Several summers ago, Joy — sweating it out in an un-air-conditioned house — wrote our original article about seeking relief from the heat in a series of much cooler public buildings, most of which offered free family activities to boot.
This article was most-recently updated in 2018. Unfortunately, most of these suggestions are going to be out in 2020 as few public places have reopened and those that have are limiting visitors. At the moment we don’t have answers for you if you need a cool place to take your children on a hot day. We are starting to research and hope to have something for you soon.
In the meantime, some beaches are starting to open.
Local Libraries with Play & Learn Spaces – Joy suggested seeking out a new library on a scorching day and reading stories to chill out. I recommend checking out a library with a “Play and Learn” space, often designed by Minnesota Children’s Museum, that provides interactive fun and helps promote reading readiness. Samara of the blog Simplicity in the Suburbs provided this list of such spaces for the Star Tribune last year.
Indoor Mall Play Areas – Nicki of the blog MinneMama Adventures did a nice write-up of her top 6 favorite spots last year and included play areas at Maplewood Mall, Eden Prairie Center, Burnsville Center, Southdale, Ridgedale & Rosedale Malls. You can get all the details from her perspective here.
Free Indoor Movies for Kids – FFTC’s Guide to Free and Cheap Summer Movies is mostly populated with flicks at outdoor venues, but a handful of Twin Cities movie houses are offering FREE movies for kids this summer.
IKEA for Kids – IKEA Twin Cities could be an air-conditioned savior on a steamy day. Toilet-trained kids 37″-54″ tall can play fully supervised in Smaland for up to an hour (any day of the week, space provided).
Minneapolis Institute of Arts – Joy reminds us that the MIA (2400 3rd Ave S, Minneapolis) is free every day, has Wi-Fi, and an expanded Family Center with books and toys for kids. Older children might be entertained by printing out this scavenger hunt and exploring the galleries.
Landmark Center exhibits – Not only is Landmark Center (75 W. 5th Street, St. Paul) a beautiful air-conditioned building to explore, there are a couple hidden museums tucked away inside that families often are unfamiliar with. The Schubert Club Museum has a number of hands-on musical displays and and instruments for kids to experiment with. Also, the American Association of Woodturners has a Gallery of Wood Art within Landmark with woodturning demos and a family-friendly exhibit called “Touch This!”
Minneapolis/St. Paul Public Parks & Recreation Buildings – Joy included a list of public park buildings in Minneapolis with AC; you can find the updated roster here. (This list is slightly less up-to-date but includes air-conditioned libraries and museums in Minneapolis.) St. Paul offers drop-in Tot Times in many of their recreation center gyms with wheeled toys, mats, balls and other tools to help kids 5 & under burn off energy indoors during potentially dangerous temps.
Preschool Storytimes at Local Bookshops – I wrote this list of two weeks’ worth of preschool storytimes in the Twin Cities during the dead of this past winter, but it could come in just as handy during a spell of scorching days. Some of the story spots included on the list are Choo Choo Bob’s Train Store (along with its lovely free train table play area), Wild Rumpus Books, Red Balloon Bookshop, and many of the local Barnes and Noble host storytimes.
University of Minnesota’s free museums – Unfortunately, the Bell Museum of Natural History, which reopened in 2018 at its new St. Paul location in July, no longer offers a free day, but there is still never a charge to visit the Weisman Art Museum (Minneapolis).
Grocery Shopping! – Once upon a time, Joy loved grocery shopping as a family (no so much after baby #4). However, sometimes its a necessity, and there’s no arguing that grocery stores are generally cool and comfortable in a heat wave. To make the whole process more of an adventure, the Toddler Toddler website offers this cute printable toddler grocery list to take along to the store.
More Indoor Play Ideas: Open Play, Gym & Swim Spots for Tots in the Twin Cities! (not all of these are air-conditioned); Twin Cities Indoor Playgrounds and Play Areas Guide.
Finally, the City of Minneapolis has complied their own PDF list of air-conditioned buildings. You can compare it to the Open Gym list above.
Know of any more secret spots to cool off when the temps get high? Please let us know!