15 Best Things to Do in Oberlin, OH

Oberlin, OH
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Two Presbyterian ministers, John Shipherd and Philo Stewart founded the city of Oberlin in 1833.

While searching for a suitable location, the two stopped to rest and pray under an elm tree, which is now part of Tappan Square.

Initially proposed as a religious community, Oberlin got its name from Jean-Frederic Oberlin, an Alsatian minister.

Over the years, Oberlin developed into a community that focused on the abolitionist movement in the United States.

It also became a pivotal city for the Underground Railroad.

Today, you’ll still see several pieces of history painted on the city's walls and see several historical buildings that helped shape its culture and heritage.

Check out 15 of the best things to do in Oberlin, OH.

Discover Your Love for the Arts at the Allen Memorial Art Museum

Exterior of Allen Memorial Art Museum
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The Allen Memorial Art Museum is one of the best academic art museums in the nation一and for a good reason.

Founded in 1917, this museum in Oberlin College is home to thousands of original artworks depicting 6,000 years of various styles and mediums.

As you walk through the archway, you’ll see an 1884 quotation from William Morris, “The cause of art is the cause of people,” expressing the idea that art in all its forms has the power to touch people’s lives.

Enjoy the college museum’s intimate and pristine setting as you wander the halls and explore each exhibit.

Browse over 15,000 works of art, spanning from African and Oceanic displays to works from Europe and the contemporary period.

The Allen Memorial Art Museum also features several temporary exhibits, giving guests a different display every time they visit.

Learn about Oberlin’s Unique Heritage at the Oberlin Heritage Center

Aerial view of Oberlin Heritage Center
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Get an all-access pass to everything there is to see in the stunning city of Oberlin by dropping by the Oberlin Heritage Center.

Established in 1903 as a progressive-era community improvement group called the Village Improvement Society, the Oberlin Heritage Center is responsible for overseeing various projects like sanitation improvement, tree planting, creating the city’s park system, etc.

Embark on a guided tour around Oberlin’s historic buildings like the Little Red Schoolhouse and Monroe House.

Go on a history walk with your friends and family, and learn more about Oberlin’s architecture that helped shape the city’s image.

You can also learn about Oberlin’s role in the Underground Railway with the Freedom’s Friends: Underground Railroad and Abolitionist History Walk.

But if you’re looking to get a kick out of your walking tour and have a knack for facts, take the Historically Inaccurate Tour and test your knowledge by debunking historical myths about Oberlin.

Wander the Oberlin Arboretum

Get lost in nature’s wonders by visiting the Oberlin Arboretum on Morgan St.

Initially part of Oberlin College’s 17-acre property called Ladies’ Grove in 1892, the arboretum expanded into 77 more acres surrounding the grove after alumnus Charles Martin Hall bought extra land.

This preserve is also known as the Arb and is an all-time favorite for runners, stargazers, hikers, and birdwatchers with its scenic trails and stunning views.

Check out the reservoir split into two lakes and marvel at the sight of sledding hills that are perfect for the colder months.

Catch the blooming crocuses during spring, and run across the thick grass during the summer.

The Oberlin Arboretum is also a popular spot for various academic programs to collect data and conduct field lessons regarding biology, rhetoric and composition, photography, environmental studies, and more.

Take a Stroll around Tappan Square

Thick fog at Tappan Square
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Enjoy a quiet walk around Tappan Square as you drown out the sounds of the busy streets.

Tappan Square gets its name from 19th-century abolitionist Arthur Tappan, who played an essential role in keeping Oberlin College a financially solvent institution during its early years.

Paved pathway at Tappan Square
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This national historic landmark is a 13-acre green space filled with lush green trees, benches, and swings where anyone can take a short break, have a picnic, or enjoy the quiet environment.

You’ll also see several historic structures inside the park, such as the Oberlin Rocks, which serve as public billboards where locals spray-paint various messages and drawings.

You’ll also encounter a memorial arch built to commemorate the Chinese nationals killed in the Boxer Rebellion.

The memorial arch at Tappan Square
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Check Out Local Artworks at Firelands Association for the Visual Arts

Browse local artworks from budding and renowned artists at Firelands Association for the Visual Arts.

The Firelands Association for the Visual Arts was founded in 1979 as an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to quality visual artworks in various styles and media.

The organization holds a permanent exhibit that you can visit from Tuesday to Friday, and they also have rotating exhibits featuring established and emerging artists.

Check out photography exhibits and hand-stitched works.

Or, if you’re planning to stop by Oberlin during summertime, Firelands Association for the Visual Arts holds four weeks of in-person art camps spearheaded by the organization’s faculty and guest artists.

Get a month’s worth of uninterrupted art classes while exploring a variety of mediums and styles.

Get Spooked at the Inspiration House

Who knew a house could be cozy and haunted at the same time?

The Inspiration House on South St. offers its guests a unique staycation experience with its century-old history of paranormal activity.

Inspiration House is at least 150 years old and was built by Herbert Penfield for his family.

A few years after the construction was complete, Herbery moved to Chicago, leaving his wife, Sarah, in the house before she died.

In 2018, author and paranormal investigator Michelle Belanger acquired the Inspiration House and rented it out as an Airbnb.

Although the interior might look like any other American home, don’t let its cozy atmosphere fool you.

Guests have reported experiencing paranormal dreams that go with unexplained phenomena inside the house, recorded in several journals you’ll find in the main bedroom.

You can also check out the Display Room, which contains a collection of haunted objects, such as ouija boards, occult tools, and paranormal memorabilia.

Catch a Movie at the Apollo Theater

Exterior of Apollo Theater
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Nothing beats seeing a good movie in a great theater.

