It's where big city life collides with small town hospitality and prices, in the heart of the Midwest.
Find a variety of fun spots for kids and great dining experiences along the flower-lined streets of Columbus. Ohio’s capital has the culture and abundance of activities you would expect from a big city, without the bumper-to-bumper traffic or empty wallet effect. For me, Columbus’ greatest appeal is its combination of entertainment and laid-back, friendly atmosphere. The best time to visit is the second weekend of each month, when my favorite attraction is open to the public.
Family Fun Attractions
Devote an afternoon to at least one of Columbus’ offbeat museums or collections. Learn a few interesting facts and have a little fun at the American Whistle Corporation (800/876-2918 or 614/846-2918). You can visit the only manufacturer of metal whistles in the U.S. and you will be surprisingly fascinated. The owner/tour guide is full of personality as he leads you on a 45-minute tour of the one-of-a-kind machinery. Kids will love leaving the factory with their free whistles after they’ve seen how whistles are built from start to finish (how does that little ball get inside?). Admission is $4/person for the tour and reservations are required. The tours can be arranged between the hours of 9a.m. and 5p.m. Monday through Fri day.
Another wacky place that may be of interest is the Wyandot Popcorn Museum (740/387-4255), located one hour north of Columbus. Walking through the museum with free popcorn, kids can see and hear the popping and whilsting of antique machines and newer popcorn makers. The only popcorn museum in the world, Wyandot contains the world’s largest collection of restored popcorn poppers, some from over 100 years ago. The exhibit explains how popcorn is made with heat and pressure. It costs $3 for adults to enter and $1 for children; hours of operation vary depending on the season, so be sure to inquire before making a trip.
The Santa Maria at Battle Riverfront Park (614/645-8760) is also an attraction that combines a history with fun. It’s the world’s most authentic replica of Christopher Columbus’ famous ship and well worth a look. This 45-minute tour is $3.50 for an adult and $2.00 for a child 5-17 years. The tours run between early April and late October only, so call ahead or check the website for daily hours of operation. The Santa Maria is moored next to the park where Columbus’ big Independence Day fireworks take place. It’s also an easy walk from COSI, the well-known Center of Science and Industry (888/819-COSI), which has interactive exhibits for children.
For outdoors fun, especially in summer, take a trip to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (800/666-5397), which was voted as one of Child magazine’s “10 Best Zoos for Kids.” This zoo covers 588 acres and is full of interesting animals like baby elephants, manatees and white lions. It is open every day of the year. Admission is $10/adult and $6/child 2-11. Stroller and wheelchair rentals are available.
If zoos aren’t for you, adjacent to the zoo is the 18-hole Safari Golf Course and the newly opened Zoombezi Bay, the zoo’s water park. If the kids crave more action-packed fun, take them to Magic Mountain Family Fun Center (614/840-9600) for bumper boats, “adventure” golf, batting cages, laser tag, go-karts and more at this family entertainment center. Check online or call for daily specials and token combo packages. Shopaholics and parents of teens beware! Easton Town Center (614/416-7000) is a shopper’s paradise of 120 retailers, 25 restaurants and food vendors, a movie theatre, kids’ playland and more.
Tops for the Family Hotel Options
The Crowne Plaza, Hyatt Regency and The Lofts hotels are all within a block of Columbus’ Arena District (614/246-2000), where we stayed in the heart of downtown. This is the best neighborhood for visitors because of its restaurants and ice cream and coffee shops. Also in the Arena District are the Arena Grand (614/469-5000) movie theatre and many clothing, craft, and other unique boutiques.
Each of the three hotels in this area offers credible babysitter contacts, pool access and baby cribs upon request.
55 E. Nationwide Blvd., Columbus 43215
(800/73-LOFTS or 614/461-2663)
With 44 rooms, The Lofts is unlike other hotels because instead of conventional-style rooms, each “loft” has high ceilings, exposed brick, wooden beams and ceiling to floor windows. The hotel has various family-oriented packages avaiable which include overnight accomdationis, valet parking and breakfast for four, and ticket packages to tourist sights, for $209/night. These packages, each for two adults and two children, provide tickets to either the Columbus Museum of Art, COSI, or the Columbus Zoo.
33 E. Nationwide Blvd., Columbus 43215
These 377 newly renovated rooms are adjacent to The Lofts Hotel. The full service Crowne Plaza has all the amenities most businesspeople look for, and rooms start around a bargain $119/night for four people, depending on the season.
350 N. High St., Columbus 43215
Connected to the Greater Columbus Convention Center, this hotel includes 631 rooms that start around $180/night for four people, depending on season.
Visit www.ExperienceColumbus.com or call 614/221-6623 or 800/354-2657 for additional tourism information about Columbus.
Great Dining Places
Does it seem like we spent the whole weekend eating? Well, almost. Columbus has a surprising number of fine restaurants and prices are very affordable.
BD’s Mongolian Barbeque
295 Marconi Blvd., Columbus 43215
Create your own stir-fry at this reasonably priced chain restaurant where a chef prepares your food right before your eyes.
Max and Erma’s
55 E. Nationwide Blvd., Columbus 43215 (614/228-5555)
This chain restaurant offers a casual dining experience with a classic American menu of steaks, burgers, ribs and more.
520 S. Front St., Columbus 43215
Chef Handke, who began this restaurant, won the US’s first medal in the Bocuse d’Or World Cuisine competition when he scored first in the meat category. In July 2008 he hand-picked his successor, who runs a first-class restaurant. Entrees at Handke’s range from $20-$32, but if you want to splurge, this restaurant offers meals that will have you raving for weeks. (Closed on Sundays.)
240 E. Kossuth, Columbus 43206
Located in Columbus’ German Village is this festive restaurant that has great sandwiches, sausage platters and salads. Schmidt’s also has a very inexpensive children’s menu. For dessert, the whole family can split a famous half-pound Jumbo Vanilla Cream Puff. On Wednedays through Saturdays you can even accompany your meal with live music.
108 S. Stygler Rd, Columbus 43230 (614/416-8890)
2111 W Henderson Road, Columbus 43220 (614/538-8890
This laid-back chain restaurant is known for its great service and delicious pulled pork, ribs, brisket and more. With reasonable prices, it’s the perfect lunch stop for families.
Jeni’s Ice Creams
59 Spruce Street, Columbus 43215 (614/228-2680)
1281 Grandview Avenue, Columbus 43212 (614/488-2680)
If you are craving ice cream, go to Jeni’s. Featuring signature flavors such as, Salty Caramel, Lemon Yogurt, and Honey Vanilla Bean, Jeni’s Ice Cream is famous in Columbus. In fact, Jeni Britton (creator of Jeni’s) has been shipping her ice cream to New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, and she has even been featured in Food and Wine and Midwest Living.
Vivienne is originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and is now living in New York City. She loves traveling with her family and taking road trips with friend
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