What do you get when you combine an imaginative play area with a cafe? Don’t answer yet — there’s more. Add an art studio, indoor obstacle course, basketball court, party rooms, karaoke room and enough 100-watt smiles to light up Willis Tower. We’re talking about Little Beans Evanston, a kiddie haven for all ages that just opened its doors. Yes, you should get excited because it’s exactly as cool as it sounds. Read on for the scoop.

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Need to Know
Little Beans Cafe and Family Activity Center in Evanston is the second location of the loved play space and cafe in Lincoln Park. Like the original, the new North Shore oasis has a warm, familial feel — but this time, the opportunities for play are super-sized. With different themed rooms and a welcoming indoor lighthouse (a nod to the nearby Grosse Point Lighthouse), it’s a massive romper room/gym with activities for littles (like a camping-themed pretend-play zone) and bigs (did you catch the part about the obstacle course?). It has set hours for open play and also hosts parties, playgroups, classes and camps.

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For the Little Beans 
The main attraction for the 0-6 age range is the “play village.” Kids can dart from one huge play structure to another or scoot around on ride-on cars within view of their parent or caregiver. Fashioned after a campground, the space includes a topsy-turvy-looking clubhouse (complete with a tube slide), camper, trading post, ranger station and animal hospital. Each area is a mini universe of imaginative play and is stocked with age-appropriate toys, from plush critters to faux tools to fire hoses.

The wide-open room has a special gated corner just for crawlers. Also, a designated infant room is tucked in the back, and is great place for parents’ groups to meet. The intimate, carpeted space keeps small babies out of the hubbub so Mom and Dad can chat without worry and supervise tummy time.

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For the Big Beans
While most play spaces cap off at about five years old, Little Beans Evanston makes sure older kids are included. In fact, they get their own “Ninja obstacle course.” The massive, custom-built shebang has little warriors jumping hurdles, climbing ropes, sliding down poles, walking on rings, and zooming across a foam pit on a zip line. Kids are encouraged to line up and tackle the course one by one. A green “go” button at the beginning and red “stop” button at the end adds excitement and an “American Gladiator” sense of urgency.

The big-kid zone also includes a half-court gym for games and basketball, and a lounge complete with air hockey and ping pong. Don’t leave the lounge without looking at the floor: A cool new digital gaming system called Eye Play projects games on the ground, which you play by stepping and stomping on images. Choose from soccer, hockey or a fun gopher-catching adventure. (Psst … Little Beans in Lincoln Park just added Eye Play, too, and you can find it in a new room to the side of the cafe.)

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Extras You’ll Love
Apart from the main play areas, there are a few extras. The karaoke room — open at select times throughout the day — pumps kid-friendly tunes while budding American Idols let it rip into microphones. Before their starring moment, they can get primped in the “dressing room” stocked with boas, hats and other accessories.

If quiet time is on our agenda, hit the reading room, a relaxing lair with comfy chairs and, soon, a full bookshelf. Nearby, hole up in the art room, where you can tackle the project of the day or make a masterpiece of your own imagining.

Plans are in the works to offer several classes in conjunction with local businesses like Dance to Evolve, Kit Gymnastics and Fonseca Martial Arts. Music, yoga and more will also be on the agenda.

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A Cafe With a Drive-Thru
The front-of-the-house cafe is a sunny destination unto itself and caters to families that have to work around lunch and feeding schedules. The menu has panini sandwiches, salads, soups, pastries, milkshakes and snacks. Coffee comes from Intelligentsia and is available in the cafe or through a drive-thru window — perfect for getting charged up for a day at this powerhouse new spot.

Little Beans Evanston
430 Asbury Ave.
Evanston
847-807-3731
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. (Drive-thru open 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. daily)
Admission: $12 day pass for the first child; $10 for the first sibling and additional siblings are $8
5-visit passes, 10-visit passes, monthly passes and Family VIP memberships are also available
Online: littlebeanscafe.com/Evanston

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Will you visit this new play gym? Let us know in the Comments!

— Kelly Aiglon