One likes books and art and dolls and puzzles. One likes dinosaurs and weapons and pretend kitchen sets and snacks. One likes scooters and candy and science and golf.
What’s a mom to do? So many interests, so little time. And really, is there a place on earth that could offer little bits of everything that would hold the interests of the very high maintenance 3-, 6- and 9-year olds in my life? The answer is actually YES. There IS such a place. And it’s right here in Minnesota. And it’s Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhmazing.
Lark Toys. The family road trip pit stop that we never ever drive past. This toy store is so much more than a toy store. It’s an indoor utopia of enjoyment – from carousel rides to candy to books and board games and llamas (yes, I said llamas) – it’s the ideal place to stretch your legs and get some playful wiggles out.
What is it?
Let’s just start by saying that USA Today voted Lark Toys one of the Top 10 Toy Stores in the World (yup. the world). As if that’s not a grand enough selling point, I’ll go on…
Lark Toys is a family owned and operated business. The Gray family purchased Lark Toys from its original owners and have kept it alive and jovial in the Mississippi River Valley – easily one of the most beautiful parts of the country. It’s obvious they are doing what they love and loving what they do. Lark Toys has been in business for more than 35 years and is the epitome of what we all would deem “classic childhood.”
It’s a long building that hosts ample parking and an outdoor mini golf course. But once you step inside, be warned – childhood is gonna smack you in the face (in the best way). The 20,000 square foot space has a candy store, book store, board game room, toys for all ages, a cafe, fudge (mmm, fudge), a llama viewing deck, and – my personal favorite – “Memory Lane.” Memory Lane is a series of glass-encased shelves that line the hallways holding toys that will blast you into the past (think Howdy Doody, vintage Barbie and Mr. T, mmkay?). My husband and I spent about 20 minutes shouting, “No way! Look at this – we used to play this at my Grandma’s house” over and over and over.
Everything unboxed in Lark Toys is fair game for playing (please play kindly and gently). Blocks, puppets, babies, books, balls, board games, dinosaurs, train sets…you name it. You can even peek through a window to see the woodworker’s workshop in action. Everything is whimsical. There’s just no better word for it.
Now let’s just take a minute to talk about THAT CAROUSEL! The hand-carved, colorful wooden carousel took nine years for the original owner to make and every seat is more beautiful than the next. Kids like to ride and go up and down, sure. But us adults? We just stare in awe at the craft and patience it must’ve taken to detail out these animals to the level that they are. I’ll never understand it, but you better believe I appreciate it. Simply incredible.
Fit for what ages?
Whether you’re an actual kid or just a kid at heart, this place is for you. Every age can appreciate the craft and color that is Lark Toys. They sell infant toys but most of the toys that are out for play are perfect for toddlers on up. My 9-year old loves testing out the board games and digging through the gems and science section. My 6-year old hangs in the reading corner with a pile of books or plays pretend babies. And my toddler thinks the whole place is magical, including the 800-pound, wood-carved stegosaurus that guards the “sale section” outside the main toy room.
To ride the carousel solo, kids need to be older than 3, otherwise an adult will need to accompany them. The mini golf course is pretty basic so anyone who can handle swinging a club would enjoy a round (plus kids 3 and under are free to play). It is 18 holes though, so depending on their attention span…(I say this because mine loses interest after about 2 holes).
One thing worth mentioning is their “7 Happy Fridays” program for preschoolers and their families. The second Friday of each month (October through April), the store has stories, music and movement + a free ride on the carousel from 10:15-11:00am. Cute and cheap little idea if you’re in the area.
How much are we talkin’?
As most stores go, you can be selective about how much you choose to spend here, but I know my family walks out with lighter wallets than when we walked in because it’s so hard to not get caught up in the novelty and beauty of it all. The toys are not exceptionally overpriced and the books are cover price but the candy and cafe prices are a teensy bit on the steep side (we can thank tourists for this). The handmade-in-store, adorable and unique wooden toys and clocks are my favorite part and, while they might be a little more than you’d spend at a big-box store, you’re getting serious quality at Lark. We usually let the kids pick out one smaller toy or book, share a meal, do a couple rides on the carousel, play one round of golf, and get a pound of fudge to go (PSA– that can get messy in the car on a hot day).
Birthday party packages are also offered for anywhere from $5 to $15/person, depending on the combination of purchases you select.
Now for the entertainment:
- $2/ride for ages 4 and up; 3 and under is free with paying adult
- Ride runs every 30 minutes (and they make an announcement beforehand so you don’t miss your turn)
- Purchase your carousel tokens in the gift shop
- Adults 18+ are $10; Students and seniors ages are $8; 3 and under is FREE
- Second round of golf is half price
- Purchase your mini golf tokens in the gift shop
LLAMA VIEWING DECK
- FREE. Because it’s just five mini llamas walking around a grassy field. But they’re cute and sometimes they’ll come up and give you a kiss. Which is priceless, I guess.
Want some tips?
This place is road trip gold! We’ve stopped here to burn energy on our way to Whitewater State Park, the National Eagle Center, the LaCrosse Bluffs and Winona. It’s directly off Hwy 61 – a whole highway that sits along the Mississippi River and is positively stunning (plus, if you ever get the chance sans kids, do the Great River Road Wine Trail – trust me!).
Couple housekeeping items: Bathrooms are located in the main carousel room as well as in the back near the wooden stegosaurus. The whole store, including the carousel, is handicap accessible.
The mini golf is 18 holes and it’s nothing fancy but the carousel certainly is. It runs every 30 minutes and they will announce the upcoming ride 15 minutes ahead of time. Kids 3 and under will need to be accompanied by an adult on the carousel. The cafe food is actually pretty delicious and there’s a lot of healthy options (there’s also cheese curds, fudge and 16 kinds of Chocolate Shoppe ice cream, so ya know, life balance).
Before we go in, we usually set a limit for the kids. We allow them to buy one small item or a bag of candy. That way they know ahead of time that whining for 40 different toys will do them no good. Sometimes we splurge and get a special puzzle or book or game for the family to share and I almost always walk out with a million gifts for random people in my life. I can’t resist. It’s a great place to shop for the holidays too!
It’s pretty easy to keep track of your kids in here because it’s separated quite nicely by area. The toys and books are on one end and the cafe, carousel and candy are on the other.
It’s easy to miss the miniature llamas but the door to view them is through the candy store. While you’re there, try a sample of fudge. And maybe buy some saltwater taffy. Mmmmmm.
The gift shop is nice for us adults – has some cute home decor, candles, stationary, jewelry, soaps and clothing.
Lark Toys does offer birthday party packages. If you have six or more children, you can do carousel rides, mini golf, lunch and ice cream (can select a combo of one or all) for prices ranging from $5 to $15/person.
They host some special events and live music on occasion (Santa comes in December!). These can be most easily found on their Facebook page. They also have something called “7 Happy Fridays” where preschoolers and their families can enjoy a story, music and dance + a ride on the carousel for one Friday a month between October and April.
The highlight of my trip to Lark Toys is the carousel and the woodwork that sits throughout the store. The room of pull toys, the unique clocks, the freaking amazing carousel!! I could soak these things in all day long. So I’m always pleased when there is someone doing the woodworking live in the workshop when I’m there. There is a small window behind the toy shop wall where you can watch the magic happen.
Hours and location
63604 170th Ave. | Kellogg, MN 55945
Store is open every day from 10am-6pm, excluding major holidays
The indoor carousel is always running. Mini golf is open as weather permits. And the llamas? Well, it’s their call whether they wanna hang outside or not. You don’t get to tell a llama what to do.