“The days are long, but the years are short.” So I was told by many more experienced parents during the first year after my son was born. And let me tell you – some of those days felt SO LONG. Between the exhausting nighttime feedings and the joy-filled times of snuggling my baby on the couch were hours I wasn’t always sure how to fill.
This is the list I needed as a first time parent! If you’ve just welcomed a new baby to the family, you’re likely excited to begin introducing your little one to the amazing world around them. Don’t wait until the toddler years to get out and explore! Luckily, if you know where to go, the Indy area is full of hidden gems and family favorites that are safe, engaging, and age appropriate for babies. Pack the diaper bag, load up the stroller, and start adventuring as a family now!
Let us know your favorite places to play with your baby in the comments!
Playscape at the Children’s Museum
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has been named the World’s Best several times for a reason. They put so much thought into every detail and Playscape, the museum’s permanent exhibit designed specifically for children 5 and under, is no different. Take your little one to the enclosed Babyscape to explore the padded play area full of toys. The Cruiser Wall lets babies old enough to pull to standing explore hinged doors, light switches, mirrors, and intriguing textures. Watch as scarves flutter through the air at the interactive feature that uses gusts of air to send lightweight objects flying. Baby’s admission is free!
Indoor Playground at Cornerstone Lutheran Fishers
We have a comprehensive list of free indoor playgrounds in Indianapolis, but Cornerstone Lutheran in Fishers stands out for its separate baby and toddler play area. Perfect for excessively cold, hot, or rainy days, this playground offers an enclosed area complete with plenty of padding and a wall of tactile features for Baby to explore.
Play and Read at a Favorite Library Branch
Most local libraries have some sort of play area in their children’s section! Some just happen to be slightly more baby friendly than others. Here are a few favorites:
- Clark Pleasant Library has more than just books to draw in visitors. The entire kids area is full of educational toys and activities to explore, but there is a special area designed just for babies. The crawler area is enclosed and includes mirrors and other features designed to engage tiny library patrons.
- The College Avenue Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library has a play area that includes bead mazes and other baby-oriented interactive toys. Plus, the saltwater fish tank set into a wall that looks like a pirate ship is so whimsical!
- The Indianapolis Central Library is an exciting place to explore anytime. The Learning Curve play area has an activity wall with magnets, as well as fun vignettes set into the floor and enclosed in glass to engage Baby. You can also spend time taking Baby for a walk in the stroller through multiple floors of shelves and seating areas. The vaulted ceilings in the main atrium will intrigue an infant looking upwards from a carseat or let your little one watch the city below from one of the library’s giant windows.
Take in Some Culture at Newfields
Sure, your baby probably isn’t going to appreciate the artistic works by the likes of Van Goh, O’Keefe, and Rembrandt on display at Newfields. But it will be much easier for YOU to enjoy them while Baby is stroller-bound! The toddler days will be here before you know it. If you do have a crawler or early walker, stop by Star Studio and let Baby test out the interactive Digital Garden. Before you leave, be sure to stroll the gardens, which have recently been updated to be more stroller and wheelchair friendly. Enjoy all the colorful flowers together!
Visit a Pet Store
If your baby already has a fur sibling, you probably make the occasional trip to the pet store already. Even if you don’t, this can make a fun outing. It’s basically a free miniature zoo! Say hello to the fishies, hamsters, snakes, and birds.
Stroll the Keystone Fashion Mall
The Fashion Mall must have been designed with families in mind! Take a walk and stop with your crawler at one of two small play areas, plenty big to keep a baby busy for a while. There’s a Nursing Mother’s Lounge located on the first floor near the food court and most restrooms offer diaper changing stations.
Engage Baby’s Senses at Garfield Park’s Conservatory
See and smell a wide variety of plants and flowers when you visit the Conservatory at Garfield Park! The bright, tropical vegetation and lovely water features at this eye-catching indoor location makes the Conservatory a great rainy-day field trip for you and Baby. There is a small fee for adults, but babies are free! On nicer days, meander over to Blake’s Garden to explore an outdoor garden designed just for children.
