An underrated Columbus event that has been rapidly climbing my rankings of events and festivals around town – even before having kids – is the Chilly Open. Put on by the Westerville Sunrise Rotary Club, the Chilly Open has taken place annually (the first Saturday in February to be exact) for 20 years. In those 20 years, the event has raised $2.5 million for local charities. The Rotary Club organizes and runs everything the day of, along with the help of 300 volunteers. Because of this support, all proceeds go to charity. Kroger and Papa John’s are the title sponsors, with an impressive list of local businesses and individuals chipping in too.
On paper, this event already has a lot going for it in my book. One, it’s in February, which is typically dreary, cold and lacking for things to do. Two, the Chilly Open lives at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, so it’s an excuse to come out to the Zoo in winter. All of the pavilions at the Water’s Edge Events Park are consumed by the Chilly Open. Conjoining them is a large heated tent where the main stage is located.
I’ll start with why this event is awesome for adults. Tickets are $45, which is an admittedly steep ticket price, especially if you and your wife go. But that ticket gets you four drinks (wine or Miller Lite draft). It also gets you unlimited food from 30 incredible food vendors that include local favorites Polaris Grill, Skyline Chili, Watershed Distillery, Bon Vie Bistro, Winking Lizard, Old Bag of Nails, City Barbecue, Cameron Mitchell, 101 Beer Kitchen, Asterisk Supper Club, and Koble to name a few. Each offers small plates and samples of their finest dishes and recipes.
That aforementioned stage houses local band The Debits for the majority of the five-hour day (noon-5 p.m.). They have a funny story in how they came together, but they rock out the Chilly Open every year. I was completely hooked well before their third John Mellencamp cover for the day. They are a fun group and completely interactive with the crowd, promoting dancing and fun with women, children and over-served gentlemen.
Bonus for Dom Tiberi, everyone’s favorite local sportscaster, serving as the emcee.
This is all great stuff, but what about the kids?
Included in the price of admission is access to the Children’s Open in a separate heated, indoor facility. It’s a little kid’s fantasyland that includes face painting, animal visits, bounce houses, inflatable mazes, Wii games, food and drinks, laser tag, and seemingly endless activities. Kudos to the volunteers in costume adding to the thrill (honestly I think I was more psyched than any of the kids).
We started our day there to let my daughter blow off some steam before transitioning to the Chilly Open. She’s only two, but kids 5-12 can be left without their parents. It’s wildly secure with matching wristbands for kids and their parents and a full staff of volunteers supervising all activities.
To cap the day, my daughter got a ride on the conveniently adjacent carousel for giving her mom and dad two solid hours at the Chilly Open.