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.
Visit Fairfield County
Our first stop on Friday afternoon was to the Fairfield County Visitors & Convention Bureau office (205 W. Main Street, Lancaster). 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. Grab some brochures, or ask about the best place to grab a meal. These are your experts (and they guided us SO well)! Check out the Visit Fairfield County VIP Wristband Program for discounts at businesses throughout the county, including some mentioned below!
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, play kitchen, and plenty of creative-play toys for the kids to enjoy while you have a peaceful meal. (Website)
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 headed to Jolly Hoppers Bounce and Play Center (730 S. Ewing Street ) for some Friday afternoon fun. Admission is just $7 per child with no time limit during open bounce (Wednesday + Thursday: 10am-2pm, Friday: 3pm-7pm, Sunday: 12pm-3pm).
Our kids ran and played the entire time we were there, and it was never too crowded, even with a birthday party arriving. Sometimes the lights were fully on, and other times the lights were dim and the laser lights were on.
There are separate structures and areas that are designated for toddlers and babies.
We appreciated that there was seating in the center of the play areas for parents to keep an eye on their children, plus tables near the front to have a quick snack or drink.
There are other options in the same plaza area for slightly older kids. Jump N Trampolines & Foam Pits is a great option ($7/hour), and includes foam pits, trampolines, dodge ball, and climbing walls. (see website for open jump hours). Tag-M Laser Tag features two bases that each team must conquer to win in a 6000 square foot arena. See hours and pricing on the website.
We gathered our hungry kids and headed back into downtown Lancaster for the Friday Night Bandstand Summer Concert Series. Downtown Lancaster incredibly walk-able 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.
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, as we discussed make-at-home versions.
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. We’d visited the year before at the old location and were so excited to check out the new location (1708 River Valley Circle South, Lancaster. Our son regularly talked about the museum after our first visit, referring to this one as the one with “the balls and tubes” (we visit a lot of children’s museums and play spaces).
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. But there’s so much more to come with the new huge outdoor space that they expect to open this fall!
I had a tour around The Raymond B. Martens Nature Playscape, and its going to be 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. We stopped here last year after our first visit to AHA, and the bakery has also moved to a new location (608 Forest Rose Ave, Lancaster). While you don’t have to place advance orders, 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 or go first thing in the morning, 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 ranks high!), and 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-Jalepeno Margarita. My love for margaritas runs strong, and this was a really good and 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, Jolly Hoppers, Holiday Inn Express & Suites, and AHA! Children’s Museum!
Other places to visit in Fairfield County
- Wineries and Breweries and the Route 33 Brew Trail
- A Taste of Fairfield County for dining out options
- 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
- Lots of upcoming festivals: Lancaster Brewfest (8/18), Millersport Sweet Corn Festival (8/29-9/1), Annual Lithopolis Honeyfest (9/7-9/8), Pickerington Oktoberfest (9/22), Downtown Lancaster Fall Festival (9/23), Frontier Spirit 1799 (9/29-9/30), Firelight Fridays (select Fridays in October), Fairfield County Fair (10/7-10/13), Pickerington Haunted Village (10/30), Lancaster-Fairfield County Holiday Parade (11/17) Fairfield County Festival of Lights (11/22-12/24), Lancaster Winter Carnival and Tree Lighting (12/1), Pickerington Holiday Gathering (12/7), Lancaster Camp Ground 17th Annual Christmas Walk (12/8), Annual Holiday Cookie Walk (12/8), and many more through the year. There’s always something going on!
Close enough for a day trip, but fun enough to spend several days – you’ll find something for everyone in Fairfield County!