Looking for a fun family getaway in the Midwest this summer? Look no further than Columbus in central Ohio where you’ll find plenty of places to explore indoors and outdoors. Interactivity and learning are two factors I always look for when searching for family vacation destinations and Columbus easily fills both categories, while offering a variety of activities to please many interests. Here are a few of the standout attractions we love in this vibrant city.
COSI – The Columbus Center of Science and Industry
COSI, located in the heart of Columbus, provides kids of all ages with a fun-filled day of exploration. Covering an array of topics, including energy use, human health, and oceans, COSI has a wide appeal. Recently, COSI partnered with the American Museum of Natural History to build a permanent dinosaurs exhibit. A full-size T-rex skeleton cast and a huge diorama of life from 130 million years ago bring the prehistoric world to life. Rotating exhibitions are also scheduled, so there will be something new to see on each visit.
Our favorite was the Ocean gallery where one huge room was filled with all sorts of interactive displays and tools for playing with water. Experiment with water flow, create sound, or just play with the water canons in the Greek themed pool. Take note that younger kids will likely get at least somewhat wet as they play in this fun space. Take in a planetarium show or movie on the giant screen to round out your day.
When you’re finished exploring, COSI has a huge gift shop filled with all sorts of gizmos and souvenirs. An on-site cafe adds the convenience of planning a day long stay. The museum is open seven days a week 10AM to 5PM with an occasional late night. Visit the COSI website for details on tickets and schedules.
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Downtown Columbus features some amazing outdoor spaces. One place of note is the Franklin Park Gardens and Conservatory. Opened in 1895, the conservatory is the center of this 88 acre urban oasis. Inside visitors will find over 400 plant species representing a variety of global biomes, such as Himalayan mountains, Amazon rain forest, and a Pacific island water garden. Dale Chihuly glass displays provide an artistic flair and the conservatory is lit up at night with colorful lighting.
Outside there are several areas to explore and play. A highlight for families is the new Scotts Miracle-Gro Children’s Garden. Opened in the Spring of 2018, the 2 acre space features 16 interactive activities, an elevated canopy playscape, playhouse garden, and a nature art studio to immerse kids in the natural world.
There is a cafe on site, but you may want to bring along water and snacks. Visit the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens website for details on admission prices, parking, and a map of the grounds.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Columbus is home to one of the country’s premier zoos. Visitors will discover more than 9000 animals representing around 60 0 species from across the globe. The animals live in modern habitats built to resemble their natural environments. The zoo is organized by geographic areas, such as North America, Australia, and the Oceans life. At around 200 acres, this is a massive place to explore and can easily fill more than one day.
Just a few of the highlights include a lorikeet habitat where visitors can get up close and personal with the birds, opportunities to feed giraffes and stingrays, and a train ride around the North American area to name just a few. I highly recommend the ‘Zoo It All’ ticket upgrade which gets you unlimited carousel rides, pony and camel rides, admission to Jungle Jack’s Landing amusement rides, and more.
There are plenty of snack carts and restaurants to feed your family and guests can bring their own food and drinks too (no alcohol). There are some great playgrounds to keep the younger kids happy (and a chance for parents to relax). Most of the zoo is outdoors, so dress appropriately and bring sunscreen and hats in summer.
If you love zoos and aquariums, the Columbus Zoo needs to be on your must visit list. The zoo is open for year round fun. Read more about the zoo in my article here.
Zoombezi Bay Water Park
Right next to the Columbus Zoo is the Zoombezi Bay water park. Here you’ll find 22 acres of cool summer fun for every member of the family. There are more than a dozen water slides, a wave pool, and splash zones. Want to split up? There are adults only areas and shallow pools for the little tykes. The Baboon Lagoon features a giant dump bucket atop a huge playscape where kids can climb and explore.
Snack bars, counter service, and adult beverage bars round out the offerings. Cabanas and lockers are available for rent. The water park is attached to the zoo and a two day combo ticket is available. Exploring the zoo in the cooler mornings, then heading over to Zoombezi to cool off sounds like the perfect way to spend a few days under the summer sun.
Columbus Museum of Art
When it gets too hot in the middle of the summer, there are some wonderful indoor spaces for your family adventure. The Columbus Museum of Art is notably for their attention to the younger members of our families. Not only do they have a world class art collection, they make an effort to keep kids interested. Interactive stations are located throughout the galleries with activities, such as LEGOs building, to bring art to a kids’ eye view.
In addition to the typical galleries full of classic paintings, sculpture, and other artworks visitors will find the Wonder Room. Guests enter this textile-based gallery through what appears to be a giant blanket fort, such as you’d construct in your living room,. Once inside, there are classic textile works behind glass while larger than life fabric looms and other activities invite kids of all ages to create their own art forms.
The Columbus Museum of Art is open every day except Mondays. A cafe is located on-site. Prices are a bit more than typical for a museum, but the food quality and offerings are on par with the pricing. Visit the museum’s website for admission prices, hours, and special exhibits.
Ohio History Center and Ohio Village
The Ohio History Center and Ohio Village offer an indoor/outdoor combination for exploration in downtown Columbus. The History Center covers a variety of local history ranging from ancient to modern day life. Visitors will find exhibits featuring preserved Civil War battle flags, a mastodon skeleton, and even a display dedicated to the White Castle hamburger chain. Other galleries focus on different periods of local history and nature.
The Ohio Village is a recreation of life in the 1890s. Here you can interact with docents in period costumes while touring the town hall, shops, and homes. Let the kids run free on the village green and be sure to pack a picnic lunch since there are no food sales on site.
The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The Village portion is open from Labor Day through Memorial Day and also for traditional Halloween and Dicken’s Christmas events. Visit the official website for ticket information and to learn more about other Ohio museums.
Columbus, Ohio is a versatile destination for family vacations in the summer and throughout the year. These are just a few of the family friendly activities. There are plenty of other parks, outdoor festivals, and locations to explore. Start with a few of the places mentioned here and come back for more on your next Columbus adventure.