Check out the top 40 choices for eating out, shopping, playtime and more from our annual reader poll.
Columbus has no shortage of kid-friendly places and activities to explore, whether you’re looking for a new restaurant, a party venue, sports or music lessons, or a new spot to play.
For the ninth year, we asked for your opinions on the best family-friendly businesses, dining, activities and events in Central Ohio. The result: the Columbus Parent 2019 Family Faves. This year’s list has 40 winners, 80 runners-up and 143 honorable mentions.Get top reads, event recommendations, guides, parenting trends and more ideas for family fun. Subscribe to Columbus Parent’s weekly e-newsletter, The Bulletin.
Readers voted online from May 31 to July 5, choosing from multiple nominees in each of the 40 categories or writing in their own choices. (Nominees earned a spot on the ballot if they received at least 5 percent of the vote in our 2018 Family Faves survey. In cases where a business closed, we substituted the next-highest vote-getter.)
In addition to the winners, you’ll find the second- and third-place finishers and honorable mentions. The latter received at least 5 percent of the category vote. Runners-up are listed in the order in which they finished. Honorable mentions are alphabetical.
Here are this year’s honorees.
Favorite Asian Restaurant
Winner: Molly Woo’s Asian Bistro
1500 Polaris Parkway, Columbus; 614-985-9667; mollywoos.com
Molly Woo’s Asian Bistro served up a victory this year. The restaurant, located on the upper level of Polaris Fashion Place, is part of the Cameron Mitchell Restaurants group. A children’s menu has offerings for older and younger diners, including Asian dishes as well as buttered noodles and chicken tenders.
Runners-up: House of Japan - Dublin; Thai Paradise
Honorable mention: Akai Hana Japanese Restaurant; Hunan Lion Chinese Restaurant; Lucky House Chinese Restaurant; Tai’s Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar; Thai Grille; Thai Orchid Restaurant
Winner: Fantasy Cupcake
3 S. High St., Canal Winchester; 614-524-6914; fantasycupcake.com
Fantasy Cupcake earned a third straight category win. The bakery offers custom cakes as well as cupcakes in such flavors as cookie monster, buckeye and lemon poppy seed. Owner Leah Dotson opened the business in 2011.
Runners-up: Schneider’s Bakery; Resch’s Bakery
Honorable mention: La Chatelaine French Bakery & Bistro - Worthington; Pattycake Bakery; Pistacia Vera - German Village; The Suisse Shop
Favorite Fancy Family Dining
Winner: Brio Tuscan Grille - Easton
3993 Easton Station, Columbus; 614-416-4745; brioitalian.com
This approachable white-tablecloth spot is a perennial reader favorite, having won four years in a row. Children can choose from ravioli, lasagna and several chicken dishes—all priced at $5.95 to $6.95. The eatery is part of the Bravo|Brio Restaurant Group.
Runners-up: Cap City Fine Diner and Bar - Gahanna; Cap City Fine Diner and Bar – Grandview
Honorable mention: Bravo! Cucina Italiana - Northwest Columbus; Buca di Beppo - Arena District; Buca di Beppo - Worthington; Lindey’s Restaurant & Bar; Marcella’s Polaris; The Melting Pot
Favorite Frozen Treats - Single Location
Winner: Velvet Ice Cream’s Ye Olde Mill
11324 Mount Vernon Road, Utica; 800-589-5000; velveticecream.com/visit
Velvet Ice Cream’s Ye Olde Mill scooped up the top spot for the fifth straight year. The Utica attraction has an ice cream parlor and restaurant and also offers tours. Note that it is open seasonally, from April to October.
Runners-up: Johnson’s Real Ice Cream - Bexley; Coppa Gelato
Honorable mention: Clown Cones & Confections; OH-YO! Frozen Yogurt
Favorite Frozen Treats - Multiple Locations
Cincinnati-based Graeter’s continued its sweep of this category with a fifth win in a row. The fourth-generation family business has 12 ice cream shops plus a food truck in Central Ohio.
Runners-up: Whit’s Frozen Custard; Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Honorable mention: Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt
Favorite Gluten-Free Menu
Winner: Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern
This was the fifth straight category win—and seventh total—for Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern, which operates 10 Central Ohio locations. Its “gluten-free friendly” menu offers 17 items, plus sides and dessert.
Runners-up: BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse; Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers
Honorable mention: Cap City Fine Diner and Bar; Local Roots; Marcella’s Polaris; Raisin Rack café
Favorite Grocery Store/Market
Winner: Trader Joe’s - Easton
3888 Townsfair Way, Columbus; 614-473-0794; traderjoes.com
Readers put Trader Joe’s - Easton on top for the fourth year running. Shoppers love the chain for its low prices, quirky vibe and organic and specialty items.
