Who doesn’t remember what it felt like to be a kid walking into a toy store at holiday time? To wander the aisles, to press buttons and fiddle with gadgets, to hug some stuffed animals, to dream about what it’d be like to have these toys at your house? (I can still remember that heady, powdery smell of the Cabbage Patch doll displays. Heaven.) A whole lot about kids’ lives may have changed since then (quoth my own kid: “What’s a Cabbage Patch?”), but the magic of a good toy store has endured. And so here, we’ve rounded up 11 Philly toy stores that make for excellent, wonder-filled wandering for your little ones (and you!) this season, places packed with cool stuff for kids to fiddle with and stuffed animals to hug and toys to dream about. (Ps. Several of these spots have free gift-wrapping. Ask!)
The place: PucciManuli, the beloved, extraordinarily picturesque Main Line institution (shown above) known for vast offerings that are all carefully curated, high-quality as a rule, and – in many cases – vaguely nostalgic. (Custom rocking horses! Wooden puzzles! Handmade loveys!) And the place just expanded this year, so now it’s twice as big as before, with even more fun and magic to offer. The place is jaw-dropping.
The ‘hood: Ardmore
Enchanting detail: A kids’ wish-list registry that your child can fill out while wandering the store, and which PucciManuli will keep in house for you.
The place: Little Moon, a recent, sunny addition to Fabric Row, and the sister shop of the very hip Moon + Arrow boutique. The corner shop has more than just great inventory; it’s a great shopping experience with adorable vignettes of sweet gifts, toys, clothes, decor and more, and it’s all set up for maximum perusing. (There’s also an excellent front area for some kid book-reading, too.) There’s a lot to soak in in a small space: On a recent visit we snatched up an unicorn headband, handmade baby mocs, leggings with a swan print, wooden stacking toys, a knitting activity and the world’s cutest dolls.
The ‘hood: Queen Village
Enchanting detail: The nursery decor here is Pinterest come to life, with handmade mobiles, adorable lamps and more.
The place: Born Yesterday, the Rittenhouse staple that always seems to have the most adorable baby clothes in the window. It’s not just clothes here – though they do a lot of that. They have toys and games spilling out of shelves everywhere, with much to look at and play with. The stuffed animals are plentiful and gorgeous, and the baby gifts tend toward the elegant and top-notch, but there’s also lots of straight-up fun, kid-magnet type of goodies (mini pianos; slime-making kits; Squishies, dino figurines, cars, bead mazes, fidget spinners and more).
The ‘hood: Rittenhouse
Enchanting detail: SO many Philly-themed onesies and t-shirts (who doesn’t want a Questo onesie?), plus accessories to die for.
The place: Tildie’s Toy Box, a bright, cheery relative newcomer (a couple of Penn grads opened the place in 2016) that’s packed with brainy, creative, engaging and just plain fun toys and games, like Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty and StikBall and Dinosaur Dig Kits and Jellycat stuffed animals. It’s a very kid-friendly place to peruse … and the book selection is really solid.
The ‘hood: East Passyunk
Enchanting detail: A birthday-bin program wherein a child can fill a bin with items on his or her wishlist so that friends and family can pop in and choose an item. (Five items bought from said bin gets you $5 gift certificate off the next buy!) Tildie’s also offers personal shopping: They’ll pick out (or help pick out) presents any kid will love based on his/her age and interests.
The place: The AIA Bookstore, a rather highbrow but exceedingly cool destination for toys that your older kids especially will love. The place is known for creative toys (design- and architecture-focused, naturally) like Lego Architecture and Nanobloc sets (you can build the London Eye or L’Arc de Triomphe!), cityscape-themed coloring books, paint-and-assemble seasonal decorations, and the rad Sparklz wind-up toys.
The ‘hood: Market East
Enchanting detail: At the connected Center for Architecture and Design, there’s currently an exhibit all about toys: The FREE exhibit, called Constructing Play: Classic + Modern Building Toys runs through January 25, and features all sorts of building toys throughout history … as well as hands-on “creation stations” and a 3-D printer. Also, the center often holds Saturday events for families. (The last time we were there, they were hosting a gingerbread-house workshop!)
