PHOTOS BY STEVE HENKE, STEPHANIE COLGAN AND KATHERINE HARRIS | ILLUSTRATIONS BY RANDALL NELSON
The Twin Cities is wildly accessible, jam-packed with stuff to do, and constantly ranked as one of the greatest places for families. We know this because we live here and we have kids (and stepkids, and nieces, and nephews, and godchildren, and grandkids, and the list goes on). Since we make it our business to uncover the best of everything in this place we love, we decided it was time to wrap up the best places to go and things to do with kids in one shiny candy-colored package for you. To add to the fun, we tapped six local moms to dish up their favorite places for outings, shopping, dining, and more. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and have a great time!
Alana Bassin: Power Mom
- Family: Husband David; kids Talia 8, Solomon 6, Ari 4, Judah 1; two African dwarf frogs
- Lives: South Cedar Lake
- Drives: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
- Job: Partner at national product liability law firm Bowman and Brooke LLP
- Workout: Minneapolis Jewish Community Center
- Working Mom Moment: I billed (hours) the days all four of my kids were born. Litigation doesn’t stop; that’s why there aren’t many women partners.
- Can’t Live Without: BlackBerry smartphone
- Bedtime Routine: It takes two hours. Everyone wants a piece of me. I love that one-on-one time with each of them, but then I come downstairs to a messy house and camp forms to fill out and play dates to schedule and lunches to pack. I go to bed around 2 am.
- Downtime: What downtime? At home we watch Redbox videos and play the Wii.
- Dining With Kids: Rye Deli
- Top Shops: Target, Target, Target. Plus Macy’s, Gap, Hot Mama, Barnes and Noble, lululemon, and Byerly’s
- Weekday Dinner: Byerly’s Five Buck Cluck
- Getaways: Cedar Lake beach and walking path
- Kids' Parties: American Girl Store, Sky Zone, and Pump It Up
Catherine Langer: Yogi
- Family: Husband Mike; son Caden 9 ½; dog Neli
- Lives: Minnetonka
- Drives: VW Passat Wagon
- Job: Owner of OmMotion Yoga Studio
- Workout: Ashtanga yoga
- Family Outings: The Arboretum, Purgatory Park, Excelsior Beach, and Welch Village Ski Hill
- Top Shops: Lakewinds and Whole Foods
- Weekday Dinner: Mexican veggie taco salad with black beans
- Can't Live Without: Vitamix blender
- Centering Mom Moment: Once in the car, Caden was getting very upset. All of a sudden he got really quiet and I thought he was sulking, but when I looked back he was practicing a qigong meditation technique with his hands . . . It’s amazing to see Caden use qigong meditation technique on his own, and he’s even used it to help his friends when they get hurt.
- Downtime: Outside in nature, Minnetonka trails, and the beach
- Getaways: Watching Caden swim in Lake Superior off the shore of Julian Bay
Jenna Culligan: Bohemian
- Family: Husband Seamus; kids Gus 7 and Daisy 5 ½; Westie Jack; bettas Rapunzel and Spike; and a couple of mallards we raised this summer. We fell in love with them–ducks are awesome.
- Lives: Tyrol Hills
- Drives: 2009 VW Routan, which makes us the Routan Clan.
- Job: Heavy-duty mom stuff–I love it. Best job in the world.
- Workout: Huh? Seamus does yoga at Lifetime downtown when he can get away from work for an hour.
- Wardrobe Staple: Since moving to Minnesota (from L.A.), I’ve discovered that I love walking in the cold in my Sorels.
- Family Outings: The new Theodore Wirth Beach playground near our house–I love this nexus of communities, and my kids love the playground. We ski at Hyland, where the kids take lessons and Seamus instructs. The Walker never disappoints, even if we only hang out in the garden or browse the gift shop.
- Rock Star Mom Moment: Taking the kids to the Basilica Block Party to see The Avett Brothers a couple years ago.
- Dining With Kids: Yum! in St. Louis Park is an after-school surprise that always wins me points, and I can bribe the kids with nutritious food before they plow into their cupcakes.
