There is only so much Play-Doh, coloring, and Caillou that a parent and child can take before needing to get out of the house. Unfortunately, the freezing temperatures this Winter limit the outdoor play possibilities and it becomes harder to help kids get the physical activity that they need. Over the past three years, we have explored a number of indoor play places with N and when applicable I will share my experiences with you. So, in no particular order, here are some of the best indoor play places in Center City, West Philadelphia, and South Philadelphia for you and your children to enjoy this Winter, and throughout the year:
1. Nest (1301 Locust Street)– This is an indoor playground and enrichment center with activities ranging from organized classes to open gym to a hair salon. One of the best features of the Nest is its variety, in that you can eat, shop, and play all in one place. We have taken three Nest classes over the years and enjoyed all of them. In addition, Nest hosts fun parties throughout the year, including a Halloween Nestival with costumes, treats, and music. The indoor playspace is in the basement, so lacks in natural light, but is beautifully designed to look like an outdoor green space. It includes a variety of wooden toys and building materials that encourage imaginative play, as well as a birdhouse with a slide, which is as close to a backyard as my city kids get. There is also a separate adjacent space for pre-walkers, so that the older children do not trample them! Other features include clean, family friendly bathrooms, a kids table for snacking, and a counter area where parents can sit and chat while watching their kids play.
Ages: 6 weeks-6 years
Bonus feature: In addition to the Snack Cafe inside the Nest, the Green Eggs Cafe is next door and offers delicious brunch, lunch, and dinner options for families.
Cons: Expensive. Membership is $356/year; one-day play pass is $15.
2) Philly InMovement (500 Kenilworth Street)– This indoor space hosts classes, camps, birthday parties, and open gym throughout the year. For $10 you get 45-minutes of Open Gym play Monday through Friday or family Open Gym on the weekends. The space is well padded and includes a variety of gymnastics equipment that your children likely don’t get to experience at other playspaces. We recently attended a birthday party at this site and had a blast trying out the uneven bars, trampolines, and rings. This is a great place to introduce your little ones to gymnastics before committing to a class.
Ages: 10 mos-12 years, as well as classes for adults
Bonus feature: Passport with the Queen Village Art Center can be used interchangeably with the two sites. So your little one can do Open Gym and then Open Art Studio ($60 for 8 visits).
Cons: Hard to find! 500 Kenilworth is located between Bainbridge and Fitzwater, but you have to walk down Bainbridge between 5th and 6th to get there.
3) Ikea (2206 South Columbus Boulevard)– This may not be the first place you think of to take your kids, but it is a favorite rainy day destination for our family. Ikea makes shopping with kids easy because they have wide, winding aisles with interspersed play stations for kids, a family friendly cafeteria (including children’s menu and eating area), and a children’s toy section where they can play with sample items. If you want to get some shopping done without your kids too, there is a playspace called “Smaland” with a “Swedish forest atmosphere,” where children play free for 60 minutes. As Smaland is for children between 4-10 years and my oldest is 2, I can’t testify firsthand to what this experience is like. I do know though that my son loves driving his truck throughout the store and ending with a frozen yogurt ($1) on the way out.
Ages: 4-10 years for Smaland, otherwise all ages
Bonus feature: Kids eat free on Tuesdays!
Cons: The line to check-out at the registers is often long and makes waiting with a small child unpleasant.
4) Grow Thru Play (1636 South Street)– This gym is unique in that the play classes are run by physical therapists and offer more specialized developmental expertise in their play-based programs. These programs offer benefits to kids with sensory processing disorders, but are open to all kids.
Ages: infant/toddler classes and children’s classes for ages 3-10
Bonus feature: Weekly support groups are offered for parents with children of special needs.
Cons: Although classes are led by physical and occupational therapists, they do not accept medical insurance at this time.
5) Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse (3500 Reservoir Drive)– A 16,000 square foot indoor playhouse with a life-sized doll house, tricycle race track, and plenty of opportunities for unstructured, imaginative play. Tuesday mornings are reserved for families and Wednesdays at 10:30 AM is story time. When the weather is permitting there is an amazing outdoor playground, but the indoor playhouse remains open all year. Admission is free, but donations are recommended and appreciated. Smith is also available for groups (reservations for groups > 8) and birthday parties.