The place: Oxford Circus, a nearly 15-year-old gem in Chestnut Hill. The darling, well-curated little shop stocks the sort of high-quality toys (from brands like Haba and Vilac and Moulin Roty) that make for special, long-lasting gifts you’ll have forever. (Notable kid-favorites include Two Bros Bows — a kid-friendly bow-and-arrow set — and the very cool EzyRoller riding toy for kids of all ages.) Customers repeatedly remark how knowledgeable and helpful the owner is when it comes to picking age-appropriate toys.
The ‘hood: Chestnut Hill
Enchanting detail: Owner Marsha Konialian says that in her 15 years, no more than 10 toys (at the most) have ever been returned — a pretty amazing track record.
The place: The gift shop at the Academy of Natural Sciences is small and tightly packed, so you have to keep a close eye on your little whirling dervish, but there is a LOT of cool stuff to look at, especially if you have a little dino-lover: Triceratops taco holders and dinosaur fossils and plush stegosauruses (stegosauri?), plus stuffed toy snow owls, volcano-making kits, colorful rocks, books, toys, games and more.
The ‘hood: Logan Circle
Enchanting detail: You needn’t pay admission to the museum to get to the gift shop; all are welcome. Also: Are you a member of the museum? You get 10 percent off your purchase.
The place: Momo’s Tree House, a charming, hands-on store so popular that it just opened a second outpost – now there are shops on Arch Street on the east side of the city and South Street on the west side. The toys – arranged by genres like science/engineering, arts and crafts, imaginative play/dress-ups – are hand-picked by the owner, and focused on facilitating child-led play, with a good dose of whimsy. (In short: Tons of kid-pleasing stuff here, from Micro Kickboard Mini-Scooters to Tegu magnetic blocks to whole walls of games to wearable butterfly wings designed to be colored on.) Really cute stuff for babies, too.
The ‘hoods: Old City and Fitler Square
Enchanting detail: Weekly storytimes! A craft table at the Old City spot! Lots of room to play with sample toys! This place is extremely welcoming to curious minds and hands.
The place: The Toy Train Emporium in South Jersey, an unpretentious, old-school shop that’ll make your train-lover’s head explode. The place has an unbelievable collection of toy trains and train accessories for both serious collectors, fledgling engineers, and just your average Thomas fan. Trains on tracks are always somewhat magical (especially around the holidays) … and here, there are plenty of trains to look at, to play with, and to watch in motion. Note: The place is closing after the holiday season — forever!! — when the owner retires. So now is the time to go.
The ‘hood: Cherry Hill
Enchanting detail: They carry small tracks for tight spaces (hello, city homes!) … and also, they’re a Thomas the Tank Engine superstore.
The places: Ali’s Wagon and Minnow Lane aren’t out-and-out toy stores as much as they are sort of everything shops. Both have built up a following around the parenting centers they feature as meet-up and education spots for moms and dads (though Ali’s Wagon recently announced the end of the parenting center to make room for more retail). Both also have a wide variety of non-toy goods: Clothing, grown-up gifts (especially at Ali’s Wagon), and baby gear (especially at Minnow Lane, which carries bottles, carriers, diapers, and the like). BUT: Both little neighborhood shops also do a fine job stocking excellent toys for littles and even some for bigger kids – if not exactly toy wonderlands, they both make for fun stops with kids who can browse shelves of books, puzzles, loveys, rattles, stackables, and more … and always find something to love.
The ‘hoods: Fairmount and Fishtown, respectively
Enchanting details: At Minnow Lane, pretty much everything in the place is organic, non-toxic, and sustainable. At Ali’s Wagon, they stock a small but truly exceptional selection of kid-empowering books, aimed at toddlers on up to tweens.
Featured photograph of PucciManuli at top by Catt & Co. Photography.