The bad news: If you’re reading this, it probably means it’s gross outside. The good news: The city and ‘burbs are full of awesome places to hang out indoors with little ones. Here, a bunch of stellar family-friendly indoor fun zones, all with easy hours, distinct vibes and different attributes. (That’s our way of saying that there are some at which you’ll romp around with your kid inside a sprawling playground, others where you can sit on the sidelines and thumb through your phone while they throw themselves into a giant foam pit. And in some cases, all that fun is even free*!)
Location: South Philly
The play space: The huge blue warehouse that sells affordable furniture and uses a lot of umlauts also has a large play space that is … wait for it … free (!) and supervised (!), so you can browse the wares or eat Swedish meatballs all by yourself. When the kids get bored of that (or when you’ve maxed out the one-hour time limit) take them upstairs to play in the faux room vignettes and with the toys. Kids must be between 37 and 52 inches tall and potty-trained to hang out in the play space.
Bonus: Be on the lookout for family specials, like storytimes, free food for the tots and sweet family parking spots that are close to the entrance.
Momo’s Tree House
Location: Old City
The play space: Momo’s is primarily a toy store, but the super-friendly owner encourages her tiny shoppers to test out all the awesome goods in the cozy play area, which has ride-ons, a train table, kitchen, building tools and toys and seating for the grown-ups. There’s also a pint-sized table with themed crafts.
Bonus: There are free storytimes every Wednesday at 3:30.
Philly Art Center
Locations: Fairmount, Queen Village and Cherry Hill
The play space: All three outposts of this cheery art studio offer art and music classes for kids, babies and adults, as well as after-school programs. (They’ve received multiple Best of Philly wins.) They also have drop-in, open-studio classes for newborns to three-year-olds (and their parents) during the week.
Bonus: Worth remembering: The Art Center is also known for their awesome birthday parties for kiddos.
Location: Midtown Village and Chestnut Hill
The play space: The original outpost of this city-kid mecca is the only space of its kind in Center City, with classes (for kids and parents), a kids’ haircut salon, a little children’s boutique and party spaces. But parents who are simply desperate to get out of the house head straight for the downstairs, a large (by city standards), nature-themed play area with dress-up clothes, tons of toys, books and a custom-built playhouse for climbing and sliding. Parents can play or watch on seating nearby. Sometimes they’ll close for a birthday party or event; it’s best to check their Facebook page for real-time updates. The Chestnut Hill outpost, which opened last year, offers much of the same awesome programming and play space, and has its own website and Facebook page to follow, as well.
Bonus: Healthy snacks and drinks are available onsite.
Please Touch Museum
Location: Fairmount Park
The play space: It’s called a museum, but really, it’s a huge, kick-ass space for open play and exploration, with a little history and science thrown in. PTM is divided into several “exhibits” featuring things like an Alice in Wonderland maze, climb-in cars, a SEPTA bus, a “rocket ship” room, special rotating exhibitions and so much more. There’s also live programming — theater, art, music and such. In short: This place is awesome. (Which also means it can get pretty crowded on a weekend—weekdays tend to be less congested.)
Bonus: PTM only closes two days a year: Christmas and Thanksgiving.
The play space: You’ll find retro ephemera, an arcade and snacks at this scene-y, rather hilarious, completely quirky and totally fun nine-hole indoor mini-golf spot.
Bonus: Kids under four get in free.
Free Library of Philadelphia
Location: 55 locations around Philadelphia. Find yours here.
The play space: The spaces vary, but a lot of the local branches have really nice, warm and welcoming hangout areas for kids, complete with games, puzzles, and—obviously—a wonderful selection of free books. Central Library in particular has an expansive kids’ section, with kind librarians, cozy seating and an entire room set aside for the regular storytimes.
Bonus: There’s a library storytime aimed at just about every demographic, from infants to toddlers to kids with special sensory needs, and more. Check out the calendar for the schedule and locations.
Location: Queen Village
The play space: This kids’ gym — complete with a rock wall, low balance beams, trampolines and more — is primarily for classes, camps and after-school programs, but they have drop-in open gym every day of the week and on the occasional weekend. Check the “Our Programs” tab on the website for the open gym schedule.
