4949 Tealtown Road, Milford
For a beautiful place to reconnect with nature, look no further than the Cincinnati Nature Center in Milford. Along with 16 miles of hiking trails through forests and fields, you will encounter various streams and ponds featuring frogs, tadpoles, turtles and fish to feed, and even the occasional (and sometimes bold) goose.
What my children enjoy most, however, is the enclosed, two-acre PlayScape where they are free to explore and engage in imaginative play. Children can wade barefoot through a stream, climb rock bridges and trees, crawl through tunnels, draw in a sandbox, construct forts, balance on logs, or rest in a teepee. (While dogs are encouraged on the trails, they are not permitted inside the PlayScape or Visitor Center. Guardians must remain in the PlayScape area while their children are playing.)
Parents will appreciate the convenience of nearby picnic tables and facilities, including a diaper changing station. Hand sanitizer is available outside the stalls, and compared to the state parks we frequent, they are very clean.
During the summer, Rowe Woods is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sign up for a free, naturalist-led hike to learn about fireflies during their peak breeding season by emailing Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Type FIREFLIES in the subject field, indicating if you prefer a family or adult hike. She will notify you when conditions are perfect.
Also free to members or with paid daily admission ($8 adults, $6 seniors and active military, $3 ages 4 – 12), on Thursday, July 11 at 8 p.m., families can bring a blanket and snacks to enjoy the movie A Bug’s Life on the hill in the PlayScape. Popcorn is provided. If you prefer getting dirty, join naturalist Jon as he searches for earthworms on Monday, July 29 (11 a.m.-noon, PlayScape) to learn how earthworms travel underground, what they eat and what eats them. – Kara Garrod
3400 Vine St.
It isn’t summer in the Queen City without a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. The Zoo has undergone a massive transformation in the past several years; and, in my opinion, the best new features of the Zoo are its interactive exhibits. From giraffe feedings, to cougar encounters, to petting snakes and other reptiles, there are lots of ways kids (and adults!) can have a hands-on Zoo experience.
If you’re taking small children to the Zoo, definitely consider using a stroller and/or carrier. The Zoo is extremely hilly, and little legs will tire easily during your trip. If at all possible, I recommend using a baby carrier, as it’s easier to navigate through the experiences on foot (there are handicap entrances/exits for the exhibits, but those can get backed up on busy days).
The lot closest to the Zoo (accessible from Vine Street) will run you $8 per visit. Carpooling with a friend is a good option. The day I visited was a gorgeous, mild, summer day, and this lot was full. I ended up parking in the Dury Avenue lot, which required a bit of a hike to get to the entrance.
Hands down, the best deal at the Zoo is the Gold membership, which offers free parking, unlimited train rides, and one free guest each visit. If you’re on the fence about becoming a member, purchase single-day passes ($15 ages 13 – 61, $10 ages 2 – 12 and 62+), the cost of which is deducted from a membership if you decide you’d like to join. – Sarah McCosham
44 East 6th St.
Everything about Cincinnati’s Contemporary Art Center screams “hip!” This award-winning architectural gem, set in the buzzing heart of downtown, sets the scene for the fun adventure awaiting you and your family once inside.
Head over to the giant elevator, which can accommodate a fleet of strollers, and go to floor six. There you will find the UnMuseum, designed to delight both children and adults. Interactive exhibits invite visitors to get involved, participate, and become part of the art process itself.
There is an art supply station where you can make your own masterpiece, tables and chairs bolted to a slanted floor, a cool playhouse, what appears to be a camper that acts as a teeter-totter, and more.
While the UnMuseum is specifically geared towards children, the majority of the center is pretty kid-awesome, too! Lots of the exhibits are participatory and interactive. One allows you to make paper airplanes and origami, one lets you write on the walls, one has brightly colored movie set pieces where you are encouraged to act out whatever stories your imaginations can conjure.
The CAC is free on Mondays after 5 p.m. and that includes the UnMuseum, thanks to Macy’s (daily admission is $7.50 adults, $5.50 educators, seniors and students, free ages younger than 5). Parking is either metered or in one of the downtown parking garages.