- Top Shops: Gallery Co., Honeyshine, Land’s End (the back rack for kid bargains), Creative Kidstuff, Hoigaards, and The Lost & Found. Gus is really into the retro toys, and Daisy loves to play dress-up. Plus Costco and the Wedge.
- Weekday Dinner: Fillet of sole pan-fried in a light panko batter, brown rice cooked in chicken stock, and sauteed rainbow chard with a little lemon and tamari.
- Date Night: Travail is an experience I want to relive and might indeed become an imperative.
- Can't Live Without: Minnesota Public Radio, St. Paul Bagelry in Roseville, J Brand “Bette” jeans, NP Set concealer from Target, Wyndmere neroli floral water mist (local!), and London Sole ballet flats.
- Getaway: We love to road trip–we try to do at least one big trip every summer. Two summers ago we drove to Michigan and rented a cabin on the lake. Last summer we went west and did Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands–magical.
Sheila Ross: Hockey Mom
- Family: Husband John; kids Brady 16, Madeleine 14, Anne Marie 11, Logan 8; Jonesy the black Lab mix; Coco the guinea pig; and an assortment of nameless fish and frogs thanks to Logan.
- Lives: Long Lake
- Drives: Stereotypical minivan–2005 Chrysler Town and Country.
- Job: Marketing and administrative coordinator for the Orono Alliance for Education and volunteer for Light of Hope Children’s Home in Naivasha, Kenya
- Workout: I run every day except Sundays. It is my first priority after the kids leave for school in the morning. As I have told my family, “A running mommy is a happy mommy!” I feel lucky to have access to two great trail systems in my neighborhood, and you will see me on one of them every day. Winter running is my favorite. There is nothing better than a fresh coat of snow, the peace and quiet of no traffic, and the company of my running friends.
- Top Shops: Gear West in Long Lake, Heartbreaker (for my teenage daughter), Bookcase of Wayzata, Trader Joe’s, Wayzata Lunds, Harvest Moon Co-op, and Costco.
- Carpool Advice: Here’s the deal with my car–you will never be bored, because it is always full of children and their “liveliness,” and you will never go hungry, because of half-eaten bags of Goldfish, pretzels, and granola bars. When my children claim to be hungry in the car, I tell them to “dig a little deeper” into the seats. They could put together a four-course meal from the crumbs they have left behind!
- Weekday Dinner: Anything that my 14-year-old daughter can start while I am running around (tacos, spaghetti, Crock-Pot). But on Sundays and Mondays, we stick to a ritual of family dinner when we put all activities aside and enjoy a “real” meal and reconnect.
- Family Outings: Wayzata Community Church–I feel blessed that my children love being at church, especially since my husband is a minister there. Plus, the local trail systems (Dakota Trail and Luce Line) where I find my happy place, and Blackwater Cafe in Maple Plain.
- Getaway: My absolute favorite place on the planet is Lutsen. I am never more at peace than when I am running in the hills with a view of Lake Superior. Solitude + nature + trail shoes = happy mommy.
