Columbus Parent’s 2021 Family Faves: Top Choices for Dining, Shopping, Arts and Activities

Looking for kid-friendly recommendations? You’ll find plenty of choices among the honorees of our 11th annual reader poll.

Columbus Parent staff
Sam Rusnak plays a round at the Westerville Golf Center.

Every family has a list of favorite places—perhaps a go-to pizza parlor, an ice cream shop, a clothing store or even a park or festival. Those traditions can be comforting, sure. But sometimes, you just want to shake things up a bit.

Enter the results of our 2021 Columbus Parent Family Faves reader survey.

For the 11th year, we sought local parents’ opinions on where to find the best family-friendly businesses, dining, activities and events in Central Ohio.

This year’s results list has 41 categories, for lots of parent-approved places to try. There are 41 winners, 85 runners-up and 120 honorable mentions.

Readers voted online June 4 through July 2, choosing their top picks from the listed nominees or writing in their own choices. (Nominees earned a spot on the ballot by receiving at least 5 percent of the vote in our 2020 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, 614-792-2445; 8701 Sancus Blvd., Columbus, 614-781-1776; houseofjapanohio.com

House of Japan was our readers’ favorite for the second year, offering its signature Japanese steakhouse mix of tableside show and multicourse cooked-to-order meal at two Central Ohio locations.

Runners-up: Molly Woo’s Asian Bistro, Lucky House Chinese Restaurant

Honorable mention: Akai Hana Japanese Restaurant, Hunan Lion Chinese Restaurant, Thai Grille, Thai Paradise

An assortment of sweet treats at Schneider’s Bakery

Bakery

Schneider’s Bakery

6 S. State St., Westerville; 614-882-6611; schneiders-bakery.com

This Uptown Westerville mainstay earned a second straight category win. The business has been turning out fresh-baked doughnuts, cakes, pies and other treats since 1954.

Runners-up: Resch’s Bakery, La Chatelaine French Bakery & Bistro

Honorable mention: Fantasy Cupcake, Pattycake Bakery, Pistacia Vera, The Suisse Shop

Fancy Family Dining

Cap City Fine Diner and Bar

capcityfinediner.com

The children’s menu at this approachable Cameron Mitchell Restaurants eatery is anything but ordinary, with chicken Romano and meatloaf among the dozen options. The restaurant, which repeats its 2020 win, has three locations, in Dublin, Gahanna and Grandview Heights.

Runners-up: Brio Italian Grille, Lindey’s Restaurant & Bar

Honorable mention: Bravo! Italian Kitchen, Buca di Beppo, Marcella’s, The Melting Pot

Frozen Treats - Single Location

Velvet Ice Cream’s Ye Olde Mill

11324 Mount Vernon Road, Utica; 800-589-5000; velveticecream.com/visit

Though it no longer offers factory tours, Velvet Ice Cream’s Ye Olde Mill remains popular with families, scooping up a seventh category win. Visitors can stop by for a sweet treat seasonally from May to October.

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

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

Frozen Treats - Multiple Locations

Graeter’s

graeters.com

With a dozen local scoop shops and a food truck, Cincinnati-based Graeter’s is a popular destination—and the winner of this category for the seventh year in a row.

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

Honorable mention: Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt

Gluten-Free Menu

BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse

bjsrestaurants.com

BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse was this year’s top vote-getter. The chain, which has locations at Easton Town Center, Polaris and Tuttle Crossing, offers gluten-free pizzas, entrées, soups and Pizookie desserts.

Runners-up: Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern, Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers

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

Grocery Store/Market

Carfagna’s Market

1440 Gemini Parkway, Columbus; 614-846-6340; carfagnasmarket.com

Carfagna’s Market, which opened its doors in 1937, makes its debut on our winners list. The longtime Northland specialty grocer (with a notable meat counter) is moving from Dublin-Granville Road to the Polaris area in September.

