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.
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.
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
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
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
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
BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
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
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
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
Bob Evans Restaurants
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
El Vaquero Mexican Restaurant
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Aqua-Tots Swim Schools
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
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
LOW- OR NO-COST FAMILY FUN
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
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
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.