Lonely Planet Writer

9 Reasons to Go to Toledo (Ohio)


LOOKING FOR A LITTLE TOLEDO LOVE
For many Americans, Toledo is the Rust Belt's Kansas. A stand-in for joke-butts, like the tag of a snide, faux incredulous remarks ('where you from, To-le-do?'). Even Jay Leno got into it. On his penultimate performance hosting The Tonight Show, he attacked the Ohioan city. 'JetAmerica has announced $9 flights, making it the first budget airline in the country,' he said in his monologue. 'The catch is you have to go to Toledo.'

Cathy Miller, from the Toledo CVB, is a Toledo lifer, who doesn't have the answer why there's so much dissing. 'I guess it's because we're a mid-sized Rust Belt city that's never really made a name for itself,' she said by phone. 'But I think we're our own worst enemy.' She says there's plenty to do here -- much potential -- but Toledo, and Toledoans, need to do a better job promoting it. Kevin Knepley, manager at local hot dogger Tony Packo's, meanwhile, is pretty sure everyone already knows how good the city is. 'It's an absolute gem -- always has been.'

Though Jet America went bust before its first flight, things may yet look up for Toledo. There are great free museums and new bike trails drawing more attention to its river shore. Plus, a new convention center is set to open soon will house a new minor league hockey team and rock concerts. And there's more than enough to fill a weekend for those in the area -- and willing to challenge the same ol' outside perception of a town once nicknamed 'Frog City' for the hopping inhabitants of nearby marshes.

If you go, here's my nine-point planner for a two- or three-day visit.

Stay at the Mansion View Inn. This B&B occupies a huge 1878 mansion in the 'Old West End,' a historic hood with (allegedly) more old Victorian homes than anywhere east of the Mississippi. Rooms are nicely decorated, if a bit flowery, and it beats a chain. Rates start at $129.

Catch the Mud Hens. Remember Klinger on MASH? He wore a Mud Hens hat. The local minor league baseball team has, since 2002, played in what Newsweek called the best minor league ballpark in America (Fifth Third Bank Field). Go, buy a ballcap, and try to figure out what in the world a 'mud hen' is.

Way before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League baseball by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, African American player Moses Fleetwood Walker played for the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884.

Buy The Blade. Travel rule: Always but the town paper at least once. Second rule: In Toledo, buy it every day you're there. Because it's futile to not support a daily paper -- The Blade -- which has a more weekly sounding name, than the actual entertainment weekly: Toledo City Paper.

Bike along the Maumee. Speaking on nomenclature merits, is there a better named river anywhere than the Maumee? Pronounced 'Mommy', the river runs along downtown, with new bike trails to reach a growing scene of outdoor restaurants. Afterwards, try a spin on parts of the nearby 63-mile Wabash Cannonball Trail, a rails-to-trails project.

See the Glass Pavilion. The Toledo Museum of Art created a 'glass pavilion' in 2006 to tribute the city's past era as America's 'Glass City.' It caught the eye of The New York Times. And, hey, like the highly regarded city zoo, it's free to visit.

Look for a copy of 'We're Strong for Toledo.' It's the city song. And it should be on any visitor's iPod.

Visit little or unknown war sites. The tense Ohio/Michigan relationship was born in the 1830s during the Toledo War over ownership of the 'Toledo Strip.' Find out what the fuss was about, or bike -- on the Wabash trail (above) -- to the site of the Battle of Fallen Timbers, a 1794 Revolutionary War left-over between US troops and one of the largest Native American federations.

Go kayak Put-In-Bay. It's a kid-friendly island on Lake Erie by day, a party scene by night. It's also some of the area's best kayaking, optimistically (if awkwardly) dubbed 'the San Juans of Washington, of Ohio.' You don't need wheels. Take the Jet Express ferry from nearby Port Clinton, then rent mopeds, bikes or kayaks. Maybe try some taffy.

Tribute the king of carousels! A neighbor of Toledo, not New York or Fun Town USA, gave us all Americans our first collective spin on a carousel. That was in 1841. The original's gone, but Mansfield's Richland Carrousel Park (sic) has a recreated one.

Get the world's most famous Hungarian hot dog. Tony Packo's was a local favorite for hot dogs until February 24, 1976, when Klinger (played by real-live Toledoan Jamie Farr) changed everything, by plugging it on MASH. Now some 800 framed, autographed styrofoam buns testify to famous visitors (eg the last couple presidents, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Motley Crue's Tommy Lee). Stick with the original location at 1902 Front St in the old Hungarian part of town, Birmingham, east of the river. A dog costs $2.69.

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By the way, the town's named after the Spanish city -- possibly -- because Washington Irving (who wrote about headless goons) liked the Spanish town and suggested it to his brother, an area resident, in 1832.