Runners-up: North Market; Fresh Thyme Farmers Market - Northwest Columbus
Honorable mention: Carfagna’s Market; Trader Joe’s - Dublin; Weiland’s Market; Whole Foods Market - Northwest Columbus
Favorite Italian Restaurant
Winner: The Spaghetti Warehouse Restaurant
397 W. Broad St., Columbus; 614-464-0143; meatballs.com
This Franklinton fixture has been the No. 1 choice six years in a row. The Spaghetti Warehouse Restaurant opened in 1978 as the first Ohio location for the Texas-based chain.
Runners-up: Giammarco’s Italian Restaurant; Marcella’s Polaris
Honorable mention: Buca di Beppo - Arena District; Buca di Beppo - Worthington; Carfagna’s Restaurant; Carrabba’s Italian Grill - Polaris; Moretti’s of Arlington; Villa Nova Ristorante
Favorite Kids Menu
Winner: Bob Evans Restaurants
Variety and low prices are appealing elements of the children’s menu at Columbus-based Bob Evans Restaurants, which repeated its 2018 win. Kids can pick from breakfast items such as Piggy Pancakes or lunch and dinner choices (Turkey Lurkey, anyone?).
Runners-up: Max & Erma’s; Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern
Honorable mention: 101 Beer Kitchen; BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse; Cap City Fine Diner and Bar; Northstar Café; The Old Bag of Nails Pub
Favorite Latin Restaurant
Winner: El Vaquero Mexican Restaurant - Shawnee Hills
9130 Dublin Road, Powell; 614-336-1128; mexicanrestaurantpowell.com
This year’s winner was the Dublin Road location of El Vaquero Mexican Restaurant. The chain, which has 17 eateries in Ohio and one in Michigan, offers a children’s menu with Mexican and American offerings.
Runners-up: La Fogata Grill; Chile Verde Cafe - Northwest Columbus
Honorable mention: Cuco’s Taqueria; Señor Antonio’s Mexicano Restaurante & Cantina
Favorite Pizza - Single Location
Winner: Kingy’s Pizza Pub
7470 Hill Road N., Canal Winchester; 614-837-5664; kingyspizza.com
Kingy’s Pizza Pub is a favorite of locals and our readers, who gave it a fourth straight title. The business also serves up pasta, sandwiches, salads and children’s menu items.
Runners-up: Pasquale’s Pizza & Pub - Westerville; Plank’s Cafe & Pizzeria (Parsons Avenue)
Honorable mention: Amato’s Woodfired Pizza; Eagles Pizza; Hounddog’s Pizza; Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music; Pizza House; Rubino’s Pizza; Yellow Brick Pizza
Favorite Pizza - Multiple Locations
Winner: Donatos Pizza
This homegrown company, which Jim Grote started on the South Side of Columbus in 1963, racked up a fifth win. Donatos Pizza operates more than 150 stores in nine states.
Runners-up: Pizza Cottage; Jet’s Pizza
Honorable mention: Dewey’s Pizza; Massey’s Pizza; Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers; Mikey’s Late Night Slice; Pies & Pints; Tommy’s Pizza
Favorite Restaurant with Games and Activities
Winner: Rule (3)
650 Windmiller Drive, Pickerington; 614-864-7853; rule3.com
Rule (3) held onto its 2018 title, and also won Favorite Birthday Party Venue this year. Its offerings include bowling, an arcade and an outdoor games area.
Runners-up: Dave & Buster’s - Polaris; Star Lanes Polaris
Honorable mention: Chuck E. Cheese’s - Northwest Columbus; Dave & Buster’s - Hilliard; Ten Pin Alley
STORES AND SERVICES
Favorite Art Instruction
Winner: Art & Clay on Main
150 W. Main St., Lancaster; 740-653-1755; artandclayonmain.com
Now a two-time winner, Art & Clay on Main is an accessible studio and social enterprise owned by the Fairfield County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The business also won Favorite Drop-in Art Studio.
Runners-up: Columbus Museum of Art; Columbus College of Art & Design
Honorable mention: Delaware County Cultural Arts Center (The Arts Castle); Firefly Play Café
Favorite Birthday Party Venue
Winner: Rule (3)
650 Windmiller Drive, Pickerington; 614-864-7853; rule3.com
A 2018 runner-up, Rule (3) unwrapped a win this year. The business also won Favorite Restaurant with Games and Activities.
