The Short North

Melissa Kossler Dutton
The Pizzuti Collection.

The executive director of the Short North Alliance enjoys seeing strollers rolling through the streets of the historic arts neighborhood. Betsy Pandora considers it a sign of the area's success as a destination.

"We cater to diverse groups of people. The Short North is incredibly family-friendly," Pandora said. "A lot of young families are moving into the neighborhood."

The district, which began its transformation in the 1980s with a few galleries amid bars and rundown buildings, has become a nationally recognized place to shop, dine and view art. The numerous galleries and public art displays offer a really "low-barrier way to expose kids to the arts," Pandora said.

Gallery owners in the area have come to expect that parents will bring their children with them on shopping excursions and during Gallery Hop, the monthly event when Short North businesses stay open late and galleries often schedule exhibit openings. Gallery Hop always occurs the first Saturday of the month.

Anne Evans, whose two children attend school in the neighborhood, appreciates the murals and other public art installations.

"There's a nice art vibe that comes across to all ages," the Columbus resident said.

For a more formal introduction to the arts, the Pizzuti Collection, one of the area's newest galleries, offers a family tour at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays. Admission is $10 for adults. Students are free.

"The tours are led by a staff person," said Mark Zuzik, programs coordinator. "It's all about looking, getting (kids) to slow down."

Tour guides encourage children to view the pieces from a variety of angles, even sitting or lying on floor to get the best view. They also provide youngsters with sketchbooks so they can draw or write their reactions to pieces, which are part of the personal collection of Columbus developer Ron Pizzuti and his wife, Ann.

Art is only a part of the Short North experience, Pandora said. Kids will enjoy many of the shops. Big Fun carries vintage toys, collectibles and goofy gag gifts. Utrecht Art Supplies is not only a great place to feed your inner artist, but the store stocks a collection of small, inexpensive toys that would make great stocking stuffers. Bink Davies sells a wide array of items from silly socks and bacon candy to cuddly stuffed animals and interesting hostess gifts. Global Gifts more than lives up to its name. The shop has home goods, jewelry and toys from more than 40 countries. The store only carries fair-trade goods, meaning all of the artisans are paid a fair wage for their products. Tigertree, known for its holiday window displays, sells books, puzzles and other fun kid items.

Kingmakers, the game parlor that opened earlier this year, is another unique destination. Visitors pay a $5 fee to play any of the parlor's more than 400 board games. Staff members help visitors select a game and get started playing it. During the afternoon, the facility, which serves snacks and beverages (including wine and beer), is very kid-friendly.

Another great family destination is Goodale Park, home to playground equipment and the famous elephants fountain. The fountain pays tribute to the Sells brothers, Columbus residents who started a traveling circus in the late 1800s. The brothers and many of the circus acts used to winter in Columbus.

Eating is another important pastime in the Short North. For healthy treats with an emphasis on organic ingredients and American food, try the Northstar Café. For comfort food with a twist, head to Melt Bar& Grilled, which specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with everything from chorizo to berry preserves. Each member of the family can have the toppings of their choosing at zpizza, which sells pizza by the slice.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams and Le Chocoholique have tempting treats that will expand a kid's palette.

For multiple dining options in one spot, visit the North Market, where you can nibble on flavored popcorn, fresh-baked pretzels, pierogis, spring rolls and cheese. Home to a variety of ethnic eateries, foodie businesses and eclectic shops, the North Market makes a great outing.

"It's a unique place," said Pam Tylka, owner of Pam's Market Popcorn. Kids like to visit her store because of the rainbow-colored popcorn and the disco ball she decorates for various holidays. She loves that the market draws a mix of regulars and visitors.

"I've watched kids grow up since they were babies in the tummies," she said. "We're all family."