From malls and toy stores to libraries and bookstores, these indoor play spots 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.
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New Jersey Stores with Free Places To Play
Multi-level stores in 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 the website for weekly story times and events.
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 outlet. We know the 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.
3. IKEA – Elizabeth and Paramus
Mega-stores may not be the first place you think of for passing a calm hour, but Ikea is in a league of its own. The Swedish home emporium's popular Småland has supervised play spaces with ball pits, and there's plenty more to keep kids engaged. 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: Guide to Indoor Play Spaces for New Jersey kids
Indigo Bookstore invites kids to play, color, or just browse the huge children's book section. Photo by Elaine Quilici
This luxury bookstore, which opened in the Short Hills Mall in 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.
At these jam-packed toy stores, you'll often find an activity table or train table tucked between toy shelves and stocked with demo toys for your play experts. In some stores with extra floor space, kids can take scooters around for a test drive. And check out these other great toy stores around the state for more small play areas, like the train table at Just Kidding Around in Montclair.
RELATED: Free Admission for Kids at Nearly 50 of NJ's Biggest Family Attractions
Most Lego stores offer areas to build plus free workshops. Photo by Shira Kronzon
6. Lego – Multiple Locations
Little builders will love visiting this paradise of plastic bricks, and many stores have pint-sized Lego tables set up for tinkering. My kids could spend hours at the Minifigure bar, customizing their creations–even if they know there's no way they're coming home with us.
Colorful kid-sized tables loaded with dolls, trains, books, and other toys invite little ones to tinker while you browse the newest children's furniture at this mall shop.
RELATED: Winter Fun List: Top Things To Do With Kids in New Jersey
Whoosh down the slide at the new Toys R Us store at American Dream. Photo courtesy of American Dream
8. Toys R Us – East Rutherford
Toys R Us made a big splash when it opened this new shop just days before Christmas. Housed in the American Dream mega-mall and entertainment complex, the retailer's only U.S. store is a two-level wonderland, complete with a twisty slide to whisk you from one floor to the other. Beyond the slide, you'll find 20,000 square feet of retail space complete with interactive experiences and product demos, plus photo-ops with Geoffrey the Giraffe.
Free Mall Play Spaces in New Jersey
Pass some time at the children's play area on the upper level next to The Carousel. Meant for pint-sized visitors, this spot is reserved for children under 42 inches.
Take a seat while the kids play at the Disney Jr. Play Zone in Edison, NJ. Photo by Margaret Hargrove
Toddlers and preschoolers love this spot in the 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 keep kids busy, and there is plenty of bench seating for parents and a restroom nearby as well.
New Jersey's largest mall gave its FREE play space a complete overhaul in late fall 2017. The revamped Westfield Family PlaySpace 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.
RELATED: Top Indoor Play Spaces in New Jersey Open Now
Livingston Mall's play zone features small climbers and puzzles, and there's a mini carousel next door. Photo courtesy of the mall
Conveniently located next to Dunkin' Donuts, this bright, carpeted play zone features small climbers and puzzles to keep toddlers happy for a while. Comfortable adult seating means you can enjoy that DD while the kids romp.
The Paramus Park mall offers a handful of kiddie rides and games in addition to the indoor playground area. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
Toddlers and preschoolers love the ABC-themed climbing structures at this enclosed play area on the mall's second level. There's a mini slide, too, and just outside of the enclosed lot, you'll find paid kiddie rides and a few games.
And Don't Forget the Library!
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 local library's website for info!
Originally published in 2017, this post is updated annually.