Columbus with Kids: 33 Things to Do in Columbus, OH

The Franklin Park Conservatory features 30 larger-than-life animal topiaries on display during Garden Safari.  Photo courtesy of the garden
The Franklin Park Conservatory features 30 larger-than-life animal topiaries on display during Garden Safari. Photo courtesy of the garden
6/24/23 - By Audrey Molnar

From the Wendy's fast-food empire to legendary gymnast Simone Biles, Columbus, OH has a long history of nurturing creativity and innovation. This bustling hub is the second-largest city in the Midwest, lovingly nicknamed “the biggest small town”. Whether you’re looking for awesome metro parks, thrilling water slides, hands-on science museums, or nationally recognized animal conservation, Columbus, OH has something for everyone in the family.

As a lifelong Columbus local, I am proud to share the top 33 things to do in Columbus, OH with kids, including some great family-friendly Columbus hotels and restaurants. Check out our Midwest Family Vacation Guide for more midwestern cities to visit, from Minneapolis, MN to Fargo, ND.


Top Attractions in Columbus, OH for Families

1. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

The Columbus Zoo is globally recognized for its remarkable collection of more than 10,000 animals representing over 600 species worldwide, from elephants and polar bears to manatees and sea lions. The zoo (which made our list of the the best zoos in the US) operates a conservation program that gives visitors the opportunity to witness around 45 endangered species during their visit. Bonus: Children under 3 get in free.

2. COSI - Center of Science and Industry

This hands-on science museum features over 300 interactive exhibits and experiences designed to inspire and educate visitors of all ages. Located in the heart of downtown Columbus, the museum showcases the innovation of the city both inside and outside its walls. Visitors can enjoy a simulated space mission or a thrilling high-wire unicycle ride. COSI also hosts special traveling exhibitions and events throughout the year.

3. Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Just two miles from downtown Columbus, OH, this conservatory is nothing short of a horticultural wonderland. It covers 13 acres and features a wide variety of indoor and outdoor gardens. Visitors can see plant species from all over the world.

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Columbus with Kids: 33 Things to Do in Columbus, OH: Zoombezi Bay.
Enjoy a fun-filled and action-packed day at Zoombezi Bay. 

4. Zoombezi Bay

This 22-acre water park attached to the Columbus Zoo is full of water slides, lazy rivers, wave pools, and kiddie play areas. One of the most popular sections is Baboon Lagoon, a multi-level play structure with over 70 interactive water features for children to enjoy. The park has multiple food and beverage options, but it also allows guests to bring packed lunches as long as they fit in a backpack (no coolers allowed). Zoombezi Bay hosts special events throughout the summer, such as dive-in movies.

5. Ohio Village

This living history museum features a recreated Ohio village with authentic buildings and exhibits that showcase what life was like in the 19th century. Visitors can explore the village and interact with costumed interpreters who bring the little town to life, allowing families to experience what it was like to live during that time period.

6. Easton Town Center

This amazing shopping center offers a wide range of family-friendly activities such as Legoland Discovery Center, AMC Theatres, and plenty of indoor and outdoor stores to explore. With free parking and the ability to walk around the entire center, visitors can enjoy the multitude of dining options and even cool off at the splash pad during the summer months.

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Columbus with Kids: 33 Things to Do in Columbus, OH: Ohio Stadium Buckeyes
Cheer on the iconic Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium. Photo by the author

Best Things to Do in Columbus, OH with Kids who Love Sports

7. Ohio State Buckeyes Football Game

Cheer on the iconic Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium. If you aren’t in town during football season, don’t worry—you can still visit the stadium. Tours can be scheduled year-round with at least a two-week notice. Children under 2 tour free.

8. Columbus Clippers Baseball Game

Huntington Park is home to the Columbus Clippers, a minor-league team that is major fun to watch. Tickets are budget-friendly, parking ranges from free to just a few dollars depending on the lot, and during every Tuesday home game, fans can get a hot dog for just 10 cents.

