From malls and toy stores to libraries and bookstores, these low-key play spots will banish winter boredom—at least for a little while. The best part? They're all free! So grab a coffee and a friend, and schedule your next play date at one of these indoor gems.
For even more family fun, don't miss our guide to great indoor play spaces with fees for winter drop-in hours. If you find yourself with a full day to fill and you're up for a little adventure, plan a winter day trip. And don't miss our Events Calendar for tons of local happenings.
Barnes & Noble – Various locations
Multi-level stores in Paramus, Clifton, and Edison have huge children's sections, and outposts in Clark, Hackensack, and Livingston have train tables to keep little hands occupied while you sip a latte. Check website for weekly storytimes and events.
Disney Store – Various locations
Why not pass an afternoon in the company of your kids' favorite characters? From Minnie and Mickey figures to Anna and Elsa dolls and Woody and Buzz displays, there is something for every kid at Disney's retail outlets. We know temptation will be strong with all those Spidey and Moana treasures, but if you lay down some ground rules before heading into the shop, you might escape without any purchases.
Take a seat while the kids play at the Disney Jr. Play Zone in Edison, NJ. Photo by Margaret Hargrove
Disney Jr. Play Zone – Edison
Toddlers and preschoolers will love this new addition to Menlo Park Mall. Featuring all their favorite Disney Jr. cartoon characters, including Mickey Mouse and Friends, Puppy Dog Pals, and Muppet Babies, the play space is located on the upper level near Nordstrom's. Life-size Mickey ears, Minnie's Bow-Tique, touch-screen video games, a dance floor mat, and kid-sized roadsters will keep kids busy, and there is plenty of bench seating for parents and a restroom as well.
Freehold Raceway Mall – Freehold
Pass some time at the small toddler play zone outside JC Penney on the first level, or head upstairs to the food court on select Saturday mornings for a Nat Geo Kids Club activity, followed by free carousel rides until 11am. Check website for monthly activity dates.
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Kids can play office (or just hit the ball pit) at IKEA. Photo by Kan Wu via Flickr
IKEA – Elizabeth and Paramus
Mega-stores may not be the first place you think of for passing a calm hour, but this Swedish home emporium has a supervised play space with a ball pit where children who are potty-trained can play for up to an hour. Or you can roam the store and let kids explore the bunk beds, tents, mini-tables, and toys scattered throughout the furniture displays. Follow it up with a healthy, kid-friendly lunch in the cafe. The Elizabeth location is near Newark Airport, so take-offs and landings may add some excitement to your outing.
RELATED: Top Indoor Play Spaces Across New Jersey
This new bookstore invites kids to play, color or just browse the huge children's book section. Photo by Elaine Quilici
Indigo Bookstore – Short Hills
This luxury bookstore, which opened in the Short Hills Mall in October 2018, features a huge children's section with a cool train table, an oversized throne for reading, tables for coloring and creating, and even a foosball table.
Learning Express – Various locations
Tucked behind the toy shelves, you'll find an activity table or train table chock-full of demo toys for your play experts. In some stores with extra floor space, kids can take scooters around for a test drive. Try these great toy stores around the state for more small play areas like the train table at Just Kidding Around in Montclair.
Most Lego stores offer areas to build for FREE, plus workshops. Photo by Shira Kronzon
Lego – Various locations
Little builders will love visiting this paradise of plastic bricks, and many stores have pint-sized Lego tables set up for tinkering. Check out the wall of bricks, or schedule your visit on Minifigure Mondays, when customers bring their own minifigures to trade each other. Check website for specific store events.
RELATED: Kids' Sports Centers and Indoor Fun Zones Across New Jersey
Livingston Mall's play zone features small climbers and puzzles, and there's a mini carousel next door. Photo courtesy of the mall
Livingston Mall – Livingston
Conveniently located next to the Dunkin' Donuts, this bright and carpeted play zone features small climbers and puzzles that will keep toddlers happy for a while. Comfortable adult seating means you can enjoy that DD while the kids romp around.
RELATED: Cheap Thrills: 20 Drop-in Play Spaces for NJ Kids That Cost $15 or Less
The Paramus Park mall offers a handful of kiddie rides and games in addition to the indoor playground area. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
Paramus Park – Paramus
Toddlers and preschoolers will love the ABC-themed climbing structures at this enclosed play area near Sears. There's a mini slide, too, and just outside of the enclosed lot, you'll find paid kiddie rides and a few quarters-games. Some take credit cards, too.
Pottery Barn Kids – Short Hills
Colorful kid-sized tables loaded with dolls, trains, book, and other toys invite little ones to tinker while you browse the newest children's furniture at this mall shop.
The Westfield Family PlaySpace offers a spacious, all-ages play area. Photo by Danielle Halibey
Westfield Garden State Plaza – Paramus
New Jersey's largest mall gave its FREE play spaces a complete overhaul in late fall 2017. The revamped Westfield Family PlaySpace (formerly known as PlayTown), offers plenty of romping room for toddlers and preschoolers, but also activities for older kids. It's located near the food court on the lower level. There's a soft, padded area for little ones, as well as climbing nets and a wall, bridges, and tunnels, a faux ship to climb aboard, and sensory fun like fish tanks and bright blinking lights for kids to touch. It has a Jersey Shore theme with plenty of nautical touches.
Woodbridge Center Mall – Woodbridge
Welcome to Tiny Town USA, a brightly colored play area for toddlers and younger kids under 42" located on the mall's lower level. The nearby carousel costs $3 per ride.
Your Local Library – Various locations
Libraries are packed with free, fun activities—kids can watch movies, build with Legos, read to a therapy dog, make crafts, listen to stories, and more. Check your library's website for info!
For even more indoor playtime ideas, don't miss our round up of New Jersey's best mom-and-pop toy stores, which feature fabulous hands-on toy displays and in-store events.