Appreciating the design of our indoor play spaces

Mia's play room
Mia's play room

As the days get shorter, public play spaces throughout the city transform from green soccer fields and baseball diamonds to light poles wrapped in twinkling lights and ice rinks fending off mounds of snow. The seasonal change anticipates the first big flakes when Lyndale Farmstead and other park hills are thronged with sledders. There are endless opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors throughout the holiday season.

But, when fingers and toes finally feel the effects of frosty temperatures, it’s OK to head inside for play sans snowsuits. 

Fortunately, the metro offers unique spaces that adults and kids can equally enjoy: everything from soaking up sun in the Como Conservatory to creative construction at Leonardo’s Basement. You needn’t go far to find enjoyable drop-in gems in Southwest ranging from restaurants to free public spaces to museums such as the Bakken or the American Swedish Institute. 

As you bring your family to the city’s many cozy, kid-friendly public spaces this winter, take some time to appreciate the small architectural decisions that have helped make them magical.  

From the street corner, Sovereign Grounds at 48th & Chicago exudes the hefty smell of roasting coffee beans similar to many java joints, but on the inside this coffee cafe is as much (if not more) about playtime than it is about caffeinated meet-ups. Owner Hakan Sezer took the concept of a live-work space to a whole new level when he opened the doors decades ago. His family didn’t have money for daycare so he essentially made his own: a playroom for his three kids adjacent to the barista counter. The space also resonated with the community and the playroom that once benefitted Sezer’s kids is now enjoyed by his granddaughter Charlotte. Generations later, the business continues to be a community draw: Kids can enjoy running through tiny buildings and playing with toys while parents can sip on unpretentious lattes.

Fig + Farro at Hennepin & Lake also greets guests with a play space immediately at the front door. Slatted wood walls define a special place for kids while helping to keep toys contained. The openness in the slats enables adults to keep an eye on things from their tables, while kids maintain a sense of their own space (from a child’s height, the slats appear to be more opaque). Within this magical zone, an A-framed “tree fort” is home to stuffed animals to snuggle up with while watching the action on Lake Street from a healthy distance.

Also in Uptown, the Walker Library brings a bright spot to reading on a cold winter’s day. Daylight harvesting monitors rise out of the roof to give a well-balanced glow of daylight to the interior. The bright yellow boxes in the ceiling provide a stark contrast to the former underground library it replaced five years ago. The children’s area is cozy for adults and kids alike — a series of steps offer different levels for kids to play/read on and lead up to a window seat perfect for curling up with a book.

The grand atrium at the Minneapolis Institute of Art greets guests with art from around the world and opens to views of Washburn Fair Oaks Park to the north vis-a-vis the calming foreground of the Chinese Rock Garden. The atrium offers a welcoming place for respite after strolling through the galleries but, just around the corner, the multi-tiered family room is stocked with books, games, artful toys and human-sized bean bags to help kids get their energy out.

Edinborough Park in Edina is uniquely positioned as an indoor playground adjacent to an assisted living facility. The overlap of programming benefits all ages — both those observing the action and those jumping into it head first. While there are a variety of indoor activities (a gym, pool, bouncy castle, toddler area and amphitheater), perhaps the most spatially notable is the four-story Adventure Peak. Kids and adults can endlessly run around the hamster-cage maze of ladders, slides and tubes — probably the closest thing the inner metro has to St. Louis’ City Museum.

Let the community know of other indoor gems you or your youthful friends have enjoyed in Southwest by emailing [email protected] or tagging us and the place on Facebook at or on Instagram (@LocusArchitecture).