Oberlin isn’t just a great college, it’s a great town, too! A blue dot of liberal small-town vibes in a sea of red Ohio, Oberlin is about as charming, woke, and cozy as they come. Yes, in retrospect, it’s pretty tiny; but sometimes the smallest places can hold the sweetest hidden gems.
Here’s your guide to visiting downtown Oberlin, chock full of my favorite things to see and do.
- The Slow Train Cafe
First stop, the Slow Train Cafe! As I’m writing this, it’s January, and a cold one at that, so getting a warm drink before you head off on your Oberlin adventure is oh-so-important. Not only do they have the best chai lattes in town, but their blueberry muffins are to die for. Their fresh-baked goods and delicious hot drinks are a staple of any visit to downtown Oberlin. Bring along a reusable mug to get a discount as an appreciation for your contribution to saving the environment.
Here's the cup that I usually bring with me (sporting my Harry Potter pride, of course) to the cafe, whether I'm going to sit down or be on the road - it's a Tervis cup! I love these because they can be cups or travel mugs, and can hold hot and cold drinks! Highly recommend them if you're looking for a reusable cup to help save the environment!
- Ben Franklin & Mindfair Books
It’s important to get the necessities out of the way. Ben Franklin always has everything you need...and if you don’t need anything, you’ll find something you do need somewhere on the shelves. There’s a used book shop in there too! Mindfair Books has cozy shelves tucked together with all kinds of genres, new and old, for the young and the elderly. Pick up a chocolate bar and a pack of ramen for later for a couple of bucks, grab an old book (because you can never have too many books), and check out!
Don’t forget to bring your reusable shopping bag to help reduce the amount of plastic bags in our landfills. (Don’t worry, they’ll still give you a plastic one if you forgot.) Just like in this list, all over Oberlin you’ll see reminders of energy and resource conservation. In a few places, there are some glowing bulbs that will show you how much energy the building is using by flashing green, orange, or red. Some places, like the Slow Train Cafe, will offer discounts for people who provide their own dishes or bags.
- Ginko Gallery
Now that you’ve gotten the things you need (and, let’s be honest, some things you probably don’t need, but will definitely benefit from), let’s go somewhere fun! From Slow Train, you’re going to head back the way you came, and turn left at the Huntington Bank, then walk down until you get to a place called Ginko Gallery. Ginko is an Oberlin must. It’s part art gallery, part art store, part adorable-kitten-snuggling-heaven. That’s right - Ginko isn’t just a gallery, they also foster kittens and cats. I always find myself picking up a fun new pen or two in the front, and then making my way to the back, through a swinging door, to greet a dozen cute, mewing kittens.
Whenever Ginko is open, you can go into the back and pet, cuddle, and love on the kittens and cats in a little boarded-in area. This is really helpful for stressful finals week, a motivator to get through the week, or just a really nice, calm, and cuddly environment.
Just to give you an idea, here are two kittens cuddling in my roommate’s lap from the last time we visited.
One of the coolest things about visiting multiple times is that sometimes you get to see the kittens grow up! Sometimes when you go in, you can’t pet certain kittens as perhaps they’re sick or haven’t gotten their vaccinations yet, but you’ll visit a few weeks later, and they’re twice their size and playing and jumping around for you to play with them. Super cute! And super worth your time.
Now walk a bit farther down the same street, and you’ll come up on a quirky little store called Ratsy’s. Ratsy’s holds all of the weird, fun, eccentric, and cute vintage things you can imagine. From super cool jackets (during orientation week, I found a rad 90s windbreaker) to 80s dad sweaters, funky socks to handmade dinosaur earrings, if you want something even a little bit odd, you’ll find it at Ratsy’s. I sometimes like to go just to see what’s there, because as a vintage used-clothing store, the variety changes often. Ratsy, the owner, is also a really sweet and funny person who will be happy to strike up conversation with you when you walk in - and if you go in often enough, as I do, she’ll recognize you when you say hi.