You can indulge in dozens of family-friendly movies at the Apollo Theater on E College St. at reasonable prices.

Interior of Apollo Theater
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This downtown movie house has welcomed guests since 1913, entertaining them with a single-screen main theater with 411 seats and a 61-seat screening room at the ground level.

The Apollo theater is also home to Oberlin College’s Cinema Studies Program.

As you walk up the second floor, you’ll find the Media Education Center that houses the program’s post-production equipment.

Snack bar in Apollo Theater
Ohio Office of Redevelopment from Columbus, Ohio, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dine at the 1833 Restaurant

Indulge in great food at the 1833 Restaurant.

The restaurant is inside The Hotel at Oberlin and features locally sourced ingredients and regional artisan products.

If enjoying great food isn’t enough, you’re in for a real treat because the restaurant puts you in a great spot to get a scenic view of Tappan Square.

Enjoy a great selection of expertly prepared sustainable food perfect for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

You’ll also find the restaurant’s must-try wine and beverage selection, featuring house-crafted cocktails, draft, and bottled beers, and more.

Swing by the Weltzheimer-Johnson House

Living room of Weltzheimer-Johnson House
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Marvel at the fine architecture of the Weltzheimer-Johnson House on Morgan St. and get a glimpse of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s finest works.

Built for Charles and Margaret Weltzheimer in 1948, the house is the first of the nine homes in Ohio and the only non-Californian place to use redwood.

After Margaret Waltzheimer died in 1963, the house went under several renovations from two subsequent owners一art historian Ellen H. Johnson and Oberlin College.

Walk around the L-shaped house with brick walls and a flat roof with a cantilevered carport.

The house features simple built-in furniture with tall glass walls and doors adorning the structure.

You’ll also see unique hemispherical ornaments in the fascia and panels, adding more style to the house’s interior.

Take a Scenic Walk at the Bill Long Nature Preserve

Clear your headspace and listen to the rustling leaves and the wind’s faint whispers at the Bill Long Nature Preserve.

Go on a short walk and take a break on a bench overlooking the reservoir, serving as the city’s old water supply.

The preserve covers a total of 22 acres, including the 13-acre reservoir.

You’ll notice that the preserve extends a little towards Beech St., thanks to Scott and Olivia Carson’s 12-acre woodland donation.

The preserve hosts several nature-filled activities that you’ll enjoy一from birdwatching and fishing to scenic walks and picnics.

Attend a Recital at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music

Exterior of Oberlin Conservatory of Music
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Listen to world-class music from budding talents at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music on W College St.

The conservatory boasts the largest collection of Steinway & Sons pianos outside the Steinway Factory, with more than 200 Steinway Grand Pianos within its walls.

It is also known as the oldest continuously operating conservatory in the US.

The Flanders Recorder Quartet performing in Oberlin Conservatory of Music
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Hear live music as you tour the conservatory’s buildings, including the Bibbins Hall, Central Unit, Robertson Hall, and the William and Helen Birenbaum Innovation and Performance Space.

Enjoy performances from conservatory students featuring original works and classic pieces from renowned artists.

The Smithsonian Consort of Viols performing in Oberlin Conservatory of Music
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Visit the Little Red Schoolhouse

Visit Oberlin’s oldest building, the Little Red Schoolhouse.

The Little Red Schoolhouse is the only known building to have survived the colony’s first decade.

Built in 1837, this mobile building was recorded to have moved to four different locations since its construction.

The schoolhouse began as a $200 wood-frame building that stood 20x24 feet, one-story high, and had a stone foundation.

The Union Schoolhouse succeeded it on S Main St. in 1874.

Shop at the Ben Franklin Store

Exterior of Ben Franklin Store
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When in downtown Oberlin, you’ll want to stop by the Ben Franklin Store.

Shop for great finds at low prices from this independent and locally owned business.

Started by John Cochrane in 1935, the Ben Franklin Store is a local favorite for buying general merchandise.

Find classic variety goods, fair trade gifts, unique toys and gifts, fabric and yarn, and more at this general store.

Inside, you’ll also find MindFair Books, a new and used trade bookstore that focuses on literature and poetry, the social sciences, and arts and crafts.

Feel the Adrenaline Rush with Common Ground Zipline Canopy Tour

Experience the adventure of a lifetime among the treetops with the Common Ground Zipline Canopy Tour.

The zipline tour is hosted by Common Ground, an organization with over 25 years of experience providing innovative programs for people of all ages to engage in unique and memorable experiences.

Embark on a thrilling 2.5-hour journey while swinging from the treetops and exploring nature’s greatest wonders in the city of Oberlin.

During the tour, you’ll experience seven zip lines, two spiral staircases, two aerial bridges, a floating staircase, and a final rappel at the end.

During the tour, you’ll also cross the majestic Vermilion River Valley.

Swing by the Jewett House

Exterior of Jewett House
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The Jewett House is one of the many historical buildings you should check out in Oberlin.

Built in 1884, the Victorian brick house served as the home of Oberlin College professor Frank Fanning Jewett and his wife, Sarah Frances Gulick Jewett.

The Hubbards later owned the house but continued to rent out rooms to male Oberlin College students.

Step inside the historic house to see an exhibit called Aluminum: The Oberlin Connection, which features a recreated woodshed experiment done by Charles Martin Hall in 1886.

During the tour, you’ll also get a glimpse of the rapid technological advancements during the 1880s, the history of social reform, and a brief history of the city.

Final Thoughts

Oberlin is indeed a city rich in history and nature-filled spaces that anyone can enjoy.

So if you're planning to visit this city anytime soon, you might want to turn your few days into a few weeks to experience everything Oberlin offers.

Book your trip today!