Photo: COSI

How to Make the Most of Your One-Day Visit to COSI in Columbus, Ohio

Museums Family Travel Art + Architecture
by Matthew Meltzer Sep 8, 2021

Despite being the biggest city in Ohio, Columbus is still vastly underappreciated. Most know it as home of the Ohio State University, but beyond football games it still flies a little under the radar. Perhaps its most underrated asset is The Center of Science and Industry (COSI). COSI is a science-focused museum where you can immerse yourself in the world of dinosaurs, ride a unicycle across a tightrope, and step into a street scene from 120 years ago all in the span of a morning.

With so much to see, figuring out how to spend your day at COSI can be tricky. So we paid a visit to Dr. Frederic Bertley, the President and CEO of COSI and host of QED with Dr. B on Columbus’s WOSU (a National Public Radio station). He and his helpful team not only gave us an over-the-top COSI tour, but hipped us to the best stuff to see, and when to see it. So whether you’re planning a trip to Columbus, or live nearby and have been meaning to check it out, here’s how to crush COSI in just one day.

  • Before you go: The #1 tip for visiting COSI
  • What is COSI?
  • Where to start your COSI visit
  • COSI hours
  • COSI tickets
  • How long does it take to go through COSI?
  • COSI After dark
  • The five best COSI exhibits to see
  • The five galleries you can’t miss when visiting COSI
  • Three underrated areas you should visit at COSI
  • What you can skip during your visit to COSI
  • Where to eat when visiting COSI
  • Where is COSI?

  • Before you go: The #1 tip for visiting COSI

    Because COSI’s offerings are so diverse — spanning 300 yards of exhibit space and three theaters — realizing what’s a priority for you is the most important thing you can do before you go.

    “The first thing you should do is go to our website, check out the stuff, and pick your preferred things to do,” says Dr. Bertley. “People routinely tell me they spend five or six hours in the museum, and if you check out the website first you can really map out your day.”

    Point is, make a plan or you’ll spend a lot of time wandering, and could miss some stuff you really wanted to see.

    What is COSI?

    COSI stands for the Center of Science and Industry. It’s a massive, three-story, 320,000-square-foot hands-on interactive museum set in what was once Columbus Central High School. It has been open since 1964.

    Where to start your COSI visit

    Where you start your COSI visit probably will depend on what you want to see most. And as the museum gets busier the later you arrive, doing your top attraction first is probably the best move. That said, if you just can’t pick a favorite, the Dinosaur Gallery on the first floor is a good default.

    “The dinosaurs are the coolest asset we have in the building,” Dr. Bertley says. “That’s the gallery that fills up the quickest, so if you want to come through do that first.”

    The dinos are conveniently located just to the right of the main entrance, so the gallery also makes for a logical natural starting point.

    COSI hours

    COSI is open from 10 AM to 5 PM from Wednesday to Sunday. COSI is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

    Look closely at COSI’s calendar for the COSI After Dark event that takes place from 7 PM to 10 PM once per month, as well as for periods of extended hours, including from December 26 to December 31, when COSI is open from 10 AM to 7 PM.

    Like a lot of educational museums, COSI’s busiest times are spring break — March and April — and during the summer. You’ll find the lightest crowds in September and October, also the best months to visit Columbus, as you’ll experience pleasant temperatures, changing leaves, and the excitement of college football.

    Dr. Bertley says weekdays are the best time to visit, and early in the school year, you won’t have as many local school groups running through either. The earlier in the day you visit the better; he recommends any time before noon for starting your experience.

    COSI tickets

    General admission to COSI costs $25 for adults; $20 for youth (between the ages of two and 12); $23 for seniors (60 and over) and military personnel; $18 for military youth (ages two to 12); and free for teachers and children under the age of two.

    You can easily purchase your ticket online by selecting the day you wish to visit COSI.

    If you live in Columbus or visit regularly, consider becoming a COSI membership. COSI members can access for the museum for free for one year.

    How long does it take to go through COSI?

    How long you spend at COSI really depends on how much time you have in Columbus. With 320,000 square feet of exhibit space, seeing it all is tough in less than a day, especially if you’re the type who likes to stop and read. But Dr. Bertley has seen all types of visitors, and offers some good advice.

    “If you’re doing a whirlwind tour and visiting five places in the city, then spend two hours here at least,” he says. “But two hours, you’ll be struggling. I’d say plan at least three, but some people spend five or six. If you’re doing a three-day trip, allocate that.”

    COSI After dark

    COSI After Dark is an evening event (from 7 PM to 10 PM) for adults only (age 21 and over). The event takes place every month and takes on a different theme each time, such as “80s Party”, “Science, love, and Rock n Roll”, and more. There are games, activities, food, and cocktails on offer.

    The five best things to do when visiting COSI

    1. High-wire Unicycle

    If you’ve ever gone to the circus, seen someone ride a unicycle along a tightrope, and thought to yourself, “Oh helllllllllll nah!” you may want to rethink it. COSI’s 84-foot cable stretches across the museum’s main floor, allowing guests to revel in the thrill of performing a stunt with relatively low risk. You’ll be harnessed in for your ride, so no need to worry about falling. And even if you’re balance-challenged, a 250-pound counterweight keeps the center of gravity low so you won’t tip over.

