Every year, we publish a Summer Bucket List full of free and cheap fun for kids and families such as festivals, outdoor concerts and movies, community events and more. This year is different. Things are reopening, but many public events are still cancelled, or will be modified.
In addition, others will choose to, or need to, stay away from crowds due to compromised immune systems or other risk factors. But Summer must go on, so we’ve put together a safe 2020 Summer Bucket List for families so that you can still have fun and be safe.
From festivals and community events, movies and concerts, educational and cultural fun, to nature-focused or active fun ideas, cheap eats, and attractions in Columbus – you can fill your summer days with fun. If you want to get away for a few hours or a few days, we have some out-of-town ideas that you’ll want to check out!
Scroll to the bottom to check out all of the Summer Family Fun coming up for the next 30 days.
Summer Bucket List: Movies and Music in Columbus
Pack a picnic and enjoy free outdoor movies under the stars at multiple locations around the Columbus this summer. There are also drive-in theatres – both permanent or temporary, all over Ohio that you can visit too!
Family Nights at Zoombezi Bay are included with admission on select Fridays, and the park stays open until 11 p.m. and features after-hours water fun, animal ambassadors, music, and a dive-in movie at dusk at the wave pool.
Historian in Training at Ohio History Center is a monthly series that gives kids ages 3-6 a chance to start building their historical thinking skills through hands-on engagement and fun activities at home! Pre-registration is required for Historian-in-Training. Cost is just $5/child, and the kits are sent to your home until the museum reopens to in-person sessions.
Summer Bucket List: Nature and Active Fun in Columbus
Stay cool at Splash Pads in Columbus. We are adding reopening details for these are they are provided. Most are still closed, but there is hope that more will reopen in July!
There aren’t many outdoor pools open around Columbus, but there are some. Capacity is limited, so you have to pre-register for most pools. See the list of outdoor pools open in Central Ohio.
Visit Dublin, grab a “Picnic Pack”, and head to one of the 60 (yes – 60!) parks and green spaces in Dublin to enjoy your picnic! Twenty-five Dublin restaurants have suggested their best picnic-friendly food for you to enjoy outdoors. Order your meal to-go and pick a dining areas in downtown Dublin or set up in a scenic picnic at a Dublin-area park. Don’t want an entire meal? You can grab drinks, baked goods, or whatever sounds good. Check out the Picnic Pack menu suggestions, plus downtown dining areas and amazing parks.
- Make sure you scroll to the bottom at the link to enter the Picnic Pack Giveaway! Just sign up for the Dublin E-travel Club and enter to win one of several gift cards to local restaurants or the Grand Prize, a locally sourced picnic basket including tons of great goodies! Each week until mid-July, they will give away two $25 gift cards to favorite local restaurants. A grand prize winner will be chosen on July 14, to take home a locally sourced picnic basket with a cash value of more than $100.
Go for a hike at Columbus Metro Parks. or Preservation Parks in Delaware County. Enjoy your favorite park or check out a new one. Many have playgrounds or play areas, and they may not be as busy regular playgrounds.
Explore the Magical Fairy Trail at Infirmary Park in Granville! Take the kids on an adventure through the woods and keep an eye out for fairies as you find all 30 little fairy homes, schools, and businesses.
Pick berries and other fruit at u-pick farms near Columbus. It’s such a fun family activity with lots of photo ops, and you get to bring home the delicious berries! In addition to berries, peaches and apples should be ready for u-pick starting in late July at farms across Central Ohio.
Head to one of these Accessible Playgrounds in Columbus. These playgrounds are so much fun and are perfect for all ages and all abilities!
Visit Sunrise Sanctuary in Marysville on Open Barn Days to meet and learn about the resident rescue animals who were abandoned, abused, or neglected. Admission prices are: Adult (18+) Admission $10, Youth (4-17) Admission $5, and Children 3 and under are free. All funds raised go directly toward caring for the approximately 230 animals that call Sunrise home. Event may sell out due to capacity limitations, so purchase tickets in advance! Upcoming dates: August 29, September 19, October 3 and 24.
