Experience Columbus understands that when workers roll into their Downtown offices they aren't thinking about the latest exhibit at COSI, whether the Blue Jackets have a home game or what's playing at the Ohio Theatre, but the convention and visitors bureau would like to see them consider those things as they plan their nights and weekends.

Experience Columbus understands that when workers roll into their Downtown offices they aren't thinking about the latest exhibit at COSI, whether the Blue Jackets have a home game or what's playing at the Ohio Theatre, but the convention and visitors bureau would like to see them consider those things as they plan their nights and weekends.

"When people are on their way home from work, we'd like them to think about what's between here and there," said Megumi Robinson, a spokeswoman for Experience Columbus. "We'd love them to take the time and experience the city as a visitor would."

Suburban residents who have not visited downtown lately should do so, she added. Columbus - and its Downtown attractions - have changed dramatically in recent years.

"You're going to experience different things," she said. "It's easy to get here. It's walkable. It's clean."

She encourages families to embrace the idea of playing tourist in their hometown. Start by using the Experience Columbus website and/or visiting the Visitor Center in the Arena District to create an itinerary, she said. The online tools and staff will help you create themed outings or find attractions for differing interests, she said, and be sure to take advantage of free tours, shows or add-ons to get the most out of your visits.

"Spend a little bit of time on the front end identifying the new things you want to try," Robinson said. "It will greatly enhance your experience." Don't forget to build in time for dining.

Columbus has great options at all price points. Top choices for kids include Tommy's Diner, featuring classic diner décor and food, and Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace, offering hot dogs topped with everything from mustard and sauerkraut to baked beans and cream cheese.

If your family already has a favorite thing to do Downtown - like exploring COSI, rooting for the Blue Jackets or Columbus Clippers or attending a concert at the Columbus Commons - look for ways to extend your visit. The Downtown neighborhoods are rich with family-friendly entertainment, added Kimberly Schwind, a spokeswoman for AAA Ohio Auto Club.

"People are really missing out by only visiting the most popular sports and not spending more time experiencing all the city has to offer," she said.

COSI visitors can easily walk to several interesting spots, said Jaclyn Reynolds, the science center's spokeswoman. (Don't leave COSI without attending one of the Gadgets Stage shows that are included with general admission, said Reynolds. The shows, which change seasonally, are a fun way to learn science concepts.) The city routinely organizes free, kidfriendly events at the Scioto Mile, the riverfront park with interactive fountains and an amphitheater, she said.

Another nearby attraction is Glass Axis. The nonprofit glass studio offers numerous classes - many of which can be geared to children, especially if they have an adult helper. The studio also features a large gift shop with beautiful glass items.

Pairing visits to COSI and Glass Axis makes a lot of sense because there is a lot of science involved in melting and blowing glass, said glass instructor Alex Fresch. She also recommends adding a visit to the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which has an impressive collection of glass made by Dale Chihuly, the famous glass artist. The conservatory, which features a train and festive décor, offers lots of intergenerational entertainment during the holidays.

If the conservatory is your first stop, consider taking in a show afterward at the Lincoln Theatre or the Southern Theatre (both of which offer family-friendly performances) or visiting Columbus Commons, suggested Lori Kingston, the conservatory's marketing director. Columbus Commons, the Downtown park on the former site of the City Center shopping mall, regularly offers free events.

The Ohio Statehouse also makes a great starting point for Downtown explorations. Kids will enjoy the interactive displays that explain how state government works. Visitors can also enjoy free guided tours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and between 12 noon and 3 p.m. on the weekends. Tours depart from the Map Room on the hour.

From there, travel to the nearby Discovery District, which includes the Columbus Museum of Art and the Columbus Metropolitan Library's Main Library. That neighborhood recently has added new restaurants and shops that families can explore before or after visiting the library or museum.

The library is in the midst of a major renovation that includes amazing spaces and resources for children, said library spokesman Ben Zenitsky, and just announced plans to reopen next June.

The art museum recently opened a 50,000-squarefoot addition. The new space is warm and welcoming and allows the museum to display more of its collection. Families can enhance their visit by taking a free tour lead by museum docents, said spokeswoman Nancy Colvin.

Tours are offered Fridays and Saturdays at noon and Sundays at 1 p.m. The museum also invites families to participate in free open-studio events from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sundays. "These are a great way to add another dimension to your visit," Colvin said.