Sip a Latte While Baby Plays
Coffee lovers all seem to have their favorite spots for their caffeine fix. But once you have a baby in the picture, your definition of the perfect coffee shop will likely come to include a designated play area for children, or at least appropriate floor space where Baby can get out some wiggles. Here are some favorites!
- Sweet Peas Play Café in Kokomo is more than just a coffee shop! The café has play areas for all ages and abilities, including an enclosed, well-padded area designed just for babies up to age 2. There is an admission fee for all children older than 6 months. This would be an excellent place to grab coffee with other parents, especially if there are children of various ages in the group.
- Rose and Lois in Carmel has a play area with carpet and small toys. This section is distinct from the rest of the café. Snag one of the closest tables to give yourself a view, or if you’re on your own, sink into the chair tucked into the corner while Baby enjoys tummy time.
- Lucabe Coffee in Columbus (4th Street location) has an adorable play area designed to look like a miniature coffee shop. The carpeted area is enclosed, so you can enjoy your espresso without worrying about Baby crawling off to explore! Check out our other favorite places to caffeinate with Baby!
Baby Friendly Splash Pads
We LOVE splash pads at Indy with Kids! If we’re honest though, some of them just aren’t baby-friendly. Big, overhead sprayers and buckets that dump water can be intimidating and dangerous for little ones. Low-key and approachable are often the goal when searching for a great spot to splash with Baby.
- Holliday Park offers one of the best water play areas for babies. Head to the “Ruins” and splash around in the shallow water that forms below a gentle cascade flowing over a low marble ledge. Lift Baby up to explore the mini statues depicting the metamorphosis of a frog. Bathrooms are located directly beside the Ruins and lounge chairs are situated around the fountains. BONUS: Holliday Park’s nature center has floor-level fish tanks and interactives perfect for some indoor fun!
- The splash pad at Tarkington Park at 39th and Meridian is made up of jets that spray up from the ground. Sitting, crawling, or walking babies can engage the sprays of water at their leisure without the danger of getting blasted from above by a water cannon or dumped on by a giant bucket.
Catch a Drive-in Movie While Baby Sleeps
Would you love to get out after 7 pm, but the babysitting situation isn’t working out? If you have one of those tiny babies who will fall asleep anywhere, try heading to a drive-in theater and letting Baby sleep in the portable crib while you and your partner or friends catch an outdoor film or two! Try Indianapolis’ own Tibb’s Drive-In or another central Indiana venue!
Make Animal Friends at the Indianapolis Zoo
The Zoo is so much fun for kids of all ages! Baby is sure to stay engaged all day – or at least until naptime. The noisy, colorful Budgies in the aviary and the indoor aquarium full of fish, eels, and sharks in particular offer up-close viewing, perfect for infants. The paths are all stroller friendly, so even if your little one decides to doze, you can get in a good walk and visit the animals yourself!
Grab Lawn Seats at an Indians Game
The crowded stands of a sports arena might not be the most welcoming or comfortable place for a baby. But if you select lawn tickets at Victory Field, you can catch a professional baseball game while giving Baby plenty of space to roll, crawl, and explore in a soft, grassy space. There’s even a Mother’s Room behind Section 117! Bring a picnic blanket, baby-safe snacks, and a few toys and you’re sure to make some memories.
Find a Baby-Friendly Playground
Eventually, you’ll be seeking out the crazy climbing structures and the tallest, twistiest slides. But for now, you need infant swings, interactive features low to the ground, and a little shelter from the big kids running around. Rubber turf might be ideal if your baby is likely to constantly shove mulch or dirt in their mouth! There are so many park options around that meet these requirements. Here’s a few to get you started.
- Carey Grove Park in Carmel features a couple structures with interactive sensory panels installed low to the ground. This allows even a sitting baby to play on his own. The park has rubber turf, shaded areas, and the swing set includes multiple infant swings.
