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Travel Ohio | Experience Columbus with The Average Parent

things to do in columbus ohio

I love throwing people for a loop when they ask where we’re going on vacation. When I was in college, everybody was going to the beach for spring break and I went to Poland. For this year’s spring break, we headed to Columbus, Ohio.

I can already imagine your face.

Ohio? Really?

You’re wondering if we have family there. (Nope, we don’t.) We went for fun, education and a bit of relaxation. What? Not everybody has the budget, or time off work, for a weeklong beach trip. And some of us aren’t quite ready to spend a week in a hotel with 2 young (high energy) boys. That’s why a little jaunt like this is perfect.

If you follow me on twitter or facebook, you’ve probably seen some of my pictures and updates. But, let me give you the full rundown of our trip.

Visit Columbus Zoo

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

This is the main attraction and our reason for choosing Columbus. The Columbus Zoo has been ranked among the top zoos in the country and is well known as the home of America’s favorite zookeeper, Jack Hanna. It’s not just about seeing animals though. Anytime we visit a new zoo, I try to scope out extra opportunities to learn – things that are unique to that individual zoo.

Columbus offers many special experiences that are included in admission and some Wild Encounters behind-the-scenes tours that are an additional fee. Examples of the free experiences include a Kangaroo Walkabout, where you get to walk through the kangaroos’ habitat and the reptile keeper’s lab where you can come face to face with some of the zoo’s reptiles and even pet some of them!

Because we were there early in the season, many of the experiences weren’t open yet. However, we were able to enjoy one of the behind the scenes tours that are offered daily. On our tour of the Dr. C. Joseph Cross Animal Health Center, we learned so much about the zoo and how they care for each animal. We learned how they train each animal to comply with exams and how they spot illness between well checks. We were also very lucky to witness a snake surgery and take a look at bird blood through the microscope. These were lucky bonuses that just happened to be going on while we’re there, but you never know what they’ll be working on at any given time. Either way, the tour would have been fabulous without it. I honestly could write an entire post about what we learned on our tour, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll just say that it’s well worth the time and price.

One thing I will say is that the staff is incredibly friendly, outgoing and welcoming of questions. My 7-year-old was in heaven!

Zoo Visit Tips:

  • It takes time to see the more than 10,000 animals, so I recommend planning for at least 2 days to visit the zoo (3, if you’re planning to go to the Zoombezi Bay Water Park.)
  • It’s a good idea to look over the map in advance so you know exactly where you want to go and how to get there.
  • To maximize your visit, I highly recommend checking out one of the behind-the-scenes tours and/or the free Special Experiences. The behind-the-scenes tours are reasonably priced at $20 a person.
  • The zoo allows outside food and drink however, the water park does not (With the exception of special diet items for medical purposes or baby formula)
  • Changing stations are available in most restrooms and nursing mothers can find privacy at the First Aid station.

Visit COSI Columbus


We started our trip with a visit to the Center for Science and Industry, also known as COSI. I was particularly interested in this visit because it seems as though I have two young engineers in the making. We spent 3 hours exploring COSI and I never worried about them getting bored. They got to experience tornado strength wind, climb in a submarine, examine the differences in a growing fetus from month to month, watch rats play basketball and much more.

COSI Visit Tips:

  • COSI provides family restrooms on each floor as well as changing stations in BOTH men’s and women’s restrooms. (Ashton Kutcher would be happy!)
  • There is a calming room on the first floor for children who are overwhelmed and need a quiet place away from the museum.
  • The National Geographic Giant Screen Theater utilizes assisted listening devices for those individuals with minimal loss of hearing.

Dirty Franks in Columbus, Ohio

Other Columbus Points of Interest

Franklin Park Conservatory

I’m bummed we missed the Franklin Park Conservatory because in addition to hosting exotic plans, beautiful gardens and nature inspired art, the conservatory also features a collection of glass works by artist Dale Chihuly that I was particularly interested in. Unfortunately, we had so much fun at COSI that the boys were too worn out for another attraction that day.

Anthony-Thomas Chocolate Factory Tour

This is a great stop for those who love seeing how things are made. Plus the factory tour finishes in their retail shoppe where you can apply the cost of your tour ticket to a candy purchase. I recommend the buckeyes! (Pick up a box for me while you’re there!)

German Village

We missed German Village on this trip, but it’s on my list for next time! Located just south of downtown, this historic district features architecture from the late 1800’s and is listed on National Register of Historic Places. While there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, it only makes sense to head to Schmidt’s Restaurant und Sausage Haus, a nationally registered historic site, serving German cuisine since 1886.

Dirty Franks Hot Dog Palace

I was skeptical but knew it must be good because readers of has named Dirty Franks the city’s best cheap eats five years in a row. These aren’t just franks in a bun either…this is an entirely different experience. I strongly advise looking over the menu before going because there are so many options. Of course, the Ohioana dog comes with corn…a spicy corn relish to be exact. They also offer your standard Chicago, Coney and chili dogs, but my Yinzer friends will be excited to see they have a Lara’s Pittsburgh Princess dog, which Katalina's in Columbus Ohiofeatures coleslaw, French fries and malt vinegar. That’s what I got and I was not disappointed.


This is one of those meals that makes you want to drive the three hours to go back for more! Katalina’s is an eclectic eatery located in an old service station. They pride themselves on using local products as much as possible, from the coffee and tea all the way to the bread and cheese. And while they’re known for their pancake balls, the best way to describe the food would be to say it’s sort of southern with a touch of Latin. For example, I had a pork sandwich that consisted of slow roasted pork, Amish provolone, avocado, roasted red peppers, a fried egg and Sriracha-lime aioli on toasted Old World loaf. It was divine! As an added bonus, the kids can write their names on the table with chalk markers.

Disclaimer: The destinations on this trip were chosen by me with recommendations from a public relations representative for Experience Columbus. Many of the accommodations were provided to my family at no cost for the purpose of sharing our experiences. However, the opinions expressed are completely my own. We absolutely loved our visit and hope to return soon. These are the recommendations I would make to my closest friends and family.

Rebeca is a self-proclaimed information junky who enjoys meeting new people, learning and trying new things, and spreading the word about her experiences. She has a particular interest in the “crunchy” lifestyle, travel and general parenting topics.

1 Comment

  1. Jacqueline Wilson

    April 15, 2015 at 9:39 pm

    I’m really excited about visiting after reading this. Need to schedule some time this summer. Thanks for the great post.

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