Summer Fun is Back: Check out Some of Columbus’ Top Family Offerings

From swimming pools to outdoor shows, many seasonal activities are back, giving Central Ohio parents and kids a welcome array of entertainment options.

Kathy Lynn Gray
The Grandview Heights municipal pool and others across Central Ohio will be open for swimmers this summer.

Ready to dive into summer? You can literally do that this year—as well as paddle and splash—as pools swing open their gates to welcome swimmers back.

Plenty of other family activities are returning in one form or another, giving kids and their parents lots to look forward to in June, July and August.

Here’s a sampling of some of the summer highlights that had been scheduled as of press time in mid-May. More are likely to return as Ohio’s public health orders were relaxed throughout June. Stay tuned to your favorite organizations for the latest programming updates.

Get Wet

Few pools were open last year as swimming took a back seat to safety during the pandemic, but most will welcome guests this summer, albeit with some COVID-19 restrictions.

Columbus Recreation and Parks Department is opening its eight pools—all were closed last summer—from 1:30-7:30 p.m. daily. With free admission (registration is required to secure a spot), it’s the best deal around.

All three of Upper Arlington’s pools will be open—only two were last summer—as will community pools in Hilliard, Grandview Heights, Pickerington, Westerville and Worthington, to name a few. Dublin will unveil its completely renovated Community North Pool, which was closed last year for construction.

The Grandview municipal pool, like many others, was requiring swimmers to reserve two- or three-hour blocks of time to reduce the number of participants on-site and allow for social distancing. Families should check city websites before showing up to familiarize themselves with current restrictions.

Family Flicks

Also returning after an abbreviated run last year is the CAPA Summer Movie Series at the Ohio Theatre. The program has been scaled back, but the popular series will run July 22 through Aug. 29 and include two 10 a.m. Saturday Cartoon Capers events, on July 31 and Aug. 28. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door, says CAPA publicist Rolanda Copley. A schedule had not been announced as of mid-May.

Easton will host Movies by Moonlight on Tuesdays in June on Easton Town Square, beginning at dusk. Titles include “Despicable Me,” “Field of Dreams” and others. All are free and family friendly, says Easton spokeswoman Rochelle Young.

Another movie option is Zoombezi Bay Summer Nights, when the Wild Tides Wave Pool turns into a theater on Friday nights between June 25 and July 30. The event, which runs from 6-10 p.m., will include films such as “The Mighty Ducks” and “Coco.” Zoombezi tickets, which must be purchased in advance, range from $25 to $31 all day or $13 after 4 p.m.

And, of course, there’s always the South Drive-In Theater in Columbus or Lancaster’s Skyview Drive-In to catch a movie in or just outside your car.

Popcorn Pops from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra will return to John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons this summer.

Enjoy the Arts

If a play is your thing, the Abbey Theater of Dublin expects to have three live, kid-friendly shows: “Baby Polar Bear and the Mean Germ” in June; “Madagascar Jr.” in July and “Les Misérables – School Edition” in August. Tickets range from $10 to $15.

For families aching to attend a live concert, the popular Popcorn Pops series by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra returns for two 7 p.m. performances on June 18 and July 16 at John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons in Downtown Columbus. Adult tickets are $12 and include a free ticket for one child age 12 and younger. They’re sold online and at the gate.

Jazz Arts Group of Columbus is considering bringing its annual PBJ & Jazz summer concerts back to an in-person vs. online format, says spokesman Terence Womble, pending government guidance on large gatherings at public parks. Pop-up PBJ & Jazz concerts are a possibility, Womble says.

Popular Attractions

Plenty of old standbys will be welcoming families this summer.

COSI reopened June 3 after being shuttered since March 2020. The science museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, with timed-ticket reservations required. Some features, such as the National Geographic Giant Screen Theater and the high-wire unicycle, will remain closed, but most, such as the popular Little Kidspace, will be open with new health and safety protocols. Tickets, $20 to $25, must be purchased in advance.

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will be open daily, including the outdoor Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden, with online reservations required. Tickets are $12 to $19 depending on age, but admission is free the first Sunday of the month for Columbus and Franklin County residents. Those who receive SNAP and certain other government benefits can buy tickets for $3 or, in some cases, at no cost.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium also is open all summer, with tickets ranging from $12 to $22, and free admission for military families July 3-11 and for fathers and grandfathers on Father’s Day. Timed tickets may be required.

At the Columbus Museum of Art, timed tickets cost $9 to $18, with free admission on Sundays. On Thursday evenings, admission is $5. Kids won’t want to miss “Think Outside the Brick: The Creative Art of LEGO,” a depiction of Columbus made of more than 1 million LEGOs. It runs through Aug. 20.

Fairs and Festivals

While the Ohio State Fair will be open only to competitors, county fairs aren’t holding back. The Pickaway County Fair runs June 20-27 in Circleville with a full lineup of horse shows, tractor pulls and rides.

Families can enjoy monster truck racing, a demolition derby and rides at the Franklin County Fair, which runs July 19-25, says spokeswoman Stephanie Rauschenbach.

Fairs operating later in the summer include the Delaware County Fair, Sept. 18-25, and the Fairfield County Fair, Oct. 10-16.

The Dublin Irish Festival, Aug. 5-8, has been reworked and renamed Dublin Irish Days for 2021. “It’ll have the flavor of the festival from prior years and allow folks to gather again and have a sense of normalcy as they celebrate Irish heritage,” says spokeswoman Shirley Blaine.

Most of the action will be at two sites: Coffman Park, where live concerts and the play “The Irish … and How They Got That Way,” are scheduled; and in and around Riverside Crossing Park, where the Wee Folk area will include arts and crafts for children and pop-up musicians and dancers.

Blaine says many events will be free but some, such as concerts and the play, will require tickets. Refreshments will be available from food trucks and vendors.

Outdoors and More

Parents who want more socially distant outdoor activities will find plenty at Metro Parks. Park naturalists are offering a variety of programs, from owl hikes to birding expeditions, with limited registration, says spokeswoman Peg Hanley. For the more adventurous, there’s paddle boarding, kayaking and archery. Metro Parks was beginning to relax pandemic-related program attendance limits in June. “The great thing is we’re open every day and we’re free,” Hanley says.

Fishing is popular at parks such as Slate Run and Three Creeks Metro parks, and six parks have natural play areas where children can build a tree fort, climb a tree, walk across logs and, in some cases, use a zip line. Baby bison are expected in the herd at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park this summer, as well as plenty of baby pigs and lambs at Slate Run Living Historical Farm.

Hanley says visitor centers and nature centers may reopen in June after being closed throughout the pandemic.

For the sports-minded, the Columbus Clippers once again are on the mound at Huntington Park after the season was canceled last year. Capacity was initially limited to accommodate socially distanced seating, but those attendance caps were eliminated in June. Tickets will be sold online or by phone only, and concession stands will be open with limited menus.

Finally, Kids Bowl Free returns at several area lanes, allowing children ages 2-17 to bowl two games a day free of charge during select times. Parents can sign up through kidsbowlfree.com. Participating area alleys are Gahanna Lanes, HP Lanes, Holiday Lanes, Penn Lanes and RollHouse Entertainment-Columbus. Parents aren’t required to bowl but can buy discounted games if desired.

This story is from the Summer 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.