- Old City Park in Greenwood would be a great place to play with a crawler! Set Baby loose to explore the rubber turf and faux grass landscape. Small hills provide some extra challenge and blue ball forms set into the ground allow cruisers to pull up and show off their skills.
- Arbuckle Acres in Brownsburg is one of several playgrounds around Indy where you can find expression swings. Baby sits in an infant seat connected to and facing an adult swing, giving parent and child a chance to connect while swinging together. The nearby Tiny Tot playground is technically designed for children ages 2-5, but features rubber turf, a fire truck with a steering wheel, and interactive sensory panels at ground level.
Dip Your Toes in a Zero-Depth Entry Pool
Hot summer days call for lounging at the pool, and getting Baby used to the water early will have benefits later on. So grab the sunscreen and wade into one of the Indy area’s many pools with zero-depth entry!
- Forest Park Aquatic Center in Noblesville has a zero-depth kiddie pool. As a bonus, both the kiddie pool and the normal pool are heated!
- Splash Island in Plainfield also features a heated zero-depth entry pool. If you prefer a relaxing float with your baby, grab a tube on the lazy river! Visit the indoor pool, which also has zero-depth entry, in the winter months.
- The Waterpark at the Monon Center in Carmel also has both a lazy river and two zero-depth entry pools. The kiddie pool with low-key sprays and jets is totally enclosed and is staffed by its own lifeguard.
- Murphy Aquatic Park in Avon was specifically designed for accessibility, so all bodies of water have zero-depth entry. There is also a small play area beneath a shade sale with interactive toys for babies and toddlers.
Walk with the Stroller on a Local Trail
The Indy area has several beautiful paved walkways perfect for exploring with a stroller. Soak in some sunshine, get a bit of exercise, grab coffee or a treat from a nearby shop, and spend some quality time with Baby while chatting about the world around you.
- The Monon Trail follows the path of the old Monon Railway from Westfield all the way to downtown Indy. Each section offers new views and even activities. Stop by the splash pad at Midtown in Carmel or watch ducks from the bridge in Broad Ripple.
- The Fall Creek Trail runs almost 7 miles, connecting George E. Kessler Park and Fort Harrison State Park. Enjoy beautiful river views with baby while you stroll along this path.
- Indy’s Cultural Trail runs through some of the downtown area’s most vibrant neighborhoods. Explore Mass Ave, Virginia Avenue, the Canal, and more!
- The Nickel Plate Trail in Fishers provides 37 miles of paved walkway to explore. Walk through the bustling Nickel Plate District or get away from crowds and big buildings on sections running through more natural areas.
- Independence Park in Greenwood was designed to be fully inclusive and wheel-chair friendly. The ¾ mile paved hiking trail is also perfect for strollers!
Take Your First Family Camping Trip
Now is actually a great time to pitch a tent! No, really. Babies are so very portable when strapped in a pack or baby wrap, and by next year, you’ll likely have a do-it-myself toddler putting some limits on your hiking and activity options. Get started now if you’re new to camping! Pop a mobile baby in a portable crib or playpen if a fire is burning and your attention needs to be elsewhere temporarily. Snuggle up around the fire to watch the fireflies in the evening, and hit the trails during the day as a family. White River Campground is just a short drive away in Hamilton County. Indiana is also home to 24 state parks, so you have no shortage of destination options!
Catch a Parade
Your baby may not appreciate the meaning or traditions behind your favorite holiday. However, they can enjoy the music played by a marching band, brightly colored floats, smiling faces, and fun, noisy emergency vehicles. Get out and celebrate almost any holiday at a local parade. Favorites include the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade and the 500 Festival Parade in Indianapolis, the 4th of July Parade in Carmel, and Zionsville’s Fall Festival Parade.
Visit the Indiana State Fair or a Local County Fair
Let Baby take in all the sights, sounds, and smells of the Indiana State Fair! We have some great tips for taking babies and toddlers to this major statewide event held in August each year. The animal barns are full of adorable farm friends to meet and the DNR building has large fish tanks that babies will enjoy. Visit on $3 Thursday to keep this outing low-cost. For a similar experience on a smaller scale, check out a county fair earlier in the summer.
