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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!

35 Free Things to do with Your Kids this Summer in Columbus:

train car in Hilliard, ohio columbus, ohio

1. Climb aboard the train at Homestead Metro Park.

westgate farmer's market in columbus, ohio

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.

kids splashing in fountains at polaris fashion place, columbus, ohio

4. Have fun at KidX at Polaris Fashion Place.

Columbus Commons Park in Columbus, Ohio

5. Play at Commons for Kids every Friday.

tree house at Inniswood Metro Park in Columbus, Ohio

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 festivals around Columbus from Columbus Underground!

park in gahanna, ohio

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

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

kids at a splash pad in columbus, ohio

11. Get wet at a local splash pad! See my list of Free Columbus and Central Ohio Splash Pads and Fountains!

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

hilltop bean dinner meal in columbus, ohio

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.

kid getting a book from a little free library in columbus, ohio

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! (2019 info not yet released.)

kids participating in free metro park program in columbus, ohio

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 beginning June 13, 2019. Also see Summer Nights in Columbus: Concerts, Movies and More for Every Night of the Week!

kid at story time at chic fil a on sawmill, columbus, ohio

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

celebration at the station in hilliard, ohio

20. Enjoy a free concert at Celebration at the Station at Hilliard’s Station Park – Thursdays at 6:00 PM beginning June 6, 2019.

kid at IKEA smaland

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!

kid climbing in the natural play area at Blendon Woods Metro Park in Columbus, ohio

24. Explore the Blendon Woods Natural Play Area where kids can build forts, swing through the woods on a wooden swing, go creeking and more!

arches in the short north in columbus, Ohio

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. Visit Franklin Park Conservatory on Community Day – the first Sunday of each month when Columbus and Franklin County residents (with valid ID) get in free! Make sure to play in the Children’s Garden!

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

play for free at the columbus museum of art on Sundays!

29. Explore Columbus Museum of Art when admission is free on Sundays! Don’t miss The Wonder Room, an area just for kids!

30. Explore an ancient burial mound, Shrum Mound.

kids riding the CBUS in Columbus, Ohio

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. Take a ride on the Smart Circuit – a self driving shuttle that will take you around the Scioto Mile!

free indoor play area in columbus ohio

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

hoot family film series free this summer in columbus ohio

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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35 Free Things to do this summer in Columbus, Ohio

 

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13 Fun Things to do in Lancaster Ohio with Kids

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Just 45 minutes from Downtown Columbus, there are lots of family-friendly things to do in Lancaster, Ohio! Perfect for a fun day trip or overnight getaway for families!

Thanks to Visit Fairfield County for partnering with us on this post.

Even though Columbus has so much to offer, I often find myself craving a getaway. I love that there are so many places within driving distance of Columbus where we can get away, either overnight or just for a day trip, and feel like we’ve gone somewhere totally new!

kids in lancaster, ohio

flower art in lancaster, ohio

Lancaster, Ohio has a population of around 40,000, has a cute, walkable downtown area, nice parks, its own collection of local restaurants and a decent sized mall. So, something for everyone! 

13 Things to do in Lancaster, Ohio with Kids:

1. Art and Clay on Main

smoothie bowl at Square 7 coffee shop in Lancaster, Ohio

We LOVE Art and Clay on Main! This is a must-do stop in Lancaster, whether you have time to stay and paint, or you just need to stop in for a smoothie or a cup of coffee at the Square 7 Coffee Shop inside.

The great thing about this spot is that both the art studio and the coffee shop are social enterprises of the Fairfield County Board of Developmental Disabilities. That means that the shops serve as places where people with developmental disabilities can receive training and employment.

 

Allow for an hour or two to paint a piece of pottery here and also 6-12 days before it is ready to be picked up. They will actually hold your pottery for up to 45 days so you don’t have to feel rushed to make the trip back to Lancaster within the week! They have pottery pieces in all sizes and skill levels! There are small items just for kids. Another bonus is that all fees are included in the price, so there is no additional studio fee.