Mom + Dad Approved Tips
Call it our own Central Park. Edina’s Centennial Lakes Park boasts a big, beautiful outdoor ice-skating rink, and come summer the space is a one-stop wonderland sporting paddleboats, lawn bowling, golf (with both mini and putting courses), outdoor concerts, and movies. centenniallakespark.com
In winter, take the whole family down to Lake of the Isles for the annual Luminary Loppet, where thousands of ice luminaries cast a glow as skiers and snowshoers make their trek around the lake. Stay for bonfires, cocoa, and a post-party. cityoflakesloppet.com
Spend an afternoon pulling a few levers at The Works, where learning about engineering, science, and technology is fun. “Hands-on, minds-on” is the motto at this center, aimed at kids 5 to 12, which recently moved from Edina to a larger space in Bloomington with room for a design lab and traveling exhibits. 9740 Grand Ave. S., Bloomington, 952-888-4262, theworks.org
Figuring It Out: The X-Box Cure
One-On-One Letterboxing Outside: "Jake, my 9-year-old, and I call ourselves the Flying Swine. We hunt high and low, in the city and in the woods, in snow or sunshine, for stamps. Letterboxing is a national game of hide and seek that involves clues and hidden boxes filled with rubber stamps and notebooks—it’s like geocaching without the high-tech equipment. Armed with snack-filled backpacks, printed-out clues, and a compass app on my phone, we have explored parks, neighborhoods, and trails that we may never have seen if we weren’t the intrepid, curious, diligent Flying Swine. We’ve spent hours figuring out word games and codes, and counting off steps on maps to bring us to hidden treasures in cemeteries, bookstores, and swamps. The usually handmade stamp we find is inked into our journal, and we record our visit by stamping our airborne pig insignia into the notebook together." —Stephanie March; letterboxing.org, atlasquest.com
Start the day happy in Hot Plate Diner’s bright paint-by-number room. Enjoy Pop-Tarts, mini boxes of cereal, silver dollar cakes, strong coffee, and pumpkin buckwheat waffles with lingonberry butter. 5204 Bloomington Ave. S., Mpls., 612-824-4794, hotplatediner.com
History on Stage
SteppingStone Theatre is our “other” children’s theater company. Its current play, Almost to Freedom, depicts slave life through the eyes of a young girl’s doll. 55 N. Victoria St., St. Paul, 651-225-9265, steppingstonetheatre.org
If you’re going to go fried, why not make it wild Alaskan cod with the best plank fries on the planet at The Anchor Fish & Chips? Sit at the counter and banter with the cooks over a Guinness. 302 13th Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-676-1300, theanchorfishandchips.com
Laughs, screams, and thrills are guaranteed when you throw yourself down a hill on an inflated raft of rubber. The groomed snow lanes, moving sidewalk, and warming hut at Elm Creek maximize the fun factor. Go at night–it’s open ’til 9 pm. 12400 James Deane Pkwy., Maple Grove, 763-694-7894, threeriversparks.org
Figuring It Out: Balancing Act
Volunteering: "In college, I worked at a homeless shelter. After graduating, I spent time with an elderly woman who had no family in town. Then I became a mom, with less time and energy to give. Now that my kids are school-age, I look for opportunities to volunteer with them. The food bank was a great entry point. My son was 5 the first time we worked a shift at the St. Louis Park Emergency Program. Unloading boxes and organizing shelves gave us quality time together, and he looked so proud to be able to help. —Allison Kaplan; stepslp.org
3 More Places To Get Started:
- United Way, unitedwaytwincities.volunteermatch.org
- Simpson Housing, simpsonhousing.org
- Doing Good Together, doinggoodtogether.org
Some kids are shy and some won’t shut up, but all are welcome at Intermedia Arts’ Mixed Visions spoken-word and open-mic nights. Kids get to prepare material with the help of professional spoken-word artists, then perform onstage in front of an audience. Grades 7–12, $15. 2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-871-4444, intermediaarts.org
Introduce your young’uns to this time-honored tradition of the north. In this parent/child ice fishing clinic, equipment and bait are provided; all you have to bring is warm clothes and an open-minded attitude toward what some consider “fun.” Pre-registration required. Starts at Thomas C. Savage Visitor Center, Fort Snelling State Park, 612-725-2724, dnr.state.mn.us
Every Saturday morning through March, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre performs a different puppet show for kids, be it about a Mexican dog or adventurous birds. 1500 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-721-2535, hobt.org
Figuring It Out: The Battle of the Bands