Runners-up: Trader Joe’s, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market

Honorable mention: North Market, Weiland’s Market, Whole Foods Market

Italian Restaurant

Giammarco’s Italian Restaurant

6030 Chandler Court, Westerville; 614-895-8890; giammarcos.com

First-time winner Giammarco’s Italian Restaurant serves up traditional Italian pastas and entrées as well as pizzas, strombolis and Sunday brunch.

Runners-up: Carfagna’s Kitchen, The Spaghetti Warehouse Restaurant

Honorable mention: Buca di Beppo, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Marcella’s, Moretti’s of Arlington, Villa Nova Ristorante

Kids Menu

Bob Evans Restaurants

bobevans.com

This Ohio-based family-favorite chain kept its winning streak alive, having swept the category since its 2018 debut. Bob Evans Restaurants offers 10 kids options, including the signature Chicken-N-Noodles and all-day breakfast.

Runners-up: Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse

Honorable mention: 101 Beer Kitchen, Cap City Fine Diner and Bar, Max & Erma’s, Northstar Café, The Old Bag of Nails Pub

Latin Restaurant

El Vaquero Mexican Restaurant

vaquerorestaurant.com

Readers chose El Vaquero Mexican Restaurant, which offers a large menu of traditional dishes as well as newer options at 11 Central Ohio locations. A children’s menu is available.

Runners-up: Chile Verde Cafe, Señor Antonio’s Mexicano Restaurante & Cantina

Honorable mention: Cuco’s Taqueria, El Pedregal Mexican Restaurant, La Fogata Grill

Pizza - Single Location

Pasquale’s Pizza & Pub

558 W. Schrock Road, Westerville; 614-888-6200; pasqualespastahouse.com

Pizza is one of the main attractions at this family-owned spot just outside Westerville. Pasquale’s Pizza & Pub also offers pastas, subs and salads.

Runners-up: Eagles Pizza; Kingy’s Pizza Pub and Plank’s Cafe & Pizzeria (Parsons Avenue) tied for third place

Honorable mention: Amato’s Woodfired Pizza, Hounddog’s Pizza, Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music, Pizza House, Rubino’s Pizza, Yellow Brick Pizza

Pizza - Multiple Locations

Donatos Pizza

donatos.com

This Columbus-based pizza chain earned a thumbs-up from readers for the seventh straight year. Since it was founded in 1963 by Jim Grote, it has grown to more than 150 locations.

Runners-up: Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers, Dewey’s Pizza

Honorable mention: Jet’s Pizza, Massey’s Pizza, Mikey’s Late Night Slice, Pies & Pints, Pizza Cottage, Tommy’s Pizza

Restaurant with Games and Activities

Dave & Buster’s

3665 Park Mill Run Drive, Hilliard, 614-771-1515; 1554 Polaris Parkway, Suite 206, Columbus, 614-310-6800; daveandbusters.com

Arcade-style games—of all varieties and themes—and some simulator rides are the main attraction at this venue, which also offers full-service dining. Dave & Buster’s has two Central Ohio locations.

Runners-up: Star Lanes Polaris, Rule (3)

Honorable mention: Chuck E. Cheese, Scene75 Entertainment Center, Ten Pin Alley

STORES AND SERVICES

Art Instruction

Columbus Museum of Art

480 E. Broad St., Columbus; 614-221-6801; columbusmuseum.org

The Columbus Museum of Art offers a variety of popular classes for children, earning a second straight category win from our readers.

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, 614-840-9600; 5890 Scarborough Blvd., Columbus, 614-490-5071; magicmountainfuncenter.com

Magic Mountain Fun Center offers something for everyone, including laser tag, go-karts, bumper cars and boats, batting cages, miniature golf and games. The business also was a runner-up for Favorite Miniature Golf.

Runners-up: Star Lanes Polaris, Rule (3)

Honorable mention: The Glass Slipper, Lazer Kraze, Scene75 Entertainment Center

Bookstore (Independent)

The Book Loft of German Village

631 S. Third St., Columbus; 614-464-1774; bookloft.com

If you haven’t been to The Book Loft of German Village, make plans to visit. A sizable children’s area is among the highlights of this Family Faves mainstay. The store boasts 32 rooms that span two buildings.

