Before we left Minnesota, I promised a couple people I would compile a list of some of my favorite free or inexpensive spots to hang out with young kids in the Twin Cities. Most of these places are pretty ordinary, but somehow they belonged to us, and that’s what made them special. So, please, get out and enjoy them while we work on building a new list here in Las Vegas…


Hastings (reference this map for park locations)

Lake Isabel Park: Pair a trip to this park with a cheap ice cream treat from the Hastings Creamery & Dairy, and take a walk out on the dock that’s nearby.

South Pines Park: A super quiet park with an adjustable basketball hoop that is low enough for kids as young as four to make shots in.

Basketball frame
Eagle Bluff Park: A small, quiet playground that you can pair with a walk on the nearby trail that goes across the lock and dam. Head east on the road the park is on and you’ll run into the trail.

Pioneer Park: It has an old-school merry-go-round. Enough said.

Roadside Park: Home to the “big red slide.” Avoid it on weekends if you can’t stand crowds. Early mornings are great.

Lion’s Park: Great for hot days because the playground is super shady. The baseball field is also nice.

Schaar’s Bluff: Tons of open space, trails, picnic areas, and a huge playground.

Sterling (aka: Clancy’s): A good winter option – tube slide & train tables inside. Just don’t go between Thanksgiving and New Year’s because the play area is closed to accommodate all kinds of Christmas merchandise. Pair with a trip across the street to the Pleasant Hill Library.

Red Wing

Universal Access Park: Hands down the coolest park we have ever been to. It was designed by some parents of children with cerebral palsy, so it is completely wheelchair accessible and has some fun, fun stuff I’ve never seen on any other playground. It’s spectacular, and the surrounding Colvill park screams, “Picnic!” It’s worth every minute of the drive down to Red Wing, so check it out if you haven’t already. No excuses! There’s an aquatic center there, too, FYI.

Red wing park

Caribou: The Red Wing Caribou has a nice little play area for kids to enjoy while you meet a friend for coffee. Pair with a trip to the playground at Baypoint park by the river.


Lookout Ridge Indoor PlaygroundBest for kids 4 and up, but there is space for littler ones to play, too. Whatever you do, go right when it opens at 10 AM. It starts to get crazy in there by 11:30, at which point you can leave for lunch anyway.

Powers Lake: Decent playground, fantastic trail to walk around the lake. Pair with your favorite morning coffee.


Teddy Bear Park: Free, tons of fun, and in the summers (every other Friday at 10AM, I think) a woman shows up for a short story time followed by a cool craft for the kids. It’s great because if your kids aren’t big on public story time (mine never were), they can play on the playground and come back over for the craft. Best of all: you don’t have to clean anything up!


St. Paul

Treasure Island playground at Expo Elementary: Use these directions to get there. At the end of the school block you turn left twice to get behind the building. The park is a  huge wooden structure that twists and turns and is full of fun nooks and crannies to explore. Pair with a trip to Trader Joe’s (just down the street on Randolph & Lexington) or a stop by the Red Balloon Bookshop on Grand Ave.

FB Vintage Frame 6

Choo Choo Bob’s Train Store: Six train tables for playing, plus lots of fun “grown-up” trains to watch go by on the tracks. Great birthday party venue for 2-5 year olds. Pair with a stop into Izzy’s Ice Cream just a few doors over.

Harriet Island: Killer views of the St. Paul skylineThere’s a playground that has a fun water feature in the summers. Just bring lots of extra clothes & towels…otherwise your kids will have to ride home…ahem..naked…like mine did the first time we went. 🙂


MN Children’s Museum: Don’t think twice about getting a membership. Do it. We used ours once a month for sure, and it was great because we didn’t feel like we had to spend hours and hours there since we weren’t paying per visit. We would get there early, play for an hour and a half, have lunch (they have a microwave downstairs which is great if you need to warm bottles or baby food), and then peace out before it got too crazy. Pair with a trip to the candy store right next to it, or an errand you need to run at Macy’s.

Como Zoo & Conservatory: Go and go often. It’s free and you can grab Como Town ride passes from the library to treat to the kids to a little extra fun. Evan loved to play mini golf there. 


Jackson Street Roundhouse: Another freebie from the Museum Adventure Pass, and home to one of my favorite pictures of Landon and Evan…

Bus frame

Burnsville, Apple Valley, Bloomington 

Glow Golf at TILT in Burnsville Center: You have to have $5 cash to play and get a ball that glows in the dark, so don’t forget. Pair with a trip upstairs to the play area by Sears for kids 6ish and younger.

MN Zoo: I know a lot of people who are members, but we used to just get free passes from the library. There are usually tons of passes available in the winter months, and there is still a lot to do there even when it’s cold.

IKEA: Check potty-trained kids into the children’s playroom and enjoy an hour to yourself in the store. The non-potty trained kids you are towing can play with you in the children’s section upstairs by the restaurant (which you’ll want to eat at often because it’s cheap and a few times a year kids eat free!).

Mall of America: The rides are expensive, right? So take advantage of the free stuff instead. Walk the kids through the Disney Store, stop into the children’s section at Barnes and Noble, play with legos in the newly redesigned play area,  let the older kids demo computers and iPads in the Apple store (you can play, too), and spend a few quarters on the younger kids to ride on the lame $1 rides. 🙂 There’s also mini golf on the third floor if you are up for spending money.

Chutes and Ladders Park (aka: Hyland Play Area): Free and fabulous. Great for kids’ parties, too. Go early to beat the rush. Pair with a trip to Costco and be home in time for naps.


Sweet Retreat Cupcake Boutique: A 50th & France favorite when paired with a stroll through Anthropologie.


Check out  Go City Kids for some additional suggestions. Happy exploring!