Select the Perfect Pumpkin
Of course, you’ll be doing the actual selecting this year, and possibly for another year or two after, but you can bring Baby along to experience this favorite Indiana fall tradition! While there are a number of baby-friendly pumpkin patches in the area, if you prefer something low-key but also engaging for your little one, try Smith Family Farms in Pendleton! This small farm with a pumpkin patch, petting zoo, playground, and hayride is only open on October weekends. Admission and pumpkin prices are very affordable. If your idea of a perfect autumn day involves an apple orchard and maybe a cider slushie, check out these great places to pick apples with a baby!
Choose an Adorable Halloween Costume
Halloween festivities don’t have to wait until your baby is old enough to Trick-or-Treat and actually eat the candy! Hit Target, a used clothing shop or sale, or scroll Pinterest for cute DIY costume ideas and pick a memorable outfit for your little one. Then get out to one of Indy’s many Halloween events or fall fests to show it off! Try ZooBoo, the Historic Irvington Halloween Festival, or Headless Horseman at Conner Prairie.
Get Baby’s First Photo with Santa
If your December includes Christmas celebrations, you may be dreaming of the day when your child will be old enough to excitedly anticipate Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve. Get the magic started by introducing Baby to St. Nick this Christmas! Visit Santa at the Indiana State Museum’s Celebration Crossing to make it a special event. After you meet the man in red, head to the museum’s third level to ride the Snowfall Express. Santa really seems to make the rounds these days though, so if you keep an eye on social media, you’ll likely find a free local event where you can get your photo op!
Gaze at Some Sparkly Holiday Lights
Even the tiniest babies are enchanted by glittering Christmas lights! Those bright bulbs against dark green branches or a night sky offer just the contrast needed to draw and hold a small infant’s attention. Save drive-through holiday light experiences for later years and opt for an event that allows you to get up close to the décor. Favorites include Winterlights at Newfields, Christmas at the Zoo, and the (totally free) holiday light tunnels and other displays along the Monon Trail in Carmel.
Classes and Programs
Tumble and Play at The Little Gym Carmel
The Little Gym believes in Three-Dimensional Learning, meaning they purposefully include physically, mentally, and socially engaging activities in each of their classes for children. You can get in on the learning fun as soon as your baby is 10 months old! Sign up for a Parent and Child class and let Baby play and tumble safely with other littler learners at this wonderful north side facility. Keep an eye on their calendar. They sometimes offer free open house events where even non-members can try out activities at The Little Gym!
Join in the Fun at a Library Story Time
Many area libraries offer some sort of story hour just for babies! Head to your local branch for songs, movement activities, and of course, read alouds with a librarian or volunteer. Some story times may include toys and free play as well. If you are at an Indianapolis Public Library branch, don’t forget to grab a Baby Bunny Book Bag filled with board books to check out and take home!
Sign up for Free Swim Lessons at Stony Creek Swim Center
Stony Creek Swim Center believes so strongly in getting babies in the water early that they offer free Water Babies lessons to infants aged 4 weeks to 5 months! These parent/child classes help tiny swimmers learn to associate the pool with fun rather than fear. The Indianapolis area has tons of other locations where you can register for baby swim lessons – find the right fit for your family here!
Introduce Baby to the Magic of Music
If your child is already bouncing along to the music in your home, encourage this interest and maybe even let them get their hands on some simple instruments in a class setting. The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel offers a 6 week Child and Adult music class for babies and toddlers 10 months and older. Babies and caregivers engage in songs, rhymes, and simple movement in a small group of 5-10 children. There are several other options for similar classes around Indy!
Register for 1000 Books Before Kindergarten
Make early literacy a priority in your home by signing Baby up for this simple program now! Each book you read counts, whether your child is hearing the story for the first time or you’ve read it together twenty times! Track your progress and earn prizes at 100, 500, and 1000 books read. Most libraries participate, including Indianapolis, Fishers, Noblesville, Greenfield, and more.
