We love fall (and the pumpkin spice that comes with it) as much as the next grown-up. But we admittedly get chills when we think about hunting down cold weather alternatives to outdoor play for our kids. Luckily, D.C. is home to some of the best indoor playgrounds in the country, created for the sole purpose of letting kids go wild. And the good news is that most of them offer a fun time for grown-ups, too. Scroll down to discover the best places to play indoors.
National Building Museum
The National Building Museum has turned itself into one of the city’s go-to spots for young families by featuring two awesome play spaces for kids (not to mention the enormous lobby hall that kids are encouraged to run freely in). The Building Zone, geared to the under-6 set features blocks, costumes, books, a sandbox, and a life-size “green” house. The Play Work Build exhibit (through Nov. 18, 2014), lets kids get busy building structures with Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Bumpalow House, and Ringa-Majigs. Kids can also build—and knock down—their own structures virtually using an interactive wall.
What’s in it for you? These exhibits can be almost as fun for adults as they are for kids. Make sure to swing by the museum’s gift shop after the play is done to check out the cool toys, stationary and homegoods; by some accounts it’s the best museum shop in the city.
401 F Street NW, Washington, DC
Cost: $3 to visit the Building Zone for 45 minutes; admission to museum (including Building Zone and Play Work Build): $8/adults; $5/kids 3-17; free/children under 2
Open: Mon–Sat, 10 am–4 pm; Sun,11 am–4 pm
Play N' Learn
With locations in Chantilly, Va. and Columbia, Md., this play equipment super store boasts a whopping 14,000 square feet of combined showroom space filled to the brim with play pads, trampolines, and air hockey tables (to name a few). Of course, the play equipment is all for sale, but the stores’ main draw is their free and open play sessions that give kids warehouse-size space to run, jump and climb.
What's in it for you? Patio furniture is available for parents to kick back on while kids play.
9033 Red Branch Rd. (Columbia, Md)
102 Pepsi Pl. (Chantilly, Va)
Alexandria Soft Playroom
Alexandria's soft playroom in the Chinquapin Recreation Center is stocked with a ball pit and all sorts of other squishy equipment, including a soft slide. Designed for kids five and under, this is the place to take restless tykes on a rainy day.
What’s in it for you? Old Town Alexandria—with its window-shopping worthy boutiques (we’re looking at you Lou Lou!)—is just a stone’s throw away from the rec center. If your kid has worked up an appetite in the playroom, swing by Killer ESP: Espresso, Sorbet, Pieto find treats for everyone.
3210 King St., (Alexandria, Va)
Cost: $5/per child, per half hour
Open: Mon-Thu, 6 am-9 pm; Fri, 6 am-6 pm; Sat-Sun, 8 am-6 pm
ImagiNATIONS Activity Center at the National Museum of the American Indian
ImagiNATIONS Activity Center at the National Museum of the American Indian
This wide-open space was designed for kids to not only tucker themselves out, but to also organically explore native culture and lifestyle. Little ones can weave a huge basket, surf a virtual river in a tippy kayak, or hunker-down inside a real teepee. A library and kiddie craft center will keep bookish-types engaged. Even crawling babies can get in on the romping good fun—the museum is mostly carpeted, perfect for cruising on hands and knees.
What’s in it for you? The Mitsitam Cafe downstairs in the museum—serving native foods from around the Americas—is well known as one of the best place to eat on the Mall. During play breaks, try the cheesy fry bread or the heirloom bean and corn succotash, and wash it all down with some prickly pear agua fresca.
Fourth St. at Independence Ave., SW (National Mall)
Open: Monday 10 AM–1 PM; Tuesday through Sunday 10 AM–5 PM
Be With Me Playseum
Designed like a kid-sized town, the Playseum features rooms dressed up to look like local hot spots, like a grocery store, bakery, pizza place, and pet store. The idea is to help tots and kids (up to age 11) learn to let their imaginations run free by pretending to be cooks, grocers, doctors and shopkeepers.
What’s in it for you? The Bethesda location is smack dab in the middle of a shopping and dining wonderland. Visit Lululemon, the Apple store, or the eco-friendly toy store nearby after playtime. The D.C. location is just blocks from Eastern Market and also rubs elbows with some good shopping and dining; refuel with a homemade blueberry pop tart at Ted’s Bulletin.
7000 Wisconsin Ave. (Bethesda, Md)
Open: Mon-Sat, 9 am-6pm; Sun, 1 pm-6 pm
Chibis Indoor Playground
Now here's a place that just might be able to contain your little mover and shaker. Featuring a climbing frame and slide, a play kitchen and play living room, a train table, a doll house, a LEGO table, ride-on cars,a soft play room, and a ton of open space for stretching limbs, don't be surprised if Junior wants to do nothing but hit the hay when they get home.
What’s in it for you? This playspace has partnered with ASAP Sitters to offer designated drop off sessions (so you can run errands...or just take a nap) for kids 18 months to 6 years old.
44675 Cape Ct., (Ashburn, Va)
Sprout at Saffron
It never fails: when you need to catch up on work (or your zzz’s), kiddo wants to turn your living room into a jungle gym. Enter Sprout at Saffron, a play studio for kids where parents can take a fitness class, hop on wifi, or get a massage while kids run amuk. The youngest visitors get to have mom or dad right in the playroom (which is equipped with slides, books, blocks, and mats), while older kids get hands-on fun with instructors during open play or classes like Move ‘n Groove.
What’s in it for you? This “co-work co-play studio” gives parents the chance to work or relax, either in cubicles in the baby playroom for close proximity to the littlest kids or in the on-site café and workspace. There’s also on-site yoga and mommy and me fitness classes for blowing off a little steam.
3260 Wilson Blvd. (Arlington, Va)
Nook: Play Well
This family hangout in Arlington, Va. is synonymous with cool, calm, and collected. It bucks the overstimulate-to-wear-’em-out trend (as much as we appreciate those options, too), while still managing to be an engaging experience for little ones.
What's in it for you?
The interior at this play space is the perfect backdrop for some killer mama-razzi shots.
5649 Lee Hwy (Arlington, Va)
The centerpiece of this kid space is the mega-roster of classes. From a construction-themed art class and hip-hop dance to a railroad-inspired music class and high energy obstacle course fun, there's something to attract the attentions of every itty bitty in your family. At certain times throughout the week, they transform their gym area into a supervised indoor playspace for littles to run climb and jump around.
What’s in it for you? After kiddo is settled into his class, you can settle into this hot spot's Sit n' Snack cafe, where you can grab a snack and check your text messages.
4825 Bethesda Ave., (Bethesday, Md)
Cost: Varies depending on drop-in/class
The main goal at this play place is to spark kids’ (ages 0-6) creativity and play-inspired learning without the over-excitement and stimulation that’s often found at other indoor playgrounds. The creators, who are also parents, achieve their goal with super=curated stations–think: an indoor wooden play structure, an indoor water table, and toys that require interaction and imagination. All activities and classes (i.e. sign language, baby hip hop, friendship workshop) are designed to boost development and social skills.
What's in it for you? The owners have sprinkled article print-outs throughout the space that detail the importance of play for parents to read while sipping their gratis java and watching the littles.
709 8th St., SE (Capitol Hill)
Where do your kids let loose indoors? Dish in the comments section below.