The Twin Cities—Minneapolis and St. Paul—have many free fun activities for children of all ages (and parents as well). Museums, malls, libraries, bookstores and more offer free workshops, music, story times, demonstrations, and meals in the Twin Cities. Here, are the 13 best places to go with the family in tow.
Visit any metro library, and get a pass for two free admissions to local museums and attractions. Destinations vary, but they always include many children's favorites. The Museum Adventure Pass includes many of the city's top museums and galleries. Current and past attractions have included the Children's Museum in downtown St. Paul, the Minnesota Zoo, the Bell Museum of Natural History and the Works Science and Technology Museum.
Como Park and Como Zoo, St. Paul
Como Park, Como Zoo, the Marjory McNeely Conservatory, and the gardens in St. Paul are free to visit. Special events like story times, watching the animals being fed and enrichment programs are held on a regular basis.
During the summer, check out the Sparky the Sea Lion show, held weekdays at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on the weekends. Como Zoo and Conservatory request a small donation, but it's optional.
Free Activites at Children's Stores
Local toy stores are great places for children to visit, and not just to shop for toys. Stores like Creative Kids Stuff, which has several metro locations, has frequent free art projects and in-store entertainment.
The best stores to visit in the Twin Cities? It's a tie between Wild Rumpus in south Minneapolis for the fanciful decor, animals and free story times.
Another wonderful store: Choo Choo Bob's train store in St. Paul, which delights little engineers with several train layouts in the rear of the store that are free to play with.
Of course, visiting a store is bound to give your tot ideas about new toys they simply cannot live without.
Free Family Concerts: Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Sinfonia
Target and the Minnesota Orchestra have frequent free family concerts. Tickets are in high demand, so they are distributed by random drawing.
The Minnesota Sinfonia, a professional chamber orchestra, plays regular free concerts at venues all over the Twin Cities metro area, with lively music aimed at children and families.
Tot Time and Open Gym at Rec Centers
This is a great way for small children to burn off energy in the winter months. The local recreation center, St. Paul's North Dale, for instance, holds twice-weekly open gym sessions for toddlers on Monday and Wednesday mornings. Plenty of large toys, balls, slides, tricycles and other toys are set out to encourage movement and activity for toddlers and pre-schoolers. Many recreation centers in the Twin Cities metro area run similar free programs, usually on weekdays during the school year.
Free Children's Music, Movies, and Entertainment in the Parks
Parks in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and across the metro area run summer programs with free screenings of children's movies, children's musicians, and bands, and entertainment. Centennial Lakes Park in Edina has the most family-friendly events with concerts and entertainment during the day and early evening.
Art, Music and Activities at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is a world-class art gallery, which is large enough to justify taking the kids there a couple of times. Look for free guides to the collections and suggestions for the best galleries where you can take children.
In addition, one Sunday a month is Family Day at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Art projects, activities, music, and entertainment based on a theme related to one of the museums collections are free for all.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is also home to the annual Rock the Cradle event, produced in conjunction with Minnesota Public Radio station The Current. It is a day of live music, art, and disco dancing for kids.
Free Story Times at Libraries and Bookstores
Almost every library in the Twin Cities holds story times. There is usually a baby story time, a toddler story time and one for pre-schoolers. Libraries are also great resources for other kinds of free entertainment, such as science classes, visiting with pets and other animals and art projects.
Local bookstores have story times, too. Chain bookstores have them, but independent stores like Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis and the Red Balloon in St. Paul have the best story times.
Free indoor play areas suitable for toddlers and small children are located in shopping malls across the metro area. The Midtown Global Market has a play area; Maplewood Mall and Rosedale Mall in Roseville both have popular play areas, Eden Prairie Center has a Minnesota-themed play area, and the Mall of America's Lego store has lots of bricks and blocks to play with.
The Twin Cities has a parade, a festival or some other kind of family-friendly celebration nearly every month, including the Winter Carnival in January and the Holidazzle Parade in December, the Aquatennial and Irish Fair in the summer, fireworks displays for Independence Day and many more. Most are free to visit or watch.
Toddler Tuesdays and Movie Saturdays at Mall of America
There's free entertainment for toddlers and preschoolers at the Mall of America every Tuesday. The weekly events include children's character appearances, entertainment, music, and discounts for families at Mall stores and restaurants.
The movie theatre at the Mall of America also screens free family movies every Saturday morning on a first-come-first-seated basis.
Free Kids Workshops at Lowes and Home Depot
The 20 Home Depot stores in the metro area hold free kid's workshops featuring tools to learn how to use and projects to create. Workshops are every Saturday morning and are suitable for children ages 5 through 12.
Lowe's stores run a Build and Grow program that also offers free Saturday classes for children ages 6 through 11, who build a project. Preregistration for the workshop is required.
Wee Wednesdays at the Midtown Global Market
The Midtown Global Market has a special program for its youngest customers on Wednesday mornings. Art projects, music, cooking demonstrations, or dancing are common themes for the morning activities. Wee Wednesday events start at 10:30 a.m. and go on until lunchtime. If you stay for lunch, you can get a free kid's meal for under $5 with purchase of an adult meal at several Midtown Global Market restaurants.