Our 10th annual reader survey honors some of the best food, shopping and entertainment options in Central Ohio.

Columbus is a great place to raise a family. Kid-friendly restaurants, stores and activities abound, whether you’re looking for a spot for Friday night pizza, a fancy meal out, a new park to explore or shops that let you outfit your crew fashionably yet cost-effectively.

For the 10th year, we sought local parents’ opinions on where to find the best family-friendly businesses, dining, activities and events in Central Ohio. We tallied the votes and present them here as the 2020 Columbus Parent Family Faves.

This year’s reader survey has 40 categories, giving your family lots of ideas for parent-approved places to try. There are 40 winners, 81 runners-up and 131 honorable mentions.

Two categories are new this year: Favorite Park for Socially Distanced Fun and Favorite Trampoline Park replaced Favorite Festival and Favorite Outdoor Pool, which went on a pandemic-related hiatus.

Readers voted online July 8 through Aug. 5, selecting their top picks from a list of nominees in each category 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 2019 Family Faves survey. In cases where a business closed, we substituted the next-highest vote-getter.)

In addition to the winners, we also recognize 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.

EATING OUT

Asian Restaurant

House of Japan

6153 Parkcenter Circle, Dublin; 8701 Sancus Blvd., Columbus; houseofjapanohio.com

Japanese steakhouses are always a family favorite, given the combination of tasty food and a tableside show. House of Japan has two locations, near The Mall at Tuttle Crossing and Polaris.

Runners-up: Molly Woo’s Asian Bistro; Akai Hana Japanese Restaurant

Honorable mention: Hunan Lion Chinese Restaurant; Lucky House Chinese Restaurant; Tai’s Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar; Thai Grille; Thai Orchid Restaurant; Thai Paradise

Bakery

Schneider’s Bakery

6 S. State St., Westerville; schneiders-bakery.com

This popular spot in Uptown Westerville has been baking crowd-pleasing doughnuts, pies, cookies, bread and more since 1954.

Runners-up: Resch’s Bakery; Fantasy Cupcake

Honorable mention: La Chatelaine French Bakery & Bistro; Pattycake Bakery; Pistacia Vera; The Suisse Shop

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Fancy Family Dining

Cap City Fine Diner and Bar

capcityfinediner.com

Cameron Mitchell Restaurants’ modern twist on a classic diner has locations in Dublin, Grandview Heights and Gahanna. The children’s menu has the usual kid staples as well as more refined choices such as salmon and roasted chicken.

Runners-up: Buca di Beppo; The Melting Pot

Honorable mention: Bravo! Italian Kitchen; Brio Italian Grille; Lindey’s Restaurant & Bar; Marcella’s

Frozen Treats - Single Location

Velvet Ice Cream’s Ye Olde Mill

11324 Mount Vernon Road, Utica

velveticecream.com/visit

This marks the sixth straight win for this family-owned business. While tours and the viewing gallery are closed due to the pandemic, the ice cream shop and restaurant are open. Operations are seasonal, from May to October.

Runners-up: Johnson’s Real Ice Cream; Coppa Gelato

Honorable mention: Clown Cones & Confections; OH-YO! Frozen Yogurt

Frozen Treats - Multiple Locations

Graeter’s

graeters.com

This Cincinnati-based chain earned its sixth consecutive win. The company operates 12 Central Ohio ice cream shops and a food truck.

Runners-up: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams; Whit’s Frozen Custard

Honorable mention: Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt

Gluten-Free Menu

Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern

myrustybucket.com

Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern is a repeat victor, cooking up its eighth category win, six of them consecutive. The chain has 10 Central Ohio eateries, whose menu includes around 20 gluten-free items.

Runners-up: BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse; Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers

Honorable mention: Cap City Fine Diner and Bar; Local Roots; Marcella’s

Grocery Store/Market

Trader Joe’s

traderjoes.com

The grocery chain popular for good food at good prices accompanied by a quirky vibe is a five-time reader favorite. Local stores are at Easton and in Dublin.

