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A snow monkey mother and baby enjoy sunshine at the Minnesota Zoo. While the zoo in Apple Valley charges admission, a smaller one in St. Paul is free. Don Davis/Minn. State Capitol Bureau

Twin Cities feature plenty of kids' attractions

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ST. PAUL - Children ran past a replica storefront while Stephanie Lipinski rested for a moment on a Minnesota Children's Museum second floor bench.

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She and her husband were on a business trip and brought their four children to the museum for the first time after reading positive reviews.

They said their 4-year-old really liked the "Clifford the Big Red Dog" traveling exhibit, and their 10-year-old loved "Our World," an exhibit that allows kids to dress up as firefighters, chefs and pretend to be rock stars.

The museum is one of several Twin Cities' attractions that cater to the younger set.

In this summer of closer-to-home vacations, parents can find plenty to do in the Twin Cities, but they may be more apt to visit the Upper Midwest's largest urban area if they know children will be contented, too.

Children can be entertained and educated at destinations ranging from a science museum to a couple of zoos. Throw in the country's largest indoor amusement park and children will be able to wear out their parents.

The children's museum in St. Paul is one of the most popular young folks' attractions.

One floor up from the Lipinski family, Mary Wyse encouraged her 4-year-old grandson, Jayden, to work with another young boy to operate a large crane in "World Works," which teaches children simple science.

Wyse said she brings Jayden, who lives in Madison, Wis., to the museum every time he visits.

"We come every time, every other month," she said as Jayden ran by. "The one in Madison isn't as good."

"Our girls are cousins and they love Clifford," said Kerry Blansky, visiting with her sister Bridget Gaida and their daughters.

The Clifford the Big Red Dog exhibit will be there until Sept. 7, said Kylee Breems of the museum. She said the museum is aimed at pre-school and early elementary children.

Breems said among the best times to visit the museum are Friday nights, the only days the museum is open until 8 p.m. The pace is slower and less hectic, she said. The busiest day is the third Sunday of each month, because the Target Corp. sponsors free admission.

The first, third and fifth Tuesday mornings of each month are called "Habitot Tuesday."

The Habitot area is aimed at the youngest kids, toddlers and early pre-school. Habitot is "a place for the little ones to go and be out of the way" of the bigger kids, Breems said.

Eight blocks away in downtown St. Paul, the Science Museum of Minnesota overlooks the Mississippi River. Inside, the Coronado family was eating lunch on a recent visit.

Bayley Coronado, 10, was excited about the weather exhibit the family just visited. Bayley's grandfather, Russell Corbitt, told everyone how much he learned from the traveling water exhibit.

Denise Coronado and her family are members, and she said they visit about every two months.

Nearby, Darcy Shetler was burping her 11-month-old.

The Shetler family was vacationing from Michigan and picked the Science Museum as one of the five places to visit. Shetler said her 2- and 4-year-olds liked both traveling exhibits, "Water" and "Goose Bumps! The Science of Fear."

"Anything they can get their hands on" they like, Shetler said.

Janine Hanson of the museum said an exhibit featuring artifacts retrieved from the wreck of the Titanic will replace the exhibits the Shelter family enjoyed. Hanson said that while traveling exhibits are always popular, several of the permanent ones develop strong followings as well.

Ranae Fasig took her 2-year-old son Torrance for his first visit, and her first since junior high.

"I wasn't sure he was going to like it because of the difference between it and the Children's Museum," Fasig said, but said Torrance liked the Science Museum'ss collection of dinosaur fossils the best.

For those without a lot of extra money, another Twin Cities children's destination is free (although donations are accepted). Jakey, 5, goes to the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul weekly, said Angela Brandt, a family friend. "He really loves the animals."

The snow leopards and wolves take most of Jakey's attention, as will butterflies later in the summer.

The zoo can be both fun and a learning experience, said a Rochester mom.

"We come here for an educational experience," said Erin Underbakke, who took her 3- and 4-year-olds, Migel and Meeah, to the see the zoo. "It's fun to see all the animals, especially the ones we don't see in our own backyard."