Ages: Playground 0-10 years; Playhouse 0-5 years
Bonus feature: Birthday party rental rates were LOWERED in 2014!
Cons: Difficult to reach by public transportation from Center City, but both the #3 and #32 buses will get you within 1/3 mile.
6) Lucky Strike (1336 Chestnut)– This bowling alley is cooler than what I grew up with and will surely impress your tween. The location includes 24 lanes, billiards, and food, and hosts kids parties for ages 3 and up.
Ages: 3 and up, or whenever your child learns to bowl
Bonus feature: Weekday lunch & bowl: buy any menu item and get 1 free game between 12-2PM.
Cons: can be noisy and expensive
Another bowling option is North Bowl (909 North 2nd Street). Of note, you must be 21 and over after 9PM and it is cash only for bowling.
7) Penn Museum (3620 South Street)– What may seem like the type of museum where small children are unwelcome due to fragile artifacts, the Penn Museum actually has a number of programs geared toward small scientists. In particular is the Gallery Romp, a monthly event where children ages 3-6 explore the galleries through stories, crafts, and play.
Ages: 3 and up
Bonus feature: Free admission for Penn card holders.
Cons: Some areas of the museum are not air-conditioned and can be quite hot in the Summer.
8) Chuck E. Cheese (9 Snyder Avenue)– We went to our first Chuck E. Cheese birthday party recently and although N was a little overwhelmed, he really enjoyed playing the games and exploring the climbing structures. If your child doesn’t understand the concept of tokens or has difficulty with limit-setting, this may not be the right place for you.
Ages: toddlers and up
Bonus feature: “Kid Check:” a unique hand stamp that matches children and parents is applied at entrance and checked at exit.
Cons: Can be overwhelming for small children.
10) World Cafe Live Concert Series (3025 Walnut Street )– The weekly Peanut Butter & Jams concert series is an interactive music experience for families on Saturdays at 11AM. Most shows include a variety of musical styles, from rock to jazz to pop. Check the website for the weekly performance schedule.
Ages: all ages
Bonus feature: Family friendly lunch buffet afterwards
Cons: No outside food and lunch buffet not included in ticket price.
11) Sound All Around (Broad and Locust)– This program gives kids the opportunity to learn from members of the Philadelphia Orchestra while listening to stories and playing instruments. Concerts are 45 minutes long and are interactive. Tickets are $10 per person.
Ages: toddlers and up
Bonus feature: Meet a member of the orchestra. The online schedule lets you know the member and their instrument ahead of time for your show date.
Cons: Less physically active than some of the other places on this list.
12) Go Vertical (950 North Penn Street)– This indoor rock gym is the largest of its kind on the East Coast and offers a variety of climbing experiences for all levels of climbers. The gym offers a kids camp program for kids aged 7-12
Ages: Belaying is limited to those 13 and up.
Bonus feature: Free parking
Cons: Most classes and after school programs are for teens only.
13) Please Touch Museum (4231 Avenue of the Republic)– As the name suggests, this museum is very hands-on! There are plenty of opportunities for your little ones to climb, throw, and run and unlike other museums these behaviors are actually encouraged here! From boarding a Septa bus to jumping on piano keys, there are myriad opportunities to explore, create, and imagine. One of our favorites is usually the water exhibit and of course, Alice in Wonderland. The museum has a variety of special events, so check out their website for details. There is also a Please Taste cafe with kid-friendly foods. I previously wrote about one of our days at Please Touch here.
Ages: all ages, but best for kids who can walk independently to get the full experience
Bonus feature: Take a ride in a refurbished century-old carousel!
Cons: If you aren’t a member, it is expensive (children > 1 and adults are $17 each)
14) Academy of Natural Sciences (1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway)– Bring your budding paleontologist to this natural history museum for dinosaurs, butterflies, and dioramas! My little guy loved running around and looking at all of the animals, living and otherwise. Kids can get their hands dirty in digging for dinosaur bones or touching animals in the “Outside In” exhibit, including lizards, tortoise, and cockroaches! Special features include birthday parties, overnight sleepovers, and summer camps.