9. Columbus Crew Soccer Game

The Columbus Crew soccer team, affectionately known as "The Crew", is a source of pride for the city. In 2017, when there were discussions of a possible relocation of the team to Austin, Texas, Columbus natives spearheaded the #savethecrew movement and successfully prevented the move. Attending a Crew home game at Historic Crew Stadium is an electric experience, and the energy of the fans is contagious.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets Hockey Game

It's fun to watch an NHL game, but even when the Blue Jackets aren't playing, Nationwide Arena is buzzing with concerts, Disney on Ice performances, and other fun events. The arena district itself is also a hub of family-friendly entertainment.

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Columbus with Kids: 33 Things to Do in Columbus, OH: The Scioto Mile splash pad
The Scioto Mile is an oasis in the heart of downtown Columbus. Photo by author

Fun Free Things to Do in Columbus, OH with Kids

11. The Scioto Mile

This riverfront park in downtown Columbus, OH features splash pads, playgrounds, and copious green space to run, picnic, and enjoy the view. Public restrooms are open during the summer months.

12. German Village

The brick streets of this historic village are lined with interesting stores for window shopping, secret alleyways, and deliciously unique restaurants. The 19th-century buildings constructed by immigrants surround Schiller Park, which hosts various festivals throughout the summer. Families can explore this neighborhood for hours and not get bored

13. Ohio Statehouse Museum

With hands-on exhibits, educational challenges, and discussions of what it means to be a good citizen, the Ohio Statehouse Museum makes learning fun. Plus, it's free year-round, making it a great place to visit with kids on a rainy day.

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Columbus with Kids: 33 Things to Do in Columbus, OH: Columbus Park of Roses
The Columbus Park of Roses is one of the largest public rose gardens in the US. Photo courtesy of the garden 

14. Columbus Park of Roses

This 149-acre public garden is not only beautiful, it's also a piece of history. Once a horse farm, the Park of Roses was eventually used by residents as a victory garden during World War II. In 1953 the garden opened to the public and has remained a peaceful location for locals and tourists alike.

15. Columbus Museum of Art

With free admission on Sundays (and every day for veterans, active-duty military, and their families), this museum is a must-visit. Kids will especially love the Wonder Room, an experimental gallery featuring art displayed in unexpected ways and hands-on activities to help guests of all ages channel their creativity.

16. Bridge Park

Located in the Columbus suburb of Dublin, Bridge Park is a mini city right in the heart of suburbia. You can walk across a 169-foot-high pedestrian bridge and take in the Scioto River. Not only is this bridge a beautiful walk, but it is the world's only S-shaped suspension bridge.


Columbus with Kids: 33 Things to Do in Columbus, OH: Short North Arts District colorful murals
Visit the Short North Arts District to see the colorful murals. Photo by the author

17. Short North Arts District

This vibrant neighborhood—home to over 300 galleries, boutiques, and restaurants—is known for its colorful murals and public art installations. Explore the city on foot while checking out local art.

18. Jeffrey Mansion

In 1946 this Jacobethan-style mansion was donated to the city by its owner. The mansion was once home to Robert Jeffrey, Columbus’ 32nd mayor. While you cannot enter the building, the grounds are free to explore. With secret passageways, winding stone staircases, large fields, a forest trail, and a playground, Jeffrey Mansion can keep families busy for hours.

19. Slate Run Living Historical Farm

Located on the outskirts of the city, Slate Run Farm offers a unique opportunity to step back in time to the 1880s. Stroll through the farm and witness costumed staff demonstrating daily activities such as making butter, cleaning, and tending to animals. The property houses pigs, geese, horses, and turkeys, and features a Gothic Revival farmhouse that is open for touring.

20. The Book Loft

Take your time perusing this 32-room bookstore in German Village at your own pace. Enjoy the pre Civil War-era building while flipping through the pages of your favorite books. The Book Loft is one of the largest independently owned bookstores in the nation and is a must-see when visiting Columbus.