The park also hosts schools for field trips. Chaperone Aaron Korneck, a senior at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, escorted 6-year-old Finn into the park for an educational field trip. Finn, who corrected his age to be six and a half, says he came to see the lions.

"I like them the most," he said. "And the tigers and the polar bears."

Also at Como, besides a large urban park, is a conservatory filled with thousands of tropical plants. And just outside the zoo and conservatory entrance is a historic merry-go-round.

Among the Twin Cities youth-oriented attractions are:

  • Minnesota Children's Museum, 10 W. 7th St., St. Paul. (651) 225-6000. www.mcm.org. Five permanent galleries and two traveling exhibits are aimed at younger children.
  • Science Museum of Minnesota, 120 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul. (800) 221-9444. www.smm.org. Besides the nine permanent exhibits, the museum will exhibit artifacts from the Titanic from June 12 through early 2010, as well as a companion Imax film in the Omnitheater.
  • Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, 1225 Estabrook Drive, Saint Paul. (651) 487-8200. www.comozooconservatory.org. The zoo hosts animals from all over, and the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory has 10 indoor and outdoor gardens. From June 19 to Sept. 7, visitors can come see the 3,000-square-foot Blooming Butterfly garden.
  • Como Town Amusement Park, just outside Como Park Zoo. (651) 487.2121. www.comotown.com. The park has 22 rides and attractions.
  • Renaissance Festival, 12364 Chestnut Blvd., Shakopee. (952) 445-7361. www.renaissancefest.com/MRF. Festival runs Aug. 22 to Oct. 4. Children's Realm provides free crafts for kids.
  • Minnesota State Fair, 1265 N. Snelling Ave., Falcon Heights. (651) 288-4400. www.mnstatefair.org. Aug. 27 to Sept. 7. Fair features a daily parade. There is also a family fair that offers a free entertainment stage for families. There is juggling, a comedy show, and the shops surrounding it are focused to families. The most popular exhibit, the Miracle of Birth Center, shows farm animals giving birth along with a variety of baby animals.
  • St. Paul Saints Baseball, Midway Stadium; 1771 Energy Park Drive, St Paul. (651) 644-6659. www.saintsbaseball.com. The Saints are known for unique promotions and "ushertainers" who entertain throughout the game.
  • Mall of America and Nickelodeon Universe, 60 E. Broadway, Bloomington. (952) 883-8800. www.mallofamerica.com. (888) 276-6679. www.nickelodeonuniverse.com. The Mall of America hosts the Nickelodeon Universe (formerly Camp Snoopy) and the Underwater Adventures aquarium, along with the country's largest indoor shopping mall.
  • Minnesota Transportation Museum, 193 Pennsylvania Ave. E., St. Paul. (651) 228-0263. www.mtmuseum.org. Especially heavy on train displays.
  • Minnesota Zoo and Imax theater, Apple Valley (there are lots of signs). (952) 431-9500. www.mnzoo.org. Nearly 450 species and 2,700-plus individual animals. Temporary Africa exhibit open all summer.
  • Valleyfair amusement park, Shakopee. (800) 386-7433. www.valleyfair.com. Wide variety of rides and a water park.
  • The Firefighers' Hall and Museum, 664 22nd Ave. N.E., Minneapolis. (612) 623-3817. www.firehallmuseum.org. Open Saturdays only. Fire engines on exhibit dating back 100 years, some of which children can climb on. Fire truck ride included in admission.
  • University of Minnesota Raptor Center, 1920 Fitch Ave., St. Paul. (612) 624-4745. www.raptor.cvm.umn.edu. Home of the real big birds, ranging from owls to eagles to hawks. Center specializes in rehabilitation of injured birds, and features many displays.
  • University of Minnesota Bell Museum, 10 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis. (612) 624-7083. www.bellmuseum.org. Museum displays the state's diverse animal and plant life. Wolf and nature photography exhibits planned for this summer.

Anderson and Parthun are University of Minnesota journalism students writing stories for Forum Communications newspapers.

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