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.
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
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 ShopGet top reads, event recommendations, guides, parenting trends and more ideas for family fun. Subscribe to Columbus Parent’s weekly newsletter, The Bulletin.
Fancy Family Dining
Cap City Fine Diner and Bar
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
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
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
Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern
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
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
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
Bob Evans Restaurants
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
El Vaquero Mexican Restaurant
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 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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
YMCA of Central Ohio
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
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
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
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
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
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
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