Oberlin Public Library
The nice thing about downtown Oberlin is that most of it is in one central area, down one central street. So just like we did with Ratsy’s, we’re going to walk even farther down the same street and go to the Oberlin Public Library! I absolutely love the Oberlin Public Library, or OPL as it’s known for short. The librarians are as sweet as they come, and are always so friendly and willing to help you find even that one book you read 27 months ago that you can only remember the cover of. This is a great place to finish up your drink from Slow Train as you pick up a new book. If you’re only visiting Oberlin, you might not want to get a library card quite yet, but know that if and when you do come back to Oberlin for a longer period of time, it’s super easy to get your library card and start borrowing books! In the meantime, it’s a great environment to observe the people of the town of Oberlin. The public library attracts patrons of all ages from all parts of Oberlin, and the people-watching can be just as exciting as getting lost in a good book. I love visiting just to get to know the town and the people a little bit better, whether I’m engaging in conversation or listening from afar. I highly recommend going here if you want to get a peek into daily Oberlin life.
Need a place to eat lunch, dinner, or just indulge in some really good Mexican food? Agave is your place! Located on the same street as Ben Franklin, it’s like the Oberlin version of Chipotle - except way better than Chipotle, in my humble opinion. Walk in and take your pick of what meal you’d like; burrito, tacos, nachos, burrito bowl, etc. They’ve got options for those sensitive to spicy foods (aka me) to those who seem immune to spice, and they’ve got vegetarian options, too! I personally love the carnitas and queso sauce there, but that’s just me. You’ll have to go and decide for yourself what your favorite combination of toppings is.
Blue Rooster Bakehouse
Yes, you ate a muffin at Slow Train, and yes, you just ate at Agave, but that shouldn’t stop you from stopping at the Blue Rooster Bakehouse to get one of their famous (and quite frankly, beautiful) cupcakes and indulge in a dense frosting-y delectable to finish off your visit to downtown Oberlin. I absolutely love their chocolate cupcakes - they’re as healing as they are yummy, like a chocolatey hug. Plus, if you have any work to do, they’re great as an encouragement to read or write a certain number of paragraphs. For example, read one chapter, eat two bites of a cupcake, read another chapter, eat another two bites, and so on. Then again, you can also just pop a squat right in the bakehouse and gleefully eat some baked goods.
Okay, so that’s the end of my recommendation for your visit to downtown Oberlin, but that shouldn’t stop you! Keep exploring! Oberlin has lots of hidden gems beyond the ones I listed, you just have to look a bit to find what you’re looking for. Just in case, here’s a few other places I recommend that you check out if you’ve got time….
- Bead Paradise
Are you into beads, pretty jewelry, gorgeous clothing, or stones and crystals? Check out Bead Paradise! They’ve got an unimaginable amount of stones, crystals, and beads alongside their jewelry and clothing. It’s fun just to walk around and look at all of the amazing options in the rows upon rows of beads.
Kim’s is host to some delicious Korean food. It’s a delicious grocery/carry-out market with some crazy delicious dumplings! Stop by if you want some steaming hot, delicious food, or if you want to pick up some Pocky or a yogurt drink for the road. (Yes, I’m talking about the yogurt drinks from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. The kind of place Peter Kavinsky would go to pick up the drinks that Lara Jean loves so much.)
- The Consignment Shop
If you like vintage/used clothes, you can check out the Consignment Shop to find some cool and exciting clothes to wear. Oberlin students like to wear cool, vintage clothes, and this is a spot to find them. If you want to look like the Oberlin crowd, definitely shop here.
And for now, that’s it on my list. Like I said though, this list isn’t all of downtown Oberlin. There’s still more to be discovered, so don’t be hindered by this list! Wander around, and who knows, you might find a quirky little place to get lost in.
Note: This post is in no way endorsed by any of the businesses listed. Oberlin Blogs and the Oberlin Office of Admissions are also not endorsing these businesses. This is simply intended to serve as a guide written by an Oberlin student for visiting prospective students and their families.