Summer Fun: Family-Friendly Activities and Events Across Central Ohio

Grab the kids and get ready for movie series, concerts, park programs, museums and more. The best part: Many are free.

Heather Lofy
The Roaring Rapids lazy river at Zoombezi Bay

Looking to fill your summer schedule with fun, family-friendly activities? Columbus and its surrounding areas offer plenty of 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 is back at John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons on Friday mornings, June 10 through Aug. 12. Activities include inflatables and face painting. Don’t miss 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, on tap June 16 to Aug. 14 at the Ohio Theatre. The particularly popular Saturday morning Cartoon Capers are scheduled June 25 and July 30.

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 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 at the Schokko Café before you leave.

If your kids enjoy COSI, the science center just extended the Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes exhibition, which features art, props and costumes, through Labor Day.

“Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes” at COSI has been extended through Labor Day.

Outdoor Exploration

If you’re Downtown, add the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens to your list. Franklin County and city of Columbus residents get in free on the first Sunday of each month (reservations are encouraged). The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden is a great place for kids to explore and has monthly themes. Visit in June for Plenty of Pollinators, July for Glorious Gardens and August for Wild World of Water.

Metro Parks offers 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 is celebrating 10 years 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 play areas, found at eight sites including Blendon Woods, Glacier Ridge and Highbanks. These areas allow kids to go off-trail and explore nature.

The base of Millikin Falls is a popular spot at the new Quarry Trails Metro Park.

Quarry Trails is the newest Metro Park. Located at the Marble Cliff Quarry northwest of Downtown, it has a waterfall, mountain biking, fishing and a handful of trails, all shorter than a mile.

Preservation Parks of Delaware County also has a full summer calendar. The Summer Letterbox Adventure lets families explore parks during a scavenger hunt to find letterboxes. Or, see the For the Love of Birds art exhibit at Deer Haven Park and Shale Hollow Park through Sept. 5.

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

Shopping Stops

Easton Town Center has plenty of summertime shopping, dining and experiences for the whole family, including the return of the Movies by Moonlight series, which offers a different film each Tuesday evening in June. The Sounds of Summer concert series takes place June 22, July 13 and Aug. 10, and the Easton Unplugged Acoustic Concert series runs on 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 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 makes 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 off at Zoombezi Bay. Reservations are required and can be made on the zoo’s website.

Zoombezi Bay Summer Nights, held Friday evenings in July, offer movies by the wave pool, plus entertainment and characters. Also of note, the waterpark will offer a Sensory Friendly Quiet After Hours event on Aug. 19. Admission is limited and music is turned off to accommodate guests with sensory issues.

Multiple local communities also have opportunities to catch an outdoor film.

Free Grove City Community Outdoor Movie Nights (formerly Fryer Flicks on the Hill) will happen at The Naz Church on Wednesdays from June 22 to 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 June 28, July 26 and Aug. 16.

Local movie series are also offered in Bexley, Goodale Park and Pickerington, among others. Some theaters boast such programming as well.

Making Music

Several Central Ohio communities host recurring summer concerts. One worth noting is the Grove City Summer Sizzle Concert Series on Fridays from June to October, which pairs with the Grove City Food Truck Festival and Shop Hop.

Children dance during a Celebration at the Station concert in Hilliard.

Hilliard’s Celebration at the Station concerts happen Thursday evenings June 2 to Aug. 11 at Hilliard’s Station Park. New this year are Lunch Time Live! concerts at Weaver Park on June 3 and Aug. 5. Grab lunch at 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 geared to families with kids ages 3-12. This year’s themes are Adventure Safari (June 24) and Dances from Around the World (July 22). The hourlong concerts include free popcorn and preconcert activities. Tickets are $10 to $12.

PBJ & Jazz concerts from Jazz Arts Group of Columbus take place June 11, July 9, Aug. 13 and Sept. 10 at Topiary Park. 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 include a post-concert art activity.

If a theater performance is up your alley, the Abbey Theater of Dublin will present “The Wind in the Willows” July 14-17 at Coffman Park Amphitheater. Or, see “Rent: School Edition” (based on the Broadway musical) from Aug. 11-21 at the Abbey Theater of Dublin.

Check out the Culture Pass

If you’re a Columbus Metropolitan Library cardholder, consider the Culture Pass as you visit local establishments. Patrons can “check out” admission to places like the zoo, the conservatory, National Veterans Memorial and Museum, Ohio History Connection, the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus Clippers games and more. Visit columbuslibrary.org and search “Culture Pass” to see destinations and find which library locations have passes.

This story is from the Summer 2022 issue of Columbus Parent.