Our family just returned from a trip to Columbus, Ohio and we are so excited to share about our family trip with you. We were hosted by TourismOhio to learn more about the fun options for things to do, see, and eat in Columbus, Ohio. They then acted as our own personal concierge and created an amazing itinerary based upon our family’s interests and tastes. We were so thankful for this opportunity to explore Ohio in a really unique way that made us truly feel like locals.
Since they so graciously created an itinerary for us, we want to share with you what we did each day while we were there and what our family thought about it. Thanks to this thoughtful itinerary, we were able to pack a lot into our days and everything was within minutes of each other, making it easy to go from one attraction to another. Today’s post will be our honest impressions of the experience with two kids who are 8 and (almost!) 12 years-old.
Our first stop on our trip was to visit the Franklin Park Conservatory to check out the butterfly garden. We loved being able to see the display of the butterflies as they grow in the windows in front of the butterfly garden. Once you step inside it is impossible not to be in awe of the hundreds of butterflies that flit and flutter around the gardens. There were so many different varieties of butterflies that we could have stayed there all day just looking at the butterflies. Our goal was to hold still enough that a butterfly might land on us. Hitchhiking is discouraged so they have a mirror where you can check to make sure you haven’t picked up a butterfly hitchhiker on your way out.
We spent so long gazing at the butterflies that we didn’t have as much time as we would have liked to walk through the gardens, but there is just so much to do there that I would definitely give yourself at least two hours to really enjoy the magic of the butterflies and the gardens. The gardens are breathtaking and there is plenty to look at both indoors and outdoors.
One of our favorite things at the Franklin Park Conservatory though was the Blue Butterflies: Migration Across America exhibit that is being displayed on May 17–September 21. The Indiana-based artist Tasha Lewis transformed the Cardinal Health Gallery with 4,000 cyanotype butterflies printed on cotton fabric. These butterflies have been installed in public spaces across the country and you can view the photography of where these butterflies have been captured on photos all over the world.
After that, we hopped into the car to head over to The Topiary Park to become a part of a topiary painting. The Topiary Park is a seven-acre park in downtown Columbus, Ohio. It’s big claim to fame is its topiary interpretation of Georges Seurat’s famous Post-Impressionist painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jatte. Visitors come from around the world to enjoy the unique experience of walking into and through a work of art. The admission on this is free and is a fun place to walk around, take a few pictures, or lounge on the lush grass. You can grab a handout in front of the painting and gaze at it from a park bench. There are lots of hills to roll down, as my kids discovered, and you can sit by the pond and watch the ducks swim by. It’s quite peaceful and a sweet escape from the hustle & bustle of the city.
Our final stop of the day was dinner at Milestone 229 with the family. This was our most expensive dinner out, but I would say the most delicious and offered a beautiful view of the city that was worth the extra expense. Reservations are strongly encouraged and, due to restaurant size, you definitely want to get right in a seat and enjoy the view. I would also recommend the $6 valet parking that they offer so that you do not need to worry about finding a spot to park on the busy streets. It was worth the $6 especially since we didn’t know our way around.
The menu was unique, the service was excellent, and the kid’s portions on the food were generous. I ate gluten-free for the entire vacation, which was difficult at times, but the one thing that I did indulge in a bit of was the Pig-Nic appetizer that we all agreed was the best thing we had ever eaten. It was a crispy pork belly served with pickled peaches, house made hot sauce and savory honey appetizer that blew me away with the depth of flavor. Tweason’ale was the gluten-free beer on tap and they even had an extensive gluten-free menu. Our waiter was knowledgeable and offered loads of advice on things not to miss around the city.
We left clutching stuffed bellies and headed out back for what my children deemed, “the world’s best water park ever.” Smarter travelers would have brought the kids in their swimsuits and towels for this, but the kids really thought this was a blast because we told them that they could get soaking wet in their clothes and we would dry off when we got back to the hotel.
Located in the heart of downtown Columbus, the Scioto Mile is an urban oasis comprised of more than 145 acres of lush parkland. Stretching along the riverfront from the vibrant Arena District to the natural beauty of the Whittier Peninsula, the Scioto Mile reconnects downtown to the Scioto River through an integrated system of parks, boulevards, bikeways and pedestrian paths.