Runners-up: Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers, Gramercy Books

Honorable mention: Beanbag Books

Bowling

Star Lanes Polaris

8655 Lyra Drive, Columbus; 614-468-4830; starlanespolaris.com

This is the third win in a row for Star Lanes Polaris, which has 20 bowling lanes, games and an on-site restaurant.

Runners-up: Columbus Square Bowling Palace; Rule (3) and Ten Pin Alley tied for third place

Honorable mention: AMF Sawmill Lanes, Gahanna Lanes

Children’s Clothes - Gently Used

Once Upon A Child - Westerville

399 S. State St., Suite 25, Westerville; 614-889-6654; onceuponachild.com/westerville

Once Upon A Child stores are very popular with cost-conscious parents, who scoop up gently used (and sometimes new) clothes and gear at budget-friendly prices. This year, the Westerville location was our readers’ favorite.

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

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

Children’s Clothes - New

City Style Children’s Boutique

4445 W. Dublin-Granville Road, Dublin; 614-389-8889; citysstyle.com

City Style Children’s Boutique offers boys and girls clothing, shoes and accessories as well as a modest selection of toys, including Steiff stuffed animals. Shoppers also can make purchases online.

Runners-up: lilylimes, Cub Shrub

Honorable mention: Team Chipmunk

Children’s Shoes

DSW

dsw.com

Columbus-based DSW offers name-brand shoes for kids and adults, including a wide variety of athletic footwear as well as labels such as Birkenstock, Vans and others. DSW also took first place last year.

Runners-up: Von Maur, Nordstrom

Honorable mention: Journeys Kidz, Walker’s Shoe Center

Children’s Theater

Columbus Children’s Theatre

177 E. Naghten St., Columbus; 614-224-6673; columbuschildrenstheatre.org

In normal times, this hometown theater troupe boasts a mainstage lineup as well as shows for young audiences, and it also offers services for audience members with special needs. Though these offerings have been disrupted, Columbus Children’s Theatre has sought new ways to reach families during the pandemic. CCT has swept this category since the debut of Family Faves.

Runners-up: CATCO is Kids, Abbey Theater of Dublin

Honorable mention: Wagnalls Community Theatre, Wexner Center for the Arts

Dance Instruction

Straub Dance Center

501 McCorkle Blvd., Westerville; 614-891-5525; straubdancecenter.com

Straub Dance Center teaches ballet, jazz, tap and other techniques to children as young as 2 years old. The studio, which opened in 1999, reclaimed its 2019 title.

Runners-up: Generations Performing Arts Center, NorthPointe Dance Academy

Honorable mention: BalletMet Dance Academy

Drop-in Art Studio

Art & Clay on Main

150 W. Main St., Lancaster; 740-653-1755; artandclayonmain.com

Art & Clay on Main, a social enterprise of the Fairfield County Board of Developmental Disabilities, offers pottery painting in-studio as well as projects to go. The shop nabbed its sixth straight win and also is a runner-up in Favorite Art Instruction.

Runners-up: Color Me Mine, Clay Cafe

Honorable mention: The Bare Bowl, uPaint Pottery Studio

Planters at Oakland Nursery on Oakland Park Avenue in Columbus

Gardening Supplies

Oakland Nursery - Columbus

1156 Oakland Park Ave., Columbus; 614-268-3511; oaklandnursery.com

The original store of Oakland Nursery’s four locations was the top vote-getter for the second year. The business offers a large selection of annuals, perennials, trees, home décor and more.

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 is the five-year favorite here. The gym serves students preschool age and older with various recreational classes and competition teams.

