Our readers know that there’s plenty to do in Franklin County, but that’s no excuse to ignore our surrounding counties! When Visit Fairfield County contacted me about exploring our neighbor, Fairfield County, I was excited to check it out!
Our overnight trip took us just 45 minutes away to Lancaster, Ohio, and I was blown away with the food and the fun we experienced. With two young children in tow, we enjoyed 2 days of family fun, and wished we could have stayed longer to explore more!
If you don’t have enough time or budget to take a long family vacation, you’ll find plenty to do over a weekend in Lancaster and Fairfield County.
Is a hotel stay not in the budget? It’s close enough to head there in the morning and stay until dark!
Want to get away with friends or a significant other? There are tons of museums, attractions, breweries, wineries, and great restaurants for adults to check out.
This article was originally published in 2018, but has been updated with current information.
Visit Fairfield County
Our first stop on Friday afternoon was to the Fairfield County Visitors & Convention Bureau office (158 W. Wheeling Street, Lancaster).
TIP: When you’re visiting a new town, take the time to make a stop at the local visitors’ or tourism center. They’ll give you tips for things you don’t want to miss on your visit, and will know about any special events going on around town.
These are your experts (and they guided us SO well), so grab some brochures and ask about places to eat or visit!
We headed to The Well for a late lunch, and while we were told it was family-friendly and has amazing food, it was WAY above our expectations.
The Well has a warm, welcoming coffee shop vibe as soon as you walk in the door, and as you head towards the counter, you’ll find an amazing kid-friendly area with a two-story playhouse and plenty of creative-play toys for the kids to enjoy while you have a peaceful meal. (Website)
The Well play area
I was ecstatic to find that the entire menu is gluten-free, as I have an allergy to wheat/gluten products and usually have to settle for just a few safe (often boring) options on a menu. The menu is also vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, but meat and wheat eating diners will love the food too (ask my husband and picky kids).
I had the Thai Yum-Yum Bowl (and could eat it everyday), my husband had the Summer Tuna Pita (which he absolutely loved). My kids actually ate most of their sandwiches, and were coming back to the table for more bites of the leftovers in the middle of their play.
Need something sweet? The Buckeye Bar and Maple-Studded Affogato are perfection. If I see affogato on a menu, I’m ordering it. This was, by far, the best I’ve ever had, with espresso poured over vanilla bean ice cream with maple pecan clusters.
Their hours are limited to Monday-Friday, from 8 am – 3 pm, so you’ll have to plan your trip accordingly to dine there.
Before you leave, don’t forget to head downstairs to the art gallery in the basement, featuring art from The Well’s co-owner, Aaron Leu. His work is also featured throughout the restaurant, and caught my eye before I knew there was a gallery downstairs – it’s stunning.
After we checked into the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Lancaster (details below), we spend the afternoon at a local bounce and trampoline business, which unfortunately has since closed, so I’ve removed the information about our visit there.
We gathered our hungry kids and headed back into downtown Lancaster for the Friday Night Bandstand Summer Concert Series.
Downtown Lancaster is incredibly walkable, AND parking is free on the street and in various lots. We never had trouble finding a parking spot within 2 blocks of our destination, even during the concert in the middle of downtown.
We were excited to watch British Invasion with our Beatles-loving kids, and so was the rest of the town! The area was packed, but we found a spot where our kids danced around and enjoyed their picnic dinner.
We placed to-go order for a gluten free Pig & Fig pizza from Ale House 1890 to take back to the hotel, and watched more of the concert until our exhausted kids asked to go back to the hotel to go to sleep. It had been a long day for a 2 and 4 year old.
While my husband took the kids to get settled in the car, I stopped back into Alehouse 1890 to pick up the pizza.
While I waited at the bar, I could not pass up the Prosseco Pop that I spied on the menu earlier “Lancaster’s own Bee Pop Popsicle served in a chilled glass of Scarpetta Frico Prosecco”. And now I always want a popsicle in my prosecco – and so did everyone else around me at the bar!
A couple of pics of the beautiful downtown as I headed to the car with pizza in hand. (The Pig & Fig pizza is amazing, by the way). Art & Clay on Main is on my list for a trip without toddlers!
