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america_should_discover_columbusThere are naysayers who still debate whether Columbus discovered America, but I’d prefer to pose a different question: Why haven’t more Americans discovered Columbus?

Specifically, why haven’t more parents – who easily identify the San Diego Zoo as their main reason to visit San Diego – made a pilgrimage to Ohio’s largest city to see what’s widely considered one of the best zoos and aquariums in the country? Well, if you don’t have good answers to these questions, winter is a swell time to discover that the Columbus Zoo and its neighboring sights could be just the ticket for your family’s winter break.


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While visiting the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium ($14 adults, $9 ages 2 to 9) is a treat anytime, it’s particularly delightful if you see the place when it’s aglow with the eco-friendly LED lights of the Wildlights at the Zoo display, a can’t-miss holiday tradition for locals that will be powering up at 5pm every evening (until 9pm Sundays through Thursdays, and until 10pm Fridays and Saturdays) through January 1. Preface your admiration of the lights with a full day of taking in the zoo’s non-seasonal attractions, of course – start with the African lions if you have a hard time picking what to ogle first.


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Another seasonal event yielding a fine excuse for a visit is the “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” retrospective that’s on at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens ($11 adults, $6 kids 3 to 17) through January 4. Even if seasonal foliage isn’t your thing (or your heart is two sizes too small), you and your brood will consider yourselves lucky to get a peek at more than 40 original animation cells and drawings from the Grinch movie and to explore the genius of Chuck Jones, who directed and wrote the Dr. Seuss film and, as many parents know, is largely responsible for animating Bugs, Daffy, and Porky.

Should you need at least three points of interest to entice you to a city, another worthy pick is the top-rated Center of Science and Industry (COSI) ($14.75 adults, $9.75 ages 2 to 12), a frenetically hands-on science museum that is running an exhibit focused on Nickelodeon’s Dora and Diego characters that ought to interest the littler kiddies in your party (through January 8).

Eleven airlines serve Port Columbus International Airport (set about 10 minutes east of downtown), which means that it shouldn’t be difficult to score a round-trip airfare from under $300. Likewise, with more than 3,000 hotel rooms in the downtown area, you ought to be able to find a competitive rate this season. One property to consider is the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Columbus, which is currently bundling a two-night minimum stay with two adult tickets each to COSI and the zoo (priced from $278 for two nights with two adults; valid through January 8), when booked through the Experience Columbus tourism board. Additional tickets for other family members aren’t discounted, but can be added to your package at normal ticket prices for convenience. Though a word of warning: With this package deal – as well as any other – be sure to price out the room and included extras separately, as I found on selected nights it was slightly less expensive to book a king room and buy the museum tickets separately than it was to buy the entire package (à la carte Crowne Plaza Hotel rates range from $129 to $159 nightly during the period of the package promotion).

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