Summer Fun: Ideas for Columbus Kids and Families

Heather Lofy
Picnic with the Pops at John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons

School’s out, and the kids are itching for something to do. The good news is there’s no shortage of events and activities in and around Columbus for the whole family. From concerts to outdoor movies and park events, we’ve got plenty of ideas to banish the boredom. Best of all, many of the ideas are free.

Of course, this is just a sampling of seasonal happenings, so check with your local community and go to for more ideas and events. 

Downtown Fun

Since John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons opened in 2011, the park’s goal has been to provide fun, free events for the whole family. To that end, the annual Commons for Kids series returns from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays, June 7 through Aug. 9 (aside from a July 5 holiday break). “It’s a free weekly event for kids to get outside and jump around, all with the Downtown city skyline in the background,” says Ashley Myers, director of Columbus Commons. “Our team did a great job coming up with themes this year. If families come more than once they have a wide variety to choose from.”

Also popular are the Commons’ free movie nights. Catch “Mary Poppins Returns” on June 21 and “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” on July 19. Both begin at 8:15 p.m.

CAPA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year—both of the organization and its annual Summer Movie Series, which features family-friendly titles including “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Back to the Future” and Cartoon Capers on Saturday mornings. Same-day tickets are $5.

If the kids are into history, CAPA is hosting free open house events at the Ohio, Palace and Southern theatres as part of the anniversary celebration. Tours take place 1-4 p.m. July 14. “The great thing about CAPA events is that families can experience local history while enjoying a variety of entertainment,” says Rolanda Copley, CAPA publicist. “CAPA owns three downtown theaters … and they are unlike most venues frequented by young folks today.”

Shop and Play

Easton also is celebrating an anniversary and will turn 20 this summer. So its free outdoor Movies by Moonlight series, on tap Tuesdays from June 4 to Aug. 27, will include films that are celebrating milestones. See Disney’s “Tarzan” (1999) on June 18 or “Field of Dreams” (1989) on July 2.

The annual Sounds on the Town concert series is slated for 6-9 p.m. Wednesday evenings. Other events are scheduled throughout the summer. Or visit the Fenlon Square area from 2-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays for Fun at the Frog Fountain, with face painting, balloon animals and more. The shopping mecca also has a popular splash pad. “Easton is all about families and bringing families together, and having opportunities to enjoy the property for what it is: the landscaping, parks and fountains,” says chief executive Jennifer Peterson.

Polaris Fashion Place has a summer KidX Club that offers free weekly activities on Fridays, June 21 to Aug. 9. Themes include animals, science and pirates and princesses. The shopping center also will continue its Sunset Cinema series at The Yard, where families can bring blankets and chairs and check out free preshow activities. 

Pick a Park

Metro Parks offer plenty of ways to explore the great outdoors. Hike the trails, have a picnic, catch a movie night or go creeking, fishing or geocaching. The Metro Parks GeoTrail runs only during the summer, though you can try your sleuthing skills on the Uncover Metro Parks GeoTour all year long.

Free ranger-led programs are offered at all parks year-round, and most are family-friendly. Or try one of the natural play areas, found at eight sites including Blendon Woods, Glacier Ridge and Highbanks. These areas allow kids to go off-trail and explore nature.

Also exciting for youngsters are the animals and programs at Slate Run Living Historical Farm in Canal Winchester. The Summer Self-Guided Discovery Tour, for example, shows participants what farming life was like in the late 1800s.

Preservation Parks of Delaware County also has a full summer calendar. See the World of Water exhibit at both Deer Haven Park and Shale Hollow Park through Sept. 2. Kids can learn about different types of water, from small ponds to vast oceans, meet sea creatures and more.

Check out the night sky during summer hikes on June 14, July 19 and Aug. 16—great for children ages 7 and older. And each Monday at various park locations, ages 5 and younger can participate in storytime.

Find the full program schedules at both park systems’ websites, and be sure to check your city’s local parks and recreation department for close-to-home options.

More Movies and Music

There are several popular places to catch an outdoor flick during the warm weather.

Zoombezi Bay offers Family Nights on Friday evenings, June 28 to Aug. 2. Attendees can watch a movie by the wave pool and see entertainment, characters and more. The events are included with standard admission. (Also mark your calendar for July 22-28, when Zoombezi celebrates Christmas in July. You might even get to see Santa and Mrs. Claus!)

Grove City’s Fryer Flicks on the Hill, held at Fryer Park, allows attendees to bring blankets and snacks and watch movies such as “Aquaman” and “Incredibles 2.” The free series happens on Thursdays from June 6 until Aug. 1 (except July 4). Popular movie series are also offered in Bexley, Goodale Park and New Albany, among others. And, though it’s not outdoors, Columbus Metropolitan Library and Gateway Film Center again are teaming up on the notable From Book to Film series, which continues through Aug. 22. Admission is free with a library card.

Looking for some tunes? Columbus has multiple options for outdoor concerts.

The Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Picnic with the Pops series includes two Popcorn Pops shows geared to families with kids ages 3-12. This year’s themes are Dance Party (June 21) and Movies & Maracas (July 19). The hourlong concerts include free popcorn, preshow activities and inflatables. Tickets start at $10.

PBJ & Jazz concerts from The Jazz Arts Group of Columbus take place June 8, July 13, Aug. 10 and Sept. 14 at Topiary Park in Downtown. Kids can get up and dance during the interactive, 60-minute show. The free events, which begin at noon, are preceded by a storytime at the adjacent main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and followed by a post-concert art activity.

Several suburbs have concerts scheduled. The Westerville Jazz Series is a lineup of free Saturday concerts at 6 p.m. June 22 to July 27 (no concert July 20) at the Alum Creek Park North Amphitheater. The July 13 concert is tied to the Westerville Music & Arts Festival, so there is an admission charge of $1 per person, though kids 10 and younger are free. That performance is at 6:30 p.m.

Hilliard’s Celebration at the Station concerts happen at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, June 6 to Aug. 8 (except July 4). Held at Hilliard’s Station Park, families also can take advantage of food trucks and the splash pad.

ProMusica Chamber Orchestra is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and its ProMusica Summer Music Series returns to Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. The free weekend of music takes place Aug. 8, 10 and 11, and festivities begin each night at 8 p.m. Families are welcome to bring a blanket and a picnic, but get there early: Activities for the kids begin at 7 p.m. 

For more activity and event ideas for your family, check out:

More Summer Fun Ideas