Located between Columbus and Cleveland, Mansfield’s unofficial nickname is “The Fun Center of Ohio,” and for good reason. A town filled with nature, art, museums and even some paranormal activity and Hollywood celebrity, there’s something for everyone in this corner of Ohio.
Where to Stay in Mansfield
When you’re traveling with kids, it’s always nice to be able to bring your own food — even just for snacks or a quick early breakfast. The hotel rooms at TownePlace Suites in Mansfield/Ontario go one step further: they offer kitchenettes, so you can also cook your own food. Each hotel room comes with its own small kitchen, with a stove, microwave, full set of dishes and silverware, dishwasher, sink and a full-sized refrigerator and freezer. The hotel rooms allow for a little bit of home while you’re away from home, and the convenience of not having to rely solely on takeout during your stay.
Just south of Mansfield, Comfort Inn Splash Harbor is an option for families who want a little recreation with their hotel. The Splash Harbor indoor water park, which is located inside the hotel, has a water slide, water spray ground, a family whirlpool and more. There is also an indoor pool and game room with a pool table, air hockey and video games.
What to Do in Mansfield
People come from all over the world to tour Ohio State Reformatory, a castle-like prison that was at one time a reformatory for prisoners. Built in 1886, the former prison is also known for its paranormal activity. The building is spooky for sure, but don’t worry — it’s not too scary for young kids to visit. A self-guided tour is the most popular, and it allows families to go at their own pace, peek inside real prison cells, see where prisoners lived their lives while incarcerated, and learn about this part of Mansfield history.
Ohio State Reformatory is also famous for being the prison that is depicted in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption. On the first floor of the OSR, visitors can take the Hollywood self-guided tour and see familiar scenes like the warden’s office, the parole board room and even the hole that the main character dug through his cell wall to escape. For even more Shawshank movie fun, there’s a whole Shawshank Trail (https://shawshanktrail.com/) that will take you around Mansfield to see different filming sites from the movie.
A short, scenic drive east to Richland County will take you to Malabar Farm State Park, the 900+ acre farm and estate of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and conservationist Louis Bromfield. The park has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.
The farm at Malabar is a must-visit for families. You will meet a variety of farm animals, like chickens and roosters, cows, goats and even a barn cat or two. After visiting the animals, play on the farm’s playground, or walk around and explore the beautiful landscape.
The farm offers tractor tours that will take you through rolling hills to see the farm’s crops and nature trails, and give you a behind-the-scenes look at farm life. Tours are also offered of the “Big House,” a 32-room home on the farm that was the sire of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s wedding in 1945.
Mt. Jeez Scenic Overlook
A dirt road on the outskirts of Malabar Farm will take you up to Mt. Jeez Scenic Overlook, the highest point on the farm. At more than 1,300 feet tall, Mount Jeez offers a stunning view of Ohio’s countryside and an up-high look at the farm. You will definitely want to hop in the car to drive up to Mt. Jeez, but once you’re there, you can also hike on a trail that goes through the woods near the overlook.
Part gallery, part educational center, the Mansfield Art Center is a great place to be surrounded by art. View art created by local and world-renowned artists, and then get inspired to create your own work of art at one of their classes. Classes are for adults and kids alike, and students can learn the craft of glassblowing, ceramics, drawing, and much more.
Every Saturday, the Mansfield Art Center offers free classes for kids ages 6 and older during their Free Art Saturdays. And every day, the Mansfield Art center is free and open to the public to visit and become inspired by creativity.
The former estate of industrial magnate Charles Kelley King, Kingwood Center Gardens is a garden-lover’s paradise. Stroll along walkways that lead you through seasonal flower displays, past bubbling fountains and ponds full of ducks (which you can feed!), and around giant trees and lush landscape. Families should definitely seek out the Storybook Trail, which is a path with pages of a picture book that leads you on a literary adventure. Families can also tour Carriage House, the mansion that sits on the garden property, or grab a bite to eat at the Gateway Cafe located inside the garden’s visitor’s center. The cafe has lots of kid-approved goodies, including dirt and worms pudding cups — how appropriate!
The only wax museum in Ohio is located in Mansfield, and it’s a big one. At Biblewalk, there are more than 100 life-sized dioramas and 325 wax figures in this museum, depicting biblical stories ranging from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Visitors can relax on the long benches in the cool, dark museum, and hear narrators describe stories from the Bible.
Richland Carrousel Park is located in Mansfield’s downtown center, and it’s where you can take a ride on the historic Richland Carousel. This hand-carved, hand-painted wooden carousel features fun animal figures, and best of all: It’s covered by a big shelter, so even when it’s raining, you can still take a spin.
In downtown Mansfield, you’ll also find a historic museum with one of the most eclectic collections of Mansfield-related memorabilia that you’ve ever seen. The Mansfield Memorial Museum is located inside the Mansfield Soldiers and Sailors building, with varying exhibits and displays for the community and visitors to enjoy and reflect on the town’s past.
The oldest museum in Richmond County, one of Mansfield Memorial Museum’s most popular pieces in the collection of oddities is Elektro, the Westinghouse Robot of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. Elektro was the first robot in the world that could walk, talk and even count on his fingers!
Mansfield is surrounded by natural beauty, and Gorman Nature Center is a great place to get out and enjoy it. The perfect place for hikes in all seasons, the walking trails are wide, grass-lined and perfect for strollers. Gorman Nature Center features 150 acres of forests, prairies, ponds and streams, and provides over five miles of public trails, so there’s something beautiful to see no matter where you look as you’re exploring the park. There are also picnic tables throughout the park, so this is a great park for an al fresco picnic. The park is open from dawn to dusk, but if you visit during the hours that the visitor’s center is open, you’ll see some displays that showcase the animals, reptiles and amphibians common to the area.
Where to Eat in Mansfield
If you’re visiting Kingwood Center Gardens (and you should!), make sure to stop and grab a bite at the Gateway Cafe, located inside the visitor’s center of the gardens. But even if you’re not going into the gardens, you can eat at the cafe, which has both indoor and outdoor seating. The food here is especially great because there are lots of options for kids, such as grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs. They also sell local milk from glass bottles (in flavors like strawberry and orange), as well as fun desserts, coffee drinks and local soft-serve ice cream.
If you’re visiting Mansfield during blueberry season — late spring through summer — then stop by The Blueberry Patch, a 27-acre plantation and the home of 1285 Winery. This family-run farm offers U-pick blueberries during the growing season, but the restaurant and winery is open year-round. Grown ups can enjoy a relaxing meal with a glass of house-made blueberry wine, and families can wrap up their meal with a couple (or a dozen) blueberry donuts, made fresh at the restaurant.
Local haunt Uncle John’s Place, located in downtown Mansfield, is known for their burgers, Reubens and fresh-cut fries. Although they don’t have a kids menu, you’re sure to find a kid-approved meal here. Centrally located, this restaurant is just a short walk to the carousel and many other downtown attractions.
If you’re visiting Malabar State Farm Park, make sure to stop in and have a meal at the park’s eatery, Malabar Farm Restaurant. Located in a remodeled 1820s house, the menu features farm-to-table food at affordable prices. You’ll find everything from fish to filet mignon, plus a kids menu with familiar burgers and fries. Don’t miss their house beverage — a spiced orange tea that they serve over ice.
This is just a small peek into all of the family fun you can have in Mansfield, Ohio. For more things to do, see and explore, visit Destination Mansfield.