2. A-Ha Children’s Museum

This museum alone could compromise a whole day trip! My kids and I spent a couple of hours here one afternoon and probably could have stayed longer! The museum moved into this new location, just on the periphery of the River Valley Mall in April of 2018.

 

The museum contains a water play area, building blocks, a construction vehicle and fire truck to climb in, pretend fishing, dinosaur digging, and a “real life” play area that contains a house, grocery store, pizza shop and more! There is also a separate space for art projects and classes and a new outdoor nature playscape that we have yet to visit but looks super fun!

bulldozer at AH-A Children's Museum in Lancaster, Ohio

The museum is perfect for kids ages 6 months to age 8. is $8 per person. (12 months and under are free!) If you have an EBT or WIC card, admission is $3. There is a designated lunch area and you can bring your own food. Same day re-entry is allowed!

3. The Well

This could easily have been put under the “where to eat” section, but it could also very well be a destination. I’d heard about The Well for quite some time before actually making a visit there! 

food at The Well in Lancaster, Ohio

The Well calls itself a “modern gathering place for the whole family to eat, drink, play and live” and offers healthy options for breakfast and lunch as well as an extensive smoothie menu! The vegetarian menu offers ingredients are non-GMO and local and organic when possible. You will find many gluten free options as well.

What makes The Well a destination on your kid-friendly trip to Lancaster is the play area towards the back of the restaurant! With a good number of seating options around the play area, you can eat and still keep an eye on your kids as they play! 

play area at The Well in Lancaster Ohio

One thing to keep in mind: The hours of the restaurant are Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM and they are closed on Saturdays and Sundays!!

4. Jump N Trampoline Center

kids playing at Jump N Trampoline Center in Lancaster Ohio

If your kids need to burn off some excess energy, check out Jump N Trampoline Center! Kids have the choice between playing in the foam pit or bouncing on the trampolines!

 

There is a viewing area upstairs that also has a foosball table and makes for a great spot for parents to keep an eye on their kids and have a seat. Socks are required for play.

6. Ohio Glass Museum

displays at Ohio glass Museum in Lancaster, Ohio

The Ohio Glass Museum in downtown Lancaster offers an in-depth look at the glass factories that made their home in Fairfield County. Through displays, a movie and glass blowing demonstrations, it is easy to get a good understanding of the role glass has had in this area! I definitely learned a lot!

woman doing a glass blowing demonstration at Ohio Glass Museum in lancaster, Ohio

This might not be the best spot for toddlers, but my kids, ages 4 and 7, were intrigued by the glass blowing demonstration. (They take place at 2:00 PM and 3:00 PM each day they are open). They were also relatively held by the movie about the history of glass making in Lancaster!

Children under 6 are free to enter the museum.

7. Fairfield County District Library – Main Library

children's department at Fairfield County District library in Lancaster, Ohio

When we woke up on the Saturday morning of our trip, it was raining and we needed to kill a little bit of time before the next item on our itinerary so what did I do? Google the closest library, of course! This one turned out to be a winner! The children’s department is on the third floor and on that rainy, Saturday morning, a few of the workers brought out a bunch of educational toys to fill this space above.

kid playing with toys at library in Lancaster, Ohio

There was also a train table, other toys and games available and a lot of children’s books! The space was great and if you need a place to pass some time, I highly recommend it!

8. Rising Park

Ahh, Rising Park. This place is a gem, as well.  A great playground. A pond. Lots of green space. And a huge mountain. Say what?

kid playing on equipment at Rising Park in Lancaster, Ohio

When she found out I was taking my kids to Lancaster last summer, a friend of mine told me we had to hike to the top of Mt. Pleasant in Rising park because the views were spectacular! She was right, of course, but I nearly had a heart attack getting there with my two young boys!

kids at the top of Mt. Pleasant in Lancaster, Ohio

Seriously though, the view is worth the hike. The trail is about a quarter of a mile long, rising up 250 feet! Be forewarned that it is NOT an “easy” hike – but I did it with my kids who were just 4 and 6 at the time. There are no real guardrails at the edge, so make sure to keep kids close!