Runners-up: North Market; Whole Foods Market

Honorable mention: Carfagna’s Market; Fresh Thyme Farmers Market; Weiland’s Market

Italian Restaurant

The Spaghetti Warehouse Restaurant

397 W. Broad St., Columbus; meatballs.com

This longtime Franklinton staple, in business since 1978, took home a seventh win in a row. The children’s menu features pasta, pizza and chicken choices.

Runners-up: Marcella’s; Buca di Beppo

Honorable mention: Carfagna’s Kitchen; Carrabba’s Italian Grill; Giammarco’s Italian Restaurant; Moretti’s of Arlington; Villa Nova Ristorante

Kids Menu

Bob Evans Restaurants

bobevans.com

Bob Evans has made a clean sweep of this category since it debuted in 2018. The kids menu currently offers 10 choices, including all-day breakfast options.

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

Latin Restaurant

El Vaquero Mexican Restaurant

vaquerorestaurant.com

Central Ohio has numerous spots for Mexican fare, and El Vaquero’s 11 Central Ohio restaurants are our readers’ top choice. A kids menu offers American and Mexican entrees.

Runners-up: Chile Verde Cafe; La Fogata Grill

Honorable mention: Cuco’s Taqueria; El Pedregal Mexican Restaurant; Señor Antonio’s Mexicano Restaurante & Cantina

Pizza - Single Location

Plank’s Cafe & Pizzeria

743 Parsons Ave., Columbus; plankscafe.com

Plank’s Cafe & Pizzeria reclaimed its 2015 win in this category. Local pizza lovers enjoy the sweet note in Plank’s pizzas, which are built on house-made dough. You can even top one with bologna.

Runners-up: Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music; Kingy’s Pizza Pub

Honorable mention: Amato’s Woodfired Pizza; Eagles Pizza; Hounddog’s Pizza; Pasquale’s Pizza & Pub; Pizza House; Rubino’s Pizza; Yellow Brick Pizza

Pizza - Multiple Locations

Donatos Pizza

donatos.com

Donatos Pizza is a local entrepreneurial legend, started in 1963 by Jim Grote and now boasting more than 150 stores in nine states. Readers honored it with a sixth straight win this year.

Runners-up: Jet’s Pizza; Tommy’s Pizza

Honorable mention: Dewey’s Pizza; Massey’s Pizza; Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers; Mikey’s Late Night Slice; Pies & Pints; Pizza Cottage

Restaurant with Games and Activities

Dave & Buster’s

daveandbusters.com

Dave & Buster’s is a gaming wonderland, with offerings suitable for a wide variety of ages. Bonus: The food is a cut above the bar-type fare often found at such establishments.

Runners-up: Ten Pin Alley; Scene 75 Entertainment Center

Honorable mention: Chuck E. Cheese; Rule (3); Star Lanes Polaris

STORES AND SERVICES

Art Instruction

Columbus Museum of Art

480 E. Broad St., Columbus

The Columbus Museum of Art is a local gem, not only for its outstanding collection but the classes it offers for children. It most recently won the category in 2017.

Runners-up: Art & Clay on Main; Columbus College of Art & Design

Honorable mention: Art with Anna; Delaware County Cultural Arts Center (The Arts Castle)

Birthday Party Venue

Magic Mountain Fun Center

8350 Lyra Drive, Columbus; 5890 Scarborough Blvd., Columbus; magicmountainfuncenter.com

Magic Mountain Fun Center offers go-karts, bumper cars and boats, laser tag, batting cages, miniature golf and games. The business also won Favorite Miniature Golf.

Runners-up: Sky Zone; Lazer Kraze and Star Lanes Polaris tied for third place

Honorable mention: The Glass Slipper; Rule (3)

Bookstore (Independent)

The Book Loft of German Village

631 S. Third St., Columbus; bookloft.com

Thirty-two rooms of books await shoppers at The Book Loft of German Village, which spans two adjacent buildings. A large children’s area and knowledgeable employees are among the highlights.