Runners-up: Gym X-Treme, Fliptastic! Gymnastics

Honorable mention: Central Ohio Gymnastics & Cheer, Columbus Gymnastics Academy, Integrity Gymnastics

Martial Arts Instruction

Central Ohio Martial Arts

4264 N. High St., Columbus; 614-263-5425; centralohiomartialarts.com

Central Ohio Martial Arts successfully defended its 2020 title. Tae kwon do and other martial arts are offered, as is tai chi, at this Clintonville studio.

Runners-up: Pickerington ATA Martial Arts, Tiger Woo’s World Class Tae Kwon Do

Honorable mention: Aikido School of Central Ohio, ATA Black Belt Academy (Powell), Excel Karate for Kids, Hilliard Taekwondo Academy

Miniature Golf

Westerville Golf Center

450 W. Schrock Road, Westerville; 614-882-9079; westervillegolf.com

In business since 1970, Westerville Golf Center offers two scenic, 18-hole mini golf courses in a frontier-town setting that are popular with children and adults alike. The business also won in 2019.

Runners-up: Magic Mountain Fun Center, Glow Putt Mini Golf

Honorable mention: Galaxy Games & Golf, Putt N Play

Music Instruction

School of Rock

6727 Dublin Center Drive, Dublin, 614-766-7200; 5225 N. Hamilton Road, Columbus, 614-962-7625; schoolofrock.com

School of Rock offers lessons in guitar, keyboard, drums, singing and other skills and ties in live performances to turn kids into musicians. Programs are available starting at preschool age.

Runners-up: Musicologie, Columbus Children’s Choir

Honorable mention: Columbus Music and Art Academy, Guitar Center, Music Royale

Sports Instruction

OhioHealth Chiller Ice Rinks

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

OhioHealth Chiller Ice Rinks offer learn-to-skate classes and hockey instruction as well as open ice time to practice new skills. This is the Chiller’s fourth category win.

Runners-up: Westerville Golf Center, SportsOhio

Honorable mention: AmeriCheer, Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports, Hocking Valley Youth Sport Center, The Little Gym of Polaris, Locker Soccer Academy

Swim Instruction

Aqua-Tots Swim Schools

aqua-tots.com

Aqua-Tots Swim Schools offer water safety and swimming instruction for various ages and abilities. The company has three Central Ohio franchises, near New Albany and in Powell and Westerville.

Runners-up: Goldfish Swim School, YMCA of Central Ohio

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

Toys, Games and Learning Products

Lakeshore Learning Materials

2148 Polaris Parkway, Columbus; 614-846-1710; lakeshorelearning.com

This year marks a category three-peat for Lakeshore Learning Materials. The Polaris-area store offers educational items, various toys for different ages and interests (including a strong STEM selection), and teacher supplies.

Runners-up: Learning Express Toys; Beanbag Books and Dublin Toy Emporium tied for third place

Tutoring Center

Brain Balance Center of Columbus

116 Dillmont Drive, Columbus; 614-654-3399; brainbalancecenters.com/locations/ohio/columbus

Brain Balance Center of Columbus caters to families who want to improve their child’s focus, behavior and/or academic performance. The company says its program uses “physical, sensory and cognitive activities” to reach those goals.

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

Highbanks Metro Park

LOW- OR NO-COST FAMILY FUN

Day Trip

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

4850 Powell Road, Powell; 614-645-3400; columbuszoo.org

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is extremely popular with local families, thanks in part to its spacious grounds and unique habitats. The zoo, which is home to more than 10,000 animals, offers amusement rides and play areas to burn off energy and hosts numerous special events throughout the year. A baby elephant and a sea lion pup are among the latest animal additions, and a new Tidal Twist roller coaster debuted this summer as well.

Runners-up: Hocking Hills State Park, COSI

Honorable mention: AHA! A Hands-on Adventure: A Children’s Museum, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, The Wilds

Indoor Play Space

Polaris Fashion Place

1500 Polaris Parkway, Columbus; 614-846-1500; polarisfashionplace.com

This zoo-themed play area on the first floor of Polaris Fashion Place (between FieldhouseUSA and Saks Fifth Avenue) offers a place for kids to unwind during a day of shopping as well as seating for parents. Note that it is temporarily closed due to COVID-19 safety precautions.