9. Lancaster Festival

This annual festival “celebrating art, music and community” is lots of fun for all ages! The festival lasts for 11 days and features live music acts, food trucks, theatre performances and activities for children. The festival activities are spread out all over the city, taking place at various venues, parks, restaurants and community organizations.

 


Last year we attended and were able to see The Floorwalkers (one of my favorite Columbus bands) and a magic show for kids! In 2018 Martina McBride was the headliner and Kansas will be performing in 2019! 

11. Covered Bridge Trail

covered bridge in Lancaster, OhioFairfield County is home to 17 of the 125 wooden covered bridges remaining in Ohio. That makes them the county with the most original covered bridges in the state! If you’re looking for another “trail” to conquer, click this link for a map of all of the covered bridges in Fairfield County and head off on your quest! I’ve seen a few and they’re beautiful!

12. Paperback Exchange

kids petting cats at Paperback Exchange in Lancaster, Ohio

If you’re exploring downtown Lancaster, make sure to stop in to Paperback Exchange! My kids asked to go back again and my husband took them back a second time. Without me, though, because I am allergic to cats. And the cats were the very things my kids want to see the most! Besides cats, the store boats an impressive collection of books for sale, including books for kids and young adults! There is also a small section of handmade gifts!

Paperback Exchange in Lancaster Ohio

13. River Valley Mall

I’m putting the mall on this list because sometimes, with kids, you just need a place to let them let out some steam and take a little break. We attended one of the magic shows here as part of the Lancaster Festival and my kids enjoyed this play area. They went through a season of being really interested in who was on each bill and coin and this play area was right up their alley. It has a money theme!

kids in play area at River Valley Mall in Lancaster, Ohio

It’s not a huge play area, but it does the trick. The mall is a decent sized mall but the food court does not offer too many options for eating so make sure you check out the following list of places to eat in Lancaster, Ohio!

Kid-Friendly Places to Eat in Lancaster, Ohio

While you’re in Lancaster, you’re going to want to check out some of these local spots for lunch or dinner! I have taken my kids to each one of them, but I will tell you individually how “kid-friendly” I feel they are and what to expect.

1. Ale House 1890

kid eating pizza at Ale House 1890 in Lancaster, Ohio

Ale House 1890 was a little bit intimidating for me when we first arrived. On this visit, it was just me and the kids and I wondered how kid-friendly it was going to be. But we were able to sit on the patio which was totally relaxing! My oldest really liked the pizza – and he’s a very picky eater! I loved my salad!

shrimp salad at Ale House 1890 in Lancaster, Ohio

2. Cherry Street Pub

kid eating wings at Cherry Street Pub in Lancaster, Ohio

Cherry Street Pub is a great option for families because there is a lot to look at inside and there is a big menu! It’s loud (in the normal, restaurant kind of way) so the happy hubbub covers up most of unexpected noises your kid might make! 😉 My kids shared food from the appetizer menu – wings and pizza. The wings were a definite hit! You might expect a little bit of a wait here, the restaurant is popular!

3. Bob’s Backyard BBQ

food at Bob's Backyard BBQ in Lancaster, ohio

This place is definitely low key and kid-friendly! The meat was good and the sides were tasty! My only complaint was that they were out of hot dogs when we visited – which is a guaranteed menu item for my kids. (My kids are super picky, I’m not even going to try to pretend that they’re not.) They were also out of wine. I’m not sure how often food items run low here, but if you’re flexible, give it a go. It tasted good and the atmosphere was relaxed and kid-friendly!