Check out our list of over 50 Indoor Play Places that are perfect for too hot or rainy days when you don’t want to be stuck inside with the kids. They are great for playdates too! Note: Some of these have not yet reopened, and all will have restrictions and changes. We will update the list as we get details. Always check links to see status of facility.
Go Bowling in Columbus!
- Kids Bowl Free: Enjoy 2 games of free bowling every day this summer at select bowling alleys with Kids Bowl Free! Add adults to the pass for one low price.
- AMF Sawmill and AMF Stardust: Purchase an AMF Summer bowling pass which includes 3 games per day, plus rental shoes all summer.
- Star Lanes Polaris: Stop in for the Summer Beat the Heat Bowling special on weekdays, Manic Monday, or Kids Eat Free on Wednesdays.
Roller skating in Columbus. Whether your kids are new to roller skating or experienced, it will make for a fun and tiring activity. There are 3 roller skating rinks in the Columbus area, and all are offering fun activities and skating parties over summer break. Sessions are 2-3 hours long, and some are discounted admission or included meals. Most of the websites offer additional coupons, so be sure to look for those
- Skate America in Grove City: Great pricing and plenty of discounts
- Skate Zone 71 near Morse Rd: Tons of skate parties with character visits. Little kids skate is on Saturday mornings. There are also discounted days, young teen nights, and adult nights, and more
- United Skates of America on Refugee Rd: Lots of family skate, character skate, and discount days.
Indoor Ice Skating. It’s not just a wintertime activity! Click on the links to find the most current public skate times.
- Chiller Ice Rinks in Easton, Lewis Center, Dublin and Downtown: Check public skate times and pricing for each location.
- The Ohio State University Ice Rink, 390 Woody Hayes Drive, Columbus. Phone: (614)292-4154
Public admission is $6, skate rental is $3. Closed during Summer 2020
- Lou & Gibb Reese Ice Arena, 936 Sharon Valley Rd, Newark. Phone: (740) 349-6784
Admission $3-$6, skate rental is $3. Closed until August tba.
Summer Bucket List: Educational, Cultural, and Artistic Fun in Columbus
KidX Summer Series at Polaris Fashion Place: Every Friday through August 14, kids can enjoy FREE activities that inspire them to explore their world with Polaris Fashion place and Highlights@Home. Kids will enjoy themed crafts, activities, music, characters, treats and more. Until the events can safely be held in person, they will have a drive-thru format! It’s all of the fun without needing to get out of the car!
Cookies for A’s at Cheryl’s Cookies. Take your kids to Cheryl’s Cookies with their report cards to score some cookies for earning A’s! Note: I know certain schools do not assign letter grades. Please contact Cheryl’s directly to ask how they accommodate those.
Over 15 Free Summer Reading Programs. There are so any ways to get rewarded for reading with Summer Reading programs. There are options for all ages!
Check out some stars at the best Planetariums and Astronomy Parks around Columbus.
Summer Bucket List: Must-visit Attractions in Columbus
Discounted and Free Museum Days in Columbus. Exploring museums is the perfect blend of entertainment and education, and a great way to spend an hour – or all day! Museum admission can be expensive, but some of the best museums in Columbus offer discounted or free museum days and special events, plus there are several great museums that are free all of the time! Most museums are beginning to reopen, but will require timed tickets.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is a summertime staple. The Zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., and all Zoo visits (including for Members) will require a dated, timed ticket. Note: members can visit after 3 pm without a reservation or timed ticket. Crowds are lower in late afternoon, so it’s a great time to visit for smaller crowds. Some exhibits may be modified or closed, but the majority are open.
Zoombezi Bay is a little pricey for families without a membership, but it may be a good option for a staycation if your vacation was cancelled. Due to capacity limitations, Zoombezi Bay visits require a dated, timed ticket, including all Season Pass Holders and Gold Members. They offer discounted admission for reservations after 4 pm when the waterpark is less busy. You can also go for Family Nights on Fridays throughout the summer and stay to play and enjoy a movie in the wave pool until 11 pm.