Teen’s first concert–Alone: "I’d rather jam an ice pick in my ears than listen to heavy metal, so it is of course my son’s favorite form of music. If you are a Twin Cities teenager, one of the few places you can go to hear metal live is at Station 4, in St. Paul’s Lowertown. It’s basically a door on the side of a building, beyond which lies a dark and mysterious vortex of doom. The first time I dropped my son off there, I was terrified. Kids were dressed in black, with neon hair and nose rings. The scariest part was that my son fit right in. I wasn’t sure he would survive, but he did, and so did I. Still, for revenge, I cranked the Rolling Stones all the way home." —Tad Simons
4 More Music Venue Ideas:
- Young People’s Concerts at the Minnesota Orchestra
- Easter and Mother’s Day Brunch at the Dakota
- Dinner at Loring Pasta Bar
- All-ages shows at First Ave
Fun Food, Fast
- Pairings Food and Wine Restaurant knows how to turn a table at lunch. Pizza, paninis, mac and cheese, and pastas are all made with great ingredients, and you can customize for picky eaters. 6001 Shady Oak Rd., Minnetonka, 952-426-0522, pairingsfoodandwine.com
- Cheeky Monkey, a deli by day and bistro by night, is cozy and relaxing with a neighborhood feel, not cheeky at all. Sandwiches are excellent and can be made with gluten-free bread. 525 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-6066, cheekymonkeydeli.com
- Find fun kid-friendly BBQ (mild, not too smoky) at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. You can slide in and get some ribs, pulled pork, smoked turkey breast plus waffle fries, and standard mac and cheese. Oh, and free ice cream every day. Several metro locations, dickeys.com
- There’s free validated parking in the ramp next to the Midtown Global Market, plus more than 15 food counters to choose from. Try burgers at Andy’s Garage, tortas at Manny’s, pizza at Jakeeno’s, and cupcakes at Salty Tart. Lake St. & 10th Ave., Mpls., 612-872-4041, midtownglobalmarket.org
2841 Lyndale Ave., Mpls., 612-874-1800, tigersushiusa.com
- Love It With Kids: They bring DVD players and movies to the table, and kids eat free on Sundays.
- Love It Without Kids: The Kick in the Pants roll and happy hour specials keep us comin’ back.
three locations, spalon.com
- Love It With Kids: Get pro haircuts with prices that rival kid hair venues, plus it has free hot chocolate.
- Love It Without Kids: This quick, convenient salon and spa has a cozy fireplace vibe and a forget-the-world pedicure.
YUM! Kitchen and Bakery
4000 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-922-4000, yumkitchen.com
- Love It With Kids: Patti Cake and milk.
- Love It Without Kids: Patti Cake and wine.
80 S. 9th St., Mpls., 612-332-4700, hellskitcheninc.com
- Love It With Kids: The staff here serves brunch in PJs, and all ages drool over the caramel rolls and homemade peanut butter.
- Love It Without Kids: Check out concerts and shows at the Under-ground and the late-night menu: year-round state fair cheese curds, anyone?
3001 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 612-877-7263, uptowncafeteria.com
- Love It With Kids: Cotton candy, finger puppets, and fancy grilled cheese please the whole family.
- Love It Without Kids: Indulge yourself on warm nights (we can dream) on the sleek rooftop sky bar.
4801 Minnehaha Ave., Mpls., 612-721-8990, seasalteatery.com
- Love It With Kids: Beginning in April, hit the falls, feed ’em fish tacos, and soak in this stunning setting.
- Love It Without Kids: Try an al fresco date night with beer and shrimp, cava and oysters, ahhh.
Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-375-7600, walkerart.org
- Love It With Kids: Arty Pants Tuesday playdates and free first Saturdays get kids into the art scene.
- Love It Without Kids: Walker After Hours, chef tastings, and behind-the-scenes parties and events keep us happily cultured.
Broders’ Pasta Bar
5000 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-925-9202, broders.com
- Love It With Kids: Kids eat this lovely housemade pasta free on Mondays.
- Love It Without Kids: With some of the best Italian food in the Cities, it’s still a cozy date night, especially after 8 pm when couples eat for $30.
2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-354-2806, tiliampls.com
- Love It With Kids: Kids get vintage lunchboxes full of toys, and the place is loud enough to drown out kid chatter or cries.
- Love It Without Kids: Finally, Linden Hills gets to stay up late at this neighborhood hot spot where the beer list rules and the menu rocks.
MacPhail Center for Music
three locations, macphail.org
- Love It With Kids: From early childhood (baby) classes to individual lessons in nearly every instrument, this is a musical gold mine.
- Love It Without Kids: Its spotlight series and Jazz Thursdays concerts showcase guest artists with a post-concert wine reception.
three locations, chatterboxpub.net
- Love It With Kids: Everyone loves game night, so take ’em out for Yahtzee or Connect 4 and a round of root beers.