Runners-up: Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers; Beanbag Books

Honorable mention: Gramercy Books

Bowling

Star Lanes Polaris

8655 Lyra Drive, Columbus; starlanespolaris.com

Star Lanes Polaris offers 20 lanes of bowling plus suites, as well an on-site restaurant and game room. It also won the category in 2019.

Runners-up: Ten Pin Alley; AMF Sawmill Lanes

Honorable mention: Columbus Square Bowling Palace; Gahanna Lanes; Rule (3)

Children’s Clothes - Gently Used

Once Upon A Child - Dublin

5777 Karric Square Drive, Dublin; onceuponachild.com/dublin

This chain of resale stores is popular with parents for its selection of clothing, shoes, toys and baby gear. The Dublin location was the readers’ choice this year.

Runners-up: Once Upon A Child - Westerville; Three Bags Full consignment sales (various locations)

Honorable mention: Goodwill Columbus - Dublin; Once Upon A Child - Gahanna

Children’s Clothes - New

Nicole’s for Children

nicolesforchildren.com

This popular Powell children’s boutique shuttered its physical storefront at the end of August, citing the uncertain times. As of press time, the business was still operating online with remaining inventory and had not announced a closing date. Nicole’s for Children opened in 2007.

Runners-up: lilylimes; City Style Children’s Boutique

Honorable mention: Cub Shrub; Team Chipmunk

Children’s Shoes

DSW

dsw.com

This Columbus-based national chain offers a wide variety of name-brand shoes in children’s and adult sizes, including top athletic labels as well as Vans, Birkenstock, UGG and more.

Runners-up: Journeys Kidz; Lucky Shoes

Honorable mention: Nordstrom; Von Maur; Walker’s Shoe Center

Children’s Theater

Columbus Children’s Theatre

177 E. Naghten St., Columbus; columbuschildrenstheatre.org

Though its programming has been put on hold by the pandemic, Columbus Children’s Theatre is known for an annual mainstage lineup as well as shows for young children. In recent years, it has expanded offerings for special needs audience members. The company, founded in 1963, has won the category since the inception of Family Faves.

Runners-up: CATCO is Kids; Wagnalls Community Theatre

Honorable mention: Abbey Theater of Dublin; Wexner Center for the Arts

Dance Instruction

BalletMet Dance Academy

322 Mount Vernon Ave., Columbus; balletmet.org/academy

Columbus’ professional ballet company, BalletMet, operates an education arm to train dancers as young as 3. BalletMet Academy teaches its namesake form, of course, but also jazz, tap, modern and more.

Runners-up: Dublin Dance Centre & Gymnastics; Columbus DanceArts Academy

Honorable mention: Generations Performing Arts Center; Leap of Faith Dance Studio; NorthPointe Dance Academy; Straub Dance Center

Drop-in Art Studio

Art & Clay on Main

150 W. Main St., Lancaster; artandclayonmain.com

It’s a five-year winning streak for Art & Clay on Main, which currently offers in-studio pottery painting as well as projects to-go. The shop is a social enterprise of the Fairfield County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

Runners-up: Color Me Mine; Clay Cafe

Honorable mention: The Bare Bowl; Marcy’s Clayground

Gardening Supplies

Oakland Nursery - Columbus

1156 Oakland Park Ave., Columbus

Oakland Nursery has four area locations, but its original store garnered the most reader votes this year. The business is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2020.

Runners-up: Dill’s Greenhouse; Strader’s Garden Center - Northwest Columbus

Honorable mention: Oakland Nursery - Delaware; Oakland Nursery - Dublin; Oakland Nursery - New Albany

Gymnastics Instruction

Buckeye Gymnastics

10562 Sawmill Road, Powell, 614-793-1936; 7159 Northgate Way, Westerville, 614-895-1611; buckeyegymnastics.com

Buckeye Gymnastics offers classes for kids preschool and older at two facilities, as well as competition teams. This is the business’s fourth category win in a row.