Check out their website for new exhibits and upcoming family programs. You can also check with the visitors’ desk for additional information (such as which exhibits may not be so kid-friendly) and new goings-on. – Becca Sontag
1 Aquarium Way, Newport on the Levee
For some indoor aquatic exploration, visit Newport Aquarium. Children are drawn to large, colorful tanks at a perfect kid-sized height, featuring thousands of animals from local fish to exotic sharks. Parents appreciate the clean facilities, well-marked restrooms spaced throughout the exhibit, and a comfortable place to rest while the kiddos are captivated by the seemingly choreographed movements of jellyfish and moon jellies before entering the Surrounded by Sharks Tunnel.
Knowledgeable volunteers greet your family by encouraging you to feel the spiky shell of a spider crab, or explaining why the dwarf crocodile’s eyes are so large (because they hunt at night). Appropriate signage also addresses visitors’ questions (i.e. Why is the penguin exhibit dark after 5 p.m.? Answer: To help the penguins successfully breed, caretakers mimic their natural habitat in the southern hemisphere, where current winter days have fewer hours of daylight.) On a recent visit, we found most of the interactive exhibits working, and our kids loved the Frog Bog play area. Children ages 3-12 will discover secret frog tanks among the tunnels and crawl spaces in the jungle gym.
Consider the Summer Family Hours (4-7 p.m.) ticket specials available on the website: for each full-priced adult ticket, two children are admitted free (general admission tickets are $23 adults, $15 ages 2 – 12). The website also offers a map of the exhibit, as well as additional information about specific animals. During peak summer hours, check their website for their daily stroller policy. You can always borrow a baby carrier or backpack in the lobby free of charge (for kids under 30 pounds).
Parking is convenient in the garage at Newport on the Levee; pay at a station before returning to your vehicle. You can grab reasonably priced snacks onsite at Sharky’s Cafe; but if you pack lunch, leave your bag in the lobby to enjoy outside later. – Kara Garrod
8250 Old Kellogg Road
If you’re looking for a way to cool off the kids while they burn off some extra energy, you’ll find everything you need at Parky’s Wetland Adventure Playground found at Woodland Mound (of the Hamilton County Park system). Spray features, a waterslide, water spouts and more will delight the whole crew.
If you don’t already have an annual parking pass for the Hamilton County Parks, you can purchase one at the entrance gate for $10, which also comes with valuable coupons, or you can buy a one-day parking pass for $3. Admission to the water playground is $2.50 for kids and grownups get in free! Pack a picnic for lunch or take advantage of the onsite snack bar, which serves the usual fare, and dine at one of the umbrella-shaded tables.
The spacious and well-maintained bathroom stalls double nicely as changing rooms but with all those drippy kids running around, they are bound to be a little wet from time to time.
Want to avoid the crowds? Visit later in the day, between 4 and 7 p.m., to enjoy the park after the crowds have waned. And while you’re there, take time to check out some of the other offerings at the park like the nature center and playgrounds, hiking trails, special events, and more. – Becca Sontag
1600 Montague Road, Covington
Tot Tuesday ( the third Tuesday each month), provides a great time to visit the BCM with little ones. Along with story time, kids can make a themed art project (July’s theme is Wild Things; August’s will be planes). After the program, stick around for a taste of Northern Kentucky history. Hit the exhibit, “Rivers, Roads, Rails and Runways” to get a look at the streetcar Kentucky, or learn about Ordovician fossils found in the region then dig for a few yourselves. If you want to gross out your kids, check out the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head, and Dido, the infamous two-headed calf. Now through Sept. 1, the BCM honors Northern Kentucky music legends with an exhibit and summer concerts.
— Sherry Hang
953 Eden Park Drive
Escape the glare of the blazing sun by submerging yourself and the junior set into the cool, quiet beauty of the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Even though CAM is revamping its youth education facilities, with a planned reopening in 2014, there are still plenty of offerings bound to enchant your child. Classes are offered throughout the summer for a fee (with discounts for members) for children ages 5 – 12 focusing on art projects and fun activities in the gallery.
If you’re looking for something less structured (and free!) to entertain you and the wee ones, stop by the visitor’s desk to pick up a scavenger hunt worksheet to aid in your exploration of this local treasure. Have your child return the worksheet to the desk when he or she is finished to pick up a prize!
While finding your way around the museum can sometimes be a bit tricky, you are never far away from a helpful employee or volunteer to guide you to whatever you’re looking for, be it the restrooms or a Mary Cassat painting. General admission to the Cincinnati Art Museum is free and parking is $4. Be sure to check out the website for additional events and activities at cincinnatiartmuseum.org. – Becca Sontag
Union Terminal, 1301 Western Ave.