Free Sunday admission at Columbus Museum of Art, with lots of fun for kids to enjoy in the Wonder Room other creative spots. They have reopened, but some exhibits may be closed.
Central Ohio Fire Museum & Learning Center, 260 N. Fourth St., Columbus
The Fire Museum does have an admission fee, but at just Adults $8, Seniors $7, and Children $6, we thought it still deserved a mention because it was fun, educational, and historic. The restored 1908 Station #16 is full of fire department history, including hand-drawn, horse-drawn & early motorized fire apparatus as well as other exciting displays. Kids will love visiting the play area, where they can dress up like firefighters, slide down a fire pole, and ride in a real firetruck cab complete with bells and sirens. The main goal of the museum and the educators is to teach people what to do in the event of a house fire, so you’ll get plenty of important tips and info. Open Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, with special hours for at risk visitors are Tuesday and Wednesday 10am-11:30am.
Franklin Park Conservatory: The conservatory has reopened, and there’s so much to explore! There are multiple discounts available to make admission more affordable, including free admission for Franklin County residents on the first Sunday of each month for Community Days. Kids will LOVE the huge Scott’s Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden, so plan to spend a few hours there.
Visit the Topiary Park and check out all of the amazing living topiary sculptures. It’s a is a living recreation of Georges Seurat’s famous post-Impressionist painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of LaGrande Jatte. The Topiary Garden Park is open daily from dawn until dusk, and admission is free to all visitors. Check out these other amazing public gardens around Columbus.
If it’s rainy or too hot, these 50+ indoor play area options will help get the wiggles out. Note: Make sure you verify reopening status and requirements before you go.
Take a train ride or several at The Ohio Railway Museum on Sundays. The Ohio Railway Museum reopens on July 5 with plenty of space, and safety precautions in place!
Olentangy Indian Caverns near Delaware is awesome, even if you don’t plan to tour the caverns. There are outdoor play structures and lawn games, and gem mining. The highlight for my kids is the huge animal encounters area (just $4 per person). They loved feeding the friendly animals and frolicking with them in the “petting zoo”.
The Schwanekamp Farm: Visit the farm on Sundays from 1 pm – 4 pm to play in the yard with the animals, disc golf, worm hunting, tractor rides, and creeking for frogs. Bring treats to feed the animals (goats, pigs, chickens, and more) such as fruits & vegetables,, animal crackers, cheez-its, and cereal. Nothing moldy or spoiled. Wear closed-toed shoes and clothing you don’t mind to get a little dirty. Admission is free; donations are accepted.
Address: 7822 Big Walnut Rd. Westerville, OH 43082. Parking is available in front of the barn with overflow along Big Walnut Rd. to the east.
Summer Bucket List: Community events in Columbus
Search for treasures at garage sales in Columbus. Remind kids to keep appropriate distance from other and to not touch things unless you plan to purchase them. Bring hand sanitizer!
The Irish Fairy Doors of Dublin Trail: Pick up your Trail Guide at the Irish Fairy Garden in the Dublin Visitor & Information Center (9 South High Street) and follow the path on your trail guide through Historic Dublin to different businesses to find tiny magical fairy doors. Find the name of each resident fairy, fill in your passport and return your completed passport to the Visitor’s Center for a FREE Fairy Doors of Dublin t-shirt. Note: Call the visitors center (614-792-7666) to see whether you can pick up a trail guide. They do have a fairy door contest open until the program resumes.
Explore different areas of the city with Monthly Neighborhood Hops and Walks throughout Central Ohio. There’s fun for all ages at these events, and it’s a great way to check out the city. Note: some of these may not be held in early summer to discourage socializing; check links.
