Looking to fill your summer schedule with fun, family-friendly activities? Columbus and the surrounding area offers many events and happenings for all ages, many of which are free and easily accessible. From movies to art to outdoor adventures, there’s something for everyone.
Downtown events for families
The annual Commons for Kids Series returns to the John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons on Friday mornings, June 10 through August 12. Activities include inflatables and face painting. Don’t miss the free rides on the carousel, open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Commons is also hosting three free movie nights: May 28, June 24, and July 15.
Another family favorite is the CAPA summer movie series, playing June 16 through August 14 at the Ohio Theater. The particularly popular Saturday morning Cartoon Capers are scheduled for June 25 and July 30.
The Columbus Museum of Art offers free admission every Sunday, so there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy all the venue has to offer. Reservations are strongly encouraged, as a limited number of tickets are available each week. Check out the upcoming exhibition, Raphael: The Power of Renaissance Images: The Dresden Tapestries and Their Impact, or grab a bite to eat at Schokko Café before you go.
If your kids love COSI, the science center just extended the Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes exhibit, which features artwork, 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 enter free on the first Sunday of each month (reservations encouraged). The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Kindergarten is a great place for children to explore and offers monthly themes. Visit in June for Plenty of Pollinators, July for Glorious Gardens and August for Wild World of Water.
Metro Parks offers many ways to explore the great outdoors. Hike the trails, have a picnic, catch a movie night or go fishing or geocaching. The Metro Parks GeoTrail celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2022 and features some popular caches from the past decade – 21 in total.
Free ranger-led programs are offered at all parks year-round, and most are family-friendly. Or try one of the natural playgrounds, located at eight sites including Blendon Woods, Glacier Ridge and Highbanks. These areas allow children to get off the beaten track and explore nature.
Quarry Trails is the newest Metro Park. Located at Marble Cliff Quarry northwest of downtown, it has a waterfall, mountain biking, fishing, and a handful of trails, all within a mile.
Delaware County Preservation Parks also have a full summer schedule. The Summer Mailbox Adventure lets families explore the parks on a scavenger hunt for mailboxes. Or, see the For the Love of Birds art exhibit at Deer Haven Park and Shale Hollow Park through September 5.
Find complete program schedules on park system websites and be sure to check your local parks and recreation department for nearby options.
Downtown Easton is packed with shopping, dining and summer 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 22, July 13, and August 10, and the Easton Unplugged Acoustic Concert Series takes place Thursdays through September in The Yard area near Macy’s and Nordstrom.
Polaris Fashion Place has a summer KidX Club that offers free weekly activities on the last Thursday of each month. Highlights include KidX Fun with the Zoo on June 30 and KidX Touch-a-Truck on July 28.
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, which runs five daily trips between downtown, the zoo and Zoombezi Bay. The fare is $2 for adults and $1 for children. riders get $3 entry to the zoo or $10 off at Zoombezi Bay. Reservations are required and can be made on the zoo’s website.
Zoombezi Bay Summer Parties, held on Friday nights in July, features movies by the wave pool, as well as entertainment and characters. Also of note, the water park will be hosting a Sensory Friendly Quiet After Hours event on August 19. Admission is limited and music is turned off to accommodate patrons with sensory issues.
Several local communities also have the opportunity to watch a movie outdoors.
Grove City Community (formerly Fryer Flicks on the Hill) free outdoor movie nights will be held at Naz Church on Wednesdays June 22-July 27.
New Albany residents can take advantage of free monthly Family Flick parties at the new Charleen & Charles Hinson Amphitheater; events are scheduled for June 28, July 26 and August 16.
Local film series are also offered in Bexley, Goodale Park and Pickerington, among others. Some theaters also offer such programming.
Several communities in central Ohio hold recurring summer concerts. Of note is the Grove City Summer Sizzle concert series on Fridays from June to October, which partners with the Grove City Food Truck Festival and Shop Hop.
Hilliard’s Celebration at the Station concerts are held Thursday nights from June 2 through August 11 at Hilliard’s Station Park. New this year: Lunch Time Live! concerts at Weaver Park on June 3 and August 5. Have lunch in a food truck and enjoy the music.
Fancy a show on the big stage? The Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s annual Picnic with the Pops series includes two Popcorn Pops shows aimed at families with children ages 3-12. 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 are $10 to $12.
The Jazz Arts Group of Columbus PBJ & Jazz Concerts will be held June 11, July 9, August 13 and September 10 at Topiary Park. Kids can get up and dance during the 60-minute interactive show. The free events, which start at noon, are preceded by a story hour in the adjacent main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and include a post-concert arts activity.
If a theatrical performance appeals to you, Dublin’s Abbey Theater will present ‘The Wind in the Willows’ from July 14-17 at the Coffman Park Amphitheatre. Or, see “Rent: School Edition” (based on the Broadway musical) from August 11-21 at the Abbey Theater in Dublin.
Discover the Culture Pass
If you’re a Columbus Metropolitan Library cardholder, consider the Culture Pass when visiting local establishments. Guests can “check” 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 for “Culture Pass” to see destinations and find libraries that have passes.
This story is from the Summer 2022 issue of Columbus Parent.