Where are you going to play today? When your living room loses its luster (your kiddos can only bounce off the walls for so long), check out a neighborhood play space. With indoor jungle gyms, pretend play areas, tons of toys and even an indoor sandbox, the options in Chicago and the ‘burbs have something for every kind of kid. Plus, many have cafes — with coffee! — for parents. Click through to discover options you have to head to.
Kidville Lincoln Park
Known as a “kiddie campus,” the open structure allows children to explore a variety of interests without declaring a major. Dabble in art, music, dance, gym, enrichment and preschool classes. Without a doubt, this is the ultimate play space for kids that want to work their gross motor skills. The large padded room offers a trampoline, swings or just a place to literally bounce off the walls. But kids can explore their artistic side, too. Music classes are led by an actual live band and puppets. Be sure to check the schedule at their website, since free play spaces are open around classes and hours vary.
Good to know: Kidville has free garage parking. (Hallelujah.)
1030 W. North Ave., Lincoln Park (312-344-1815 or kidville.com)
Purple Monkey Playroom
Muraled walls fill this place with character and cheer. This spot has become a hub for parents in Bucktown and beyond. Best suited to kids ages 0-4, it's intimately sized to allow little ones free range to gain independence while you keep tabs on things. The focus here is imaginative play; it has a hut-style house including a play kitchen as well as a nice stock of dress-up clothes. Gross motor skills can be developed on the balance beam or small toddler slide.
Good to know: Outside food is allowed and the play space provides complimentary coffee, tea and WiFi. There are some snacks available for purchase.
2040 N. Western Ave., (773-772-8411 or purplemonkeyplayroom.com).
Little Beans Cafe
Little Beans Cafe was one of the first and remains one of the most popular play spaces in the city. The play area is designed as a mini city, with a fire house, repair shop, grocery store and more. What really makes this space unique is the pretend play structures outline a wide open space in the middle. So, there is more than enough room to run, jump or ride one of their many riding toys and let it rip! There’s a small fenced in yard to protect crawlers from all the action. Many parents spend an entire day here, since it’s one of the few play spaces that offers a full menu. In the summer, you also have the option to play outside on the deck while enjoying a treat from the ice cream shop.
Good to know: The Evanston location offers the fun of the mini city and has Big Beans, for kids through twelve. Older kids love the Ninja Warrior Obstacle Course – it includes a foam pit and zip-line and the karaoke room for dressing up and rockin’ out to favorite pop songs.
1809 W. Webster Ave., Lincoln Park (773-251-1025 or littlebeanscafe.com)
430 Asbury Ave., Evanston (847-807-3731 or littlebeanscafe.com)
As pretty as it is playful, Sod Room is a sight to behold. Its beautiful layout is environmentally friendly with tons of natural light. Lined with windows on the east side and skylights, this is a place to catch some sun on even the coldest day. Whiz down the slide and scurry up the climbing wall at the two-story wooden tree loft. This place is pure, relaxed fun where babies as well as five-year-olds will feel at home. Mamas of little ones can drop in for “Milk and Cookies,” a weekly breastfeeding clinic.
Good to know: There are two entrances; one is a walk up that involves a flight of stairs and the other is an elevator entrance a few doors down at the Marquee Building.
1454 S. Michigan Ave., South Loop (312-922-3131 or sodroom.com).
Bubbles devotes most of its schedule to classes, preschool and parties, but they do offer open play times every afternoon. Kids ages 0-2 head to the carpeted Meadow Room for fun with climbing toys, tunnels, blocks and balls, while kids ages 3-6 congregate in the Loose Parts Lab for open-ended exploration of natural materials, play dough, sensory art and more.
2184 N. Elston, Lincoln Park (312-944-7677 or bubblesacademy.com).
Wish you were on the beach, wiggling your toes in the sand? You can do it right here. This play space has a giant indoor sandbox for year 'round play. The non-toxic, moldable sand brushes right off (they also clean it regularly). While your little beach bums frolic, you can kick back with a Julius Meinl coffee and a snack from the a cafe. This makes Kid's Island feel like a true escape.