Runners-up: Sky Zone; Magic Mountain Fun Center – Polaris
Honorable mention: The Glass Slipper; Lazer Kraze - Lewis Center; Star Lanes Polaris
Winner: The Book Loft of German Village
631 S. Third St., Columbus; 614-464-1774; bookloft.com
The Book Loft of German Village is a Columbus institution, beloved for 32 rooms of books that cover all genres and span two buildings. The store stocks titles for kids of all ages, infant to young adult.
Runners-up: Cover to Cover; Beanbag Books (formerly Fundamentals Children’s Books, Toys & Games)
Honorable mention: Gramercy Books
Winner: Star Lanes Polaris
8655 Lyra Drive, Columbus; 614-468-4830; starlanespolaris.com
Star Lanes Polaris, a 2018 runner-up, scored a win this year. The business has 20 lanes, as well as an arcade and an XD Dark Ride immersive video game.
Runners-up: Rule (3); Ten Pin Alley
Honorable mention: AMF Sawmill Lanes; Columbus Square Bowling Palace; Gahanna Lanes
Favorite Children’s Clothes - Gently Used
Winner: Once Upon A Child - Westerville
399 S. State St., Suite 25, Westerville; 614-899-6654; onceuponachildcolumbus.com
Bargain-hunting parents voted for Once Upon A Child - Westerville resale store this year.
Runners-up: Once Upon A Child - Dublin; Three Bags Full consignment sales (various locations)
Honorable mention: Goodwill Columbus - Dublin; Once Upon A Child - Gahanna
Favorite Children’s Clothes - New
Winner: Never Grow Up Boutique
Never Grow Up Boutique, which specializes in modern, eco-conscious products—from cloth diapers to gear to clothes—is a first-time winner. The business, which opened in 2016, announced in mid-July it would close its Broadway storefront but would continue online—possibly with another shop in the future.
Runners-up: Nicole’s for Children; lilylimes
Honorable mention: Cub Shrub; Team Chipmunk
Favorite Children’s Shoes
Winner: Journeys Kidz - Polaris
1500 Polaris Parkway, Columbus; 614-785-1315; journeys.com/kidz
This is the first win for Journeys Kidz - Polaris, which sells a variety of popular shoe brands for boys and girls at its Polaris Fashion Place store.
Runners-up: Walker’s Shoe Center; Nordstrom
Honorable mention: Journeys Kidz - Tuttle; Lucky Shoes; Von Maur
Favorite Children’s Theater
Winner: Columbus Children’s Theatre
Most shows are at Park Street Theatre, 512 Park St., Columbus; 614-224-6672; columbuschildrenstheatre.org
Each year, Columbus Children’s Theatre offers a mainstage lineup as well as Theatre for the Very Young shows. It offers sensory-friendly, ASL and audio description performances for special needs audiences. CCT, which got started in 1963, has swept this category since Family Faves began.
Runners-up: Wagnalls Community Theatre; CATCO is Kids
Honorable mention: Abbey Theater of Dublin; Wexner Center for the Arts
Favorite Dance Instruction
Winner: Straub Dance Center
501 McCorkle Blvd., Westerville; 614-891-5525; straubdancecenter.com
First-time winner Straub Dance Center offers classes in the classics (ballet, jazz and tap) for ages 2 and older, as well as hip hop, acro, adaptive dance and more. Its Performing Arts Company has won multiple state and national awards.
Runners-up: NorthPointe Dance Academy; Leap of Faith Dance Studio
Honorable mention: BalletMet Dance Academy; Columbus DanceArts Academy; Dublin Dance Centre & Gymnastics; Generations Performing Arts Center
Favorite Drop-in Art Studio
Winner: Art & Clay on Main
150 W. Main St., Lancaster; 740-653-1755; artandclayonmain.com
Art & Clay on Main offers pottery painting as well as classes and events. The business, which won for the fourth year, also won Favorite Art Instruction.
Runners-up: Color Me Mine; Marcy’s Clayground
Honorable mention: The Bare Bowl; Clay Cafe - Grandview
Favorite Gardening Supplies
Winner: Dill’s Greenhouse
5800 Rager Road, Groveport; 614-836-3700; dillsgreenhouse.net
Dill’s Greenhouse, a family-owned business, offers an assortment of plants and garden center items and also hosts events, including a Fall Fun Festival. The four-time winner opened in 1983.