Runners-up: Recreations Outlet, Graeter’s - Bethel Road store

Honorable mention: The Mall at Tuttle Crossing, Momi Land

Kid-friendly Suburb

Westerville

westerville.org

This category marks it third year in our reader survey with as many wins by Westerville. The once-dry city has lots to offer families, including a charming Uptown area, quality schools and ample recreational opportunities. Its library also is a 2021 Family Faves winner.

Runners-up: Dublin, Pickerington

Honorable mention: Canal Winchester, Powell

Library Children’s Area

Westerville Public Library

126 S. State St., Westerville; 614-882-7277; westervillelibrary.org

The Westerville Public Library has been serving local residents since 1930, and its substantial children’s section is a draw for families. The library also offers youth programming, though in-person offerings have been curtailed out of necessity due to the pandemic.

Runners-up: Pickerington Public Library Main, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Main Library

Honorable mention: Columbus Metropolitan Library, Dublin Branch; Columbus Metropolitan Library, Hilliard Branch; Delaware County District Library, Orange Branch; Wagnalls Memorial Library; Worthington Libraries - Old Worthington Library

Outdoor Municipal Pool

Highlands Park Aquatic Center

245 S. Spring Road, Westerville; 614-901-7665; parks.westerville.org/facilities/highland-park-aquatic-center

This category returns to the Family Faves lineup after a one-year pandemic hiatus. The winner: Highlands Park Aquatic Center, which offers a lazy river, waterslides, a toddler pool, a sprayground and a large pool.

Runners-up: Groveport Aquatic Center and North Orange Park Aquatic Center tied for second place

Honorable mention: Bexley Pool, The Big Splash, Dublin Community Pool South, Hilliard Family Aquatic Center, Worthington Pools

Outdoor Play Space

Highbanks Metro Park

9466 U.S. Route 23 N., Lewis Center; 614-906-3149; metroparks.net/parks-and-trails/highbanks

At 1,200 acres, Highbanks is one of Metro Parks’ largest properties, so there’s plenty of room to roam. Highlights include multiple playgrounds, wooded trails, a natural play area, a sledding hill, two Adena mounds and access to the Olentangy River.

Runners-up: Millstone Creek Park, Columbus Park of Roses

Honorable mention: Fancyburg Park, Homestead Metro Park

Park for Socially Distanced Fun

Alum Creek State Park

3615 S. Old State Road, Delaware; 740-548-4631; ohiodnr.gov

Alum Creek State Park repeated its win in this second-year category. The park offers a Storybook Trail, the largest inland beach among Ohio’s state parks, disc golf, winter recreation areas and hunting and fishing. 

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

Honorable mention: Delaware State Park, Prairie Oaks Metro Park

Spot for Fall Fun

Lynd Fruit Farm

9399 and 9851 Morse Road SW, Pataskala; 740-927-1333; lyndfruitfarm.com

Lynd Fruit Farm repeated its 2019 win in this seasonal category highlighting multiday events. The business offers a fall festival, a corn maze and other family activities as well as pick-your-own apples and pumpkins.

Runners-up: Leeds Farm, Boo at the Zoo

Honorable mention: Circleville Pumpkin Show, Pigeon Roost Farm

Trampoline Park

Rockin’ Jump - Westerville

1220 County Line Road, Westerville; 614-508-6088; rockinjump.com/westerville

Rockin’ Jump - Westerville bounced into the top spot this year. The venue offers trampolines, dodgeball, a climbing area, a ninja course and a Slam Dunk Zone. Special open jump times are offered for younger children.

Runners-up: Get Air - Hilliard and Get Air - Pickerington tied for second place

Honorable mention: Big Bounce, The Bounce Club, Rockin’ Jump – Dublin

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