- Love It Without Kids: Cap off the night on couches with a good board game and a round of house microbrews.
5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Mpls., 612-424-8338, pizzerialola.com
- Love It With Kids: You’ll find the Old Reliable cheese pizza, ice cream sandwiches, and a photo booth—need we say more?
- Love It Without Kids: Enjoy the Sunnyside (bacon, cheese, leeks, eggs), an impressive lineup of wine and beer, and romantic snapshot souvenirs.
3849 Gallagher Dr., Edina, 952-835-6440, pinstripes.com
- Love It With Kids: Moms bowl free on Moms & Tots weekday mornings, plus it’s simply a cool family night out.
- Love It Without Kids: Bowling, bocce ball, and an outdoor fire pit make this a crowd-pleaser–you’ll need a reservation.
13310 Industrial Park Blvd., Plymouth, 763-331-3511, skyzonesports.com
- Love It With Kids: This indoor trampoline park has no age limit (there’s even a toddler area) and has open jump hours.
- Love It Without Kids: Bring your party people, bring your coworkers–this party spot even allows alcohol after hours.
300 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-543-8000, hclib.org
- Love It With Kids: Heated parking garage, a sprawling children’s play area, and a teen central loft with laptops available to check out.
- Love It Without Kids: Stunning architecture, a huge bookselection, a grand piano (reserve by the hour), and Dunn Bros.
eight locations, shopmama.com
- Love It With Kids: They let us—and help us—shop with our kids with complete ease, providing toys and train sets.
- Love It Without Kids: From in-store workout classes to dresses and denim, these gals have kept us feeling more hot than not.
From art studios to aquariums, kids will remember these birthday parties for years.
Kiddywampus: This interactive toy store in St. Louis Park offers several theme parties, from a Princess Party to a Jedi Training Academy. But its most popular event is the Action Jackson Party, which allows little ones to throw paint at walls à la Jackson Pollock. The staff handles the setup and cleanup, and kids get to take home their masterpieces. 952-926-7871, kiddywampus.com
Simply Jane Open Artist Studio: Let your kids channel their inner Picasso at this art studio in southwest Minneapolis. Artsy attendants dole out smocks, stretched canvases, and painting techniques. Afterward, kids can dress up in provided costumes and take photos on the studio stage. 612-354-3961, simplyjanestudio.com
Minnesota Children’s Museum: The Super Celebration theme parties here are super indeed. Choose from several options. Animal Antics includes an interactive story and lets kids make their own animal to take home. Super Science allows guests to experiment with slime, gel, and a homemade volcano. 651-225-6000, mcm.org
Leonardo’s Basement: The staff at this hands-on learning facility in Minneapolis will work with you and your child to select and customize the perfect activity. Options include woodworking, sculpture, painting, jewelry, toy making, electricity, chemistry, or rockets. Plus, the birthday kid gets a free T-shirt. 612-824-4394, leonardosbasement.org
Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium: With sea turtles, stingrays, sand tiger sharks, and more, Mall of America’s massive aquarium promises an underwater party where kids will learn a little, too. Opt for the Deluxe Party, which includes admission for up to 15 guests, a party coordinator, and personalized cake. 952-853-0612, visitsealife.com
Yoga Center of Minneapolis: Let the kids be yogis for a day. Choose from multiple themes, such as circus yoga, fairy yoga, or outer-space yoga. Instructor Angela Wethor leads guests through a one-hour class, followed by time for gifts and celebrating. Organic cookies and yoga mats included, of course. 612-436-4700, yogacentermpls.com
Way Cool Cooking School: If you have a little Giada or Jamie at home, consider a culinary soiree. Partygoers don chef’s hats and create their own three-course meal at this Eden Prairie locale. Cooking supplies are included, and the staff cleans up the mess. 952-949-6799, waycoolcookingschool.com
Minnetonka Center for the Arts: Book a party at this stellar visual arts center. Choose a theme, such as cartooning, fashion, or printmaking. The center will provide an instructor and all the materials. Just make sure your guests are dressed for a mess. 952-473-7361, minnetonkaarts.org