Bonus: Look for the occasional date night/parents’ night out on the calendar: They offer entertainment and pizza for kids ages 5 to 12, $25 a kid.
Smith Memorial Playground
Location: Fairmount Park
The play space: Smith Playground is one of those special spots that make Philly such a great place for families. In the warmer weather, the playground and giant wooden slide are the big draws, but in the frigid months, the enormous — and totally free — playhouse will keep the kids buzzing around for hours. On each floor you’ll find a ton of well-loved but crowd-pleasing toys, like bikes and trikes in the basement, and dollhouses and books upstairs. (And okay, yes, it’s free, but they do take donations to keep the place running.)
Bonus: Check out Smith’s website for story readings, events, craft hours and playtimes reserved especially for families (as in, no schools or groups).
Location: South Philly
The play space: This groovy indoor 18-hole mini-golf course has a twist: It’s all cosmic and blacklight lit. You’ll also find snacks, drinks and an arcade.
Bonus: On Fridays, players get $2 in arcade tokens for every round on the links.
Location: Graduate Hospital and Fairmount
The play space: With her soulful voice, interactive storytelling and adorably appointed studios, the mesmerizing Ms. Pam has the ability to put even the most unruly toddler into a sit-and-stay trance. At her magical Little Theater venue in Grad Ho and at her new Fairmount Theater outpost, she offers lots of drop-in “storyplays” aimed at kids of all ages (but especially geared toward infants through 3.5-year-olds). Expect 40 minutes of story readings, music, dance and puppets. (You’ll have fun, too!)
Bonus: Check out the mini-bookstore, which is filled with Pam’s favorite tales. Also, keep an eye on the calendar, because Miss Pam and crew have been doing pop-up storyplay days all over the city.
Kids at Play
Location: East Falls
The play space: The brand new indoor “multi-sensory playground” has a zip line, toddler area, ball pits swings and slides. It’s geared toward toddlers through 12-year-olds, and accepts both members and drop-ins (drop-in hours are offered every day except Saturday).
Bonus: The really cool thing about this place is that it is geared toward every child, with special inclusion of (and services geared toward) kids who need occupational therapy, speech therapy and/or physical therapy. Many classes are designed with those goals in mind, but the classes and the play space is also just geared toward fun play and some energy-burning activity for everyone.
The play space: The flamingos might be inside watching reruns of Miami Vice, but there are plenty of heated houses filled with animals and activities at the zoo in the winter. The newish KidZooU features a tot lot, activities and daily shows (see rats do tricks on ropes!); the reptile house houses all the sort of creepy creatures that kids love; the McNeil Avian Center offers colorful birds, trainers who want to chat, and a 4D theater experience; and the small mammal house contains lemurs and semi-cute furry things that like to play and hide. (Psst: The big cats, including the adorable cubs, stay out all winter if you want to brave it.)
Bonus: Throughout the past few years, the zoo has made big changes, including encouraging more interactivity with the keepers and experts. You’ll find lots of shows and quick talks throughout the day. Also: Since the gorillas are inside for most of the winter, the Gorilla Treeway has become part of the big cats’ territory, which is good news for your little lion-lover.
Primp & Play
Location: Washington Square West
The play space: The new kid-friendly spa space is so smart we wish we’d thought of it first. You, grown-up, can drop in for a spa treatment (manis, pedis, waxing, lash-tinting, massage, etc.) while your kid either joins you (kiddie manis are just $12) or heads off to the craft area. A staffer (trained in childcare) is always on hand to sit and instruct little ones in their crafts (which range in price from $8 to $14); crafts can be adapted for any age group, form toddlers to teens. No appointment necessary.
Bonus: P&P often hosts special events, day camps and workshops—it’s best to follow them on Facebook for the latest scoop. Additionally, they have the very popular Music Monkey Jungle on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Location: South Philly
The play space: The new parenting center and meeting space in South Philly is the brick and mortar outpost from the people who run the Kids South of Washington list-serve and the fantastic CityKids Consignment Sale, and they offer classes from music to mom-and-me yoga to Snapology (building models with Duplo blocks), as well as meet-up groups and family happy hours. Classes are open to everyone; the meet-ups and play times are open to those who pay the $100-a-year fee.
