May 2010 issue
Make a splash in the Capital City with these water-centered activities.
While it may not boast a Mighty Ohio or one of the Great Lakes at its borders, Columbus has more than its share of water-based fun. Here, our picks for the best H2O playgrounds in the Capital City.
Hydrophiles of all ages dig the never-ending ways to slip, slide and splash through a day at Zoombezi Bay, the Columbus Zoo’s animal-inspired water park, opening for the season on May 22. The Cyclone sends you plummeting at 20 miles per hour through canary-colored tunnels before cycling you through an enormous funnel-like feature, the largest enclosed reducing-radius tunnel in the world. On the Tahitian Twister, expect stomach drops, vortex loops and a 360-degree turn — all in total darkness — that ends with a splash in a pool down below. When you’re ready for a break, float lazily along the 850 feet of Croctail Creek or take the littlest ones over to Katoomba Lagoon, where the gentle water playground has marine animals to climb on and a shallow pool. And if your fingers start to prune, don’t worry — Zoombezi Bay day admission passes are also valid for entry into the neighboring zoo and aquarium. 800/MONKEYS, zoombezibay.com
Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition
To date, more than 5,500 objects have been recovered from the Titanic’s wreck site 963 miles northeast of New York City. Twenty-three of these historic treasures are making their world debut at COSI’s “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition,” running through September 6, a sequel to the exhibit hosted five years ago. Visitors can expect 100 new artifacts, plus an experience that guides you through the ship’s history, from its construction through current recovery efforts. Costumed interpreters pose as passengers as you explore re-creations of first- and third-class accommodations and a gallery that chronicles the ship’s Ohio connections. Whether you choose to study the artifacts — including the binoculars recovered in 1994, and a wall telephone used to communicate news of the iceberg between the lookout and the ship’s bridge — or test your threshold for touching a freezing surface on the exhibit’s “iceberg,” you’ll leave with a deepened sense of appreciation for the fateful voyage. 888/819-2674, cosi.org
Grange Insurance Audubon Center
Opened in August 2009, the center, located on the Scioto River near downtown Columbus, is an oasis of conservation in a desert of urban industrial wasteland. Programs and events help visitors learn about conservation, biodiversity and important wildlife habitats (thousands of migratory birds use the center’s land as a stopping place on their annual journey), proving how — even at the edge of a major metropolitan area — nature can still be our best teacher. 614/545-5475, grange.audubon.org
The Santa Maria
Tucked along the shore of the Scioto River at Battelle Riverfront Park sits a full-scale replica of the ship Christopher Columbus sailed in his epic 1492 voyage from Spain to the Caribbean. Take a guided walk through this wooden ship, and you’ll take away much more than what a history book can offer. Tours chronicle what life was like for the Santa Maria’s 39 crew members and captain, from preventing rats to keeping track of the ship’s route. You’ll be thankful for your day job. 614/645-8760, santamaria.org
Polar Frontier at the Columbus Zoo
The average adult female polar bear weighs between 330 and 550 pounds. It sounds impressive, but looks even more amazing from the viewing station below the 167,000-gallon still pool at the Columbus Zoo’s new Polar Frontier attraction, opening this month. Meet twin polar bears Aurora and Anana, and look on as they romp through their play yard and swim in the secondary surge pool that simulates the tides of the bear’s Arctic habitat. Polar Frontier includes other cold-climate dwellers, including Brutus and Buckeye — the zoo’s brown bears — as well an interpretive center where visitors can learn more about climate change and its effects on these incredible animals. 800/MONKEYS, columbuszoo.org
Part art exhibit, part musical event, WaterFire Columbus brings the classical elements of fire, water, earth and air together in an outdoor performance you won’t want to miss. Watch the light of bonfire flames burn just above the water’s surface then dance along the Scioto River. May 21 marks the first event on the “burn schedule” — presented in partnership with Riverfest On Tour, a community festival dedicated to celebrating local water resources. Events continue through September, and feature performances from groups including the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, The Ohio State University Alumni Band and Opera Columbus. 614/299-9221, waterfirecolumbus.com
Canoeing and Fishing in the Columbus Metro Parks
Let’s assume you crave getting back to nature, but not the hassle or expense of buying and bringing your own gear. Battelle Darby Creek, the largest of Franklin County’s metro parks, has you covered. On May 22 and 29, head to the park for “Catch the Current,” a free four-hour canoe trip on Big Darby Creek (a designated state and national scenic river). Canoes, equipment and return transportation are all provided, along with the spotted turtles, beaver and herons you’ll likely spot along the way. Paddlers must be 14 or older and riders 8 or older, and advance registration is required.
On the 22nd, the park also hosts “Fishing with a Ranger,” a chance for would-be anglers to get tips from the pros and fish for catfish, bluegill and largemouth bass at Osprey Lake (poles and bait are provided). And if you can’t make it on Saturday, Prairie Oaks metro park, home to another section of Big Darby Creek, is hosting a free two-hour canoe trip on Sunday, May 23. 614/891-0700, metroparks.net
Urban Public Gardens
Just east of downtown, Franklin Park Conservatory’s stunning botanical collections are just part of its draw (and the main reason that it is a favorite among Columbus brides for wedding ceremonies and receptions). The 88-acre park also houses waterfalls and water features and is the only botanical garden in the world to own a signature collection from glass artist Dale Chihuly. This month, visit the park’s special “Blooms & Butterflies” exhibit, a chance to experience hundreds of
butterflies floating freely among the tropical flowers in the park’s Pacific Island Water Garden. Just a 10-minute drive from Franklin Park, Creekside Park in Gahanna offers rentable paddle boats for a peaceful trip on Big Walnut Creek, or you can just stroll along its banks through this beautiful five-acre park. 800/214-7275, fpconservatory.org
The deck overlooking the Hoover Reservoir is reason enough to visit Bel-Lago Waterfront Bistro in Westerville, but lucky for us this is one restaurant with a view that isn’t all show and no substance. A tasty menu of small plates, sandwiches, gourmet pizzas and Italian-inspired dishes, plus a nice beer and wine list, make it a hit with the locals and the tourists.
At the confluence of the Olentangy and Scioto rivers, you’ll find the River Club Restaurant, a beautiful place for a wedding reception, but also one of the best seats in the city for a waterfront view. Enjoy the downtown skyline and a straightforward menu of chicken, pasta, steak and chops. The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. 614/891-0200, bellagobistro.com
; 614/469-0000, riverclubrestaurant.com