Ages: all ages welcome; most programs best for Pre-K to 5th grade
Bonus feature: Sleep next to T-Rex! Safari Overnights for kids aged 7-14 years.
Cons: The live animal exhibits will be closed for renovations January 6th through early February.
15) Franklin Institute (222 North 20th Street)– This is an amazing science museum for school-aged children, with exhibits including a train factory, giant heart, and sports challenge. There is also an IMAX theatre and a Planetarium, where you can view the stars of Hollywood and our solar system respectively. This museum also has options for birthday parties, overnight sleepovers, group rates, and field trips. For a science geek like myself, this museum is a must see.
Ages: all ages, but best for your school-aged child
Bonus feature: Teachers from the tri-state area visit free! Click here for more information.
Cons: With the large number of visitors, including school trips, the museum can be crowded at times.
There are many other museums in Philadelphia that offer family gallery tours, workshops, story times, and art education. Most of these are less play and more didactic, which is why I didn’t include them in the list above. However, they are great indoor options for your well-behaved preschooler or inquisitive older child/teen. For more information on these, check here: The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Barnes Foundation, Mutter Museum, Rodin Museum, National Liberty Museum, National Museum of American Jewish History, Independence Seaport Museum, and Rosenbach Museum and Library among others!
16) ZoomDance (multiple locations, including West Philly, Queen Village, and Rittenhouse)– This high-energy dance class incorporates story-telling and movement, including ballet and acrobatics. They are also available for kids parties and to provide kids activities during grown-up parties. We recently attended a ZoomDance birthday party and N had a great time running around and acting out a story.
Ages: 1.5-8 years
Bonus feature: 1-week mini-camps for ages 3-8 are available each Winter and Summer.
Cons: The Winter session already started on 1/11/14.
17) Philly Art Center (Queen Village and Fairmount locations)– These art centers provide everything from classes to one-day workshops to camps. Classes in music and art are available for children and adults, with titles like “Sewing Machine Foundations,” “Experimental Media, Collage and Print,” and “Family Music Adventures.” Both locations have drop-in open studio and playgroup days, so check online for times and details. We have done a music class here and loved it (shout out, Mr. Frank!), as well as a few birthday parties, which in addition to being fun were very well organized.
Ages: all ages
Bonus feature: After school programs with pick-up from local schools (see website for details).
Cons: Due to low enrollment, sometimes a class may be canceled.
18) Kids on 12th (204 South 12th Street)– In addition to after school programs and swim classes, this kids gym has “No School Day Camps” for all of the snow days and school holidays when parents need to work. A single-day drop-in will cost $40-50, but members pay $25.
Ages: 3 and up
Bonus feature: extended hours for pick-up as late as 6:15 PM
Cons: no classes for babies or toddlers
19) Playgroup at Tolentine Community Center (1025 Mifflin Street)– This newly formed playgroup features stories, singing, exercise, games, and free-play from 10:45-noon for only $3 per child.
Ages: 0-6 years
Bonus feature: Group led by a college education major.
Cons: Advertised through the South Philly Parents Resource Center, but limited information available elsewhere.
20) Hall-Mercer Child and Parent Playgroup (245 South 8th Street)– This is a play and discussion group for families with young children so that parents can find support and friendship with each other while kids play in a child-friendly environment. Drop-in groups are offered in the Winter for families looking for indoor playspaces.
Ages: 0-3 years
Bonus feature: Facilitated by professionals with a background in child development and parent education.
Cons: Classes fill quickly so you should register early.
For indoor play places in the Greater Philadelphia area, visit these blogs for other suggestions:
Delaware County indoor play places –
[Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the organizations, blogs, or businesses listed above, other than my affiliation with the University of Pennsylvania. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this post. I am not responsible for the content of external links. Prices and details about these venues were up-to-date at time of publication, but please view their websites for current information.]