Gloomy, gray, ghastly cold. We all know what Indiana winters bring with them, a whole lot of indoor playtime. If your household is like mine, you find yourself loving those early winter weekends when the frigid temps are a novelty. But, by February, we’re just listlessly awaiting spring warmth and the days of running around playgrounds or getting out to play sports. If you are looking for a day trip within one hour of Indy, I cannot say enough about the town of Columbus, Indiana.
At first, to those who haven’t been through the downtown in decades, the idea of much to offer is a shock. Still, with the positive economic impact that Cummins has brought to Columbus, the city has revamped so much, in addition to some cool architecture. You might find yourself thinking, “This can’t be small-town, rural Indiana.” But it is! Here is how our family spends a day in Columbus for less than $125 (excluding gas).
Time your trip, so that you can depart Indy and arrive at KidsCommons Children’s Museum.
This is located in the heart of downtown Columbus (309 Washington St.). Doors open at 10 am on Saturdays, and they do have the day broken into two visiting sessions to help with crowd control. The museum closes in full at 1 pm. The second session is open from 2 pm-5 pm (Sunday hours are ONLY 2 pm-5 pm). This is a true playscape. Apparatuses to climb on, STEM exhibits to explore, and a GIANT toilet slide for your children to have a “flushing” great time.
Cost: $9 for ages 2+ (this includes adults) per person.
KIDS 2 and UNDER are FREE! (We love FREE!)
Also, to note: Street parking in downtown Columbus is also FREE!
Next stop in the day.
If your kiddo is like mine, getting him to leave a fun place is sometimes a bit challenging (time to go, bud!), but that is why we save the FREE indoor playground for our second stop, and it is directly across the street from the museum. No fussing with getting in the car at all, just zip right over there. This newly-renovated playground had some great additions and upgrades amid the pandemic, and your kids will love climbing to the top of the ten-story enclosed playscape! There are some cool tech-based interactive games in this playground area, as well as a space for toddlers to do their thang as well on age-appropriate equipment. This would be a great spot to have lunch if you brought one packed for the whole fam, or you could grab a drive-thru lunch to bring to this space as well. Outside food is VERY allowed and encouraged. (And bringing your lunch would make this day closer to a $40 outing than my original price point above.)
The kids are worn out, some of their wild energy has been tamed, and if you have the privilege of sitting down to lunch, just down the street (again avoiding the car shuffle), is a Luciana’s Mexican Restaurant as well as a Buccetto’s, much like a Puccini’s here in Indy.
Pizza, pasta, salads, and excellent lunch specials. For those wanting a little more local fare (or a local brewery to enjoy), hop in the car and drive the two blocks over to Upland Brewery along the riverfront. It’s sure to take your family’s winter blues away. Truly, lunch as a cost was the lion’s share of my $125-budget-friendly Day Trip. If you’re a family that opts to bring your own food or you prefer the kids to eat on the way home, in the car, your journey’s expense is truly on the cheap end of current options for winter fun!
If lunch is simply too much of an endeavor for your squirmy crew, but everyone still wants a little treat (hey, maybe you just want a sweet to end the day), you must make a pit stop at Zaharako’s (329 Washington St.) just TWO doors down from the museum, on the same side of the street. It’s an old-timey antique-looking ice cream parlor. Treats galore and the feeling that you walked into a time machine. The kids won’t know what to think of it, but their taste buds will be pleased!
The best part of this day is that you can spend a significant amount of time doing everything listed, and you will still make it home by 3 pm or even earlier. Recently, my son and I hit the museum from 10 am to noon, then the indoor playground, and grabbed good ol’ McDonald’s on the way home (it was the day before Thanksgiving, and mama had things to do, y’all), and we were pulling in the driveway by 1:30 pm, having only spent $30 in total for our quality time together. The best part was that afternoon nap my worn-out five-year-old enjoyed as soon as he finished his lunch.