From astronomy to concerts, movies to sports, Central Ohio offers an abundance of seasonal entertainment.
Imagine pointing up at the night sky and showing your children thousands of stars, unobstructed by the light pollution of the city.
That's what's in store for families when the new John Glenn Astronomy Park in the Hocking Hills opens this summer.
“People really have a craving for the night sky,” said Brad Hoehne, who dreamed up the idea of the Astronomy Park and is its education director. “The idea is to provide a place to see the night sky in a pristine state and for everyone to enjoy the beauty of the universe.”
The park, on state Route 664 near Hocking Hills State Park (20531 OH-664, Logan, OH 43138 on GPS), will celebrate its grand opening June 21—the Summer Solstice. Weekend programs will be offered throughout the summer, both in the daytime and at night using its observatory and powerful telescopes.
That's just one of a kaleidoscope of kid-friendly opportunities in Central Ohio this summer. Here are some ideas—many of them free—to fuel your imagination and keep your kids boredom-free while school's out. Our list doesn't aim to be comprehensive, but it should provide a good starting point for family fun.
Threading a worm onto a hook and plopping a line into the water is fun for any age. Kids younger than 16 don't need an Ohio fishing license, and a license for anyone younger than 66 is just $19 a year online, said Marty Lundquist, fish management supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Some Columbus city parks, such as the Park of Roses and Schiller, have stocked ponds. Fishing is offered in the Metro Parks system at Battelle Darby Creek, Clear Creek, Highbanks, Homestead, Prairie Oaks, Scioto Audubon, Scioto Grove, Three Creeks and Walnut Woods. Preservation Parks of Delaware County has catch-and-release fishing at Blues Creek Park in Ostrander, and fishing is allowed at Griggs, Hoover and O'Shaughnessy reservoirs and at many state parks.
“Keep it real simple,” Lundquist advised. “A small hook on a pole and a worm and a bobber is all you need. Keep the sessions short and hopefully you'll catch a few fish.”
A trip to a Columbus Clippers game at Huntington Park in the Arena District is even sweeter on Wednesday nights, when kids get a free hot dog or a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich as well as a snack and a drink. Tickets cost as little as $5. A Columbus Crew game at Mapfre Stadium is another option, with plenty of specially priced tickets available online and several child-friendly events throughout the season. If Major League Lacrosse sounds fun, take the family to an Ohio Machine game at their home field, Fortress Obetz. Check the team's website for special youth games and tickets.
A movie under the stars is a great adventure, and there are plenty of options, beginning with the South Drive-in Theatre, 3050 S. High St. in Columbus. The area's only surviving drive-in offers inexpensive first-run movies and a chance to introduce kids to a fun tradition that could disappear at any time.
Columbus Metropolitan Library offers free family-friendly movies at dusk the last Saturday of the month from June through August at Topiary Park. Easton offers free weekly Movies by Moonlight at dusk Tuesdays on its Town Square, kicking off June 5 with “The Wizard of Oz.”
A 40-foot inflatable screen will greet moviegoers at Goodale Park's free Screen on the Green events the third Fridays of July, August and September in Victorian Village.
At the John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons, free family movies will be shown beginning at 8:15 p.m. May 26, June 29 and July 13 in the Downtown park.
In the suburbs, Grove City has free Fryer Flicks on the Hill at dusk Thursdays beginning June 7 at Fryer Park. Upper Arlington's free Movie in the Park series celebrates the city's centennial with films through the decades, beginning June 8.
Bexley's Main Event will offer five free Friday movies, mostly on Capital University's front lawn, between May 25 and Sept. 21. Pickerington hosts free Friday Night Flicks most weeks in June and July at the Sycamore Creek Park Amphitheater.
Or, swim and watch a movie at Zoombezi Bay on six Fridays beginning June 29; movies are included in waterpark admission.
A variety of free concerts provide additional opportunities to enjoy a night outdoors in a family-friendly environment. Many suburbs offer their own lineups, including: Grove City's Summer Sizzle Concert Series on five Fridays at George Edge Music Park; Powell's Lolli-Pops! Summer Children's Concerts at 10:30 a.m. June 4, July 9 and Aug. 6 at Village Green Park; Music on the Lawn at Grandview Heights Public Library at 7:30 p.m. most Tuesdays in June and July; and Westerville's Jazz at the Amp Outdoor Concert Series on four Saturdays from June through August at the Amphitheater at Alum Creek Park North.
For young children, PBJ & Jazz concerts at Topiary Park are a good choice. The events, held the second Saturday of the month from June through September, include storytime at 11:30 a.m., an interactive concert at noon and an art activity at 1 p.m.
While COSI and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium are obvious choices for summer fun, a lesser-known spot is AHA! A Hands-On Adventure, a 10-year-old children's museum that moved into a larger space at 1708 River Valley Circle S. in Lancaster in April.
AHA! play spaces include a pizza shop, grocery store, theater, water table and block table, but the biggest expansion is the Outdoor Nature Playscape, said executive director Wendy Gregory. Opening in late June, it will include a mud kitchen, trike track, climbing hills and a garden. “We were surrounded by concrete before, and now we're on 11 acres surrounded by nature,” Gregory said. “We're excited.”
In Newark, The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art & Technology will debut its new SciDome planetarium June 9. The project, which will feature a 30-foot tilted dome and a 60-seat theater, is a collaboration with Ohio State University at Newark.
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens was scheduled to open its new Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children's Garden on May 19. The 2-acre area aims to connect kids to nature with lots of places to play and learn (see Page 14).
Community recreation departments should be the first stop when hunting for close-to-home programs, but don't ignore Metro Parks and Preservation Parks of Delaware County.
Special events at Metro Parks include a celebration of International Mud Day on June 29 at Blendon Woods and Highbanks, where kids can play in a mud pit; The Big Splash on June 23 at Three Creeks, where visitors can canoe, peek into a pond and toss water balloons; and the Meet Your Metro Parks festival on June 16 at Sharon Woods, featuring activities available at the system's 19 parks.
Preservation Parks' special programs include the Summer Letterbox Adventure, a hunt for hidden, nature-themed boxes along the trails in the system's eight parks; Little Adventurers nature programs for the 5-and-younger crowd on Tuesdays and Saturdays; the Adventure Mud Run on July 28, where participants maneuver through mud pits and other obstacles along the Gallant Woods Park trail; and Adventures in Flight, exhibits and programs at four parks that explore facets of flight.
“We are still small as park systems go, but we're adding programs and parks all the time,” said Sue Hagan, marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks.
One popular spot, Hagan said, is Gallant Farm, where visitors learn how farmers gardened, cooked on a wood stove and made sausage and preserves during the Depression.