Bonus: You can rent the space for birthdays and showers!
Location: King of Prussia
The play space: Trampolines galore, a foam pit, a slackline, a fidget ladder, trampoline dodge ball … the list of fun ways to burn some energy seems endless. In terms of straight jumping, there’s “big air” — that’s wall-to-wall trampolines geared toward bigger kids — and there’s the “kiddie court” for kids under 46 inches.
Bonus: The “ninja course” is a maze of trampolines and walls that promises endless fun for bigger kids.
King of Prussia Mall
The play space: There are two sizable play zones inside the Brobdingnagian mall, complete with tunnels, slides and foam structures built for climbing, plus interactive toys that encourage kids to pretend to be doctors and nurses (likely because CHOP is a sponsor). You’ll find one at the Court (near the food court) and one in the Plaza (outside of J.C. Penny).
Bonus: They’re free.
The play space: This adorable studio features classes that focus on kids really using their hands — so there’s cooking, music, art, sculpting and more. Open studio time is built into the week; kids are encouraged to pick activities that intrigue them, from easel painting to crafts and other “tactile experiences.” Check the site for the schedule.
Bonus: Got a gaggle of kids? You don’t need to fear the price tag on playtime: The Clubhouse offers a discounted price off the $12 open studio fee for the second sibling — down to $8 — and an even deeper discount for the third/fourth/fifth, etc.
Linvilla Orchards Mini-Golf
The play space: From January 15 through April 3, Linvilla and the Academy of Natural Sciences pair up to run a great little 18-hole indoor mini-golf course at the orchards. It’s called “Fore the Planet” (each hole has an eco theme) and it’s a cozy, but not claustrophobic, experience. The natural light filtering through the space feels like a little pick-me-up.
Bonus: The farm market bakery’s apple cider donuts.
The play space: Lulu’s Casita was opened in October 2013 by two Spanish-speaking women who wanted to provide a simple, entertaining go-to for area kids. This cheerful 4,000-foot family center includes a plush babies-only area in addition to lots of space for bigger, more active toddlers and young kids — space that includes a Lego wall, a dress-up area, lots of books and an imagination playground with huge blocks, slides, tents, a ball pit and more. Lulu’s also boasts lots of room for parents to sit comfortably; coffee is allowed on the play floor (as long as it has a lid), and the house cafe serves La Colombe … plus breakfast and lunch food like bagels, muffins, cupcakes, sandwiches and empanadas.
Bonus: This place offers a ton of extracurriculars aside from just the usual playspace options: There are regular parent/kid meet-ups, music circles, regular kid drop-off hours, BYOB and Pizza Fridays, and so on, and on.
Oasis Family Fun Center
Location: Glen Mills
The play space: Glen Mills’ massive (20,000 square feet!) mecca of indoor entertainment includes a rock wall, a laser maze, an arcade, a giant “soft” playground and more guaranteed kid-pleasers, especially if your kids are a little older and more active. You can buy a pass so your kids have access to it all, or you can simply pay for admission to the great playground and “Ballocity” area (which is like a playground, but with 5,000 soft foam balls), and let them wear themselves out running and climbing and sliding. (It’s not all for big kids: The soft playground also offers a special toddler area for kids 3 and under.)
Bonus: Oasis is open seven days a week.
The Play Cafe
Location: Bryn Mawr
The play space: Geared toward infants on up through 5-year-olds, the Play Cafe offers 4,000 square feet of well-designed fun space, including a designated area for young babies and new walkers, a Lego loft, a performance stage with a dress-up station, and a 9-foot-wide drawing wall with dry erase markers and more. For parents, there’s a great hangout area with La Colombe coffee, smoothies and snacks.
Bonus: The Play Cafe does offer classes (Art! Music! Science!) for kids at times — check the site for details and schedules.
Sky Zone Trampoline Park
Locations: Suburban Pennsylvania locations include Glen Mills, Oaks and Levittown, with a Chalfont location coming soon; there’s also an outpost in Moorestown, New Jersey.