4. JB’s Downtown Grill

hamburger at JB's Downtown Grill in Lancaster, Ohio

JB’s Downtown Grill is another spot to check out if you’re out and about in the downtown area! There is a kid’s menu with the traditional items: chicken tenders, grilled cheese, quesadilla, etc. And the menu for adults features sandwiches, burgers, wraps and salads. The burgers contain “Chef Jamie’s secret seasoning” so my husband and I both got a burger! The meat was super flavorful, so I’m a fan of that seasoning, whatever it may be!

5. Nancy’s Scoops

kid eating ice cream at Nancy's Scoops in Lancaster, Ohio

Don’t forget dessert! Nancy’s Scoops has a huge menu of options, including food, milkshakes, sundaes, hand dipped ice cream and much more!

6. Gypsy Joe’s Ice Cream

kids eating ice cream at Gypsy Joe's in Lancaster, Ohio

Gypsy Joe’s is another cute option for dessert! The decor inside is very fun! 

Where to Stay in Lancaster, Ohio

My family was hosted at Holiday Inn Express and Suites. We had a great experience here! The room we had was large with a kitchen and living room area, which was really nice! It was an easy distance from all of the things listed here!

kids playing piano in downtown Lancaster, Ohio

What are your favorite things to do in Lancaster, Ohio? What should we do next?

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flowers against brick in Lancaster, Ohio

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Plan a Tropical Getaway with Your Kids at Castaway Bay in Sandusky Ohio

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No matter what the weather outside, it’s 82 degrees and tropical at Castaway Bay, a super fun indoor water park in Sandusky, Ohio!

Thanks to Castaway Bay for sponsoring this post!

Ohio Winters seem to drag on even when the calendar says it’s officially “Spring”. The end of March is when this dragging on gets particularly hard! Luckily we had scheduled an overnight trip to Castaway Bay in Sandusky to help cure us of our winter blues!

Castaway Bay view from room

I have two cautious kids who are not exactly the water slide type. I was hoping there would be something at Castaway Bay that they would enjoy and we as parents could enjoy as well! They might not have attempted the Tropical Twister, but, as you can see, they did at least warm up to the slide in the Toddler Tide Pool! 🙂 

kids on waterslide at Castaway Bay

As it turned out, when our trip rolled around, my husband was too sick to go so my mom accompanied us on this trip. This turned out to be a total bonus because my kids are way better behaved for Grandma than they are for me! 

Wave Pool at Castaway Bay

5 Things to Enjoy at Castaway Bay:

1. The Hotel

inside hotel at Castaway Bay

The real draw for this whole water park experience is that it’s all inclusive! With the hotel, restaurants and other activities provided, you never need to leave the property!

lobby of hotel at Castaway Bay

The hotel is decorated in a fun way with a tropical theme. Everything was clean and our hotel room was clean and comfortable! It was nice to be able to come back and shower and change in the privacy of our own room. (Though showers and changing rooms are provided within the water park.)

beds in hotel room at Castaway Bay

The rooms also include a microwave and refrigerator, adding the convenience of coming back to the room for snacks or to eat leftovers! Most of the rooms also offer a balcony or private deck.

I was a little bit nervous that the hotel would be loud at night but I ended up getting a surprisingly good night’s sleep!

2. Water Park

My mom and I basically let the kids dictate our time in the water park and they spent most of it running from the wave pool to the toddler pool! When the waves took a break we would head for the toddler pool, and when Jaden heard the buzzer announcing the waves were about to start back up, we would head back over to the wave pool!

I was happy to see my kids get more comfortable in the water! Castaway Bay offers life jackets for whoever wants to use them and my kids wore them the whole time. 

Within the Caribbean themed water park are several different areas for kids, teens and adults to play in! Check this list of attractions for the various height, weight and life jacket requirements. Towels are provided for you within the park.

Castaway Bay Wave Pool

Wave Pool at Castaway Bay

Kids under 48 inches and under must wear a life vest in the Castaway Bay Wave Pool and kids 42 inches and under must be accompanied by a “supervising companion” – which means someone who is 14 years old or over.