Runners-up: Columbus Gymnastics Academy; Fliptastic! Gymnastics

Honorable mention: Central Ohio Gymnastics & Cheer; Gym X-Treme; Integrity Gymnastics

Martial Arts Instruction

Central Ohio Martial Arts

4264 N. High St., Columbus; centralohiomartialarts.com

This Clintonville studio teaches tae kwon do and several other martial arts as well as tai chi. Central Ohio Martial Arts, owned by Laura Clements, was founded in 1999.

Runners-up: Tiger Woo’s World Class Tae Kwon Do; Hilliard Taekwondo Academy

Honorable mention: Aikido School of Central Ohio; ATA Black Belt Academy (Powell); Excel Karate for Kids; Pickerington ATA Martial Arts

Miniature Golf

Magic Mountain Fun Center

8350 Lyra Drive, Columbus; 5890 Scarborough Blvd., Columbus; magicmountainfuncenter.com

Two 18-hole mini golf courses are offered at both Magic Mountain Fun Center locations. The business also won Favorite Birthday Party Venue.

Runners-up: Westerville Golf Center; Glow Putt Mini Golf

Honorable mention: Galaxy Games & Golf; Putt N Play; SportsOhio

Music Instruction

Musicologie

Locations in Dublin, Grandview Heights, Lewis Center and Westerville; musicologielessons.com

Since Kay and Joseph Barker started Musicologie out of their home, the business has grown to five locations, four of them in Central Ohio. Students can study voice or learn a variety of instruments, including piano, guitar, strings, woodwinds and brass.

Runners-up: Columbus Music and Art Academy; Columbus Children’s Choir

Honorable mention: Guitar Center; Music Royale; WeJoySing

Sports Instruction

OhioHealth Chiller Ice Rinks

Locations in Downtown Columbus, Dublin, Easton, Lewis Center and Worthington; thechiller.com

OhioHealth Chiller Ice Rinks skated to a three-peat win in this category. The venues offer learn-to-skate classes as well as hockey instruction and open ice time.

Runners-up: SportsOhio; The Little Gym of Polaris

Honorable mention: AmeriCheer; Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports; Hocking Valley Youth Sport Center; Locker Soccer Academy; Westerville Golf Center

Swim Instruction

YMCA of Central Ohio

ymcacolumbus.org/swimming

The YMCA of Central Ohio, a 2019 runner-up, offers swim lessons for various ages and skill levels at its Columbus-area branches and also runs a swim league.

Runners-up: Goldfish Swim School; Aqua-Tots Swim Schools

Honorable mention: Aquatic Adventures Ohio; Columbus Recreation and Parks Department; Worthington Pools

Toys, Games and Learning Products

Lakeshore Learning Materials

2148 Polaris Parkway, Columbus; lakeshorelearning.com

Lakeshore Learning Materials repeated its 2019 category win. The store, part of a national chain, offers a variety of toys for different ages and interests as well as educational materials and teacher supplies.

Runners-up: Naturally Curious Kids; Dublin Toy Emporium

Honorable mention: Beanbag Books; Learning Express Toys; The Train Station

Tutoring Center

Sylvan Learning - Lewis Center

225 Green Meadows Drive S., Suite C, Lewis Center; locations.sylvanlearning.com/us/lewis-center-oh

A 2019 runner-up, Sylvan Learning - Lewis Center currently offers tutoring in person, online or at home in response to the pandemic. Subjects include math, language arts, study skills and college test preparation.

Runners-up: Brain Balance Center of Columbus; Kumon Math and Reading Center of Dublin-Avery

Honorable mention: Kumon Math and Reading Center of Westerville-North; Math Plus Academy - New Albany; Math Plus Academy - Powell; Tutoring Club of Gahanna/New Albany

LOW- OR NO-COST FAMILY FUN

Day Trip

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

4850 Powell Road, Powell; columbuszoo.org

This second-year category has a repeat winner in the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The venue is home to more than 10,000 animals and typically draws more than 2 million visitors a year. A new Adventure Cove region, featuring harbor seals and sea lions, debuted this summer, as did two baby giraffes.