Science Museum of Minnesota: This St. Paul spot has entertaining (and teaching) kids down to, well, a science. Try the Pirates Party, designed for kids ages 10 to 12. Partygoers will build their own ship, have a cannonball battle, and make their own quicksand to take home. 651-221-4511, smm.org
Brunswick Zone XL: Bring the whole crew bowling where there are plenty of lanes, pizza, and games. Kids can burn off more steam with the arcade, air hockey, and laser tag. Four Twin Cities locations, bowlbrunswick.com
Vertical Endeavors: Tweens and teens can learn the ropes at this indoor rock-climbing oasis. An instructor leads the group through two hours of climbing walls up to 60 feet tall. And thanks to sturdy harnesses, ropes, and a cushioned floor, there’s no need to be afraid of heights. Mpls., 612-436-1470; St. Paul, 651-776-1430, verticalendeavors.com
Rock Star Parenting
11 Outings That Are Sure To Impress The Kids
Take your kids on a dream trip to the wonderful treat-filled world of Alix in Candyland. Or on a nostalgic trip to old-fashioned Sugar Sugar, with its neatly lined-up jars of goodies. Then find a place to burn off all that sugar on page 52. 5400 France Ave. S., Edina, 952-915-1100, alixincandyland.com; 3803 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-0261, sugar-sugarcandy.com
You’ve done the American Girl store, the café, and the beauty parlor, but have you hit the fashion show? Held by the Junior League of Minneapolis at the Edina Country Club March 2–4, the show features local girls (ages 5–12) and dolls showing off the latest in American Girl fashion. Reservations required. Edina Country Club, 5100 Wooddale Ave., Edina, jlminneapolis.org
Break up winter with an overnight at Waterpark of America. There’s a zero-depth activity pool for the babes, a 10-story slide, tubing, and a wave pool, plus hot tubs, cocktails, and a spa at the hotel. 1700 American Blvd. E., Bloomington, 952-229-5753, waterparkofamerica.com
Take your little one to La Belle Vie Lounge to celebrate a good grade or other accomplishment. You’ll spend a pretty penny, but your kid will feel like a million bucks when you treat him or her to a night at one of the nicest places in town (and LBV mixes a mean Shirley Temple). 510 Groveland Ave., Mpls., 612-874-6440,labellevie.us
With its Jetsons style, Galaxy Drive In has the kids begging you to pull over for burgers and fries. Indulge them by also ordering a s’mores kit and roasting marshmallows at a fire pit just outside your car. It’s not your average weeknight dinner. 3712 Quebec Ave. S., St. Louis Park, 952-277-7777, galaxy-drivein.com
The vintage Riverview Theater offers family films daily. Two bucks gets you in, and there’s real buttered popcorn (at vintage sizes and for a vintage price) waiting for you and the kids inside. Take them on a Saturday or Sunday morning or, for a true break from the routine, leave work early and head to a 5 pm weekday show. 3800 42nd Ave. S., Mpls., 612-729-7369, riverviewtheater.com
Walk Under the Stars
When the moon is nearly full in February, the Dodge Nature Center hosts a guided snowshoe trek through the woods, lit only by the orb above. Recommended for ages 5 and older. Pre-registration required. 6:30 pm. 365 Marie Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-455-4531, dodgenaturecenter.org
It’s a wild and crazy scene at Rock the Cradle on Feb. 26, a music-meets-art event where kids can listen to loud music and bust their moves on a crowded dance floor. Think of it as their version of a U2 concert, and you won’t mind the mob scene as much. (Tip: Leave the stroller at home.) 2400 3rd Ave. S., Mpls., 612-870-3000, artsmia.org
Treat your little gal like Eloise with a real tea party in the lobby of the St. Paul Hotel. The next tea is on March 11—reservations recommended. 350 Market St., St. Paul, 651-228-3860, saintpaulhotel.com
If your kids have trains on the brain, make a beeline to Choo Choo Bob’s Train Store. Kids can play for as long as they want at train tables set up in back, and benches are provided for parents. 2050 Marshall Ave., St. Paul, 651-646-5252, choochoobobs.com
Ready, Set, Go!
Choose Your Own Adventure, Inside Or Out