The play space: Picture a Home Depot-sized warehouse with trampolines everywhere. Snag a pair of special orange jumping socks, and set your kid free to explore the trampoline areas, slam dunk zone, and a foam pit that feels deeper than the Pacific. The jumping areas are divided by age group, so no need to worry that your little one is going to get knocked over by a hulking 7-year-old (in fact, the house rules say that if you can walk, you can jump in safety). Check out the schedule for special events, toddler times and fitness classes for adults.
Bonus: Get yourself a ticket, too. Trust us. You won’t be able to resist taking a turn.
Bouncing Off the Walls
The play space: Bouncing Off the Walls offers more than just springing around indoor bounce houses (although there’s plenty of that) — make sure the kids also explore the rooms that are filled with toys and dolls, mini jungle gyms, kitchen sets, games and more.
Bonus: Every third Wednesday of the month is “friends with special needs” night.
Locations: The suburban Pennsylvania outposts are in Langhorne, Horsham, Exton … and other further-flung towns, too. In New Jersey there are locations in Cherry Hill and Blackwood.
The play space: Everything but the floor, walls and ceiling in this venue (a popular national chain) is inflatable. Kids must wear socks to bounce, climb, and slide their way around. When it’s not too busy, the staff incorporates music and other elements to make it more interactive. Reservations — which can be made online — are recommended.
Bonus: If kids can walk, they can bounce, so if you’ve got a few little rugrats at home, this is a great place for the whole crew. There are also some scheduled activities worth checking out, like a family bounce with pizza dinner. (Maybe bounce before dinner, though.)
The play space: Giggleberry Fair is a family entertainment venue that’s part of the old-timey Peddler’s Village shops. The indoor space offers several different areas aimed at different age groups; the Giggleberry Mountain is a huge, ball-tossing obstacle course; the discovery area is a play place with cool interactive elements like a giant waterway with toy boats and fountains; and the game section is like a boardwalk arcade with skee-ball and tickets that can be cashed in for prizes. There’s also a carousel and restaurant.
Bonus: On Fridays and Saturdays, the place stays open until 9 p.m.
Garden State Discovery Museum
Location: Cherry Hill
The play space: This large, remarkably hands-on play zone (read: No one will get bored after 45 minutes) features areas themed and sponsored by recognizable local businesses, like the Whole Foods Marlton Market, the Flyers Mini-Rink, a Subaru Service Station, a Channel 6 news area, and a California Pizza Kitchen “restaurant” where kids can get all Iron Chef.
Bonus: GSDM has events just about every weekend, ranging from music and dance performances to storytelling workshops. Also, it’s open until 8:30 p.m. on Saturdays in the winter.
The play space: Why aren’t there more free romper rooms at our area malls? Moorestown’s has added a small garden-themed play zone for kids, with a nice seating area for caretakers. It’s just outside of Macy’s.
Bonus: The Garden State Discovery Museum comes on the second Thursday of every month to do arts and crafts in the Sears Court, from 11 to noon, as part of the mall’s Kids Crew program. It’s free!
My Little Adventures
Location: Mount Laurel
The play space: This clean, bright indoor play place has slides, toys and places to tumble. Open play is offered many days (including Saturdays!), but the organized class system is easy, too: Pay $69 and drop into one age-appropriate class a week; pay $99 and take as many as you want a month.
Bonus: A cafe — complete with grown-up seating area — sells good, fresh food like hummus, grilled cheese and smoothies.
Location: Mount Laurel
The play space: Think of the Funplex like an indoor Boardwalk. There are bumper cars, electric go-karts, bowling lanes, a 4D movie “ride,” an arcade, and a three-story tower play area where kids can play and bombard each other with soft foam shapes of all sizes.
Bonus: There is almost always some sort of ticket special or deal happening — be sure to check the site for the best days to go.
The play space: A brightly colored play space aimed at kids five and under, Jellybean Jungle has a whole bunch of amusements aimed to thrill the toddler set: jungle gyms, a mini ball pit, puzzles, games, dress-up clothes, and more. And there’s open play every day but Sunday.
Bonus: It’s a deal: Admission ranges between $4.25 and $9, depending on the age of your kid. (Babies under 9 months are free.)
* Check individual sites for admission and pricing details!
Photo: The nature themed indoor place space at Nest. (Photo by John Martinelli, Inc.)