Once school is out, kids start to complain of boredom pretty quickly. There’s so much free and cheap fun for kids around Columbus in the summertime, and we’ve gathered a huge list for you to explore! Whether you want to enjoy the sun or avoid it, there are plenty of indoor and outdoor options to keep busy on the cheap.
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.
Festivals and Community Events in Columbus
Check out this list of over 325 festivals around Columbus this year. The list is constantly being updated as new festivals are added.
Each Friday brings free activities and fun at Commons for Kids at Columbus Commons from June 7 – August 9 (except 7/5). Games, inflatables, interactive fun, carousel rides, and more! If the temps are over 80, the water slides will be available, so bring towels and a swimsuits!
Explore over 20 farmers markets around Columbus – every day of the week! Kids enjoy helping to pick out produce and baked goods, taste the samples and enjoy the entertainment.
20+ Touch-a-Truck events around Columbus. Kids LOVE these events featuring safety vehicles and other fun activities. They can climb on firetrucks and in police cruisers, and meet the everyday heroes in our communities!
Search for treasures at garage sales in Columbus
4th of July Parades and Celebrations around Central Ohio (to be updated in June as details are released)
Join the fun at Polaris KidX Kid’s Club Summer Series on Fridays from June 21-August 9. The group will meet in the Lifestyle Center near The Cheesecake Factory, with a rain location in the Children’s Play Area by Sears. There will be music, crafts, entertainment, giveaways, characters, and more each week.
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.
Short North Arts District Art Trail: Enjoying arts and culture in the Short North Arts District is easy and rewarding with the Short North Arts District Art Trail. Navigate the trail and gain access to a series of exciting offers and deals from businesses in the Short North area! From iconic permanent murals to colorful Short North Arches and the Six in the Short North temporary mural series, the streets in the District are filled with enlightening and oft-unexpected works of art. Pricing: Free; access the trail app at arttrail.shortnorth.org.
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.
- 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
Movies and Music in Columbus
Pack a picnic and enjoy free movies under the stars at over 15 locations around the Columbus this summer (a few are listed below)
Catch a free or cheap family friendly movies at over 8 theaters around Columbus when it’s too hot or too rainy, or you just need to get out of the house. There are options for EVERY day of the week, all summer!
Enjoy family friendly outdoor concerts around the city at over 22 locations nearly every night of the week.
Hoot Family Film Series is the last Saturday of each month at Gateway Film Center. We LOVE this event! Watch cartoon shorts and join the dance party with The Shazzbots – a fun intergalactic band that kids will love.
Enjoy concerts for kids with Popcorn Pops concerts with The Columbus Symphony at Columbus Commons. Tickets are $10-$12 and include free popcorn and lots of fun activities before the concert like inflatables, obstacle courses, carousel rides, and more. Bring a picnic or snacks! Stick around for a movie under the stars after the concert!
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! Pre-registration is required for Historian-in-Training. Cost is just $5/child, adults are free.
There are 3 FREE Lolli-Pops! Summer Children’s Concerts in Powell this summer
Enjoy PBJ and Jazz free kids concerts at Topiary Park in June, July, August, and September. Kids are encouraged to dance around and have fun! Bring a picnic and enjoy the beautiful Topiary Park.
Need some ice cream? Graeters on Bethel Rd. Scoops and Shoots Play Area is a free play area with slides and structures to climb in and around. No purchase necessary, but it’s ice cream, so just plan to get some while you’re there. Otherwise, the play area is completely free! Geared for ages 9 and under.
Nature and Active Fun in Columbus
There are so many organized hikes and activities at Columbus Metro Parks for all ages. Enjoy your favorite park or check out a new one.
Enjoy 2 games of Free Bowling every day this summer at select bowling alleys!
Bring your teens with you to free fitness activities around Columbus.
Free summer workouts for teens with the Planet Fitness Teen Summer Challenge. Teens ages 15 – 18 to work out for FREE in all of its 1,700+ locations nationwide from May 15 – September 1, 2019.
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!
Go swimming at a community pool
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!
Check out the best playgrounds around the city (via Columbus Parent)
Free Airplane Rides for kids with Young Eagles. Volunteer pilots give kids age 8-17 years old free airplane rides. The flight lasts about 15 or 20 minutes long, and the pilot also involves the kid in the pre-flight inspection, and teaches him or her about the instrument panel, aeronautical chart and parts of the plane.
Summer Camps at Columbus Metro Parks
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.
- Lou & Gibb Reese Ice Arena, 936 Sharon Valley Rd, Newark. Phone: (740) 349-6784
Admission $3-$6, skate rental is $3.
Educational, Cultural, and Artistic Fun in Columbus
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 accomodate those.
Story times in Columbus. Not only are there TONS of story times around Columbus, but libraries typically hold events and activities for all ages through the summer. Check out the summer programming for your local library – there are tons of special events going on!
Over 15 Free Summer Reading Programs. There are so any ways to get rewarded for reading with Summer Reading programs, and there are options for all ages!
