In this day and age of travel to far off destinations, a glut of sameness has dulled our vacations. We jet off to all-inclusive resorts or travel down the highways where every exit features the same monotonous chain eateries. A recent trip to Marietta, Ohio assured me that there are still destinations to visit where local tourism thrives. I have crossed the Ohio river here on I-77 en route to South Carolina many times, but never realized just what I was missing. Here are a few of my thoughts after spending a few days in this lovely old town.

Disclosure: Accommodations a The Lafayette and meals were provide by Marietta-Washington County CVB. Opinions, as always , are purely my own.

 

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At the intersection of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, Marietta offers plenty of stunning views, and bridges. Click for hi-res image. ©R. Christensen

Vacations in unique locales, like Marietta, are more beneficial to both visitors and locals than destinations where everything is merely a corporate asset. Travelers get to experience the local flavors and traditions, while residents gain by investment in parks and greater downtown improvements. A large part in the success of small town tourism lies in the hands of their entrepreneurs. Businesses run by individuals or families tend to show off their home town. That pride flows through into above par service and often conversations tourists will remember after they leave.

 

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Foggy morning at the grand Lafayette Hotel in downtown Marietta, Ohio. Click for hi-res image.  ©R. Christensen

Sleeping Local in Marietta

One of the first items on your vacation agenda is choosing a place to stay. Finding an decent independent hotel has become a rarity today. It’s easy to see why; the massive amount of capital needed to compete with new chain hotels is not easy to come by for a private business. When heading to a small town destination, look instead for a Bed & Breakfast or lake front lodge. I take extra time to read up on reviews of independent lodgings. You’ll find some run merely like rentals, while others are lovingly maintained as family operations.

If you’re lucky, there may be a renovated historic property at the location. On this trip I stayed at the Lafayette Hotel in the heart of downtown Marietta. Dating back to 1918, it has views of the Ohio river and offers plenty of appeal to travelers looking for a bit of history. The rooms feature original furniture and it’s easy to immerse yourself into the era with matching tall brick buildings lining the streets. In other towns you may find old hotels brought back to life in a modernized boutique style.

 

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Larry Slotter of The Busy Bee talking about making items from scratch. Butter is churning in that mixer. ©R. Christensen

Dining like a local in Marietta

When I visit somewhere new, the first thing on my mind is food. Well, I guess that’s also true for places I’ve been to several times. I’ve found the best places to eat are the same restaurants locals head to for their favorite meal. When you’re checking in, ask the hotel staff what eatery they’d go to for unique local flavors. Often these aren’t the restaurants on the radar of travel guides, have some flexibility in your meal plans for new adventures.

Marietta surprised me with a a type of restaurant I have trouble finding in my own home state: a farm to table establishment that caters to locals. There wasn’t a line of Audis and hipsters outside the Busy Bee, but instead a crowd of every day diners and an owner very enthusiastic about what that meant to the community. As a tourist, this is the type of place that gets me excited; more than any 5 star chef using his name to serve over-priced local ingredients to visitors. It was refreshing to stroll into the locally owned Jeremiah’s Coffee for a drink instead of the ubiquitous Starbucks. Word of mouth and an active CVB help eateries like the Busy Bee and Jermiah’s serve both the community and travelers. Click to read more about The Busy Bee Restaurant.

 

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The trees were overflowing with apples this year at the Hidden Hills Orchard. ©R. Christensen

Local Activities in Marietta

Unique activities attract visitors to smaller towns. The first thing I noticed driving into Marietta was the long river front parks and amazing downtown strip. Spaces like these have appeal to tourists and blend seamlessly with the community. Walking around the town, one finds a sense of belonging instead of arriving at a destination solely to be entertained. Interesting items around Marietta include nine covered bridges, outdoor water sports, or a relaxing cruise on a paddle wheel ship. In fact, the weekend after Labor Day Marietta plays host to over 30 ships during their annual Sternwheel Festival. Try to plan your vacation around local festivals to get an even bigger taste of the local scene.

Marietta and surrounding Washington County feature some excellent farm land, which offers its own unique setting for travelers. On my recent visit, I had the opportunity to tour Sweet Apple Farm & Market. Operations there are centered around entertaining the whole family, especially during harvest season. Here you’ll find a giant corn maze, animals to pet, and craft activities for the kids. We also visited Hidden Hills Orchard. Owners Tom and Cathy grow several varieties of apples for visitors to pick and also press their own cider. Living in orchard country myself, I enjoyed seeing how they did things differently and got to taste some local apple varieties not found at home.

 

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Watching a barge ply the Ohio river from the I-77 bridge in downtown Marietta, Ohio. Click for hi-res image. ©R. Christensen

Look for Localized Travel Destinations

When local businesses are front and center in a town’s tourism plans, the benefits are huge. Local entrepreneurs offer service and knowledge to visitors that large corporate chains cannot. This improves the experience visitors have and also is a kick back to the community. Residents will find better jobs with independents companies and also enjoy the improvements to their area, such as well-managed parks and downtown amenities.

Seeking destinations which focus on local activities is a refreshing change of pace for many travelers stuck in the rut of similar tourist resorts. Finding a destination, like Marietta, that embraces local businesses really makes for an enjoyable vacation. I believe small towns have the opportunity to offer new experiences to draw in regional guests. I encourage my readers to look closer at their maps and find a localized destination for their next road trip.

To find out more about Marietta, Ohio attractions, dining, and festivals, visit MariettaOhio.org

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Local Tourism is Thriving in Marietta Ohio

 

 

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