Toddler’s Tide Pool

Toddler Tide Pool at Castaway Bay

This area is 18 inches deep and perfect for the little ones! There are two slide areas, fountains and a gradual entry. Kids must be under 52 inches to play here.

Toddler Tide Pool at Castaway Bay

Cargo Crossings

Cargo Crossings at Castaway Bay

Take the challenge at Cargo Crossings – can you get across the water without falling?

Tropical Tube Slides

These are enclosed body tube slides! Kids must be 46 inches tall to ride the Tropical Tube Slides.

Rendezvous Run

Castaway Bay

Rendezvous Run is a water coaster featuring a boat that two people can ride in. You must be able to walk up the steps of the tower to ride.

Lookout Lagoon Family Funhouse

Lookout Lagoon at Castaway Bay

The Lookout Lagoon is a play area for all ages. Water is no deeper than six inches and the play structure includes sprayers, net crawls, rope bridges and more! There is a huge pail that spills when it gets full for a humongous splash! The area also has 4 body slides with height requirements ranging from 36 inches to 40 inches.

The Grotto

MY favorite area was The Grotto – the hot tub area that opens up to the outside! The weather outside was in the 40’s so the breeze from outside was the perfect accompaniment to the hot water! The water is 3 feet deep so my kids were also able to be in the area comfortably.

3. Restaurants 

One great thing about staying at Castaway Bay is that there are several restaurant options to choose from so that you never have to leave the hotel!

Quaker Steak & Lube

Quaker Steak & Lube at Castaway Bay

We had dinner at Quaker Steak & Lube the evening we arrived. The menu is huge so there is definitely something for everyone and there is a decent kids’ menu as well. It was our first visit to a Quaker Steak & Lube and My kids were big fans of the car and vehicle oriented decor!

Mango Mikes

For breakfast, Mango Mikes offers an all you can eat buffet. The price was $12.95 for adults and $6.95 for kids. It’s a great option for families but since my kids eat like birds, we opted to save a little money and get a smaller breakfast at Ebb & Eddy’s Sweets & Eats. You can purchase packages that include the breakfast buffet – definitely something to look into!

Ebb & Eddy’s Sweets & Eats 

Ebb & Eddy's at Castaway Bay

Ebb & Eddy’s serves smaller options for breakfast like yogurt, bagels, fresh fruit, donuts, baked goods and Starbucks coffee drinks. Toft’s Ice Cream is also served here as well! Ebb & Eddy’s is also open into the evening for your snacking convenience! 

Big Daddy’s Snack Shack

Big Daddy's Snack Shack at Castaway Bay

Big Daddy’s Snack Shack is accessible from INSIDE the water park serving pizza, ice cream, adult beverages and other snacks. You are allowed to have food purchased inside Castaway Bay in the water park area!

4. Crabbie’s Quarter Deck Arcade

arcade at Castaway Bay

The Crabbie’s Quarter Deck Arcade is a fairly large arcade! Play cards are available at the machine just inside the door and can be reloaded at a discount. There are also packages available. 

Arcade at Castaway Bay

5. Family Activities

Snoopy at Castaway Bay

In the evenings, kids can gather at Club Castaway on the third floor for a 30 minute Peanuts movie, a story time and visits from Peanut’s characters. During select hours, Club Castaway also offers crafts and activities that kids can do if you need a break from the water park! There are some crafts that are an additional cost and some free coloring activities. There are also toys available to play with!

Know Before You Go:

Visit the Website

Address: 2001 Cleveland Rd., Sandusky, OH 44870
Reservations: 419-627-2106
Information: 419-627-2500

  • Make sure to check out the Special Offers page for package deals that include meals and other entertainment!
  • Day passes are also available for $29/ticket. Check the website for group ticket rats and discounts for Cedar Fair Platinum Passholders.

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