Get out of the house this winter and explore a new-to-you indoor play space for kids in Chicago. There’s a climate-controlled play zone for every age, every interest, and every kind of kid. Does your toddler love fire trucks? Head to the kid-sized play town at Little Beans. Got a grade schooler who won’t stop doing gymnastics on your couch? She’ll love the climbing structures at Present Place. Need a spot where your older kid and your preschooler can play happily while you get some work done? Take a Break Playcare is your wish come true. Many play spaces around the city even offer coffee, wi-fi, and snacks for grateful parents, so you can catch up on email (and caffeine) while your little ones get their sillies out. Here are 14 places to play when the weather’s cold and gray.
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Aubergine. Photo by Lori Sapio
Aubergine and Purple Monkey Playroom — Bucktown and Logan Square
Monday through Friday 9:30am-5:30pm, plus select weekend hours (weekend open play times vary; check their website)
Two words: Free. Coffee. And with two adorable locations for families to drop in and play, Purple Monkey and its new sister space Aubergine are local favorites for good reason. Ride-ons, climbing structures, and lots of toys for imaginative play keep kids up to age 5 happy and busy, while free wi-fi, comfy seating, and lots of light make it easy for parents to enjoy a break while the kids play.
Bubbles Academy — Bucktown
Monday–Friday 11am-5pm, Saturday 9am-noon, plus select weekend hours (weekend open play times vary; check their website)
Small explorers up to age 5 are welcome for open play hours at this early childhood education center, in a spacious room painted with colorful landscapes and stocked with toys, climbers, blocks, and balls. It’s a perfect pit stop for a rainy or snowy afternoon.
Hello Baby — Woodlawn
A free drop-in play space in Woodlawn just for babies up to age 3 (with their caregivers), Hello Baby is a bright, welcoming spot packed with books, educational toys, and space for physical play. Regular story times and sing-alongs make this a sweet neighborhood hub for littles.
Kid City — West Town
Monday-Friday 9:30am-6pm, plus select weekend hours (open times vary; check their website)
A family-owned play space with a pretend grocery store and dress-up shop, plus plenty of toys and ride-ons for imaginative and active play, Kid City is designed for kids up to age 6. They’re often open on weekends for playtime if there’s no birthday party planned in the space, so check their website for hours, plus special events including story times and family concerts.
Little Adventures Café —Wicker Park
This cute, compact indoor play zone fits in a playhouse, climbing structure with slide, ride-on toys, and centers for art-making and imaginative play, with room for comfy seating for the grownups. One innovative play feature here is a sensory wall, where kids can explore different textures, colors, sounds, and movements.
Little Beans Café — Bucktown and Evanston
Monday-Friday 9am-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-3pm
Featuring an entire kid-sized town designed for imaginative play, plus a jam-packed calendar of events, workshops, classes, and family parties, Little Beans might be one of the best indoor play space membership deals in town. Their café serves up Intelligentsia brew and a decently-priced menu of sandwiches and soups, and the Evanston location boasts an obstacle course and karaoke for older kids.
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Photo courtesy of Pickle's Playroom
Pickle’s Playroom — Lincoln Square
Tuesday and Thursday 9am-6pm, Wednesday and Friday 9am-6pm, Saturday 9am-3:30pm, Sunday 8am-noon, closed Monday
Where else can you bring your toddler for a haircut and a therapeutic post-trim play session in Chicago? Pickle’s Playroom offers a free one-hour play pass with every child’s haircut (and all day play for just $7 more), but families can drop in to the bright, action-packed space for open play even if there’s no haircut on the horizon.
Present Place — North Center
Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, 9am-2pm, Wednesday and Thursday 9am-4pm, Saturday and Sunday, 9:30am-12:30pm
This relatively new indoor play space in family-friendly North Center, launched by a local mom, has quickly become an award-winning favorite, thanks to its uncluttered-yet-action-packed layout, eye-pleasing art exhibits, engaging climbing structures and play areas, and free coffee and wi-fi for adults. It’s popular enough, in fact, that weekend open play hours need to be reserved in advance—which is easy enough to do on their website.
Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo — Lincoln Park Zoo
Hitting the Lincoln Park Zoo might not be your first thought during the colder months, but the Treetop Canopy Adventure climbing structure in the Pritkzer Family Children’s Zoo building is irresistible fun—plus, it’s free! Once your kids have had their fill of the ropes, tunnels, and walkways, visit the North American animals and learn about their habitats.
Razzmatazz — McKinley Park
Thursday-Saturday 3pm-11pm, Sunday 3pm-9pm, closed Tuesday and Wednesday
Kids as old as 14 can scramble and bounce around the Inflatable Play Land, go bowling, or play arcade games for redeemable tickets at this giant fun zone. An on-site grill serves up kid-friendly classics like pizza, hot dogs, and burgers. (And, ahem, there’s also a bar.)
Sod Room — South Loop
Monday and Friday 9:30am-2pm, Tuesday-Thursday 9:30am-5:30pm, plus select weekend hours (open times vary; check their website)
Sunlit, sweet, and made from sustainable materials, Sod Room is a uniquely eco-friendly play space for younger kids. Cork flooring, natural wood toys, and a charming treehouse theme (including a vine-covered “tree swing”) make this space feel like a sunny day in the park, even when there’s snow outside.
Take a Break Playcare — Lakeview
Monday-Thursday 8:30am-9pm, Friday 8:30am-midnight, Saturday 1pm-midnight, closed Sunday
True deliverance for bored kids, families with extended work hours, and parents who just need time to run errands (or catch a movie), Take a Break offers drop-off playtime supervised by trained staff (a.k.a. “playcare”) by reservation, as well as drop-in, stay-and-play action six days a week, for infants through age 13. A co-working space within the building allows parents to get work done while their kids climb, slide, draw, build, and play right in the next room. The world needs more play spaces like this, which are a huge help for working families whose hours run past the standard 9-to-5, but in the meantime, our hats are way, way off to this innovative spot, founded by a local mom.