It offered a stunning 15,000 square-foot interactive fountain that my kids played in until well past bedtime. Sadly, we did not get a chance to check out the country’s largest free outdoor climbing wall and the world’s most authentic replica of the Santa Maria because I could not persuade my children from this fountain.
My husband and I loved watching the kids run through the fountain and I loved that this was a free way to spend our evening. I would recommend dressing your children brightly though because it is very easy to lose sight of them since it is so large.
The next day we spent the entire day exploring the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium. Be sure to pack your walking shoes because this zoo is BIG. We had tickets to also head to the Zoombezi Bay, but we did not get through all that we wanted to see at the zoo, even though we were there for seven hours! There are so many animals to see that it was a treat for my two animal-lovers. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is home to more than 10,000 animals representing over 575 species from around the globe! As if that wasn’t enough, they also have a new Heart of Africa exhibit that spans over 43-acres with 150 animals! In this new exhibit you can come face-to-face with giraffes and feed them a snack, get up-close with lions as you board a grounded airplane, take a camel ride, watch the fastest land animal reach top speeds at the cheetah run, and take in the views of the savanna while the animals gather around the watering hole.
We were in animal-heaven and loved getting a chance to see all of these beautiful animals while we there. To cut down on expenses, we brought in our own snacks and drinks (no straws please!) which helped us keep moving through the different exhibits more quickly. The day we went was humid and hot at almost ninety degrees. Despite the heat, we found spots to take shelter from the sun and had a great visit while we were there. We highly recommend making the zoo & aquarium top on your Columbus priority list. We can see why it is one of the best in the US.
After such a full day at the zoo, we were feeling unmotivated to head back out for dinner. In lieu of the formalities, we decided to seek out a food truck treasure in Columbus and grab some barbecue for dinner. Have you heard of Ray Ray’s Hog Pit? Well, if you don’t know, now you know. Seriously, the world’s best barbecue and tucked away behind Ace of Cups off of High St. We felt like we were truly locals when we found this truck for our dinner. It’s one of the highest rated barbecue joints in Columbus and offered just the right amount of sweetness, smokiness, and spice. The brisket was killer as was the pulled pork (minus my bun). The sides though almost rivaled the meat with a spicy collard green and some of the best baked beans I have ever eaten.
We recommend picking it up and taking it to go to enjoy at a fun park or at your hotel to get in a swim if you are bringing the kids. If you are going for a date, you can enjoy a drink or two on the adjacent patio with an interesting crowd and, I have no doubt, you would have a few stories to share.
The next day was one of my favorite days of our trip because we got to explore the Columbus Museum of Art. In many art museums we have visited, the museum is not geared towards children or making a visit a family experience. This was, by far, one of the most amazing art museums that you could enjoy with your entire family. Each room had some type of interactive section for kids to jot down what they thought about an exhibit, materials for them to create with, or puzzles of the art itself. In addition to that, they had a Wonder Room where kids could create and play interactively with art. Whether it was creating their own shadow box display, gathering and creating a nest from various textiles and ribbons, or playing dress up, this area geared towards children could have kept my children busy and happy for hours.
I loved that bags were provided to encourage you to create and take your projects home with you.
For us, the art was a little slice of heaven. Although they offered beautiful pieces from famous artists like Monet, I fell in love with many of the more eclectic and unknown-to-me artists that represent such diversity and technique. My husband and I both agreed that this was one of our favorite things that we did and the kids had just as much fun as us. I would add this to your travel agenda if you are exploring Columbus.
Our next stop quickly become another family favorite situated in German Village. The Book Loft of German Village is one of the nation’s largest independent book stores and is located at 631 South Third Street in Columbus, Ohio, just a few blocks South of the state capitol building. The pre-Civil War era buildings that once were general stores, a saloon and a nickelodeon cinema, now are home to 32 rooms of Bargain Books.
The books are offered a discounted rate, while the truly discounted reside just outside of the book loft. Be sure to have a way to get in touch with one another and divide and conquer this maze of a bookstore. Narrow hallways wind into different genres of books, making it easy to fall in love and get lost in this winding 32-room bookstore.
We left the store with big stacks of books that made our bookworm hearts very happy. Once we were done browsing the bookstore, we made our way over to the North Market which was just a short drive away to experience another Columbus treasure.
No less than a million locals encouraged us to make sure that we find a way to make Jeni’s Ice Cream a visit priority. We decided to head to the North Market so each of us could indulge in whatever types of foods we were in the mood for and we could finish our visit with a scoop of ice cream.