    2. Rat Basketball

    As the name might imply, this daily animal show features a couple of Japanese Hooded Rats playing an intense game of one-on-one. To get an idea of how it looks, check out the video below.

    “You have to see it in real life,” says Dr. Bertley, who added that when he mentions the show to people outside Columbus they think he’s making it up. “It speaks to psychology and neurochemistry, and how you can train the brain even in animals to do all kinds of stuff.”

    3. Mini-submarine

    Mini submarine at COSI in Columbus Ohio

    Photo: COSI

    The Ocean section of the Center and Science of Industry is easily its best for interactive activities. The coolest among them is the mini-sub, set in a full room that feels like a life-sized research vessel. You can climb inside the submarine — which sits in bubbling water — then pilot an undersea ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle ) to explore a world deeper than you could ever dive.

    4. The Coal Mine Elevator

    Step between rickety old doors and into a simulated coal mine elevator, which gives you the sensation of dropping hundreds of feet into the earth. It’s a tribute to the city’s coal mining history, which you’ll learn as part of the experience. This was such a popular attraction at COSI’s original location that when it wasn’t included in the new space, guests requested it so often that the museum brought it back as part of the Progress exhibit.

    5. The Fart Piano

    You might be rolling your eyes and groaning about the immaturity of a piano that plays musical fart noises. But we dare you to plunk out Mary Had a Little Lamb on this interactive experience in the Life section and not laugh uncontrollably.

    The five galleries you can’t miss when visiting COSI

    1. Dinosaur Gallery

    Dinosaur gallery at COSI in Columbus Ohio

    Photo: COSI

    COSI serves as a satellite site for New York’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and perhaps the most alluring aspect of that partnership is the Dinosaur Gallery. Like AMNH, the gallery greets you with a full-sized T-Rex skeleton, then walks you through the methods scientists have used to learn about dinos. You can stand next to a Titanosaur’s thigh bone, which is taller than most humans. You can also step into a cretaceous habitat mock-up, and get an idea of what the world looked like when these animals roamed the Earth. Most interestingly, you’ll learn that dinosaurs didn’t so much go extinct, but evolved into birds we know today. A lesson taught with replicas of dinosaurs you’ll recognize covered in feathers rather than scales.

    2. The Ocean

    Ocean Gallery at COSI Columbus Ohio

    Photo: COSI

    Part Pirates of the Caribbean, part Caesar’s Palace shopping mall, COSI’s oceanic education section is far and away its most elaborate. Wander through a fictional shipwreck, turn a corner, and you’re met with a towering statue of Poseidon, and kids spraying water at him.

    Beyond that, you’ll step into a mini-submarine and pilot a ROV around the ocean deep. Afterwards, make sure to check out the Lily Pad area where you’ll learn about the Central Ohio watershed and the creatures endemic to it.

    3. Progress

    Saunter through city street scenes from 1898 and 1962 in this exhibit that chronicles how the world has changed in just the past century and a half. The street seems a little more like a movie set, with storefronts you can walk inside, a golden-age era TV studio where you can read 1962 news, or a turn-of-the-20th-century telegram shop where you can send an old-school message. Progress is also home to the beloved coal mine elevator, a simulation of descending deep into the earth like a miner.

    4. Energy Explorers

    Energy Explorers educates visitors on how their choices affect energy consumption on a large scale. It accomplishes this by having visitors create a character, who they then take through three zones of Home, Transportation, and Product. The simulation includes interactive activities like the Errand Race — where you see if driving or walking takes care of your to-do list faster — and a driving game to see how far you can get on a tank of gas. But most importantly it scores each character on how energy efficient their choices are

    5. Little Kidspace

    Little kid at COSI museum in Columbus Ohio in Columbus Ohio

    Photo: COSI

    No, this area is not going to be for everyone. But Dr. Bertley also pointed out that along with the Dinosaur Gallery, this area fills up the fastest. That’s because the Little Kidspace is a lot more than a glorified daycare center, with water activities, a farm, a treehouse, and a drivable ambulance for kids to enjoy.

    Three underrated areas you should visit at COSI

    1. National Geographic Giant Screen Theater

    The IMAX is a time-honored science museum tradition, but in the era of streaming services, much like traditional cinemas, it’s getting more and more forgotten.

    “We have incredible content on the largest screen in the state of Ohio,” Dr. Bertley proudly boasts. “We have lots of cool science stuff, lots of nature content, and a beautiful sound system.”

    The theater is on the ground level and runs shows all day. It might take up a good chunk of your time at the museum, though, so if you do want to catch a show, buy tickets ahead of time and plan your trip accordingly.

    2. Gadgets Stage

    This live-performance stage just off the Gadgets exhibit is a little like a live action Mr. Wizard or Bill Nye the Science Guy, right inside the museum. You’ll see live demonstrations of the power of science, running about every 15 minutes or so.

    3. Art on the second floor

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