November Family Weekend: 12 Thanksgiving Break Ideas

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I love shopping; but I can do without the crowds. Last year, I compiled this list of fun alternatives to shopping on Black Friday. This year, I’m adding some fun ideas for Saturday as well. If I’m going to be honest, a good part of MY Thanksgiving weekend will be spent binge-watching the new Gilmore Girls mini-series, but I can’t ignore my kids all weekend. The following is a list of some of our favorite ideas for this long (and potentially beautiful) weekend:

Biking is even a possibility!

Biking is even a possibili

1. Visit a state park FREE on Black Friday

Like last year, State Parks are free on Black Friday. Free days are rare and it is not something we do often. We tend toward the more urban adventures. Go HERE for an interactive map of State Parks both near and far.

Many other local parks are always free and you can find a growing list of them in our directory by choosing Parks from the Category drop-down menu. We have almost doubled our park listings to 277 since last year, and we are doing our best to include the information families will find most useful.

Just a reminder: If your plan includes a visitors center or recreation center, we recommend calling ahead. Parks have limited staff and this is a Holiday weekend for them, too.

2. Home Depot Kids Workshop – Black Friday picture frame ornament

Home Depot usually hosts FREE Kids Workshops on the first Saturday of each month, 9am-noon. This month, they are also hosting a special Black Friday workshop – get a start on grandparent holiday shopping with a one-of-kind picture frame made by their favorite grandchild(ren).

3. Black Friday Bird Banding – OR visit a new Twin Cities-area Nature Center

Carpenter Nature Center has a free Public Bird Banding event every fourth Friday. If it’s nature you’re after, but not necessarily bird banding, our directory has a total of 25 nature centers to choose from – browse them and find a new one near you.

Bricklaying at Carl Kroening Interpretive Center

Bricklaying at Carl Kroening Interpretive Center

4. Nature’s Black Friday Fun @ Kroening Interpretive Center, Minneapolis

We haven’t had much to share from Kroening Nature Center and Mississippi Regional Park since Minneapolis Parks took full control back from Three Rivers, but on Black Friday between 11am-3pm, they’ll have both naturalist led and self-guided nature exploration activities. Visitors are encouraged to hike, build a fort, go on a scavenger hunt and play games. This activity is free and all ages, but you can pre-register online at

5. A special Black Friday Free Family Fun Day

Richardson Nature Center and Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park usually host their Free Family Fun Days on Sundays. This year, Richardson Nature Center is offering an extra Free Family Fun Day on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Drop in anytime between 1-3pm to learn about feeding the animals at the center. Coon Rapids Dam is not hosting a Friday Free Family Fun Day, but they do have something pretty special planned. Read on…

6. Green Friday Toy Swap @ Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park, Brooklyn Park

This is at the top of my personal weekend list. Drop in at the Brooklyn Park side of Coon Rapids Dam between 10am & noon on Black Friday; bring in gently-used toys; and swap them for others. My kids and I have decided this would be a great way for them to “shop” for their siblings;  they can pick a toy of their own to swap for something for each of their siblings for Christmas.

Note: Before heading out, this would be a good time to review my directory post about Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park. Its actually two different parks, and you may or may not feel like walking across the dam if you end up on the wrong side.


7. Santa & Albert’s Annual Holiday Play @ Bachman’s on Lyndale, Minneapolis

When: Saturday, Nov 19 • 9am-4pm
Cost: Free
Details: See the annual Santa & Albert holiday play at 10am, 11:30am, 1pm and 3:30pm. Come early for good seating!

8. Small Business Saturday & Indie’s First Day

If we don’t find everything our hearts desire at the Green Friday Toy Swap, our next plan of action is Small Business Saturday and Indie’s First Day (both the Saturday after Thanksgiving). Both of these are a chance for independently owned businesses and small publishers to share what they have to offer during the Holiday season. We plan to visit our favorite independently owned thrift store, Hidden Treasures, who is offering 40% off everything on Small Business Saturday.

Also on Saturday, Red Balloon Bookshop and Addendum Books (and probably Wild Rumpus, but they haven’t announced anything yet) will have some of our favorite local children’s book authors in to help us select book gifts.  Double your do-good shopping by hitting up one of these locally owned and operated bookstores to buy a book by a local author and/or independent publisher.

9. Catch a movie for free: “Sing Saturday”

Are your kids annoying early risers? If so, you can go see a free screening of the new movie, Sing.  It starts at 9am and admission is first come, first serve.  Participating theaters in the Minneapolis area include: AMC Rosedale 14, AMC Coon Rapids 16, and AMC Inver Grove 16.

10. Glide over to this year’s Wells Fargo WinterSkate, St. Paul

The rink across the street from the magically-lit Rice Park in St. Paul opened for the season on Saturday, Nov 19. Wells Fargo cardholders receive free skate rental; other skaters may rent for $4 per pair.


Or try out the new Minneapolis WinterSkate at Loring Park. It’s part of this year’s Holidazzle — which starts Friday. Minneapolis has a limited amount of free loaner skates on a first come basis.

11. Explore a new Twin Cities museum or historic site

I recently read that there are more museums in the U.S. than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. Snopes says this claim is mostly true — you just have to expand your idea of what qualifies as a museum. We can help you find these places in the Twin Cities. We have compiled a list of Museums and Historic Sites. (You’ll have to seek out the McDonald’s and Starbucks on your own.)

12. Stay home and play games

Sometimes, even we want to just stay home and enjoy our families without the hoopla of going out. Luckily, last January, Tom — our computer guru, biggest cheerleader and all-around awesome husband to Anne — also became a contributing writer when he gave us 45+ Fun Indoor Games for Kids of All Ages. When in doubt, there is something for everyone on this list.

*We do our best to keep up with dates and times on our calendar and in our directory, but we recommend calling ahead when in doubt.

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About the author

Joy Peters

Joy Peters - co-creator and writer for

Besides Family Fun Twin Cities, I spend my 9 to 5 at a day job pursuing my weird passion for calendars and organizing things as a legal secretary. When I get home I spend my time with my four kids, 10, 6, 4 and 1. My amazing husband is both a full-time musician and full-time stay-at-home dad. Together we run a small radio empire — SiaNet Radio — playing, promoting and enjoying the wide variety of local music and art in the Twin Cities. I juggle all this while writing about exploring the Twin Cities with kids. I couldn’t be happier.

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