“It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity!” 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 is our list of go-to places when Minnesota is as hot as Texas and you need to find the perfect place for some air-conditioned fun!
10 FREE Air-Conditioned Destinations
1. 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 a few years ago. Here is our full list of 101 Twin Cities Libraries — Mapped. Many libraries offer board games and computers to entertain older kids and adults — and books! they also have a few books!
2. Indoor Mall Play Areas
This was my go-to when my kids were smaller. I could grab a coffee and read while they played to their hearts content. Malls have the added benefit of family-friendly restrooms and some even have stores that sell diapers. Nicki of the blog MinneMama Adventures did a nice write-up of her top 6 favorite spots 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.
3. 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 theaters are offering FREE or cheap movies for kids this summer.
4. Mall of America and/or IKEA
60 E Broadway, Bloomington, MN 55425
After a couple years’ hiatus, IKEA Twin Cities has re-opened Smaland. Kids can play in this fully-supervised play area for up to an hour for FREE between 12pm and 6pm, daily. Nearby, at the Mall of America, there are always fun FREE things to do (along with plenty of things aimed at tourists that can be spendy). If you’re scorching day happens to fall on a 2nd Tuesday, you’re in particular luck because you can check out the Toddler Tuesday deals.
5. Minneapolis Institute of Arts
2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55404
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 (or asking for one at the front desk) and exploring the art galleries.
6. Landmark Center Exhibits
75 W. 5th Street, St. Paul, MN 55102
Not only is Landmark Center 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 among its permanent collections. 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!”
7. 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. 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.
8. Preschool Storytimes at Local Bookshops
I wrote this list of top preschool storytimes in the Twin Cities during the frigid days of winter, but it could come in just as handy during a spell of scorching days.
Another free art museum option, is the Weisman. It is roomy and beautiful and just makes you feel cool walking through it.
10. Grocery Shopping!
Once upon a time, Joy loved grocery shopping as a family (not so much after baby #4). However, sometimes its a necessity, and there’s no arguing that grocery stores or Target 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.
10 More Indoor Play Ideas (Not Free):
We have a few more indoor outing ideas. These may not be free, but they are a relatively cheap way to cool down when the temps hit 90 degrees plus.
11. Indoor Playgrounds and Gyms
Open Play, Gym & Swim Spots for Tots in the Twin Cities! Most of these are air-conditioned and and some are free. Also check our Twin Cities Indoor Playgrounds and Play Areas Guide.
12. Vertical Endeavors
Indoor rock climbing facilities, like Vertical Endeavors, may not be super cheap, but it is a fun way to get active on a warm day without overheating.
13. Indoor Mini Golf Courses
We include several indoor options in our Guide to Twin Cities Mini Golf Courses. Most of these facilities are beautifully designed and offer other family fun, like arcade games.
Actually, this option can also be free or nearly free when you sign up for the Kids Bowl Free Program. Otherwise, check our list of The Best Family-Friendly Bowling Alleys in the Twin Cities. If they don’t participate in Kids Bowl Free, sometimes they have their own summer program.
15. Batting Cages
Get a little baseball practice in on a hot day at one of these Indoor Batting Cages in the Twin Cities.
16. Indoor Skate Parks and Roller Rinks
Cool off like its 1985, at a retro roller skating rink or try one of the new indoor skate parks in the Twin Cities.
17. Trampoline Adventure Parks
“Trampoline Park”, “Adventure Park”, “Fun Center”. Whatever they call these parks, — like Urban Air Adventure Park and Sky Zone Trampoline Park — they are a little more expensive than the indoor tot playgrounds, but they offer a climate-controlled play area for kids of all ages — including teens — with activities like laser tag, high-ropes courses, VR, jumping, climbing and more.
18. Visit the Zoo or Aquarium
While the FREE Como Zoo offers less opportunities for air-conditioned spaces. The Minnesota Zoo has plenty of indoor exhibits and Sea Life Aquarium at the Mall of America is refreshingly cool and peaceful while you watch sharks and sea creatures swim all around.
19. Indoor Waterparks
For the ultimate in air-conditioned activities for the whole family, you can’t beat swimming, sliding and splashing at an indoor water park. We created this list of Twin Cities Indoor Waterparks and Pools to help families escape the cold winters, but they are also great to escape the heat of July and August.
20. Go Out for Dinner
When it is still too hot to cook at dinner time, consider dining somewhere air-conditioned. These Twin Cities restaurants and breweries offer Kids Eat Free or Cheap deals on their menus.
Do you know of any more secret air-conditioned spots to cool off when the temps get high? Please let us know! Leave a comment, so we can share this information with the community.
- 10 Free Things To Do With Kids In Downtown Minneapolis in Summer
- Best Indoor Activities for Kids
- Fun with Grandparents
- The Best Ice Cream Shops in the Twin Cities
- Family Fun Calendar
- Cozy Up and Play at These Kid-Friendly Twin Cities Coffee Shops/Cafes
- Splash Happy: 2023 Guide to Twin Cities Beaches, Pools, Outdoor Water Parks & Splash Pads
- Best Twin Cities Escape Rooms for Kids
- Twin Cities Area Summer Attractions