columbuscosi

During the first official weekend of summer, my family and I were lucky enough to visit Columbus as guests of Experience Columbus, the Greater Columbus Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. I think they hoped to give us a sense of the kid-friendliness of the city so that I could share it with my readers and potential future visitors to the city. We were given accommodations, tickets to some kid-friendly destinations, and a gift card for meals. Otherwise, Experience Columbus allowed us to choose our own itinerary.  We could pick our own destinations, set our own pace, and form our own opinions.  It was a brave approach for them, and one that I highly respect.  It showed the same sort of quiet self-confidence that Pittsburghers exude. “We know our city’s underrated.  But it’s still cool,” they said through their actions, “When you get out there and explore it, you’ll know it too.”  And they were right!

In awe of the construction vehicles at the Science of Big Machines exhibit at COSI
In awe of the construction vehicles at the Science of Big Machines exhibit at COSI

We had a fabulous weekend in Columbus, Ohio and we will definitely make the trip back there again.  It was an easy 3-hour drive from Pittsburgh.  Traffic, congestion, and headaches were nil.  And there were SO MANY fun things to do with the kids that I feel like we only scratched the surface of the city’s potential. I certainly recommend it for families in Pittsburgh who want an easy weekend trip to see something new. Here were the highlights of our trip (part 1):

COSI-Center of Science and Industry

I could spend an entire blog post raving about COSI, the Columbus equivalent of the Carnegie Science Museum.  From the first moment that we saw the place, my kids flipped.  COSI was hosting the last day of its yearly Science of Big Machines exhibit, which meant that a variety of large construction vehicles were parked out front.  The kids got a free pretend hard-hat and they could climb up into the equipment and pretend to drive.  Obviously, they loved it.

Driving a pretend ambulance
Driving a pretend ambulance

Since my kids are pretty young (1 and 3), we spent the majority of our time at COSI in the Little Kidspace, which is brilliantly designed for toddlers, young preschoolers, and exhausted parents.  The children are checked-in and then are free to roam around a large playspace that is completely contained.  That’s right–they can’t escape!  So my husband and I could sit down for a few minutes and take a breather.  The playspace combines a ton of different elements–imaginative ones (a pretend medical clinic, ambulance, helicopter, kitchen, construction gear), gross motor climbing equipment, a waterplay area, ball play, and much, much more, including these ingenious little house-like structures where little ones can practice ringing doorbells, switching lights on and off, and turning faucets.

Playing in the pretend kitchen
Playing in the pretend kitchen

There was a separate (but easily accessible) space for older kids to play, bathrooms, beautiful nursing rooms with toys for older siblings, and even a cute lunchroom if you wanted to pack your own food.  I got the distinctive feeling that the person who designed the Little Kidspace and COSI was a pure genius.  It was perfect.

Watching the penguins
Watching the penguins

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

My first impression when pulling into the Columbus Zoo’s massive parking lot was honestly amazement.  The place is HUGE!  It is much, much bigger than the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium and even includes a waterpark called Zoombezi Bay (separate admission cost).  Since my children still nap in the afternoon, we were only able to spend half a day at the Zoo. However, we easily could have spent an entire day or even longer there.  The kids enjoyed seeing all their regular animal buddies and we were especially pleased to get much closer to a rhinoceros and orangutan than we ever have before!  Our highlight was probably the Dinosaur Island Boat Ride. For an additional cost of $3/person, families can a) walk along a wooden boardwalk with mechanized dinosaurs hiding in the brush and b) take a boat ride and find more mechanized dinosaurs hiding along the shore (including a large T Rex!)  My kids loved it!

T Rex!
T Rex!

I would definitely recommend checking out the Columbus Zoo.  It was extremely impressive. Also, I noticed a carefully integrated focus on preventing animal extinction, which I thought was admirable.  I do however have a warning about it: there is no tram and the place is huge, which means you will do a ton of walking.  On a hot day, you may feel like you are melting.  Make sure to pack enough water for everybody and maybe even pop over to Zoombezi to take a plunge!

Franklin Park Conservatory

While my kids napped on Saturday afternoon, I journeyed over to the Franklin Park Conservatory to have some quiet and meditative time exploring the greenhouses and gardens of this Columbus gem.  As my readers know, I am a HUGE fan of Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh and couldn’t wait to check out the Columbus version. It certainly didn’t disappoint!  Although it was very similar to Phipps, it had some unique garden spaces including a Himalayan Mountain Biome and a Pacific Island Water Garden.

The Bonsai Courtyard at Franklin Park Conservatory
The Bonsai Courtyard at Franklin Park Conservatory

The Bonsai Courtyard was definitely my personal favorite.  Beautifully displayed bonsai trees were combined with soothing water features and simple benches to create a serene environment.  I was able to sit down in this beautiful spot and unwind from the craziness of the weekend for just a moment.  It was great.  The Franklin Park Conservatory also had a couple features specifically geared toward children including a butterfly room/exhibit and a miniature fairy tale village with model train.  I know my kids would have loved exploring this village!

Easton Town Center

We stayed at the Hilton Columbus Easton, which is located in Easton Town Center.  Easton Town Center is a large mixed-use town center designed to look like a classic American Main Street with green spaces, fountains, and tons of shopping, dining, and entertainment options.  Although my family is probably not your typical American consumer (we tend to frequent consignment stores, garage sales, or just wait for family hand-me-downs), we still enjoyed exploring the Easton Town Center.  There was a large model train and a couple of beautiful fountains that the kids loved.

Model train at Easton Town Center
Model train at Easton Town Center

Plus, you couldn’t beat the convenience of having many dining options right at hand. We had a lovely breakfast at Northstar Cafe, a restaurant that specializes in New American cuisine with fresh, organic, locally grown ingredients.  Also, we had the fascinating experience of visiting the American Girl Store Grand Opening in Easton. The American Girl brand has certainly come a long way from my prepubescent days when I huddled under my bedcovers with a copy of Meet Samantha.  Now little girls can buy an American Girl doll that perfectly matches their skin tone and personal interests.  They can get their doll’s hair done or her ears pierced at the beauty salon. And they can dine at the American Girl Bistro with their doll sitting beside them in a custom booster seat.  If you are a die-hard American Girl fan, this place could be your mecca.  And since the next closest store is in Chicago, it could certainly be a reason to visit Easton Town Center!

*****

Since we packed so much into one weekend, I thought I’d split it up into two blog posts.  In my next post, some of our more off-the-beaten path finds: North Market, German Village’s Book Loft, and Scioto Audubon Metro Park!

© Copyright Nadine Champsi, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog
Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

10 Comments on Yes, We Took a Family Vacation to Columbus, Ohio…and Loved It! (Part 1)

    • Thanks! And coincidentally I’m running a Giveaway for 4 tickets to Zoombezi Bay Waterpark in Columbus starting Monday…so tell everybody you know that might be interested!

  1. I live in Columbus and a little known tip (that I didn’t even know about) was that they have dryers to dry kids clothes after they play in the water tables (my kids always get soaked!) as well as spare clothes to wear while their clothes are drying. We’ve never used this feature because we always pack spare dry clothes, but it is there if needed!

    Also, if you’re looking for cheap summer fun, Columbus and the surrounding areas also has tons of free splash parks – including one just built downtown along the scioto mile (which is pretty close to COSI!)

    • Wow! That is really great to know. It just demonstrates to me once again how nice it is to visit small cities. They really go out of their way to make the experience family-friendly!

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