Traveling with kids is much different from traveling alone, as I found out recently on a trip that included West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, and Juno Beach with my one year old, William. Whereas I once would’ve immediately sought out dive bars, indie book shops and music venues, I found myself questioning what would instead bring a smile to my kiddo’s face. Turns out, there’s quite a bit to do for the busy toddler that finds themselves in the northern area of Palm Beach County. If you’re adventuring in the area with an ankle biter, here are a few fun (and mostly frugal) ideas to get you started:
Playmobil Fun Park
Drive down Military Trail and you’ll find yourself going past a small castle housing more Playmobil toys than you’ve ever seen in your life. The Playmobil Fun Park is an ingenious creation by the Playmobil company to get you and your toddler familiar with their toys. Pay just $1 per person and step inside to what is essentially a giant toy box.
Tables are set up more or less by toy “genre” (farm animals here, princesses there, medieval characters in the back) and are topped with everything from plastic cars, trucks, and tractors to unicorns, play houses, and dragons. Giant versions of Playmobil people are found throughout the “park,” as well as an over-sized throne at the end where kids can take pictures at (I must admit I resisted the urge to take a Game of Thrones-inspired selfie at this point). The place was mostly empty and my son had free rein for the good part of an hour to pick and choose which toys he liked most. There’s also a stage set up for special events like the occasional story time or concert.
After you finish playing (or more accurately, after you can pry your child away from all the toys), you’re let out into the Playmobil Toy Store where you can purchase any (or many) of the toys your child just played with. We took home a little red tractor with a gender-ambiguous person to play with. William was pleased.
My only complaint had to do with the lack of diversity in regards to the Playmobil characters (an issue i’ll be addressing in a future post).
Also worth noting that this is the ONLY Playmobil Fun Park in the United States!
Cool Beans Indoor Playground
Inside Downtown at the Gardens, you’ll find the only indoor playground in the area – Cool Beans. Prior to my visit, I’ve only been to one other indoor playground (Jump A Roos in Cutler Bay) and I have to say I am officially a fan of the concept. Living in Miami, it is hot practically every single day of the year, and quite often, it is unbearably hot–much too humid and sunny for anyone to enjoy, not to mention buggy. And when it isn’t hot, it’s (also, unpredictably) rainy. In fact, the day we came to Cool Beans was rather warm and overcast, drizzling on and off.
Cool Beans advertises that they charge $14.95 for all day play. This is a bit steep in my eyes, but worth it if you’ll be shopping and dining all day and need a place to release your child every couple hours. The first time we went, the place was closing in a half hour and I was told I would still have to pay the $15 admission rather than giving me a pro-rated rate. So I opted to return the following morning for “Toddler Tuesday” (when they close out the place to kids over the age of 3 for a few hours so the littles can use all the “big kid” areas in peace). I was happily surprised to find I would only be charged $10 for the day instead. We signed our waiver, took off our shoes, and stepped inside.
Upon entering, to your immediate left you’ll find a section that is mostly quartered off for younger children (my guess is under 2 years). There’s a small ball pit, smaller toys and books for babies to play with and explore, as well as a couple of baby bouncers. Off in one area, you’ll find a few mega-slides (one with a giant foam block pit to fall in to), and in the center is a giant trampoline, which was a hit with the older kids. There’s also an area filled with puzzles of all kinds, plus a pretend kitchen with pretend food and other goodies. William immediately found a giant toy car to play with and spent his time mostly walking around with it, taking in the scene.
The playground got busy quickly, and even busier still after they opened up the rest of the place for the older kids. We didn’t even finish exploring the entire place, but from what I saw there was a big, inflatable see-saw and an area with lots of costumes for dress-up games.
Cool Beans also offers a variety of classes (check the website for details) available for $6 a session, ages 2 and up.
Loggerhead Marine Life Center
Loggerhead Marine Center is an animal rescue and rehabilitation center, with a focus on loggerhead turtles. Their website didn’t exactly explain whethe Admission is by donation and the staff there are very friendly and knowledgeable. Walk in and you can start by reading about the history of the center and checking out their small but pretty aquarium.
Afterward, walk outside to see the “patients”. Meet Nacho Libre, Dinghy, Audubon, Checkers, Bowden, and the rest of the gang as they swim their way back to health in their individual tanks. You can watch them overhead and wait for them to take a peek out of the water, or crouch down and see them through the windows in their tanks for a close encounter.
William was definitely intrigued by these shelled creatures, though he was also equally happy to play near the turtle statues and in the soft-floored kid’s play area.
The center also has large windows that allow guests of the center to watch the vets care for the turtles in their turtle hospital. Unfortunately nothing was going on the afternoon we went, but it’s something worth noting. Loggerhead Marine Life Center also offers a variety of experiences, including Hammock Hikes, Fish Feedings, and Hatchling Tales (a story and activity time for kids 0-4 occurring on Wednesday mornings), among other activities. Check the website for details.
Juno Beach Pier
Juno Beach Pier is just a 3 minute drive from the marine center (and is actually managed by the center as well), making it a great second stop. While primarily for fishing, the pier is open to anyone with $1 to spare ($4 if you plan to fish). Stroll or walk your child along the wooden path and take in the majestic Atlantic. While Miami tends to have flatter waters, it was nice to see people fishing and kite surfing here among the waves.
Take special care when you bring your little one as this is mainly a place used by anglers and you might find bait and fish and equipment along the way. Oh, and if you get hungry, the snack shop at the entrance has everything from chips and cookies to water and ice cream to tide you over.
Honorable Mention: Barnes & Noble in Palm Beach Gardens
I’ve been to many a Barnes & Noble in Miami, but none as nice as the one off PGA Boulevard near my husband’s job. Their children’s section is large and well-stocked and includes a stage for reading time, tables with plush animals and other toys for kiddos to play with, and the piece de resistance for my son: a full Thomas the Tank Engine railroad, complete with various stops and plenty of train cars and engines to choose from. These are, of course, cleverly arranged right in front of a wall filled with numerous Thomas-related and other toys. You could easily come and spend an hour or longer (depending on your kid) here while you read, or read to them.
We allowed William to “select” a few books and walked out with about 5 new books and a double-decker bus from the Thomas line called Bertie.
There is also a Starbucks Cafe housed inside the Barnes, making it a great stop for a sandwich, a coffee, or some warm milk or a juice box for your kiddo.
I’ve got my eye on a few other places to visit, but for a short, fun, and frugal adventure with your toddler, these places can’t be beat. Have you visited the Palm Beaches with your child recently? What would you add to this list?