractions like Jungle Jim's and the Donut Trail, and I think they've got a great, family-friendly thing going!

So what do you think? Is this a part of Ohio you would want to visit?

 

Things to do in Butler County, Ohio

 

Thanks to the Butler County Visitors Bureau for hosting us and helping us explore the best of the county. As always, though, all opinions are 100% my own!

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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30 Comments on “Ohio Adventures: A Butler County Bucket List

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  1. Donut Trail!!! What a fabulous concept. Thanks for shining a spotlight on Ohio. I know some of my ancestors lived in area 150 years ago, but until your blog, I never had a thought or desire to visit.
    The middle US states are kinda like the middle countries in Europe. Everyone wants to go to France, Italy and England, but not many plan trips to Liechtenstein.

      So true – Ohio often gets overlooked, but it’s actually such a cool state! And the Donut Trail is an awesome idea!

    So funny to see this pop up today! I grew up—and my parents still live— in West Chester, Ohio. I was as just thinking of home (I’m now living in Pasadena, CA for work). Jungle Jim’s was always a favorite as a kid! Great review!!

      Glad I could bring a little bit of home to you today. 🙂 (And man, I can only imagine how much fun Jungle Jim’s would be for a kid!)

    I am also guilty of not having explored much of Ohio and until two weeks ago, I was a lifelong resident! I’ll be moving back in a few years and I’ll have to visit some of these places. Like the Voice of America museum. That’s right up my alley!

      There are so many little hidden gems in Ohio! (And yes, the VOA Museum is going to be super cool once it’s all done!)

    I’d like to hop on that donut trail! Yum!

      Definitely the most delicious trail I’ve even been on!

    I agree, Amanda. The US is a huge country, and there is so much to be explored. I love how you have the drive and passion to travel your own country and state and see it with an outsider´s eyes – they do say that you can’t judge another person´s country until you fully know your own!

      So true! I’m making an effort to see more of Ohio this year.

    I really love how much you write about the Midwest. Ohio is such an off the beaten path state, especially for foreigners but I think just as much for Americans. I for one never knew anything about Ohio except that those cities that all start with a C are there xD But who wouldn’t love a donut trail?

      You’re very right – not many people consider Ohio to be a tourist destination. But hopefully blog posts like this can help change some minds! 🙂

    You had me at “donut trail”.

    Seriously I can’t believe I have never been to Ohio especially since I grew up in Pennsylvania (although on the eastern side of it). I certainly need to meet our neighbors to the west.

      Aww yes, show Ohio some love! 🙂 It really is quite a cool state, though – I’ll be writing about it more this year!

    Looks like an awesome visit! Thanks for sharing. I’ve never heard of this spot before

      It’s not a part of the US (or even a part of Ohio) on most people’s radar, but those sorts of places are the ones I like visiting the most!

    You had me at donut trail… What a fantastic idea!

      Right?!? Great marketing on the CVB’s part!

    Living in Butler County for many years now I have watched it go “Hollywood” as several movies have been filmed in the area in recent years. I can actually remember when the Voice of America was still broadcasting in the late 70s and early 80s. We lived very near VOA and it was so powerful that it would overpower every radio in the house. It also came through the pipes in the house during the early morning hours. The “Donut Trail” is super. Jungle Jim’s is unique from being able to find just about any food to their award winning bathrooms that look like “portalets”. Fooled everyone when they first put them in at the Fairfield location. Thanks for the great review. I know our foreign exchange students have definitely enjoyed some of these attractions.

      That’s so crazy that the VOA broadcasts would come through the pipes! Pretty cool that that relay station is right here in Ohio.

    Ah how funny!! I JUST took a trip down to Jungle Jim’s last weekend! I live about an hour and a half north, but it’s totally worth the drive. Love that place!

      It’s so cool! If I lived closer, I would definitely make regular visits – they have everything there!

    I love the Donut Trail idea, wish I’d stopped last week when I was passing through! I just spent last week in Southeast Ohio (Marietta) and also stopped at Hocking Hills – I was shocked at how great it all was! Totally underrated.

      Hocking Hills is great! Ohio sure does have its gems in every corner. 🙂

    That looks like my kind of trail. Such a charming place!

      I was surprisingly really smitten with this part of Ohio!

    I don’t know much about Ohio, but I would most certainly visit it. Why not! I like the sound of the Benninghofen House, and the Historical Society.

    p.s. Is this the Hamilton connected to the musical “Hamilton” or were they referring to a person? You can’t see any of that stuff in Europe, but I remember reading all about it from bloggers who live in New York, and they all sounded quite excited!

      It’s not a bad state, if I do say so myself! 😉

      And as for the name of Hamilton, the city was indeed named in honor of Alexander Hamilton, but he has no direct ties to the city.

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