Runners-up: Oakland Nursery - Columbus; Oakland Nursery - Delaware
Honorable mention: Oakland Nursery - Dublin; Oakland Nursery - New Albany; Strader’s Garden Center - Northwest Columbus
Favorite Gymnastics Instruction
Winner: Buckeye Gymnastics
10562 Sawmill Road, Powell; 614-793-1936
7159 Northgate Way, Westerville; 614-895-1611
Readers flipped for Buckeye Gymnastics for the third year. The business offers classes for preschool and older at two locations.
Runners-up: Columbus Gymnastics Academy; Gym X-Treme
Honorable mention: Central Ohio Gymnastics & Cheer; Fliptastic! Gymnastics; Integrity Gymnastics
Favorite Martial Arts Instruction
Winner: Pickerington ATA Martial Arts
773 Windmiller Drive C, Pickerington; 614-920-9480; pickata.com
Pickerington ATA Martial Arts won this new category. The studio, owned by Michelle and Kevin Pavlik, opened in 2004 and offers classes for ages 3 and older.
Runners-up: Central Ohio Martial Arts; ATA Black Belt Academy - Powell
Honorable mention: Aikido School of Central Ohio; C.K. Lee Taekwondo Academy; Excel Karate for Kids; Hilliard Taekwondo Academy; Tiger Woo’s World Class Tae Kwon Do; Warrior Spirit Karate
Favorite Miniature Golf
Winner: Westerville Golf Center
450 W. Schrock Road, Westerville; 614-794-2670; westervillegolf.com
Westerville Golf Center moved up the leaderboard from runner-up status to take the top spot. The venue, which added mini golf in 1990, includes two 18-hole courses in a village-themed area dubbed The Frontier. It is open from April to October.
Runners-up: Magic Mountain Fun Center - Polaris; Glow Putt Mini Golf
Honorable mention: Galaxy Games & Golf; Magic Mountain Fun Center - East; Putt N Play
Favorite Music Instruction
Winner: Columbus Children’s Choir
760 E. Broad St., Columbus; 614-220-5555; columbuschildrenschoir.org
Columbus Children’s Choir, an independent, nonprofit group, offers programs for children in grades K-12. The organization has multiple choirs; some students perform across the U.S. and internationally. Columbus Children’s Choir has four past Family Faves wins.
Runners-up: Columbus Music and Art Academy; WeJoySing
Honorable mention: Guitar Center; Musicologie
Favorite Sports Instruction
Winner: OhioHealth Chiller Ice Rinks
Dublin: 7001 Dublin Park Drive; 614-764-1000
Easton: 3600 Chiller Lane, Columbus; 614-475-7575
Ice Haus: 200 W. Nationwide Blvd., Columbus; 614-246-3380
Ice Works: 401 E. Wilson Bridge Road, Worthington; 614-433-9600
North: 8144 Highfield Drive, Lewis Center; 740-549-0009
OhioHealth Chiller Ice Rinks hung onto its 2018 win. Children can learn to skate or play hockey at five arenas around Central Ohio.
Runners-up: SportsOhio; Hocking Valley Youth Sport Center
Honorable mention: AmeriCheer; Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports; The Little Gym of Polaris; Locker Soccer Academy; Westerville Golf Center
Favorite Swim Instruction
Winner: Goldfish Swim School
6175 Shamrock Court, Suite G, Dublin; 614-349-4789
7838 Green Meadows Drive, Lewis Center; 614-412-1979
765 Brooksedge Blvd., Westerville; 614-412-0385
Goldfish Swim School finished first in this new category. The company has more than 80 franchised locations in the U.S. and Canada, including three in Central Ohio.
Runners-up: YMCA of Central Ohio; Aqua-Tots Swim Schools
Honorable mention: Aquatic Adventures Ohio; Columbus Recreation and Parks Department; Worthington Pools
Favorite Toys, Games and Learning Products
Winner: Lakeshore Learning Materials
2148 Polaris Parkway, Columbus; 614-846-1710; lakeshorelearning.com
This store offers an assortment of toys, educational items, teacher supplies and more. Lakeshore Learning Materials previously won from 2015 to 2017.
Runners-up: Naturally Curious Kids; Learning Express Toys of Worthington
Honorable mention: Dublin Toy Emporium; Beanbag Books (formerly Fundamentals Children’s Books, Toys & Games); Oh, Know! The Knowing Place; The Train Station
Favorite Tutoring Center
Winner: Brain Balance Achievement Center of Columbus
116 Dillmont Drive, Columbus; 614-654-3399; brainbalancecenters.com/locations/columbus
Brain Balance Achievement Center of Columbus placed first and previously won in 2017 and 2015. The center, part of a national network of 130-plus franchises, aims to help students overcome social, behavioral and academic issues.
