Girlfriend getaway: From scenic parks to quaint shops, Yellow Springs gives quirky a good name

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

In a world of mass-produced goods and cookie-cutter facades, it’s rare to discover an entire community filled with one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants.

But nestled among some of southwest Ohio’s most beautiful parks is the eccentric and fiercely independent village of Yellow Springs. There’s no place like it for off-beat shopping, excellent dining and enjoying nature at its best.

In Yellow Springs you will be welcomed into friendly locally owned businesses and restaurants, many of which have been in the village for decades.

Yellow Springs was established in 1825 by followers of Robert Owen, a founder of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement. Those ideals of community and human rights remain at the heart of Yellow Springs’ identity almost 200 years later. It’s largely kept out big chain stores, instead nourishing local artists, craftspeople and home-grown businesses.

For a visitor, that means experiencing shops filled with locally made and curated items, cozy eateries featuring gourmet meals, and nature hikes and biking in exquisite parks. And chances are, you’ll meet quite a few shop cats along the way.

Where to shop

Yellow Springs has dozens of places to shop. Below are some highlights:

Dark Star Books & Comics: One of the best used bookstores in the area, Dark Store offers more than 40,000 used, rare and collectible books. Known for hard-to-find science fiction, it also offers literature, history, philosophy, metaphysics, cookbooks and other genres, plus “geek culture” collectibles.

Kismet: Part of a small southwest Ohio “sisterhood” of businesses, Kismet offers women’s clothing, jewelry, gifts and zodiac-themed items.

Ohio Silver: This 52-year-old shop offers the best selection of handmade silver jewelry in the area. Beautifully displayed, you’ll find handmade and fair-trade sterling silver pieces from around the world.

Rose & Sal: Calling itself “the coolest vintage shop in the world,” Rose & Sal offers vintage and antique furniture, décor and clothing. It’s also known for its clever shop displays.

Urban Handmade: For handmade items with an attitude, stop by Urban Handmade. It represents more than 70 makers with everything from jewelry, art, clothing, paper goods and bath and body items.

Village Artisans Gallery: This is as close as it gets to a mall in Yellow Springs. In a series of connected rooms, the artisans of this cooperative sell locally made jewelry, woodworking, pottery, photography, glass and more.

Yellow Springs Hardware: In Yellow Springs, even the hardware store is locally owned. This nearly 100-year-old institution features hardware, garden and pet supplies, as well as sharpening services. It even holds periodic concerts called the Hardware Store Sessions.

Yellow Springs Pottery: Every piece of pottery sold here is handmade by one of eight local artists who jointly own and operate the cooperative. Although works of art, most items are made for everyday use.

Yellow Springs Toy Company: Step into this longtime Yellow Springs store and you’ll feel like a kid again. Toys that spark creativity and imagination line every shelf.

Where to eat and drink

Yellow Springs has an abundance of quaint restaurants, bars and coffee houses, almost all with vegetarian and vegan offerings. Here are some highlights.

Current Cuisine: A gourmet deli with made-to-order sandwiches and soups, plus homemade pastries, it also sells grocery items and offers catering.

Dino’s Cappuccinos: Grab a cappuccino or coffee at this cute coffee shop.

Emporium Wines and Underdog Café: Divine breakfast burritos and a large selection of wine, including natural wine, make this a welcoming spot for a morning or afternoon break.

HaHa Pizza: A Yellow Springs institution, HaHa’s makes its pizza dough from scratch daily. It offers classic pizzas as well as offbeat creations.

Credit: Natalie Jones

Credit: Natalie Jones

O&E’s Corner Cone: Save some room for a special treat from this throwback ice cream stand.

Peach’s Grill: A longtime Yellow Springs restaurant and bar, Peach’s offers live music, comedy, karaoke, trivia and the occasional drag show.

Sunrise Café: Open seven days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunrise Café makes nearly everything from scratch, including breads, burgers, soups, jams, sauces and pickles. Most food is sourced from local farms, and even the patio furniture is made from old wooden pallets.

Winds Café: This lovely restaurant started in 1977 as a collectively owned and operated café. The menu has evolved over the past four decades and today is “European-inspired with an American twist.” Known also for its wide selection of wines, the Winds changes its menu monthly to reflect the seasons.

Ye Olde Trail Tavern: The oldest tavern in Ohio, Ye Olde Trail incorporates the original hand-hewn log cabin that housed the tavern when it started in 1827. The menu features burgers, sandwiches and nibbles, some with a German theme, a nod to a previous owner.

Yellow Springs Brewery: Where else but Yellow Springs would you find a beer company with the slogan “Crafting truth to power”? Today the beer is sold throughout the Dayton and Columbus areas, but you can still enjoy the original taproom in Yellow Springs.

Where to stay

The Mills Park Hotel is a 28-room boutique hotel that’s both luxurious and laid-back. Locally owned and built in 2015, it’s modeled after the 1842 home of William Mills, one of Yellow Springs’ original settlers. The hotel includes a gift shop with handmade and local items and Ellie’s Restaurant with a southern-inspired menu. Ellie’s is open daily for brunch and for dinner seasonally on Fridays and Saturdays.

Where to explore

Glen Helen Nature Preserve: A hike through this lush preserve reveals 400-year-old trees, waterfalls, limestone cliffs and the yellow spring (yellow because of iron ore) that gave the village its name. Hugh Birch, an Antioch college graduate, donated the glen in 1929, naming it for his daughter, Helen. The Glen Helen Association now owns and manages the private park. It covers more than 1,100 acres and includes 15 miles of footpaths. Housed within the preserve is the Raptor Center, where injured birds are rehabilitated. The Raptor Center is currently closed for construction.

John Bryan State Park: The highlight of this beautiful park is a limestone gorge, cut by the Little Miami River 15,000 years ago. The gorge is a National Natural Landmark and gives hikers an incredible view of the area. The park offers 10 hiking trails, mountain bike trails, a public rock climbing and rappelling area, access to the Little Miami and a campground.

Gaunt Park: Gaunt Park is named for Wheeling Gaunt, an enslaved man who bought his own and his wife’s freedom before moving to Yellow Springs around 1864. He was a farmer and strategic land investor who left much of his wealth and property to Yellow Springs when he died. He stipulated that rent from the land must be used to provide flour to area widows – a tradition that lives on to this day. Gaunt Park includes a public swimming pool and 6 miles of the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail.

Little Art Theater: Founded in 1929, the Little Art Theater is one of Yellow Springs’ gems. In addition to mainstream movies, it shows independent, foreign, classic and documentary films.

Upcoming event

Art on the Lawn, Aug. 10: A juried fine art and craft show.

Jana Collier is a long-time area journalist. Her blog,, features nostalgic recipes, small-town travel and offbeat DIY projects.

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