Free and Low-Cost: Outings, Playdates, and Adventures

by Kate Hogan, CPM, LM

Looking for somewhere to go to get out of the house, to go on an adventure, or to meet a friend without having to clean up your house (or worry about it being torn apart)?

Often when baby first arrives, parents are looking for more support and connection through Moms or Dads groups. We’ve got those covered on the previous posts: Moms Groups around Town and Dad/Partners Groups.

But as baby grows into a toddler, families are more often looking for a place to let their kiddo walk, run, and play. Here are some spots that are favorites for families. Please let me know what I’ve missed! Enjoy!

Free Opportunities

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory is free and open every day! The warm and humid Conservatory is a perfect tropical escape for sub zero Minnesotan days. Be sure to check out their Lil’ Explorer Thursdays for stories and animal themed learning activities September-April.

The Minnesota Children’s Museum offers free admission on the third Sunday of every month.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts always offers free admission.

The Walker Art Center offers free admission every Thursday from 5-9pm and the first Saturday of every month. The Walker Sculpture Garden and Conservatory is always free.

Mill City Museum is free for children 5 and under.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum offers free admissions Thursdays all day (November through March) and every third Thursday of the month after 4:30 p.m. (April through October).

The Mall of America provides plenty of space for a little one to run and explore. Toddler Tuesdays offer free events and entertainment that change every week. The movie theaters offer free movies on Saturday mornings. If your little one likes to build with Legos, be sure to check out Legoland!

The Midtown Global Market offers educational programming, activities, and crafts during their Wee Wednesdays and Family Fridays.

Choo Choo Bob’s Train Store has multiple train tables set up in the back of their store that children are welcome to play with.

The Bell Museum is free for children under 3 (adult admission is $8).

The Works Museum is free for children under 2 (adult admission is $8).

One of the biggest playgrounds that I’m aware of in the cities, Hyland Play Area (aka Chutes and Ladders) in Bloomington, is always free.

Indoor Playgrounds and Rec Centers (some fees apply)

Edinborough Park Playpark in Edina

Eagles Nest Indoor Playground in New Brighton

Lookout Ridge in Woodbury

Good Times Park in Eagan

Oxford Community Center and Great River Waterpark in St Paul

Shoreview Community Center, Tropics Indoor Waterpark, and Tropical Adventure Indoor Playground

Maple Grove Community Center, the Grove Cove (pool and splash pad) and Maple Maze

Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Centers offers various activities and open gyms for children throughout Minneapolis.

St Paul Parks and Recreation Centers offers various activities and open gyms for children throughout St Paul.

Logan Recreation Center Tiny Tot Open Gym is on Monday and Friday mornings, in North East Minneapolis.

Rosedale Mall has a free indoor play area.

Ridgedale Mall has a free indoor play area.

Burnsville Center has a free indoor play area.

Roseville community education offers Drop-In and Play classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday mornings and Thursday afternoons.

Centennial Lakes is not indoor, but they have activities year round, free cultural performances, and free movies!

Nature Centers

Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Lake

Eastman Nature Center in Maple Grove

Richfield Wood Lake Nature Center

Dodge Nature Center in West Saint Paul

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary in Minneapolis

Minneapolis Skyway Adventure

You won’t find a bunch of families making use of the endless temperature controlled Minneapolis Skyway system to let their little one burn some energy, but it sure is a fun change of scene!

Parking is the only part that usually makes it not free, but if you park of Target downtown and spend $20 at Target (easy to do running normal errands) you get a free hour of parking on the weekdays, or 2 hours free on the weekends. Park by the Target elevator and you can leave your coats in the car!

Kids love looking out all the windows and watching the cars and trucks drive under them. There are plenty of public escalators and elevators to ride, if your kiddo happens to love those.

People watching is great in the skyways, however it gets busy during rush hours (beginning and end of the work day, and lunch time). If you are wanting more space for a new little walker to explore, go during a non rush time (such as 10am-11:30am), or even on the weekend.

Be sure to check out the indoor trees and waterfall in the IDS Center Crystal Court.

On Monday through Friday, from 9:00am to 5:00pm, be sure to check out the free Wells Fargo Museum, complete with a replica stage coach that you can have a seat in!


Red Balloon Bookshop Storytimes 

Wild Rumpus Bookstore Storytime

Choo Choo Bob’s Train Store Storytime

Hennepin County Library Storytimes

St Paul Library Storytimes

Ramsey County Library Storytimes

Dakota County Library Storytimes

Washington County Library Storytimes

Kid Friendly Coffee Shops/Restaurants

Sovereign Grounds is a coffee shop and cafe with a playroom.

Riverview Cafe has a play area with toys.

Gandhi Mahal is an Indian restaurant with a playroom full of toys.

Free Summer Music and Movies 

Minneapolis Music and Movies in the Parks

Minnesota History Center’s Nine Nights of Music with live music and dance instruction

Walker Art Center’s Music and Movies at Loring Park

Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project

Specific Events 

Loppet Ski Festival in January, especially the Luminary Loppet.

Kite Festival at Lake Harriet in January

Art Shanties on White Bear Lake during weekends in February.

May Day Parade

Art Car Parade in July

Bellyrama in August at Lake Harriet, hosted by Blooma.

One thought on “Free and Low-Cost: Outings, Playdates, and Adventures

  1. Pingback: Rainy and Snowy Day Outings | Twin Cities Midwifery Blog

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