1358 W. Webster Ave., Lincoln Park (773-935-6060 or chicagokidsisland.net).
Created by early childhood teachers and moms, everything is designed to guide littles through their milestones and enrich dramatic play experiences. Kiddos can enjoy the Kids Crooked House, a miniature replica of the traditional Wilmette home, a toddler gym, and an art table. Best news is there’s no clean up involved! Romp around during open play or take advantage of the abundance of classes and sing-a-longs throughout the week, many offered for free as perk of admission.
404 Linden Ave., Wilmette (847-728-0562 or growthspurtsplay.com).
Sip coffee, get your kiddo’s hair clipped and play the day away at Pickle’s. Open playtime (30 minutes) is included in the price of a haircut. Show off your new ‘do as you romp around the play space, which features a six-foot-long tube slide, a control tower where you can pretend to be a pilot, and a play market and kitchen. The cafe is separate but open to the play area. So, if you have an older independent child you can enjoy your coffee and still keep an eye on their adventures. Babies can stop by for Tummy Time Tunes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Insider tip: The parking lot is metered, so be sure to pay for parking before entering.
2315 W. Lawrence Ave., Lincoln Square (773-293-7747 or picklesplayroom.com).
Toys, blocks and games are a-okay, but this Evanston play space goes beyond all that. It uses a large portion of its space to encourage creativity through arts and crafts. Go ahead and get messy with play-dough, glue, paint and chalk without worrying about cleanup. Guests almost always leave with a completed project … and a sense of pride. Don’t be fooled though, there are also opportunities other than art, including yoga and language classes.
602 Davis St., Evanston (847-859-2312 or meetatgather.com).
The C.A.K.E. Village
CAKE stands for Culture of Africa for Kids Everywhere and the mission is in the name! Children can come in for open play in the large room designed to resemble an African village complete with huts, a market and a stage. Older children can participate in cooking classes or arts activities inspired by African heritage. Hidden in an office building, CAKE Village is truly a hidden gem.
More good news: Want to bring a piece of CAKE to you? Ask about their outreach programs -- they take some of their lessons and classes on the road.
611 E. Main St., East Dundee (224- 699-9968 or thecakevillage.com).
Spacious and familial, Kid City has the comforts of home -- and smiley employees, to boot. Highlights include a pretend dress up boutique, grocery store and relaxing room for parents. There is a special area designated for the two-and-under set. Drop-in at one of their holiday themed parties for extra fun!
Insider tip: Pack a peanut-free lunch for your clan. Kid City provides a refrigerator and microwave for your convenience.
1837 W. Grand Ave., Ukrainian Village (312-829-6775 or kidcitychicago.com).
A sheriff’s office, a princess palace and a pet clinic — all fit into this little world in which children can imagine they are almost anything. Character visits add even more fun to this space, Ariel stopped by in April! When the imagination needs a break, kids can enjoy free Thomas the Tank Engine rides and a bubbles show at 11 am and 2 pm daily.
Easy bites: Feel free to bring in peanut-free food or order from Stella’s pizza next door.
1141 Butterfield Rd., Wheaton (630-260-8545 or kidstownplayandparty.com).
This roomy, sun-dappled oasis is set up like a mini city with several interactive areas to explore, from a veterinarian’s office to a grocery store. While kids zip around in toy cars, tinker with a train table and cut loose, parents and caregivers can kick back on the couch or join the unplugged fun. Things here stay relatively calm and parents appreciate having a space that allows their kids to play without winding them up.
Insider tip: There’s free WiFi, plus snacks, drinks and baked goods from Sugar Fixe bakery for sale.
206 S. Marion St., Oak Park (708-848-4815 or peekabooplayroom.com).
Bellaboo Play and Discovery Center
Why venture to Indiana for a play space? Because this one, which feels like a hybrid of a children's museum and play space, is truly out of this world. Every aspect of Bellaboo’s is open ended, play based and unstructured, which means your kiddo really gets to use his or her imagination. With a circular layout, each themed area is actually an entire room. Have a blast in the climbing room, water room, pizzeria, arts and craft room, actual cooking area (yes, real food!) and a room for smaller tots. A full menu in the cafe means you can make a day of it. Weather permitting, they offer an outdoor area as well.
Insider tip: Go early to get started and give your kiddos the most opportunity to do it all!
2800 Colorado St., Lake Station, Ind. (219-963-2070 or mybellaboos.com).
What is your favorite local play space? Let us know in the Comments!
— Maria Chambers & Lisa Snart