With a population of just over 141,000, Dayton is Ohio’s fourth-largest city. For much of its history, Dayton was one of the country’s most important manufacturing centers, home to Mead Paper, Standard Register, and many other Fortune 500 companies. At its peak, Dayton earned the nickname “Little Detroit” for its concentration of GE employees — the highest outside the state of Michigan.
The city has always been a hotbed for visionary businessmen and inventors. Its most famous company — and the largest, in its heyday — was NCR, National Cash Register, which was the first American producer of mechanical cash registers. Inventor Charles Kettering, holder of almost 200 patents — whose inventions include the self-starting engine, leaded gasoline, Freon, and the first aerial missile — called Dayton home, and his name still graces dozens of buildings and a health care network in the city (not to mention Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York). And who can forget Dayton natives and bicycle shop owners Orville and Wilbur Wright, whose invention of the airplane in 1903 ranks as one of the most significant developments in human history?
Though manufacturing jobs left the area by the thousands in the 1970s, leading to a protracted economic decline, Dayton is on the upswing and remains a viable hub for innovation, especially in aeronautics and health care. Wright Patterson Air Force Base is home to two of the most advanced aeronautics research institutes in the country: The National Air and Space Intelligence Center and the Air Force Research Laboratory. The city’s hospital system, which includes The Kettering Health Network and Premier Health Partners, is a major employer and regularly ranks in the top five in the country. The Center for Tissue Regeneration and Development at Dayton and The National Center for Medical Readiness do groundbreaking research in the Dayton area, as do The University of Dayton and Wright State University, the two D-1 universities that call the city home.
Try to stay out of the apartment hunt in the winter if possible in Dayton. The supply will be limited, and most apartments will get snapped up almost right away. If you wait until temperatures start to rise in April and May, you should have an easier time finding an apartment to meet your needs.
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In addition to “Little Detroit,” one of Dayton’s enduring nicknames is “The Gem City.” No one really knows why, as gems are not commonly mined in the area. One theory ties the name to a famous 19th century racehorse that hailed from the city.
Dayton is a driver's city. With so much of the population residing in the suburbs, personal vehicles are by far the most popular means of transportation. But Dayton also has a proud history of public transportation. Befitting its reputation for invention, the city has utilized an electric trolley car system since 1888, and the system’s current iteration (which entered service in 1933) is the second-longest-running in the country. Dayton also has a comprehensive bus service, offered by the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority, which can get you around the city center and metro area.
Nestled within a 12-city-block area of downtown Dayton, The Oregon Arts District is a gorgeous showcase of the city’s 19th century architecture. It’s also a great place to grab a beer (try local favorite Blind Bob’s), watch a foreign film (at art-house cinema The Neon), or listen to live blues (sets daily at The Trolley Stop).
Anyone with even a passing interest in the military history or aviation should visit the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. It is one of the largest aviation museums in the world, with over 360 aircraft and missiles on display, and it draws over 1.3 million tourists a year. For more aeronautic fun, check out The Carillon Historical Park, which is the permanent home of the Wright Brothers’ Wright Flyer III, or The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park, which honors The Wright Brothers and Paul Laurence Dunbar, an early-20th century Dayton poet and novelist who was one of the first internationally known African American writers.
Like seemingly every other midsize Midwestern city, Dayton has its own style of pizza. Take an extremely thin, salt-bottomed crust, top it liberally with chopped meat and vegetables, and — this is the important part — cut it into squares, and you’ve got the local delicacy, served most famously at Marion's Piazza, a local joint that’s been dishing them out since 1965. Once every five years, Marion’s offers the pizzas at their original price: $2.50 for a large.
There’s much more to the local cuisine than pizza, though. Dayton’s manufacturing history and Air Force connections have brought a steady stream of people from around the world into the city, and the dining culture reflects that diversity. One of the city’s best restaurants, Salar, offers a unique Francophile approach to the chef’s native Peruvian cuisine. El Meson prepares Spanish tapas in a festive venue, and Thai 9 offers classics like Pad See Ew and Mung Bean Noodle Salad. The Amber Rose — no connection to the model, actress, and designer — is the best place to sample some of Dayton’s Eastern European heritage, in the form of pierogi, beef stroganoff, and a long list of German beers.
