Family Fun (That’s Actually Fun for the Entire Family)
Spend enough time with your kids in Ohio’s indoor playgrounds, kiddie museums and the like and parents are likely to feel a tad stifled of variety and maturity. Where are the parent-friendly children activities where adults can be as enthusiastic about the visit as their offspring? Where are those places that are fun for both young and young-at-heart? These family-appropriate travel sites might be just what the doctor ordered.
Take a Walk (and Ride) on the Wild Side
One of the largest wildlife conservation centers in the world is in Ohio, believe it or not. And it’s a crowd-pleaser for both kids and adults. The Wilds (14000 International Rd., Cumberland, 740-638-5030) is a nearly 10,000-acre open-range preserve for rare and endangered species. Bactrian camels, oryx, rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes and dozens of other species reside in these Wilds, on land donated by American Electric Power and operated by the Columbus Zoo.
Offering everything from guided tour experiences and conservation science education programs to educational outreach and one-of-a-kind vistas, The Wilds will spare the family checkbook an expensive trip to the Dark Continent. Summer camps and off-season activities including hikes, mountain biking, migratory bird watching and off-road rides through the refuge round out a bountiful schedule. Daily ops run from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with special programs posted on their website. Take note: some tours are very bumpy excursions and management requires children be at least four years old to partake in them.
Painting an Ultra-Modern Future
Founded nearly 70 years ago as the Modern Art Society, the Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati (44 E. 6th St., 513-345-8400) is another first for Ohio: The first institution in the state — and one of the first in the country — dedicated solely to the display of current art. In May 2003, CAC relocated to the gorgeous Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, the first American design for famed post-mod architect Zaha Hadid. Throughout the institution’s 70-year history, art aficionados have enjoyed a menagerie of artists with strong brand awareness across the globe, including Picasso, Mapplethorpe, Laurie Anderson, Jasper Johns, I.M. Pei and Andy Warhol.
CAC’s focus has always been on art in development (read: “art of the last five minutes”) with special focus on visual art, architecture and multimedia yielding a dozen exhibitions and two to three times as many performances per year. It’s eclectic and a bit cluttered, ideal for attention-seeking kids and parents. Tops for tots is the hands-on Un-Museum on the top floor. The “Art Play” events, gallery talks and weekend family programs featuring hands-on art projects are specifically geared to kids ages 5 and up.
From Earth to Space… and Back
Prehistoric fossils, giant panoramas with life-sized animal taxidermy and a giant pendulum are just the tip of the collection at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (1 Wade Oval Dr., 216-231-4600). The 550-acre treasure trove is an educator’s dream, filled with all matter of interest from the fields of cultural anthropology, botany, astronomy and more. And then there’s “Jane,” the life-sized skeletal cast of a juvenile tyrannosaur, which greets visitors at the door. The 90-year-old museum was established for research and education purposes and does both eloquently, with amazing educational outreach for local regional students.
Current exhibitions include meditations on physical activity such as medicine (“Let’s Get Active”) and a comprehensive look at “Extreme Mammals.” Time your visit to include a show at the museum’s state-of-the-art Shafran Planetarium and you’re likely to learn as much as your kids about what’s beyond terra firma. To locals, CMNH is the cornerstone in a suite of family-geared treasures in the University Circle neighborhood, including the Cleveland Botanical Garden, Children’s Museum of Cleveland, Severance Hall and Cleveland Museum of Art (translation: you can easily make a long, enjoyable weekend of your visit).
Examining Science and Industry
If your child is a budding “Mr. or Ms. Wizard” or “Sid the Science Kid,” Columbus happens to have one of the best resources in the Buckeye State. COSI, a.k.a. the Center of Science and Industry (333 W. Broad St., 614-228-2674) draws young people from all over — just don’t call it a “kiddie museum.” There’s a plethora of amazing scientific discoveries and hands-on exhibits that even the most well-read children and adults will find engaging and fascinating. Discover how gravity and sunlight have an impact on Earth’s oceans, then conduct your very own water experiments at an interactive display. Got high-energy kids? The buoyant Big Science Park outdoor area lets kids stretch it out a bit, using leverage to perform tasks like lifting an automobile.
Soak up a number of traveling exhibits (the recent “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” was nothing short of captivating) as well and the seven-story Extreme Screen movie theater showing plenty of family-friendly entertainment. There’s even a COSI After Dark Happy Hour which draws young (and thirsty) professionals.
Given to Fly
Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (16 S. Williams St., 937-255-7705) is a fantastic stop for a crash course in the history of manned flight. Aviation buffs young and old can learn all there is to know about the two Ohio men who taught the world to fly. Visitors shouldn’t miss the 1905 Wright Flyer III — the world�s first “practical” aircraft which the Wrights built and flew at Huffman.
Other can’t miss stops that touch on the Wright Brothers� “power-driven flight breakthroughs” include the original Wright Cycle Co., the Hoover Block printing office and Huffman Prairie Flying Field at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. With four National Historic Landmarks and a National Register Historic District located within it, Historical Park is a history buff’s dream come true. Children who get their “Dayton Amazing Aviation Places” passport stamped at six locations can snag a free “Wilbear Wright” aviator teddy bear. Hawthorn Hill, the Wrights’ family man sion, is also quite the stop but requires advance, prepaid reservations. Tours are conducted on Wednesdays or Saturdays.
Snake in the Grass
One of the oldest man-made structures in the U.S. can be found near the city of Portsmouth in Southern Ohio. Measuring nearly a quarter-mile long, Serpent Mound State Memorial is considered the longest and best snake effigy mound in the nation. A 35-foot-tall platform reveals a sweeping view of the undulating serpent, the handiwork of the Adena, a Native American culture dating back more than 1,000 years. An onsite museum contains exhibits on the memorial, the Adena, and the surrounding area.