With an online category devoted to "Putty & Slime," Rhen's clearly knows kids. Bricks-and-mortar locations in Ponce City Market and Glenwood Park invite children of all ages to play with selections designed to stimulate the imagination. Expect a thoughtful mix of everything from a stuffed cow to a "Learn How to Pan for Gold!" kit.
Boston, MA, area plus Providence, RI
These six shops named after a 1976 children's book by David McPhail are award-winning destinations lauded for an attentive staff. With toys, books, and games from the traditional to cutting-edge (yes, they'll make coding fun), Henry Bear's shops offer seasonal picks and in-store events ranging from singalongs and story times to of-the-moment craft activities such as "hide-and-seek rock painting."
Los Angeles, CA
This play space, toy store, and cafe inspired by the Waldorf educational philosophy is designed for children and their parents and caregivers, putting an emphasis on imaginative play with toys made from natural materials. Encouraging the building of a community for families, A Magic Forest is a place to find unexpected offerings such as semi-regular "Music, Language, and Drum Circle" events.
This Harvard Square store serves as "the world's only bricks and mortar Curious George Store." In homage to the beloved monkey starring in the children's books by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey dating back to the 1940s, the majority of the stock is devoted to puzzles, games, toys, Curious George exclusives, and an amazing array of George-themed party goods.
You know they're playful when you notice they refer to their address as "Austin, Texas, Planet Earth." At Terra, there's a quirky mix of goods, ranging from Texas-themed toy selections to coordination toys for budding jugglers. The more-is-more aesthetic is a charmer, and adults will delight in the art gallery and espresso bar (which serves PB&J sandwiches).
New York City, NY
Dinosaur Hill has been in the East Village since 1983 (and was recognized last year by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation) offering "handmade wonderments," toys, and clothes -- many locally made -- designed to "challenge the mind, please the eye, and stimulate the senses." Planet mobiles and hot-air balloons dangle overhead, and cubbies are crammed with whimsical delights.
Charleston, SC, and environs
With roots dating back to 1990, Wonder Works encourages hands-on play in each of its four locations, and tries to support child entrepreneurs, child entertainers, and children's charities. The team takes it on the road with two free family events annually, and runs an "Elfstravaganza" each November.
San Francisco, CA
A Bay Area stalwart since 1966, though it briefly relocated to nearby Berkeley, the family-owned Jeffrey's has earned its place in local history with a distinctive variety of games and toys -- its previous incarnation as a five-and-dime opened in 1938 has been called the first U.S. seller of Lego -- as well as comics. There are classes in drawing and animation too.
St. Paul, MN
Mischief Toy Store is for all ages with its "irreverent selection of games, comics, art supplies, pop culture, and anime gifts, outdoor adventure gear, jewelry, candy, and kinetic toys." Its game rooms and game libraries make it a good, quirky venue for birthday parties.
Classic and imported toys, puzzles, and games for all ages are a specialty at a shop serving Seattle since 1977. With two floors and more than 6,000 square feet, Magic Mouse has toys, games, and chess sets handpicked by a trademarked "Professional Child," though the store insists no child is needed to visit.
Palm Beach, FL
The specialty toy store in the heart of Palm Beach offers quality toys and gifts, especially for "the kid who has everything." That means Whatchamacallit's has selections ranging from art supplies and puzzles to beach accessories and oversize "ride on" animals, all on vibrant display.
New Britain and Middletown, CT
This pair of shops started in 1940 specializes in classic toys for all ages. Amato's encourages hands-on play featuring electric radio-control toys such as helicopters, as well as extensive racing and train departments and introductions to varied hobbies.
Las Vegas, NV
This downtown container-park toy store is a paradise for collectors of various pop culture genres and fans of retro toys, games, and books -- specializing in nostalgia and "blind boxes" with surprises inside. (Kappa employees are known to offer trades if a child isn't happy with their surprise.)
Portsmouth, NH, and Portland, ME
Need that birthday gift in a pinch? Treehouse Toys offers curbside pick-up. In New Hampshire since 1993 and Maine since 1998, the stores have singular, carefully curated selections of toys with a bent toward the green and safe, to both U.S. and European standards.
Omaha, NE, and Overland Park, KS
There's a lot you won't find at Fat Brain Toys -- the "licensed, violent, cheaply made" stuff. Here, the focus is on quality products that entertain and educate in play-friendly, visually stimulating spaces filled with light, colors, and plenty of awe-inspiring displays. It has its own line of toys now sold at the Smithsonian and other museum gift shops.
Phillips is big on outdoor fun, with nature, sports, and riding toys, as well as on trains -- the store has traditionally had a giant kit set up with buttons to push that activate windmills, crossing bars, and other working parts, as well as a conductor tower kids can climb up in. Around Easter, bunnies are sometimes brought in to pet.
Falls Church, VA
The events calendar always has something to look forward to, including children's musicians and live animal and magic shows, and over two decades of being in business the owners have landed on some thoughtful ways to make Doodlehopper even more family friendly: free gift-wrapping and weekly discount days for grandparents.
While most toy stores' every nook and cranny are crammed, Tildie's -- maybe because it was founded by specialists in architecture and technology -- has a sparer, cleaner aesthetic. Run by a couple inspired by their own two daughters, Tildie's is a place for gender-neutral items and imaginative toys, including a section devoted to toys that spark fun in science, technology, engineering, and math.