A few local standbys to mention: The Pine Club and The Oakwood Club. If you like dark leather and mahogany interiors, fishbowl-sized martinis, bleu cheese, and baked potatoes, then these classic steak house/supper clubs are sure to fit the bill (which will be very long).
The Toxic Brew Company is Dayton’s first brewery in over 50 years, and is famous for its cleverly-named, high-gravity brews, like the habanero-infused Porn or Pawn and the aptly-named Night-Ender, an imperial stout that clocks in at 11% A.B.V. Even if you're not a craft-beer enthusiast, you should enjoy a night out at the brewery, which has a fun environment and tasty snacks to go with their adventurous beer and craft-cocktail selection. More beer is yours for the taking at South Park Tavern, which pairs its voluminous craft beer menu with inventive pizzas, or at Slyder's, a solid neighborhood pub with excellent bar food (and some of the best wings in town).
For great whiskey cocktails in a historic (and dark) setting, try The Century Bar, which has been serving up drams downtown since 1962. If you want to hear live music by up-and-coming bands, head to the Canal Street Tavern, or The Trolley Stop. Sometimes, though, you just want a shot of Jameson, a perfectly poured Guinness, and the game on every television — in that case, head to Flanagan's, an iconic Irish pub that has been serving University of Dayton students for decades.
The Dayton Art Institute is the largest art museum in the area, and one of the best in the country — especially for kids. Its educational outreach programs provide tours, classes, and interactive experiences aimed at making art accessible to everyone, regardless of age. Perched atop a hill overlooking downtown Dayton, the gorgeous Italian-Renaissance building houses over 20,000 objects, including landmark works by artists like Edward Hopper, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Edgar Degas. The Dayton Visual Arts Center, located on North Jefferson Street, houses modern art created by local artists, and focuses its efforts on supporting the careers of up and coming local artists.
The performing arts are well-represented in Dayton, especially considering its relatively small size. The city supports an opera company, a ballet company, and The Dayton Philharmonic, all three of which perform downtown at the state-of-the-art Schuster Performing Arts Center. Drama fans are sure to find a show they like at the Victoria Theater or The Loft.
For a city that helped birth modern aviation, it should come as no surprise that the biggest event in Dayton is the annual Vectren Air show. It’s one of the largest air shows in the country, and draws nearly 100,000 people to the city every July to watch flight teams like the Blue Angels and The Thunderbirds perform aerial feats. Residents enjoy more low-to-the-ground fun at the Dayton Celtic Festival, which celebrates Irish heritage through music performances, dances, and Irish cuisine long after St. Patty’s Day, at the tail end of July. And The Big Brews and Blues for Diabetes is a very fun local event that unites imbibing with a good cause. This celebration of blues music and craft beer supports the Diabetes Dayton agency, and takes place during American Craft Beer Week each May.
The Dayton Mall deems itself a “Super Mall.” With more than 175 stores, it serves as a major shopping destination not just for the city, but for the surrounding communities as well. If you prefer to shop independent retailers, head to the Oregon area for locally produced goods.
There are no major-league sports teams in Dayton, but with two Division I universities in the area, NCAA sports are especially popular in the city. The Wright State Raiders and the University of Dayton Flyers are popular local draws, especially in men’s basketball. Minor league baseball is very popular in Dayton as well. Fans flock to Fifth Third Field to watch The Dayton Dragons, the Class A farm team for the Cincinnati Reds, compete. The Dragons are the only franchise in minor league history to sell out its entire season before opening day.
Dayton’s location near some beautiful waterways makes it an ideal city for those who enjoy spending time out of doors. Five rivers converge in the city —The Great Miami River, The Mad River, The Stillwater River, Wolf Creek, and Twin Creek — and the Great Rivers MetroPark system spans more than 15,000 acres. You can fish, kayak, and canoe 265 miles of waterways surrounding Dayton. Or, if cycling is more your speed, Dayton is home to the largest bikeway network in the United States. Specifically, within the Miami Valley there are 330 miles of bike trails. You could spend all year cycling and never have to see the same piece of trail twice.