- Worthington First Wednesdays – 1st Wednesday
- Franklinton Fridays– 2nd Fridays
- North Market Night Market – 3rd Fridays (June-Oct)
- Mount Carmel St. Ann’s 4th Fridays in Uptown Westerville – 4th Fridays
- Short North Gallery Hop – 1st Saturdays
- Moonlight Market on Gay Street – 2nd Saturdays
- The Grandview Hop – last Saturday (June-Sept)
- Sunday Sunlight Market on Gay Street – select Sundays
- 4th Fridays in Uptown Westerville
Cheap Eats in Columbus
Find other dining freebies and deals in Columbus here.
Kids Eat Free each day of the week at various restaurants (verify details before you go, as promotions can change). Some deals may not be honored as restaurants are dealing with the challenges of extended closures; please give them grace if they are not honoring the kids eat free details. Before you go, please verify with the restaurant if the deal is important to you.
If kids (or you!) have a summer birthday, there are tons of birthday freebies to redeem. You could make a whole day of it!
Have a picnic – seriously, kids love picnics! Bring a blanket, pack some special treats, and head to a park – or even your backyard!
Take a little drive to these fun places
Fun and Tasty Adventure Trails in Ohio. These tasty and fun trails will take you on an adventure in Ohio. You’ll find trails focused on faires, doughnuts, tacos, buckeye candy, and covered bridges (as well as several grown-up options). Complete them in a day, or spend the whole summer working through it. Several offer prizes for completing the trail, but the reward is the time spent along the way.
There are several fee-free days at National Parks through the year.
Road trip to Cincinnati and find 20+ things to do with kids
Head North of Columbus to Comfort Inn Splash Harbor Hotel with indoor waterpark, plus tons of fun activities in the area, like Buckeye Children’s Museum, Richland Carousel Park, U-pick farms, Buckeye Express Diner, and tons more (check out our post)
Tour the Butler County Donut Trail at your leisure and earn a t-shirt if you complete all of the stops
Dawes Arboretum in Newark features miles of beautiful landscaping and trails, plus an indoor Nature Center that kids will love. Note: they now charge admission for non-members, but there are a variety of free days, discounts, and passes available at the library.
The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art & Technology in Newark is like a mini-COSI for kids of all ages. The new SciDome Planetarium is opening in June, which will give you even more to do! Bring a picnic to eat in the courtyard, or grab a lunch from Grill Works Deli, located at the back of the courtyard. Reopening date tba.
Kids ages 3-5 qualify for a Free Pre-K Pass at Cedar Point. The Free Pre-K pass is good for unlimited visits through October 26, 2020 at Cedar Point, and September 1, 2020 at Cedar Point Shores. See details about the Cedar Point reopening plan.
A-ha Children’s Museum in Lancaster is a fantastic play museum that encourages creative play for kids 1-8. The outdoor area is amazing, so you can plan to spend a few hours there. Note: the museum is opening in phases, and will initially only be open for members to visit the outdoor playscape. Check the link or visit the Facebook page for future updates.
Little Buckeye Children’s Museum in Mansfield: Huge creative play museum with exhibits in the arts, sciences, transportation, and imagination play for ages 2-12. See website for hours. Admission is $8 for 2 and up. Reopening details have not been announced.
Mighty Children’s Museum in Chillicothe: Creative development exhibits and stations while allowing for self-directed learning for building creativity, divergent thinking, problem solving, and the ability to innovate. Open Wednesday – Sundays; admission is $6. Exhibits are ideal for ages 8 and under. Stayed tuned for reopening plans.
Hike at Hocking Hills: So much to explore, with trails, waterfalls, caves, and more. Book a cabin or take a day trip!
Farm at Walnut Creek: Check out the working farm, feed exotic animals, and enjoy family time in a beautiful setting. For the time being, you’ll drive thru the farm to visit with and feed the animals.
Other resources that’ll help entertain the kids
Want more? Sign up of daily email updates of upcoming events (one or less per day), and/or like our Facebook page to see updates there (just know that Facebook doesn’t make every post visible to each follower).
Check out the list of Free Family-friendly Summer Fun put together by Eat Play Cbus for other great ideas!