Family Fun Guide: Top 10 Things to Do in the Metro Area

Illustration by STMool – Fotolia

Circus Juventas
Families have two options to support Circus Juventas under St. Paul’s big top: sign the kids up for a class (clowning, juggling, high wire walking, flying trapeze, acrobatics, tumbling, dance, theater, unicycle, aerial silks, and globe walking are all acts offered) or check out the Cirque du Soleil-esque 2016 summer performance, Wonderland, “bringing Alice down the rabbit hole into a magical world.”

Public performances give students, ranging in age from 2-22, a chance to show off the skills they’ve learned at this year-round performing arts circus school/after-school program—and give audiences a truly fun experience. 

According to Marissa Dorschner, Circus Juventas coach and summer camp co-director, there are no pre-requisites for beginner classes. “The majority of our students have no prior background and learn everything they need right here.”

Patient, kind, and supportive professional coaches teach classes, with safety as a top priority. Students gain confidence, core strength, coordination, and build character and friends in a lighthearted and encouraging environment.

Circus Juventas, Photo by Dan Norman

Stages Theatre

The actors at Stages Theatre in Hopkins are mostly kids, and yes, they can act. There are several performances throughout the year, all kid-friendly, all professionally done in a beautiful new theater (bonus: free parking nearby). Spring performances include Number the Stars April 29-May 22 (based on the book by Lois Lowry, set in 1943 Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation—a story of two friends, Annemarie and Ellen, and Annemarie’s dangerous mission to save her best friend), Annie jr. from June 24-July 31 (one of the world’s best loved musicals), and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star from August 5-20, featuring the “joy and wonder of night time sounds and creatures, fireflies and flashlights, blankies and teddy bears, and stars.” Stages also offers classes for toddlers, preschoolers, and Summer Theatre Workshops for students 4-16. 

Edinborough Park 
Forget the snow (or rain)—you feel like you’re in a tropical paradise when you’re at Edinborough Park in Edina. Inside, you’re surrounded by 6,000 colorful plants, trees, and flowers. There’s a junior-Olympic sized swimming pool, a running track/fitness area, a 44-foot tall “Adventure Peak” climbing structure (think multiple levels of climbing mats and slides and ropes), and a multi-purpose play area (a room filled with balls, toys, and bikes). It does tend to get crowded on the weekends; weekday visits are a little milder. Fuddruckers and Five Guys Burgers and Fries are a short drive away if the kids work up an appetite while playing.

Water Park of America
The Water Park of America, located not too far from the Mall of America in Bloomington, is billed as the “tallest waterpark in the nation,” thanks to the 10th-floor Eagles Nest Body Slide (10 stories high!) The 70,000-square-foot waterpark also includes a lazy river, wave pool, FlowRider surfing simulator, activity pool, large kids splash area, and whirlpool spas. 

Guests can stay at the attached Radisson Hotel Bloomington, complete with on-site restaurants (three, to be exact), a spa, fitness area, and the Northern Lights arcade.

Photo Courtesy of Water Park of America

Choo Choo Bob’s
Choo Choo Bob’s is a hidden gem on Marshall avenue in St. Paul, next door to Izzy’s Ice Cream. Whether you’re a full-fledged “trainiac,” appreciate model railroads, or know kids of any age that like trains, this is the place to be. “The primary appeal of Choo Choo Bob’s is that it’s a community hangout, and a safe place for children and families to play and explore,” says Casey Jones (his real name), store manager, aka “Corporate Head of Official Operations, or the C-H-O-O.”) 

First and foremost, Choo Choo Bob’s is a store, he says, but he feels it’s important to offer a free play area open to the public seven days a week. And it’s not just trains, trains, everywhere trains, either. “We display a lot of cool merchandise and decorations that extend beyond trains,” he explains. “That way, if a family comes in and only one is into trains, they all find something to keep them occupied.”

The space was expanded in 2015, with the set of “The Choo Choo Bob Show!” brought onto the sales floor, and a free story time nearly every Tuesday hosted by Engineer Paul. “You can even watch episodes of our TV show while you play with trains in the Bobville Clubhouse,” Casey says. The store is an official Thomas Wooden Railway Specialty Station, one of only a handful in the nation, and a popular birthday party destination as well. (Last year alone they hosted over 400 birthday parties.)

