Ye Olde Mill in Utica is famous for its ice cream. Plus you can learn a little while you’re there, too. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY TIMOTHY E. BLACK

10 ideas for family fun this summer across Central Ohio

CENTRAL OHIO: Discover science, history, animals, nature … plus ice cream close to Columbus.

Family fun in central Ohio comes in all shapes but, ideally, in just one size: big.

Whether you’re a local or visiting from out of town, you and your family will undoubtedly enjoy at least a few of these destinations, with each offering a distinct or unusual way to spend a big day of togetherness in the heart of the Buckeye State.

>> OHIO SUMMER TRAVEL: 50 ideas for family fun this summer

A polar bear cub and her mother in their habitat at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell, Ohio. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium looked to the public for help in naming Anana’s female cub born Nov. 8. Amelia Gray emerged as the winner in the worldwide contest. BROOKE LAVALLEY/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Photo: The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS ZOO AND AQUARIUM

4850 W. Powell Road (Delaware County)

The world-famous zoo houses more than 7,000 animals, including a super-cute polar-bear cub born in November.

Most of the animals are displayed in naturalistic habitats grouped by their native continent in areas such as Asia Quest and Heart of Africa. Alas, there is no Antarctica exhibit, although you can visit South American penguins at the Shores & Aquarium exhibit.

Adjacent to the zoo is Zoombezi Bay, a waterpark with animal-themed rides and attractions.

Admission: free (children younger than 3) to $19.99; parking: $10.

Information: 614-645-3400, columbuszoo.org

>> COOL OFF: 7 waterpark adventures a short drive away

These boys play with a water pump at Slate Run Historical Farm in Canal Winchester. LEAH KLAFCZYNSKI/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Photo: The Columbus Dispatch

SLATE RUN LIVING HISTORICAL FARM

1375 State Route 674 N., Canal Winchester (Pickaway County)

Visiting this Metro Park site is akin to stepping back into 1880s Ohio.

Guests can experience firsthand what life was like on an Ohio farm while costumed staff tend to pigs, geese, turkeys and horses near the big barn. A restored 1856 farmhouse is open for tours. And visitors can even help with chores such as washing clothes by hand or — gulp! — butchering chickens.

Admission and parking: free.

Information: 614-891-0700, metroparks.net

>> MORE: Dayton Summer Bucket List: 50 things to do this summer

This child has a blast visiting a gadgets exhibit at COSI in Columbus. TOM DODGE/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Photo: The Columbus Dispatch

COSI COLUMBUS

333 W. Broad St. (Franklin County)

Acclaimed as one of the best family science centers in the country, COSI in downtown Columbus offers myriad hands-on exhibits and entertaining demonstrations.

Visitors can ride in a space capsule, make robots dance and even watch rats play basketball. COSI also features a giant-screen theater and a planetarium.

Admission: $15 (children ages 2-12) to $20; additional fee for movies and some exhibits; parking: $5.

Information: 614-228-2674, cosi.org

A child plays in the fishing boat at AHA!, A Hands-on Adventure, a children’s museum in Lancaster. ANDREA KJERRUMGAARD/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Photo: The Columbus Dispatch

AHA!

315 S. Broad St., Lancaster (Fairfield County)

The hands-on children’s museum features an array of colorful exhibits that allow kids to climb, play, pretend and learn.

Visitors can make art, “drive” pretend construction equipment, try interesting and unusual musical instruments, and put on shows.

A special “Plop Zone” for children 36 months or younger lets even the newest family members in on the fun.

Admission: free (6 months or younger) or $6; parking: free.

Information: 740-653-1010, aha4kids.org

>> FREE EVENTS: 20 things to do with the kids this summer

Ye Olde Mill in Utica is famous for its ice cream. Plus you can learn a little while you’re there, too. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY TIMOTHY E. BLACK
Photo: The Columbus Dispatch

VELVET ICE CREAM’S YE OLDE MILL

11324 Mount Vernon Road, Utica (Licking County)

Creamy, sweet goodness is excuse enough to visit an ice-cream factory.

But families who stop by the popular attraction can also participate in many free activities, including visiting an ice-cream museum, taking a factory tour, and feeding ducks and fishing in the catch-and-release mill pond.