Established in 1876, the North Market is Columbus’ only remaining true public market. More than 30 merchants vend a wide variety of fresh, local, authentic food. Offerings include organic produce, grass-fed beef, pork, lamb and goat, pastured poultry, sustainably raised seafood, locally roasted coffee, baked goods, cheeses, flowers and other artisan food items. The Market also provides an international selection of freshly prepared foods, authentic ethnic specialties, distinctive gifts and personable service from its merchant owner operators.
The market was very busy and the crowds were bustling, but we managed to find a table upstairs to enjoy our food. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, as suggested, was a Columbus highlight for us. We sampled the Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, Savannah Buttermint, the Buckeye State, Salty Caramel, the Milkiest Chocolate in the World, and Askinosie Dark Milk Chocolate…just to name a few.
You know, to tell you all about it. For work. Hard day. Etc.
Every flavor was divine and we all thought we picked the best one. Basically, you can’t go wrong.
Our next stop was to the COSI , Columbus, Ohio’s dynamic Center of Science and Industry. The COSI was opened in 1964 at Memorial Hall in downtown Columbus, COSI moved in 1999 to a new 320,000-square-foot home designed by internationally-renowned architect Arata Isozaki, creating one of the largest modern-built science centers in the United States.
As a “center of science,” rather than a standalone science center, COSI has established embedded partnerships that enrich the guests’ experiences, including WOSU@COSI, the only working television station in a science center; the Ohio State University (OSU) Labs in Life, working research laboratories created through a partnership with The Ohio State University and staffed by OSU researchers; Battelle’s STEM Innovation Network, in partnership with one of the world’s leading research institutions; the Columbus Historical Society; and the STEM-based Metro High School, among others.
The kids had a blast exploring the COSI and getting to experience lifting a Honda (and they do say HONDA not car- well played, Honda!) visiting the ocean wing with all of the fun waterworks, as well as touring around the Progress wing, and watching people ride on the high wire unicycle.
There was lots to see and do here, but you should note that we found that with some of the more exciting things on the floors, like the wind tunnel, actually were coin-operated and were additional charges. The movies and other exhibits also were extra on top of the general admission.
If your kids do want to ride the unicycle, note that they cannot be in sandals, which meant that we couldn’t partake that day. To ride the high wire unicycle, you need closed-toe shoes (sorry, no sandals, high heels, or Crocs), weigh under 250 pounds, and have at least a 25-inch inseam. To avoid disappointment, remember the High Wire Unicycle closes a half-hour before COSI does, and to accommodate guests fairly, the line may close earlier.
All important things that we did not know before we headed over.
Our final evening we had tickets to watch the Columbus Crew play. So…I have never been to a soccer game with more enthusiastic fans than Columbus. You guys take it to another level! Unfortunately, due to weather and circumstances beyond their control, the game was canceled the night we attended. We were so bummed, but had quite the stories to tell about the visit, the fans, and the monsoon that we drove into and out of to attend.
The next day we had hoped to make it over to the Easton Town Center, but since it did not open until noon, we decided to head on back to good ol’ Indiana and make plans to shop another day…perhaps, without the kids.
I would also like to say that our accommodations were perfection at the Hilton Garden Inn. Sleep number adjustable beds, a Keurig for coffee, a fridge for drinks and snacks, a fantastic made-to-order breakfast available, and huge coffee carafes and fruit-infused water by the entrance so we always had a drink. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable offering suggestions for a gluten-free pizza joint we could order from and making sure we were comfortable and cared for at all times. The pool was just the right size and a hot tub was just what I wanted to sink into at the end of the day.
The best memories though are the ones that I can’t always capture- curling up with the family watching Food Network together in the evenings and belly-laughing, the pure unadulterated joy of wonder as my kids discovered new things, my husband’s face and jaw-dropping when he saw the art at the museum, the sunset we caught while the kids splashed in the water park, and the squeals of delight over who had the best ice cream (in case you were wondering, it was mine!).
We left with full hearts, bellies, and a whole lot of beautiful memories.
Thank you, Columbus, for your hospitality!
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Our family received lodging, food, and event tickets in exchange for our honest thoughts and opinions on Columbus sponsored by TourismOhio. All opinions expressed are our own and we received no additional compensation.