Kids will love building something at the Home Depot Kids Workshop on the first Saturday of the month
OSU Urban Arts Space Art Exploration classes for kids are held on the 2nd Saturday of each month
Cheap Kids Crafts at Michaels each Saturday morning, plus Camp Creativity activities through the week
Check out some stars at the best Planetariums and Astronomy Parks around Columbus.
Kids won’t know they are learning during the fun Free YouthSpark programs at Microsoft stores
Learn how to get the most out of your Mac, iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, or iPod at Free Apple Workshops at the Apple Stores. They have courses available for all ages.
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!
Factory tour at Anthony Thomas Chocolates: The tour lasts about an hour, where you’ll experience candy making from start to finish from the glass-enclosed suspended “Cat-Walk”. You’ll see 9 lines producing 30,000 pounds of chocolates per shift. Children under 2 are free, ages 3 to 18 are $1 per person, and ages 19 and over are $2 per person. Admission fee may be used towards a candy purchase when the tour ends in the 2,500 square-foot retail shoppe. No appointments needed for tour hours; September-May, Tues & Thurs, 9am to 3pm. June-August, Tues, Weds & Thurs, 9am to 3pm
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has plenty of indoor areas to explore when the sun is too hot or its raining. Don’t forget if you take the COTA Zoo Bus, you’ll enjoy a huge discount on admission for the Zoo, and there are other discounts available as well
Zoombezi Bay is a little pricey for families, but if you take the COTA Zoo Bus, you’ll get $10 off admission to Zoombezi Bay
Free Sunday admission at Columbus Museum of Art, with lots of fun for kids to enjoy in the Wonder Room and Big Idea Gallery.
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.
Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State has exhibits and programming that comic book and cartoon fans will love
Wexner Center for the Arts offers FREE admission for exhibitions for everyone on Thursdays from 4 -8 p.m., as well as on the first Sunday of every month.
Franklin Park Conservatory: Watch daily butterfly releases at the Blooms and Butterflies exhibit through mid-September. There are multiple discounts available to make admission more affordable. Kids will LOVE the huge Children’s Garden, so plan to spend a few hours there.
Visit the Topiary Park and check out all of the amazing sculptures. The Main Branch of Columbus Main Library is right beside the park, so explore the beautiful building while you’re there, and grab a drink or snack from the cafe.
Bank of America customers get a Free Museum Pass on the first weekend of each month.
Columbus Clippers have awesome promotions and a family-friendly atmosphere, and admission is cheap!
Cheer on our local MLS soccer team at the Columbus Crew SC games.
Watch Ohio Roller Derby in fast-action, family-friendly sporting event
If it’s rainy or too hot, these 50+ indoor play area options will help get the wiggles out
Take a train ride or several at The Ohio Railway Museum on Sundays
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, gem mining, and 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”.
Cheap Eats in Columbus
Treat yourself and your kids with half price shakes after 8 at Sonic.
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)
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!
Offers for Military Families
Free theme park admission for military families at select SeaWorld parks, as well as others.
Military families get free annual pass to national parks. Active-duty military personnel and their dependents can receive an America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass for FREE (an $80 value). The pass grants them access to more than 2,000 national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands.
Free admission to Columbus Zoo: Military Family Free Dayz. From Saturday, June 29 – Sunday, July 7, 2019, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium are honoring active or retired military personnel and their immediate family with free admission for Military Family Free Dayz to thank them for the sacrifices the families have made for country.
Military families get free museum admission across U.S. at Blue Star Museums. Over 2,000 museums across America are offering free admission for the nation’s active duty service members, including National Guard and Reserve, and their families, including many Ohio options.
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, ice cream, 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.
Kids ages 3-5 qualify for a Free Pre-K Pass at Cedar Point. The pass is good for unlimited visits starting August 16, 2018 through October 27, 2019 at Cedar Point and September 2, 2019 at Cedar Point Shores.
A-ha Children’s Museum in Lancaster is a fantastic play museum that encourages creative play for kids 1-8. They’ve moved to a new location, so there’s even more space and fun for the same price, plus there’s often a Groupon discount available. The new outdoor area is amazing, so you can plan to spend a few hours there.
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.
SPI Sciece Play Initiative in Mount Vernon: Non-profit, local play space with a focus on science and technology, located in the Kenyon College Wright Center (400 S. Main Street, Mount Vernon, Ohio). There are tons of fun activities, including climbing structures, toddler-only area, dress up, art, science activities, interactive sandbox, and more. My kids played for hours and asked to go back soon. Open every day except Wednesday. Admission is $3; memberships (monthly and annualy) and discounts available.
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.
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.
Other resources that’ll help entertain the kids
Find 13 weekends of Summer fun in Columbus
Eight Cheap Kids’ Birthday Parties in Columbus for Small Groups
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Summer Break Fun for the next 30 days!
Thursday, June 27, 2019
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