We love a fresh start in the fall: new season, new reasons to get out and explore the Twin Cities with your family. This month’s posts are generously sponsored by our Orchard Crawl Sponsors. They make these free lists possible.
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden – outdoor green space of the Walker Art Center – underwent a complete makeover in 2017, adding dozens of new sculptures to the park. Get out and explore with free activities like pinwheel-making, mini ukulele lessons and, as always, free admission to the Walker’s galleries on the first Saturday of the month. 9/1/18, 10am-3pm.
A live band, outdoor activities, sample classes and birthday cake help MacPhail ring in a half-century. 9/8/18, 10am-12pm open house.
3) Minneapolis Monarch Festival | Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis
In the fall, monarch butterflies begin their annual flight south to Mexico. Families can come learn more about this remarkable journey and send the monarch off in style with a parade (kids up to 12 are welcome to join in; wear your butterfly best), a tag-and-release activity, games, and tours of the Lake Nokomis Naturescape, a sanctuary for pollinators. 9/8/18. 49th St & Woodlawn Blvd, 10am-4pm.
4) Free things to do on Grandparents Day – September 9
They all say it really is the best time of their lives – treat those most special of people today to an inter-generational outing. Admission is free to all of the following:
- Free admission to the Minnesota Zoo for grandparents
- MIA Family Day: Horses, 11am-5pm
- Show & Tell Sunday at Normandale Japanese Garden, 1-3pm
- Pond-Dakota Mission Park Open House – tour the historic house, 1:30-4pm
5) Movies on the Hill: The Last Jedi | Hyland Hills Ski Area, Bloomington
Bring your own blanket for the last outdoor movie of the season, play some free lawn games, listen to live music and pack your own picnic dinner for the ultimate budget outing. The show begins at dusk. 9/14/18, 6-10:30pm
Most smaller orchards are thrilled just to get you in the door (with the hope that you’ll purchase the privilege of picking their fresh apples, of course) and offer free admission. And our favorites are the ones that not only don’t charge to enter, they don’t nickel-and-dime you for activities as soon as you’re in. Some highlights from the orchards we recommend:
- Deardorff Orchards, Waconia | Wed-Sun, 10am-6pm | Take a tractor wagon ride out to pick-your-own apples and let the kids play freely in their own space with hay bales and farm animals.
- Fisher’s Croix Farm Orchard, Hastings | Tues-Sun, 9:30am-5pm | The wagon ride to the corn maze is very reasonably priced ($3/pp) and is a good “starter” maze for younger children.
- Fall Harvest Orchard, Delano | While there are several attractions that require a fee, there is quite a lot to do for free here, especially if your kids are into animal encounters. Let them roll around in the corn boxes and play on the tire hills, too. It won’t cost any extra.
7) Field Trip | Silverwood Park, St Anthony
Make it a family day of art-making, live music, creative play and an outdoor art fair. 9/15/18, 11am-5pm.
Dozens of family-friendly fall festivals dot the Twin Cities this time of year. We don’t stop celebrating our communities just because summer has set and the cold weather’s ahead. Here are two free festivals we recommend; make sure to consult our full calendar for more ideas:
- Lone Oak Days, Eagan | Located at the historic Holz Farm Park, there’s lots of old-fashioned farm fun to be had here and most of it at no charge: explore the chicken coop, do outdoor laundry, play in the corn box and churn some fresh butter in the farmhouse. Sept 22-23, 11am-4pm. (Sorry this event is no longer free. $2/admission)
- Wild Rice Festival, Roseville | Harriet Alexander Nature Center hosts this annual festival with free kids games, cider pressing, wild rice harvesting demos and fun with Gibbs Farm. 9/15/18, 10-6.
9) Fall Raptor Release | Carpenter St Croix Valley Nature Center, Hastings
Injured birds, nursed back to health by the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, are released back into the wild at this annual festival within the Carpenter St Croix Valley Nature Center. Help send them off with educational exhibits and kids activities. 9/22/18, 10am-3pm, FREE.
Tot Times and Open Gym were my savior when my firstborn was a squirrelly toddler who needed a space to run off his pent-up energy. He thrived on the small bikes, balls, tumbling mats and other provided equipment for unstructured physical play — and naptime was a GIVEN afterwards! St Paul and Minneapolis-area community and re centers offer free open gyms that begin in September with the start of the school year:
- Saint Paul Recreation Centers: Tot Time
- Minneapolis Parks: Parent & Tot Indoor Playground
- Apple Valley Community Center also offers a free Parent/Tot Time & Preschool Open Gym
Twin Cities suburban community and rec centers also offer very low-cost open gyms and tot times. You can find the complete listing HERE.