The Chilly Open Lives Up to its Claim as the “Best Winter Party in Town”

The Debits adorn the stage at the Chilly Open

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?

Superheroes at the Children's Open

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).

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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.

 

CBUS Dads’ Holidays Activities and Traditions

CBUS Dads blogger Mike Liddy checked out the Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival with his kids

We’re in the home stretch before the holidays. You may be off work, and the kids may be home from school. Regardless, you may also be looking for some activities that don’t include going to the mall to best maximize this special time of the year.

We polled our CBUS Dads for some of their holiday traditions and go-to activities that may be a little less mainstream than the ones that are typically top of mind:

The Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival is a unique holiday experience. The Ohio Expo Center & State Fairgrounds are decked out with almost 40 displays of traditional (and some non-traditional) Chinese lantern displays all lit up. There are tons of fun things for the kids: a Finding Nemo display, a Christmas display, huge dragons, and tons of pandas. But, the Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival also has flowers, fruits and a long walk through the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Don’t miss the performances, the shopping and the food either. The paths can be a little difficult to navigate with a stroller, but they’ve placed hard plastic matting over the grassy areas to make it a little easier to traverse. The Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival goes until January 2, so there’s plenty of time to experience it, even if you can’t squeeze it in before the big one.
-Mike Liddy, Contributor

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The older I get, the more I can relate to Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation. It’s easy to get caught up in the holidays, putting a ton of pressure on ourselves to make the holidays super special for our kids. I can’t be the only that’s been here, right? Each year, Erika and I dig for the holiday event that our kids will remember forever. However, there’s one simple tradition that we look forward to every year. On Christmas Eve morning, we go out for breakfast, just the four of us. In the midst of rushing and endless family gatherings, there’s something awesome about just having a simple breakfast together. The location is flexible, but the last two years (and probably this year) we hit up DK Diner in Grandview. The diner atmosphere allows for sweatpants and they always have fresh donuts. Sure, the big Christmas events are awesome, but I encourage you to find a few simple Christmas traditions as well.
-Billy Fischer, Contributor

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Every year, the Farkas family takes an afternoon to make Christmas cookies. I’ve done this for 40 years; the only exception was when I was two months old, and I think that seems like a fair excuse. Making cookie with the kids is pure chaos. Aprons don’t help. Eggs end up broken in wrong places. Often, the weight of the frosting on top of the cookie far eclipses the weight of the actual cookie. The end product won’t end up on the Food Network, but I appreciate it more than any Bobby Flay product.
-Dan Farkas, Contributor

My family and I are reserving December 23 for a Christmas day spent downtown. Every year we try to stroll through State Auto’s Christmas Corner that includes a historic life-sized Nativity display. We are also going to stop by the brand spanking new Main Library for the Huntington Holiday Train, which we’ve never checked out before. Both activities should captivate our energetic two-year-old. From there, we’ll grab a bite, aiming for somewhere with that warm, hearty fare that seems appropriate on a cold day. Maybe Press Grill or Jack’s Diner.
-Steve Michalovich, Contributor

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For the past several years my family have grabbed dinner at Milestone 229 or Columbus Brewing Company a few days before Christmas and then walked our fullness off through Bicentennial Park to see and enjoy the holiday lights at the forefront of our wonderful city skyline. This pleasant hike has recently expanded to include Columbus Commons since that area is also a “can’t miss” now in terms of a beautiful downtown holiday spectacle. To add to the mystique and nostalgia of the holidays here in Columbus, I then take my family on a stroll through the State Auto nativity display to enjoy their reaction to this wonderful scene as I used to experience when I was a child.
-Steve Swift, Contributor

 

 

 

We also caught wind of a Christmas Cave a couple hours south of town. Has anyone been there and would recommend?