With a day full of chocolate-stuffed croissants, astronauts, lions, ice cream and more, your kids should sleep soundly on the drive back to Cleveland. Check out our itinerary below to kick start your family’s stay at Ohio’s capital city.
9 a.m. Wake up your kids by letting them follow the scent of fresh-baked French pastries at Pistacia Vera in the German Village neighborhood, located in the southeastern part of town. Order a slice of quiche for yourself and let the kids down a savory ham and cheese or chocolate-stuffed croissant (pistaciavera.com).
10 a.m. Take a quick drive across the Scioto River to COSI (Center of Science and Industry), where kids step into science — literally. My pick is to head to the Space exhibit, where wannabe astronauts can drive a rover across Mars and take a cramped walk into a model of the International Space Station. Exhibits pack every stretch of this expansive learning center (cosi.org; admission ranges from $15-$20).
11:30 a.m. Enticing your kids to leave COSI won’t be easy, but a promise of a stop at the North Market should do the trick (northmarket.com). The downtown market, which may remind you of the West Side Market with a bit more emphasis on prepared foods, includes a world of tastes among its 22,000-square-foot space, plus 35 vendors that spill out into an outdoor farmers market. Choose from brothy pho from Lan Viet Market or mounds of sliced Ohio brisket from Holy Smoke BBQ. My kids like to split the meaty Ruben from Katzinger’s Little Delicatessen.
1 p.m. At the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, head straight to the Heart of Africa’s 43 acres, one of the zoo’s newer exhibits, where you’ll see zebras, gazelles, cheetahs, monkeys, and even spy lions out of the back of a plane (columbuszoo.org; daily admission starts at $8). Other new features in the zoo include a 4-D theater and an outdoor play area called Shores Park, which is covered with life-size ocean creatures (take a family selfie next to the blue whale, or maybe the leatherback sea turtle). Your kids might want to come back another day to visit the zoo’s attached waterpark, Zoombezi Bay.
3:30 p.m. At this point, your kiddos are probably getting sleepy. If they still have enough energy, head east to Polaris Fashion Place, where you can shop and stop for dinner (polarisfashionplace.com). Dining options range from fast-food eats to higher-end, tastier fare. Our family favorite is Marcella’s (marcellasrestaurant.com), which has another location in Columbus’ downtown gem, the Short North — a stretch of soulful eats that’s worth a visit, but can be crowded in the evenings, both for seating and parking (shortnorth.org). With this sister site, it’ll be a lot easier to get your kiddos one of their braised veal meatballs, which they fittingly call the eighth wonder of the world. (Even though it’s an appetizer, my youngest gets it for her meal.)
If you’re spending more than a day in Columbus — or if you’ve covered this list and still want more to explore — here are some more family-friendly suggestions:
Prepare to get lost in a pile of books at this German Village bargain bookstore. Books tower in every nook and cranny at this affordable store that will have your kids forgetting their smartphones (at least for an hour or two). bookloft.com
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Open through November, the conservatory has a special exhibit sure to appeal to kids: Origami in the Garden. Based on paper origami, these large-sized installations are crafted with metal. fpconservatory.org
Columbus Museum of Art Besides exploring the galleries, take time to stop in the Wonder Room, which offers several hands-on activities to help kids tap into their creative side. columbusmuseum.org
Anthony-Thomas Chocolates Tour That’s right, you can tour a working chocolate factory. Available Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during the day, the hour-long tour costs $1 for kids and $2 for adults. And yes, you’ll get candy at the end. anthony-thomas.com
Scioto Mile and Fountain. Don’t forget Scioto Mile and Fountain, located downtown, for interactive water play and events. sciotomile.com