“You don’t have to love the specifics of train collecting to be entranced by the electric trains that run around the store, or to play with our interactive train tables,” he says. “Our store is one of those magical places where it’s darn near impossible for any child to be unhappy.”

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
“I don’t think any family that has ever visited the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum would say it is anything but an amazing experience,” says Susie Eaton Hopper, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum public relations/media specialist. The Arboretum offers year-round classes, programs, events, exhibits and displays specifically for families with children, is home to a family-friendly café, and in the winter, visitors can cross-country ski and snowshoe on the grounds (the Arboretum is part of the University of Minnesota, a scientific study area encompassing 1,200 acres of gardens, trees, and trails.) “From our Plant Maker Studio, every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. each weekend, to our extensive summer day damps and Children’s Gardens for kids 5 to 14, and preschooler sessions, there are many, many ways for children and families to experience the Arboretum,” Susie comments. “Our learning center has an an incredible playground that is all about experiencing the great outdoors, and we also have two amazing large-scale exhibits this summer, Savage Gardens and Big Bugs— both are very interactive and family-friendly. In the winter, we have indoor programs, story time hours, and lots of fun programs. Family programs are a huge part of our mission. We are helping to create the next generation of environmentally conscious, earth-loving people.” 

Minnesota Zoo
The Minnesota Zoo is a true Minnesota treasure. The 485-acre complex includes indoor and outdoor exhibits featuring animals in large, authentic habitats from just about every corner of the world, the IMAX theater, and an outdoor amphitheater. See rainforest animals along the indoor Tropics Trail, local wildlife and nature along the Minnesota Trail, ocean life in Discovery Bay, bears and tigers in Russia’s Grizzly Coast, “animals found north of the 45th parallel” (caribou, camel, moose, gazelle, etc.) on The Northern Trail, African penguins, Hawaiian monk seals, and farm animals (a popular spring exhibit is Baby Animals). Prepare to do a lot of walking and give yourself plenty of time to explore.

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Zoo

The Works Museum
You’ve probably heard of The Children’s Museum and the Science Museum, but have you heard of The Works Museum in Bloomington? No? You’re missing out! The Works is a nonprofit museum with the mission of “inspiring the next generation of innovators, engineers, and creative problem solvers.” It’s a hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-focused discovery center, teaching kids that science and engineering are cool, exciting, and fun. Kids can participate in science experiments, build (and race) K’Nex cars, conquer a crazy sensor maze, build block towers, and do activities in the 3M Design Lab upstairs. The Works hosts Tech Fest (an annual family engineering and technology fair) and school break and summer camps.

Walker Art Center
Ignite creativity in your kids at the Walker Art Center. Not only is gallery admission free for everyone the first Saturday of every month (with family-friendly activities offered throughout the day), now there’s “Arty Pants: Your Tuesday Playdate” on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, with art projects, activities, films, and story time for kids ages 3-5. When weather cooperates, be sure to walk the grounds and show the kids the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture, a highlight of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Photo courtesy of The Walker Art Center

Minnetonka Center for the Arts
There are other community art centers in the Twin Cities, but none match the scope of offerings provided by the Minnetonka Center for the Arts. They deliver more than 500 visual arts classes each year (ranging from drawing and painting to ceramics and sculpture), including nearly 100 Summer Arts Camp classes for ages 5 to 15. “We believe the visual arts are vital to a healthy community, and that begins with our youngest artists,” says Sara Skalle, communications director, Minnetonka Center for the Arts. Year-round exhibits are free and open to the public, with much of the displayed artwork for sale. Visitors may “window shop” many art forms in action, such as drawing, painting, ceramics, photography, weaving, and sculpture, and view displays of ceramics, sculpture and glass fusing, Sara comments. (Class schedules can be found in the Visually Speaking catalog available by mail or online.) Parents are encouraged to visit the Art Center Café, where they are welcome to wait or work while children are in class. Sara comments, “Children gain appreciation of the importance of visual arts in the community by visiting and experiencing this facility, dedicated to enjoying, appreciating, and learning about the arts.”