Runners-up: Sylvan Learning - Lewis Center; Kumon Math and Reading Center of Westerville-North
Honorable mention: Kumon Math and Reading Center of Dublin-Avery; Math Plus Academy - New Albany; Math Plus Academy - Powell; Tutoring Club of Gahanna/New Albany
LOW- OR NO-COST FAMILY FUN
Favorite Day Trip
Winner: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
4850 Powell Road, Powell; 614-645-3400; columbuszoo.org
Perennially ranked among the top zoos in the country, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is the inaugural winner of this new category. More than 2 million visitors a year come to see nearly 10,000 animals on 588 acres, plus rides, special events—and of course, Jack Hanna, too.
Runners-up: Hocking Hills State Park; AHA! A Hands-on Adventure: A Children’s Museum
Honorable mention: COSI; Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens; The Wilds
Winner: Circleville Pumpkin Show
The Circleville Pumpkin Show is a first-time category winner. This wildly popular annual event features plenty of parades, pageants, rides, entertainment and all things pumpkin-themed.
Runners-up: Ohio State Fair; Lancaster Festival
Honorable mention: Columbus Arts Festival; Dublin Irish Festival; Jazz & Rib Fest; Ohio Renaissance Festival
Favorite Indoor Play Space
Winner: Sky Zone
459 Orange Pointe Drive, Suite E, Lewis Center; 740-548-4004; skyzone.com/columbus
Sky Zone offers several ways for kids to burn off energy, including trampolines that extend up the walls, Ultimate Dodgeball and a pit filled with 10,000 foam cubes. The four-time winner also offers special jump times for toddlers and children and adults with sensory issues.
Runners-up: Polaris Fashion Place; Recreations Outlet
Honorable mention: Firefly Play Cafe; Graeter’s - Bethel Road store; The Mall at Tuttle Crossing
Favorite Kid-friendly Suburb
This new category was won by Westerville. The northeast Columbus suburb, which traces its roots to 1806, offers a variety of parks, arts programming, pools, a community center and a quaint but lively Uptown area that hosts special events.
Runners-up: Canal Winchester; Pickerington
Honorable mention: Dublin; Powell
Favorite Library Children’s Area
Winner: Westerville Public Library
126 S. State St., Westerville; 614-882-7277; westervillelibrary.org
Westerville Public Library was the No. 1 pick for the second year in a row. In addition to a sizable children’s section, the venue also offers a robust slate of youth programming for all ages.
Runners-up: Wagnalls Memorial Library; Columbus Metropolitan Library, Main Library
Honorable mention: Columbus Metropolitan Library, Dublin Branch; Columbus Metropolitan Library, Hilliard Branch; Delaware County District Library, Orange Branch; Pickerington Public Library Main; Worthington Libraries, Old Worthington Library
Favorite Outdoor Municipal Pool
Winner: Groveport Aquatic Center
7370 Groveport Road, Groveport; 614-836-2255; groveportrec.com
This reader favorite offers plenty for families, including a children’s area, waterslides, a lazy river, zero-depth entry pool and a sprayground. This is Groveport Aquatic Center’s fourth straight win.
Runners-up: Highlands Park Aquatic Center; North Orange Park Aquatic Center
Honorable mention: Bexley Pool; The Big Splash; Dublin Community Pool South; Hilliard Family Aquatic Center; Worthington Pools
Favorite Outdoor Play Space
Winner: Highbanks Metro Park
9466 U.S. Route 23 N., Lewis Center; 614-906-3149; metroparks.net
First-time winner Highbanks Metro Park spans 1,200 acres along the Olentangy River. Active families can take advantage of a 15-acre natural play area, a nature preserve, fishing, sledding, trails, canoe access and several playgrounds.
Runners-up: Easton Town Center splash pad; Bicentennial Park in the Scioto Mile
Honorable mention: John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons; Columbus Park of Roses; Homestead Metro Park; Millstone Creek Park
Favorite Spot for Fall Fun
Winner: Lynd Fruit Farm
9399 Morse Road SW, Pataskala; 740-927-8559; lyndfruitfarm.com
Lynd Fruit Farm was the choice in this new category, which highlights multiday seasonal events. The venue offers apple and pumpkin picking as well as a fall festival featuring a corn maze and children’s activities.
Runners-up: Pigeon Roost Farm; Circleville Pumpkin Show
Honorable mention: Boo at the Zoo; Dill’s Greenhouse; Freeman’s Farm; Leeds Farm