Things To Do in Columbus, OH with Kids: Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks
The Metro Parks offer many ways to learn about and explore nature. Photo courtesy of the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks

Best Playgrounds in Columbus, OH

21. Blendon Woods Metro Park

This park features a large playground with separate areas for toddlers and older children, as well as hiking trails, fishing ponds, and a nature center. Check out the park's Eagle Watch for a chance to see the national bird up close in its nest.

22. Homestead Metro Park

A 44-acre park located in the suburb of Hilliard, Homestead Park offers a variety of recreational opportunities and amenities for visitors of all ages. There's a unique playground with tunnels, a dog park, a water area, a sand area., and an old train caboose.

23. Ballantrae Community Park 

Cool off in the waterfall-style splash pad at this Dublin park, let the kids run wild on the large and modern playground, and don't miss the huge statue of three bunnies holding hands amidst a backdrop of man-made boulders. It's a park that will stay with you long after you leave.

24. Highbanks Metro Park

Sporting a large, castle-themed playground with multiple slides, swings, and climbing structures, this unique park in Lewis Center will entertain kids for hours. There are also hiking trails and a nature center with scenic river views.

25. Inniswood Metro Gardens

This Westerville park features a small but charming playground with a tree house, swings, and climbing structures, as well as beautiful gardens, walking trails, and a nature center. Inniswood is one of my favorite places for family photos.

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Columbus with Kids: 33 Things to Do in Columbus, OH: Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace
Build your dog to your taste at Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace. Photo courtesy of the restaurant

Best Columbus, OH Restaurants for Families

26. Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace

Located in downtown Columbus, the Hot Dog Palace is a fun and creative restaurant that's perfect for a quick bite while exploring the city. With options to build your own hot dog, including vegetarian and vegan-friendly choices, there's something for everyone.

27. Northstar Cafe

Northstar is a high-quality, casual café originally inspired by the energy of Columbus. With three locations in Columbus and one in the nearby suburb of Westerville, Northstar offers a family-friendly atmosphere and a wide array of meal options, making it a great place for both picky and adventurous eaters alike.

28. North Market

This 147-year-old public market is home to a community of small, independently-owned businesses and restaurants. Purchase your favorite foods from your vendor of choice and then relax in a shared dining area. This upscale food hall is the perfect place to try a diverse selection of delicious foods, all in one convenient location.

29. Melt Bar and Grilled

Who doesn’t love grilled cheese? This Ohio-founded restaurant sports gourmet comfort food, ranging from mac n cheese sandwiches to incredible fish and chips. This relaxed restaurant will leave you feeling full and happy.

30. DK Diner

DK, short for Donut Kitchen, is the perfect spot for a quick and comfortable breakfast, brunch, or lunch. DK offers homemade donuts, amazing meal options, and "serve yourself" beverages, making it an ideal spot for families looking to relax and enjoy great food in a unique atmosphere.

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Columbus with Kids: 33 Things to Do in Columbus, OH: The Blackwell Inn Suite
OSU fans, the Stadium-View Suite at the Blackwell Inn is for you. Photo courtesy of the inn

Great Family-Friendly Columbus, OH Hotels

31. The Blackwell Inn

Located on the campus of Ohio State University, The Blackwell Inn offers stylish, modern rooms with all the amenities families need for a comfortable stay. The hotel also has a restaurant and lounge on site, as well as a fitness center and an indoor pool.

32. Hotel LeVeque, Autograph Collection

Located in the heart of downtown Columbus, this luxury hotel features unique, art deco-style decor and stunning views of the city. Kids will love the fun, astronaut-themed room service menu and the chance to stargaze through the hotel's on-site telescope.

33. Red Roof Inn PLUS+

This clean, cozy, budget-friendly hotel features an outdoor pool that's perfect for kids to enjoy. It also welcomes pets for free, making it an ideal option for families traveling with furry friends.

Places featured in this article: