35 FREE Things to do with Your Kids This Summer in Columbus

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Summer is the best time to get out and explore lots of fun things with the kids! Luckily for us, Columbus is full of lots of FREE things to do this summer! If you need some inspiration, here are 35 things you can do for free around town!

1. Climb aboard the train at Homestead Metro Park.

2. Check out a farmer’s market. See this list from Columbus Moms Blog, listed by day of the week!

3. Watch an outdoor movie. See this list from 614 Mom.

4. Have fun at KidX at Polaris Fashion Place.

5. Play at Commons for Kids every Friday.

6. Climb into the tree house at Inniswood Metro Park.

7. Win prizes in a Summer Reading Club. Register at your local library or take advantage of one of these national programs listed by Mission to Save.

8. Try out one of Columbus’ many festivals. Check out this list of free summer events from Columbus Moms Blog!

9. Try out a new park. I have some ideas here and here!

10. Follow the path of the Dublin Irish Fairy Door Trail.

11. Get wet at a local Splash Pad.

12.. Bowl for free with the Kids Bowl Free program! There are 3 locations in the Columbus area!

13. Attend the Hilltop Bean Dinner commemorating the role the Hilltop played in the Civil War! Admission is free and there is a huge car show, food vendors, arts and crafts and more!

14. Shop 100 local vendors at the Powell Street Market.

15. Visit a Little Free Library to borrow or donate books.

16. Attend one of the Cap City Nights Festivals hosted by Columbus Recreation and Parks!

17. Learn about nature at one of the Preschool Programs at Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks.

18. Enjoy some music at Polaris Live every Thursday night.

19. Hear a story or two at the Storytime at Chic Fil A on Sawmill.

20. Enjoy a free concert at Celebration at the Station at Hilliard’s Station Park – Thursdays from 6:30 PM – 9:30 PM.

21. Explore IKEA and get free childcare and free coffee for IKEA Family Members (rewards card holders).

22. Get artistic at Arts in Uptown on the Second Friday of each month!

23. Watch a free movie at Gateway Film Center! Admission to their Book to Film series is free with your library card!

24. Explore the new Blendon Woods Natural Play Area.

25. Attend Gallery Hop in the Short North on the first Saturday night of each month from 4:00 PM – 10:00 PM! Enjoy street performers, special deals and treats and the shops stay open late!

26. Watch a movie and have fun at Bexley Main Event.

27. Get cultured at Pizzuti Family Days – you can enter for free on the 3rd Sunday of the month and there are special activities for kids!

28. Stop to smell the roses at Columbus Park of Roses.

29. Explore Columbus Museum of Art for free on Sundays.

30. Explore an ancient burial mound, Shrum Mound.

31. Take a ride on the CBUS. All rides are free and the buses go in a loop around the Short North, downtown, Brewery District and German Village.

32. Explore the new Children’s Garden at Franklin Park Conservatory for free on the 1st Sunday of each month! Residents of Columbus and Franklin County can enter for free with a valid ID from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM!

33. Beat the heat with a free indoor play area.

34. Enjoy music, activities and movies at Hoot Family Film Series – free with a non-perishable donation to the Open Shelter.

35. Do a craft, hear a story and listen to jazz music at PBJ & Jazz.

Feel free to share what kind of free activities your family likes to do around Columbus in the comments!


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ICYMI:  Franklin Park Conservatory’s Children’s Garden is Unlike Anything Else in Columbus


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What Should We Do This Weekend? August 25-27, 2017

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1. Obetz Zucchini Festival

When: Thursday – Sunday, August 24-27, 2017
Time: See detailed schedule here.
Location: 1841 Williams Rd, Columbus, OH 43207
Phone: 614-491-1080

Celebrate the versatile zucchini with rides, entertainment, food, pageants, a parade, motorcycle show and cruse-in! Festival admission and concerts are free! Kids Day is Sunday and will feature free arts and crafts, a magic show and visits from COSI and The Columbus Zoo!

2. Kids Sing Along Thyme at Dublin Fresh Thyme Farmers Market

When: Friday, August 25, 2017
Time: 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Location: 6670 Sawmill Rd, Columbus, OH 43235
Phone: 614-943-7005

Join Jennifer Ellis Music for a sing-a-long and dance party at Fresh Thyme Farmers Market!

3. Food Truck Fridays at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio

When: Friday, August 25, 2017
Time: 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Location: 711 E Livingston Ave., Columbus, OH 43205

This is the last Food Truck Friday of the season! Food Trucks this week include Hot Chicken Takeover, Mikey’s Late Night Slice and Kona Ice Little Buckeye! There will also be a special visit from Stinger from the Columbus Blue Jackets! Food trucks will be donating 10% of their proceeds to RMHC!

4. America’s Best Dinosaur Show at the Columbus Convention Center

When: Friday-Sunday, August 25-27, 2017
Time: Friday: 3:00 – 8:00 PM, Saturday: 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM, Sunday: 9:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Location: 400 N High Street, Columbus, OH 43215

Event includes over 80 life-size dinosaurs that “walk”! Activities include dino rides, face painting, dinosaur-themed bounce houses, science stations, crafts, fossil dig, and much more! Police and military families save $2 on each ticket with ID.

5. Family Friday Night at COSI

When: Friday, August 25, 2017
Time: 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Location: 333 W. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43215
Phone: 614-228-2674

COSI stays open late on the last Friday of each month and admission is reduced to $11 AND includes a movie in the National Geographic Giant Screen Theater!

6. Shakespeare and Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by CATCO is Theatre

When: Friday-Sunday, August 25–27, 2017
Time: Friday: 7:30 PM, Saturday and Sunday: 2:30 PM
Location: Lincoln Theatre, 769 E. Long St., Columbus, OH 43203

Enjoy this family-friendly retelling of Star Wars in the style of Shakespeare!  Thanks to PNC Arts Alive, all remaining tickets to Shakespeare and Star Wars are free! Availability may be limited! See the link for details on how to get tickets!

7. Barnyard Breakfast at Chick-fil-A on Sawmill

When: Saturday, August 26, 2017
Time: 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM
Location: 6051 Sawmill Rd., Dublin, OH 43017
Phone: 614-717-9404

Bring your cowboys and cowgirls for a fun morning that includes a petting zoo, pony rides and face painting! Activities are free and breakfast is available for purchase!

8. March Through Time at Ohio Village

When: Saturday, August 26, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Location: 800 E. 17th Ave., Columbus OH, 43211
Phone: 614-297-2300

Learn about Ohio’s military history this weekend including reenactments, military-themed board games, uniform talks and displays of uniforms, weapons and gear. The day also includes an advance screening of the upcoming Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary, The Vietnam War taking place at the Ohio History Center. All activities are included with admission or membership.

9. Hoot Family Film Series at Gateway Film Center

When: Saturday, August 26, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Location: 1550 N. High St., Columbus, OH 43201
Phone: 614-545-2255

This event takes place the last Saturday of each month and includes family friendly activities like games, stories, crafts and live music by the Shazzbots! The kid-friendly short films start at 11:00 AM. This month’s theme is Back to School! All movies are rated “G” and admission is free with a suggestion donation of a canned good for The Open Shelter! Recommended for ages 1-8.

10. Mud & Madness at Blacklick Woods Metro Park

When: Saturday, August 26, 2107
Time: 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Location: 6975 E Livingston Ave., Reynoldsburg, OH 43068
Phone: 614-891-0700

This event includes a 1.5 mile family-friendly course through obstacles and MUD! No registration required, just bring a towel to dry off with at the end!

11. Storytime Live! Hang Out with Curious George & The Columbus Zoo at Kiddie Academy of Powell

When: Saturday, August 26, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Location: 2069 Summit View Rd., Powell, OH 43065
Phone: 614-336-8444

Meet Curious George at Kiddie Academy with animals from the Columbus Zoo! There will also be food and games! The event is free but it is requested that you pre-register!

12. Community Rock Climbing Festival at Scioto Audubon Metro Park

When: Saturday & Sunday, August 26 & 27, 2017
Time: Saturday: 12:00 PM – Sunday 12:00 PM
Location: 400 W. Whittier St.., Columbus, OH 43215

This 2-day festival includes climbing clinics, climbing competitions, sumo wrestling, obstacle course races, live music, the movie Everest, overnight camping, yoga and more! Kids are welcome and this event is free!

13. Urban Scrawl 11 in the Franklinton Arts District

When: Saturday & Sunday, August 26 & 27, 2017
Time: Saturday: 12:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Sunday: 12:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Location: 400 W. Rich St., Columbus, OH 43215

This two-day arts festival features the live creation of murals at 400 West Rich as part of Central Ohio’s largest ongoing urban renewal project. Festival includes food trucks, coffee from Bottoms Up Coffee, ice pops from J-Pops and live entertainment such as beatboxing, breakdancing, and music!

14. Musicologie’s 3rd Anniversary Bash

When: Saturday, August 26, 2017
Time: 2:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Location: 1400 W 3rd Ave., Columbus, OH 43212
Phone: 614-407-8740

Musicologie turns 3 this month and they are having an open studio including food, drinks, balloon animals, face painting, and performances!

15. Movie Nights in Huber Park

When: Saturday August 26, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
Location: 1520 Davidson Dr., Reynoldsburg, OH 43068

This week’s movie is Finding Dory! Family activities start at 6:00 PM and the movie begins at dusk!

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ICYMI: Peach Picking Fun at Branstool Orchards

*Please be aware,  information is gathered from multiple community sources.  Times, dates and locations are subject to change. There may be a fee to participate in a featured activity.  Please call ahead or check links to confirm activities.  Enjoy what you do today!*

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Kid-Friendly Put-in-Bay: 11 Things to Do with Your Kids

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This post was written in partnership with Lake Erie Shores and Islands.

Is Put-in-Bay Kid Friendly?

I’ve received a few raised eyebrows when I say we took our kids to Put-in-Bay while on our vacation to Lake Erie in July. A lot of people think that Put-in-Bay is just a party island, but I’ll have you know that there is plenty of family-friendly fun to be had!

My husband and I have been to Put-in-Bay 3 times since we were married. Once just the two of us and twice with the kids. By trip three, experience (and some great input from Lake Erie Shores and Islands) had taught us a few things and trip three was probably the smoothest and most fun!

Getting To Put-in-Bay:

To get to Put-in-Bay, you must take a ferry from either Port Clinton or Catawba and there are two options, Miller Ferry and Jet Express.

We’re kind of partial to Miller Ferry – I don’t know, it must be the name! 😉 We’ve always taken Miller Ferry to the island probably because, besides the name, it’s also, by far, the cheapest.

Miller Boat Line Put in Bay

Taking the ferry is part of the experience, for the kids! Mine loved the boat ride and looked forward to it as part of our day! Miller Ferries run generally every half hour during the summer season. You can see the schedule here.

Getting Around Put-in-Bay:

When you get to the island you’ll probably want to take some form of transportation (besides walking) to get to downtown Put-in-Bay. Options include a taxi, golf cart, bikes or the Lime Kiln bus, which is what I would recommend if you don’t plan on driving a golf cart around all day! The bus is $2.50/person and children under 6 are free. This was also part of the fun for my kids since they don’t get to ride a school bus! You can board the bus at the top of the hill after exiting Miller Ferry. Cash only!

The Lime Kiln Bus will drop you off at The Depot in Downtown Put-in-Bay, and from there, most people travel around by foot or golf cart. Cars are allowed on the island, but golf carts, bicycles and feet are the most common methods of transportation. Downtown Put-in-Bay is full of restaurants, bars, shops and a few attractions, and, on our first two trips, this is the majority of what we saw.

Jill at Lake Erie Shores and Islands offered us passes for the Put-in-Bay Tour Train for this trip and this tour train is what made our third trip to the island the best! I cannot recommend it enough! A lot of the activities I’m going to list here are stops on the Put-in-Bay Tour Train and I will note those with an asterisk (*) next to the number.

Here are 11 things to do with the kids when you get to Put-in-Bay:

1. Put-in-Bay Tour Train

The best thing about the tour train is, maybe obviously, the transportation. You’re simply not going to be able to walk all of these places with kids, and with the tour train, you get an education along with your transportation!

We learned so much history about the island as well as what island life is like in the present day. We saw the school, the only 2 churches on the island and got a snippet into daily life as a Put-in-Bay resident. I compare this with our first two visits where we didn’t see much of the island and had no idea what other things there were to do there, and the difference is night and day.

put in bay island train

When you take the tour train, you pay for one loop. You can get off and back on at each of the 6 stops, but you can only go around once. So look at the map and make sure you don’t miss a stop because you will not be allowed to circle back around to it again. The trains run every 30 minutes so keep an eye on your watch while you’re enjoying your stop.

The Tour Train makes 6 stops including: Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center, Heinemann Winery & Crystal Cave, Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial & Visitor Center, The Doller House & Museum of Island Life, Lake Erie Islands Nature & Wildlife Center and the Aquatic Vistors Center.

You can buy an Island Fun Pack which includes ferry tickets, the Tour Train, plus discounted admission to several island attractions! See all the details here.

2. DeRivera Park

DeRivera park is named for the founder of Put-in-Bay, Jose DeRivera. It’s a beautiful, shady area with lots of picnic tables and a large fountain.

Within the park is Will’s Playground which has two play structures, one for older and one for younger kids. This park is a great place to come back to throughout your day to rest and regroup. There are also public rooms and showers here.

*3. Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center

Perry’s Cave and Family Fun Center is all about family fun. Options for activities here include Perry’s Cave, Gemstone Mining, The Butterfly House at Put-in-Bay, War of 1812 Holes Miniature Golf, Gotcha Laser Tag, Fort aMAZE’n, Rock Climbing Wall, Antique Car Museum, gift shops and DanDee’s Snack Shack.

The Tour Train offers one general stop at Perry’s Cave and all of the activities are within a short walk of the drop off. I’m going to tell you about the two things we chose to do when we were here below . . .

4. Antique Car Museum

Housed in a large barn at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center, the Antique Car Museum is free! There are rare Ford Model T’s and A’s, a popcorn truck, and other auto-related memorabilia!

5. Butterfly House

We chose to do the The Butterfly House at Put-in-Bay as our main activity at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center. We all enjoyed the Butterfly House which was FULL of butterflies! The brochure says “hundreds of butterflies” and I believe them! Though no touching is allowed, it was not uncommon for butterflies to land on us and we were able to see them up close. In addition to walking among the butterflies, there is a large gift shop with educational gifts and lots of butterfly souvenirs.

*6. Aquatic Vistors Center

The AVC is operated by The Ohio State University in partnership with Ohio Department of Natural Resources. It was a fish hatchery that closed in 1988 and became an educational facility which includes the OSU Stone Laboratory, OSU’s island campus on Lake Erie!

If you take a walk through the center, you can learn about Ohio fishing, research projects and view the live fish in open tanks. There are some kids activities, a wall puzzle and coloring sheets. In the summer, the center hosts kids programs on Saturdays.

Kids under age 16 can go out onto the dock to fish for free! Though they didn’t catch anything and my husband nearly dropped his phone off the side, this was a highlight! 🙂

7. Lake Erie Islands Nature & Wildlife Center

The Nature and Wildlife Center houses what was once a private collection of mounted wild animals, many from Alaska. In the back of the property, there is a frog pond and a nature trail that will take you in a complete circle.

8. Frosty Pizza

Frosty Pizza is an easy, family friendly stop for lunch or dinner. We got the Family Deal which included a large pizza, salad, breadsticks and 4 drinks for $30.

*9. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial

You can’t miss Perry’s Memorial from most of the island! The grounds and Visitor’s Center is open to the public but the observation deck is closed for repair in 2017.

10. PIB Candy Bar

The PIB Candy Bar is a fun stop for tons of candy options and ice cream!

11. Kimberly’s Carousel

Kimberly’s Carousel provides musical accompaniment to much of the downtown area and is lots of fun for kids and adults alike!

Are you surprised there are so many family-friendly things to see and do at Put-in-Bay? 🙂 All of these activities give you plenty of options to enjoy the island with your kids!

If you’re planning a trip to Lake Erie Shores and Islands, make sure to check out my post Exploring Ohio With Kids: Bellevue for another fun day trip in the area!


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ICYMI: 10 Things to do at Olentangy Indian Caverns

Kid Friendly Put-in-Bay

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