Regardless of your child’s age, there is something for them at Cincinnati Museum Center. In the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, there is an area specifically designated for babies, with soft climbing structures, and even areas where moms can easily nurse. Toddlers will love the water area and ball zone. (A helpful tip: if you let your child in the water area, bring an extra change of clothes! There are rain smocks for kids to borrow, but most toddlers will still end up getting wet) Older kids will love the “woods,” an indoor play zone featuring tree houses and other climbing structures.
The fun doesn’t stop at the Children’s Museum, though. In the Cincinnati History Museum, kids 5 and younger can play in a giant sandbox, complete with shovels, pails, diggers, and dumpers. And train-loving tots will go crazy for the Cincinnati In Motion display, which features a small-scale model of the Queen City from the early 20th century.
A full directory of exhibits and events can be found on the website. However, while I’m fairly tech-savvy, I find the website somewhat difficult to navigate. For specific questions, I’d recommend calling the Museum Center directly: 513-287-7000.
One final note: for non-members, parking will run $6, which grants you access to one of the two lots in front of Union Terminal (All Museums Pass for non-members is $12.50 adults, $11.50 seniors, $8.50 ages 3 – 12, $4.50 ages 1 – 2). If you happen to visit on a busy day (for example, when there’s a field trip or during the holiday season), you could wind up parking pretty far from the entrance. It might be nice to have your partner drop you and the kids off at the entrance — or at least bring a stroller!
7379 Squire Ct., West Chester
Don your engineer’s caps and gather your fiercest Thomas the Train fans to enjoy a couple of hours of train table fun at Entertrainment Junction in West Chester. Children will love the outdoor electric train ride and hand-cranked railroad cars, as well as Imagination Junction, the indoor play area where kids can climb and play. Parents and older children will appreciate the interactive displays featuring historically accurate railroading across three different eras of U.S. history.
As the daughter of a model railroad enthusiast, it was easy to immerse myself in the 25,000 square feet of trains, bridges, trestles and mountains. I marveled over the tiniest details of the meandering layout, and wondered just how much spray foam was required to carve those mountains (Answer: 58,000 square feet at a cost of $53,000.) Request the scavenger hunt at the ticket window for additional fun.
The restrooms were clean and conveniently located; I was grateful for the family restrooms in the children’s play area so either parent could attend to the children with ease. The Junction Cafe was reasonably priced for some quick snacks during peak hours, but was not open when we were there in the evening. (Entertrainment Junction is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Older children may also enjoy the A-Maze-N-Funhouse located in the same building. While our two-year-old was too young to appreciate the curtain or mirror mazes, her older sibling and papa sure did! Read the signage for appropriate age recommendations, and when in doubt, send in an adult first. Note: there are conveniently located “emergency escape” exits should your children decide otherwise part way through.
Children three and older require tickets (Train Journey tickets are $12.95 adults, $11.50 seniors, $9.95 ages 3 – 12). If Thomas is a staple character in your home, schedule your visit between July 29 and September 8 for special ticket prices and discounts on Thomas merchandise in the adjacent Junction Hobbies and Toys. – Kara Garrod
1230 Elm St.
If you haven’t been to Washington Park lately, you don’t know what you’re missing. From the interactive water park, to the state-of-the-art playground, to the dog park, to the performance stage, there really is something for everyone! On hot days, the kids will love running through one of the 130 pop-up jets and splashing on the water steps. To dry off, head over to the playground, which features a play castle, climbing wall, sandbox, slides, and musical instruments.
If you’re nervous about venturing to Over-the-Rhine with the kids, don’t be. Directions to the park can easily be found on its website, which is regularly updated and very user-friendly. There’s a large, open parking garage located underneath Washington Park, making access quick and easy. Parking costs $1 per hour – but be sure to have a credit card handy, as the electronic meters at the exits don’t accept cash.
What’s more, using the facilities at the park is a breeze, with a large, family-friendly restroom located at the entrance of the playground.
My only complaint about the park isn’t really a complaint at all – there’s almost too much there. As a mother of a 2-year-old boy and 6-month-old girl, I found it difficult to follow my excited toddler through the water park while simultaneously keeping track of my stroller and purse. As such, I’d recommend making a play date at Washington Park with another friend so you’ll be able to take in the entire experience.
– Sarah McCosham