Want to fill your summer schedule with fun, family-friendly activities? Columbus and its surroundings offer numerous events and happenings for all ages – many of them free and easily accessible. From movies to art to outdoor adventures, there’s something for everyone.
Downtown happenings for families
The annual Commons for Kids series will be held again at the John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons on Friday mornings, June 10-August 12. Activities include bouncy castles and face painting. Don’t miss the free rides on the carousel, open daily from 11am to 7pm. The Commons is also hosting three free movie nights: May 28th, June 24th and July 15th.
Another family favorite is the CAPA Summer Movie Series, which runs June 16 through August 14 at the Ohio Theater. The particularly popular Saturday morning Cartoon Capers take place on June 25th and July 30th.
The Columbus Museum of Art offers free admission every Sunday, so there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy everything the venue has to offer. Reservations are highly recommended as there is a limited number of tickets available each week. Check out the upcoming exhibition Raphael: The Power of Renaissance Images: The Dresden Tapestries and Their Impact or grab a bite at Schokko Café before you leave.
If your kids like COSI, the science center just extended the Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes exhibit with art, props, and costumes through Labor Day.
If you’re downtown, add the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens to your list. Residents of Franklin County and the City of Columbus are admitted free on the first Sunday of each month (reservations are recommended). The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Nursery is a great place for kids to explore and has monthly themes. Visit Plenty of Pollinators in June, Glorious Gardens in July and Wild World of Water in August.
Metro Parks offers many opportunities to explore nature. Hike the trails, have a picnic, watch a movie night, or go creeking, fishing or geocaching. The Metro Parks GeoTrail celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2022 and features some popular caches from the last decade – 21 in total.
Free ranger-led programs are offered year-round at all parks, and most are family-friendly. Or try one of the natural playgrounds found at eight locations including Blendon Woods, Glacier Ridge and Highbanks. These areas allow children to go off-piste and explore nature.
Quarry Trails is the newest Metro Park. Located at Marble Cliff Quarry northwest of downtown, it offers a waterfall, mountain biking, fishing, and a handful of hiking trails, all under a mile in length.
Preservation Parks of Delaware County also has a busy summer calendar. The Summer Letterbox Adventure lets families explore parks during a scavenger hunt to find mailboxes. Or check out the For the Love of Birds art exhibit at Deer Haven Park and Shale Hollow Park through September 5th.
Visit park systems’ websites for full program schedules, and be sure to check with your local parks and recreation department for options close to home.
Easton Town Center offers plenty of summer shopping, dining and experiences for the whole family, including the return of the Movies by Moonlight series, which features a different movie every Tuesday night in June. The Sounds of Summer concert series takes place on June 22nd, July 13th and August 10th and the Easton Unplugged Acoustic Concert series takes place in The Yard area near Macy’s and Nordstrom on Thursdays through September.
Polaris Fashion Place has a Summer KidX Club that offers free weekly activities on the last Thursday of every month. Highlights include KidX Fun with the Zoo on June 30th and KidX Touch-a-Truck on July 28th.
More movies and entertainment
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is one of the area’s most popular warm-weather destinations, and COTA is once again offering the Zoo Bus, making five daily trips between downtown, the zoo and Zoombezi Bay. The fare is $2 for adults and $1 for children; Riders get $3 admission to the zoo or $10 discount at Zoombezi Bay. Reservations are required and can be made on the zoo’s website.
Zoombezi Bay Summer Nights, held on Friday nights in July, feature movies by the wave pool as well as entertainment and characters. Also of note is that the water park is offering a sensory-friendly after-hours quiet event on August 19. Admission is limited and music is turned off to accommodate guests with sensory issues.
Several local communities also have the opportunity to see an outdoor movie.
Free Grove City Community Outdoor Movie Nights (formerly Fryer Flicks on the Hill) will be held at Naz Church on Wednesdays June 22 – July 27.
New Albany residents can take advantage of free monthly Family Flick Nights at the new Charleen & Charles Hinson Amphitheater; The events are scheduled for June 28th, July 26th and August 16th.
Local film series are also offered in Bexley, Goodale Park and Pickerington, among others. Some theaters also have such a program.
Several communities in central Ohio host recurring summer concerts. Of note is the Grove City Summer Sizzle Concert Series, which takes place on Fridays from June through October and accompanies the Grove City Food Truck Festival and Shop Hop.
Hilliard’s Celebration at the Station Concerts are held at Hilliard’s Station Park on Thursday evenings from June 2nd to August 11th. New this year are Lunch Time Live! Weaver Park concerts on June 3rd and August 5th. Have lunch in a food truck and enjoy the music.
Looking for a big stage show? The Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s annual Picnic with the Pops series includes two Popcorn Pops shows aimed at families with children ages 3 to 12. This year’s themes are Adventure Safari (June 24) and Dances from Around the World (July 22). Hour-long concerts include free popcorn and pre-concert activities. Tickets cost $10 to $12.
PBJ & Jazz Concerts by the Jazz Arts Group of Columbus will be held at Topiary Park on June 11th, July 9th, August 13th and September 10th. Kids can get up and dance during the interactive 60-minute show. The free performances, beginning at 12:00 p.m., will be preceded by a story time at the adjacent main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and will include a post-concert artistic activity.
If theater is your thing, the Abbey Theater of Dublin is presenting The Wind in the Willows at Coffman Park Amphitheater from 14th to 17th July. Or catch Rent: School Edition (based on the Broadway musical) at the Abbey Theater of Dublin from August 11-21.
Check out the culture pass
If you’re a Columbus Metropolitan Library cardholder, consider the Culture Pass when visiting local facilities. Guests can “check out” admission to places like the Zoo, Conservatory, National Veterans Memorial and Museum, Ohio History Connection, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus Clippers games, and more. Visit columbuslibrary.org and search “Culture Pass” to view destinations and find out which library locations have passes.
This story is from the Summer 2022 issue of Columbus Parents.