Right around now, I started looking at real estate in the area. While I have no plans to move at this moment, this town would be high on my list in Ohio – and we had barely explored the area!
It has such a thriving, but quaint downtown feel, great restaurants, and is totally affordable.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites
Our accommodations were generously provided at Holiday Inn Express & Suites (1861 River Way Drive, Lancaster, Ohio 43130) just 3 miles from downtown Lancaster.
It’s located in the business district, with plenty of restaurants nearby, along with the River Valley Mall, and AHA! A Hands-On Adventure, A Children’s Museum, which one of our main destinations for the trip.
Our king suite room gave us plenty of room to set up a bed for our toddler’s pack-n-play, and a portable bed for our preschooler in the sitting area, which allows us to watch tv in the evening in the bedroom area after their early bedtime. There was a refrigerator (to store our leftovers from The Well and some healthy snacks for the kids), a sink, and a microwave in the kitchenette area.
The hotel has indoor pool, and while our kids love swimming at hotels, we had too many other fun things to experience and skipped the pool.
We enjoyed the generous free breakfast buffet in the morning, which included biscuits and gravy, pancakes, sausage, eggs, yogurt, variety of breads, fruit, juice, and much more – there were even gluten-free bagels! The hot items were continuously refilled, and they will even give you a to-go bag if you don’t have time to sit and eat breakfast.
AHA! A Hands-on Adventure Children’s Museum
After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and headed just around the corner (literally 1 minute away) to AHA! Children’s Museum when it opened at 10 am.
This was our first visit since the new location had opened, so we were excited to check it out (1708 River Valley Circle South, Lancaster). They had so much fun that we’ve been back several times in the last few years.
There’s over 8000 square feet, including 30+ exhibits that will engage your children for hours. Many of the exhibits are from the old location (don’t fix what isn’t broken!), along with a few new features and a brighter and more open space.
The beautiful and huge outdoor The Raymond B. Martens Nature Playscape is an AMAZING learning and nature play environment.
Some features include 0.10 mile paved Trike Track, tunnel and slide hills, climbing structures, water features, rain garden, sand and mud kitchen, replica covered bridge and canal boat (a nod to Lancaster’s history), gardens, and so much more.
The outdoor space is so well-planned and imaginative, and is provided for almost completely through community partners and donations (which shows how amazing this community is!)
I highly recommend arriving at opening on Saturdays as we had the place to ourselves for about 30 minutes, and it didn’t get busy until nearly noon. That said, it’s a large open space, and never felt too busy even at the peak.
They often host groups and field trips on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, but they announce when they expect large groups on the Facebook page so you can plan accordingly if you prefer a less-busy time.
After playing all morning, our kids were hungry (and a little tired), but we had two more stops I couldn’t resist.
We headed to Happy Goat Gluten-free Bakery to pick up an order I’d placed earlier in the week. (608 Forest Rose Ave, Lancaster).
While you don’t have to place advance orders, it’s HIGHLY recommended. They rotate offering cinnamon rolls and goat tarts (think homemade Pop Tarts, but so much better) each Saturday, and if you don’t place an order, you’re likely to miss out.
I bought too many Goat Tarts, Oatmeal Cream Pies, donut, cookies, and cupcakes (they freeze well, and I share), but if you are gluten-free, you know how hard it is to find good gluten-free baked items!
Crazy 4 Popcorn is in the same plaza, and offers over 30 flavors for popcorn lovers.
Our last stop was Alehouse 1890 again for lunch because the menu just looked too good. I had the Ultimate Bleu Burger (no bun) with sweet potato fries. My husband had the Club – he’s a sucker for a Club, and this one ranked high! The kids had pizza and mac & cheese (which my husband declared was really, really good).
Since I wasn’t driving, I decided to try a Strawberry-Jalapeño Margarita. My love for margaritas runs strong, and this was a unique version with a sugar and cracked pepper rim in lieu of salt.
I’m coming back sometime for the Barnyard Burger or Blackened Ahi Tuna (and another margarita).
We hit the road, wishing we’d planned to stay another day so we could explore parks and other fun places. A big thanks to Visit Fairfield County for hosting us, as well as The Well, Holiday Inn Express & Suites, and AHA! Children’s Museum!