Admission and parking: free.

Information: 1-800-589-5000, velveticecream.com

>> RELATED: 7 must-see sights in driving distance of Dayton

A child peeks out of the top floor window of the Rock Mill into the gorge below. Built in 1824 the Rock Mill stands six floors high above the mouth of the gorge and was according to local lore was supposed to be both a grist and woolen mill. EAMON QUEENEY/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Photo: The Columbus Dispatch

ROCK MILL PARK

1429 Rock Mill Road N.W., near Lancaster (Fairfield County)

Visitors to the historical park will get a double — and doubly beautiful — dose of history.

Rock Mill, a grist mill built in 1824 on a rocky gorge high above Hocking River Falls, has been completely renovated and fitted with a replica 26-foot water wheel. Nearby sits pretty Rock Mill Covered Bridge, constructed in 1901, about four years before the mill stopped grinding grain.

Admission and parking: free.

Information: 740-681-7249, historicalparks.org/rock-mill-park/

>> RELATED: 12 roadside attractions in Ohio for your next road trip adventure

COLUMBUS METROPOLITAN LIBRARY AND TOPIARY PARK

96 S. Grant Ave. (Franklin County)

Bibliophiles, young and old, will love visiting Columbus’ downtown library, which is marking the one-year anniversary of its massive $35 million remodeling and expansion.

The expansion enlarged the original 1907 Carnegie Library, which still serves as a beautiful entryway to the modern and airy site.

Floor-to-ceiling windows in the new reading room provide a delightful view of the nearby Topiary Park, at 480 E. Town St. — itself a great family destination. The park features a rendition of Georges Seurat’s iconic painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” — with every figure, including the monkey, rendered in sculpted yew plants. The living “painting” is surrounded by a verdant 7-acre park.

Admission: free; parking: free for first half-hour, 50 cents per half-hour thereafter.

Information: 614-645-2275, columbuslibrary.org; 614-645-0197, topiarypark.org

>> RELATED: 11 things to do, eat and see in Columbus

Columbus is well worth a visit. Video by Amelia Robinson

CLEAR CREEK METRO PARK

185 Clear Creek Road, Rockbridge (Fairfield, northern Hocking counties)

Perhaps central Ohio’s most natural and untouched park, it also includes the 4,769-acre Beck Preserve, the state’s largest state nature preserve.

On the 5,300-plus acres of Clear Creek, visitors find vast woodlands dotted with picturesque sandstone cliffs. The park, which is crisscrossed with beautiful ravines and creeks, is home to hundreds of animal and plant species, including Ohio’s last remaining populations of native rhododendron. Families can revel in nature’s beauty.

Admission and parking: free.

Information: 614-891-0700, metroparks.net

Patrons walk through the Olentangy Indian Caverns. ( Columbus Dispatch photo by Jeff Hinckley)
Photo: Jeff Hinckley/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

OLENTANGY INDIAN CAVERNS

1779 Home Road, Delaware (Delaware County)

A short trip underground takes visitors millions of years back in time to when these natural caverns were formed by an underground river. Many eons later, but still hundreds of years ago, Wyandotte Indians are thought to have used the caverns as gathering places.

Present-day visitors can tour three levels of the cave, plus enjoy the “Animal Encounter” petting zoo, play miniature golf and mine for gems in an old-fashioned mining sluice.

Admission: free (children 3 or younger) to $9.95, plus fees for activities; parking: free.

Information: 740-548-7917, olentangyindiancaverns.com

Buck Run Road Bridge in Union County. (Columbus Dispatch file photo)
Photo: festival photos/festival photos

THE BRIDGES OF UNION COUNTY

The county northwest of Columbus has one of the best collections of covered bridges — old and new — in the state, including four historic covered bridges and a historic steel-truss bridge.

Visiting the bridges, most of which are near the Big and Little Darby scenic rivers, can make for one of the most picturesque drives in central Ohio. For lunch, you can take a picnic and visit the nearby Milford Center Prairie, Bigelow Cemetery or Smith Cemetery state nature preserves or stop in one of several restaurants in Marysville or another nearby town.

Information: 937-642-6279, coveredbridgefestival.com

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