Cheap must-eat: Grab breakfast at the Fox in the Snow: a custard-filled donut and a souffled egg sandwich for less than $10. For drinks, Hadley's Bar + Kitchen serves pitchers of various mules for $25.
Best cheap thing to do: The pick-up basketball games on various courts around the Ohio State campus are the definition of free fun.
Why it's worth a visit: Calling Columbus the Austin of Ohio may sound like thin praise, but as the state capital and home to a gigantic flagship public university, the parallels are easy. Columbus bristles with the energy of 50,000-plus undergrads packed into a city of 820,000 -- if you're up for beer, sports, and live music, you're more than covered.
First, hit a pair of free Downtown attractions: the 1861 vintage Greek Revival statehouse, which offers four free tours every weekend; and a historical marker on the spot where the first Wendy's opened in 1969 (and closed in 2007). Pour out a Frosty (try to, anyway) for Dave Thomas, then pick a neighborhood. Maybe the 4th St corridor, a haven for music and under-$10 cocktails (both, if you poke your head into the Walrus). Or ply High St, a few blocks away, the straight shot from the Brewery District (not as many breweries as you'd hope, but home to quality holes-in-the-wall like Double Happiness) up to the Ohio State campus. That area's best old-breed, sticky-beneath-your-Chucks rock joint, Bernie's Bagels & Deli, shuttered last year. For sports, though, it's still stacked. Find the Village Idiot, quite often home of $2 PBR tallboys or $7 pitchers.