We’ve been back!
We had so much fun on our visit the Lancaster and Fairfield County that we’ve visited again and again! Check our our additional stops below.
Mount Pleasant and Rising Park
1200 N High St, Lancaster, OH 43130
We go to Rising Park at least once a year to hike up Mount Pleasant. It’s a short, but steep walk up to the top along a wide dirt path. While it’s only about a quarter mile up, you’ll likely be breathing pretty heavy by the time you get up if you don’t stop to explore on the way.
Once you are at the top, you’re treated to panoramic views of Lancaster, Fairfield County Fairgrounds, and the surrounding area.
Mount Pleasant is a 250 foot high sandstone bluff, once referred to as “Standing Stone” by earlier Native Americans.
While the main lookout area has railings up to discourage people from getting near the edge, it’s basically totally open at the top. Please be cautious and recognize that this may not be a safe place for kids who don’t follow directions. It’s a very wide area though, so as long as they stay away from the edge and don’t climb around, it’s a fun place to visit.
Once our kids were a little older, we were able to climb around and explore other parts of the bluff. You’ll likely see people hanging out in hammocks or set up for a day of relaxation if you wander around on the bluff.
Rising Park offers free parking, as well as a large lake to walk around, a large playground, picnic tables, and plenty of space to spread out and enjoy an afternoon.
Sensory Trail behind Forest Rose School
1592 Granville Pike, Lancaster, Ohio 43130
This is a super fun stop on the way in (or out) of town. Sensory Trail is located behind Forest Rose School and is an extension of the bike trail and part of Fairfield County Parks District.
The trail features large scale musical instruments, nature stations, swing set, and an AMAZING treehouse. All of the features are wheelchair accessible and sensory friendly! There is a tactile display of tree wood and bark, and Braille interpretive signage. It’s a one of a kind sensory trail.
The trail leads to a 2 story treehouse with lots of space to explore. The entire first story is wheelchair-friendly! There’s even a firemen’s pole to slide down from the 2nd story.
Parking is available right by the Sensory Trail start.
This is a fun stop for ice cream AND donuts! See details here. 2237 W Fair Ave Lancaster
Provisions Bakery and Deli
Another dining spot worth a mention, provisions has options for everyone, including deli sandwiches, homemade soups, signature salads, delicious bakery items and coffee. Located in the heart of downtown Lancaster, this is a perfect spot to grab some food whether you are driving through, or spending the day.
Website. 135 W Main St Lancaster
We took our kids to their first drive-in movie at Skyview Drive-in during the summer of 2019. They were young to stay up late, so we left after the first feature. This double feature theatre is one of the only true drive-in theatres in Central Ohio, and is definitely worth a visit!
Read more about the details here.
Other places to visit in Fairfield County
- Wineries and Breweries and the Route 33 Brew Trail
- Hands’ on creativity at Art & Clay on Main, Ohio Glass Museum, and Two Broke Artists studios
- Farm Fun There’s plenty of fresh air and healthy food at these area farms and farmers markets, including fun activities for kids, and more!
- Hocking Hills Adventures offers canoe and kayak trips, family fun center, cabins, and camping
- Buckeye Lake
- Skyview Drive-in: A real (but updated) drive-in theatre (so few remain), with a double feature each weekend
- Rule 3 entertainment center in Pickerington
- Parks & Nature: Mount Pleasant in Rising Park
- Covered Bridges: Fairfield County, Ohio has the most covered bridges in Ohio; most built between 1871-1906. Visit a few, or take the Fairfield County Covered Bridge Tour.
- Throttle, Bottle & Grub Motorcycle Tour features a Buckeye Lake Loop and Hocking Hills Loop to discover some of the best eats and treats in the region
- Museums – 12 museums of a variety of interests – something for everyone!
Events to check out in Fairfield County
- Lancaster Farmers Market: Saturdays, 8 am – noon through October 6
- Friday Night Bandstand Summer Concert Series: through August 18
- Downtown Lancaster Saturday Cinema: free outdoor movies through August 11
- Destination Downtown Lancaster
Close enough for a day trip, but fun enough to spend several days – you’ll find something for everyone in Fairfield County!
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