Runners-up: The Wilds; Hocking Hills State Park

Honorable mention: COSI; Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Indoor Play Space

Sky Zone

459 Orange Point Drive, Suite E, Lewis Center; skyzone.com/columbus

A five-time category winner, Sky Zone offers a wide expanse of indoor trampolines as well as Ultimate Dodgeball. (Its foam pit is currently closed.) Sky Zone also won Favorite Trampoline Park in this year’s survey.

Runners-up: Polaris Fashion Place; Graeter’s - Bethel Road store

Honorable mention: The Mall at Tuttle Crossing; Recreations Outlet; Tree of Life Play + Café

Kid-friendly Suburb

Westerville

westerville.org

Westerville was once known as the center of the temperance movement, but today this family-oriented suburb lures residents with well-regarded schools, a charming Uptown shopping area and recreational opportunities including parks, pools and a community center.

Runners-up: Dublin; Powell

Honorable mention: Canal Winchester; Pickerington

Library Children’s Area

Columbus Metropolitan Library, Main Library

96 S. Grant Ave., Columbus; columbuslibrary.org

The children’s division of Main Library is light and bright, located off the main lobby and loaded with kid-friendly features. Most importantly, of course, it offers rows and rows of books. Note that programming is currently not offered, but the branch is open for limited services.

Runners-up: Westerville Public Library; Columbus Metropolitan Library, Dublin Branch

Honorable mention: Columbus Metropolitan Library, Hilliard Branch; Delaware County District Library, Orange Branch; Pickerington Public Library Main; Wagnalls Memorial Library; Worthington Libraries, Old Worthington Library

Outdoor Play Space

Highbanks Metro Park

9466 U.S. Route 23 N., Lewis Center; metroparks.net

It’s hard to argue with this reader pick, one of Metro Parks’ largest properties at 1,200 acres. Highbanks has wooded trails, multiple playgrounds, a natural play area, a sledding hill, two Adena mounds and access to the Olentangy River.

Runners-up: John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons; Columbus Park of Roses

Honorable mention: Dorrian Green; Fancyburg Park; Homestead Metro Park; Millstone Creek Park

Park for Socially Distanced Fun

Alum Creek State Park

ohiodnr.gov

In a nod to the times, we added this new category to give families additional park options to explore. The winner, Alum Creek State Park, has loads of amenities, including a Storybook Trail, the largest inland beach in the state parks system, disc golf, hunting and fishing, and winter recreation areas.  

Runners-up: Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park; Three Creeks Metro Park

Honorable mention: Delaware State Park; Gallant Woods; Prairie Oaks Metro Park

Spot for Fall Fun

Boo at the Zoo

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, 4850 Powell Road, Powell; 614-645-3400; columbuszoo.org

This annual event, which the zoo describes as a “merry-not-scary” Halloween celebration, includes visits from character ambassadors, special activities, seasonal decorations and the chance to wear your costume and trick or treat at the zoo. This year’s event takes place on weekends from Oct. 16 to Nov. 1.

Runners-up: Lynd Fruit Farm; Circleville Pumpkin Show (which was canceled for 2020 after voting had opened)

Honorable mention: Leeds Farm; Pigeon Roost Farm

Trampoline Park

Sky Zone

459 Orange Point Drive, Suite E, Lewis Center; xx

You’ve probably noticed trampoline parks are springing up all over the place, hence the addition of this new category. Our inaugural winner, Sky Zone, also won Favorite Indoor Play Space this year.

Runners-up: Get Air - Hilliard; Rockin’ Jump - Westerville

Honorable mention: Big Bounce; The Bounce Club; Get Air - Pickerington; Rockin’ Jump - Dublin