Places to Shop
Score Amazing Deals at a Resale Event
There’s no denying babies are expensive, but you can save money and the environment at the same time while shopping at one of Indy’s many children’s resale events! Find used and sometimes new clothing, toys, books, baby gear, and more at bargain prices at the Whale of a Sale, Indy Kids Sale, Just Between Friends Sale, and others. Sales are usually held twice a year, in the spring and fall, and feature seasonal clothing and gear. Check social media and websites around sale time for details on tickets, public shopping times, and sale-specific guidelines.
Indy Mommy Market
Local vendors come together a few times a year for the Indy Mommy Market pop up shopping events! Find adorable clothing, accessories, toys, and décor for your baby and feel good about your purchases knowing you’ve supported local makers and shop owners. If you’re looking for someone to take Baby’s first birthday photos, you may be able to connect with an area photographer here as well!
If shopping local and eating fresh and healthy is important to you, you’ll definitely want to check out Café Baby when your little one is ready to start solids! This company was started in Indianapolis by a local mother/daughter duo with the goal of providing healthy, affordable prepared baby food options. There are several ways to purchase: order through their website, visit their shop on East 86th Street, their stand at the Carmel Farmers Market, or one of the many local grocery stores and restaurants now carrying their products.
It actually isn’t possible to have too many books. Start building Baby’s collection early at one of these local kid-friendly bookstores. Kids Ink on Illinois Street has a train table that may entertain a cruising or toddling infant long enough for you to browse a bit! Need some baby-friendly literary options with local interest? Try one from our list of books for little Hoosiers!
Spend a Day in Columbus
We have many readers from Columbus who already know what a gem it is, especially for families with children! If you’ve never visited, it’s time to get out of Indy for a family day trip. Start the morning at Lucabe Coffee, which has an enclosed play coffee bar area where Baby can get out some wiggles while you sip a latte. Next, head to The Commons playground. This indoor facility is totally free and has a clearly marked play area for crawlers and new walkers. You are also welcome to bring a picnic. Family restrooms with changing tables are located directly next to the playground. For additional playtime, head across the street to kidscommons Children’s Museum. Admission is inexpensive and babies under 18 months are free! Of course, much of the museum is designed for older children, but crawlers and young toddlers will find plenty to explore.
Take a Short Road Trip to Fort Wayne
Fort Wayne is packed full of family fun! The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo was so clearly planned to accommodate and engage even the tiniest animal lovers. Most exhibits have glass windows that extend all the way to the ground, allowing a crawling and cruising baby to peek at the animals inside independently. There’s also a petting zoo where you can feed goats, a train ride, and fun interactive elements and photo ops throughout the park. If you have extra time, stop in the Allen County Public Library’s main branch and play in the Children’s Services area. The adorable playroom has a train table, activity cubes, an enclosed baby area, and plenty of comfy seating for the adults! There are saltwater fish tanks to view towards the back of Children’s Services. If you’re hoping to spend more time outside, head to Promenade Park to splash in the shallow Kids’ Canal and meander along the stroller-friendly Canopy Walk on the river.
Record Those Special Memories
You may have received a Baby Book of some sort as a gift. But if the idea of filling pages and pages with memories from Baby’s first year is daunting, don’t be afraid to search for an alternative. The best baby book is one you’ll actually use! Note milestones and special events on a simple calendar or try a journal filled with prompts (Promptly makes a great one!). Fill a notebook with short, one line memories: “You learned to play peek-a-boo today!” “Daddy came home early and we played at the park.” Simple records will capture the essence of your life right now and will mean so much in years to come.
Plan an At-Home Date Night
Spending time alone with your spouse or partner may never have been more important – or difficult! Sometimes you just can’t get out on that date night, so get creative and plan some at-home dates! Before Baby is sleeping through the night, take out and a movie may be all you can manage. Accept and embrace that in this season! But as you find your parenting groove, take turns planning new experiences to try together. Get started with this huge list of ideas!
If you don’t already have friends in the parenting phase of life, you may want to seek out this community yourself! Having people around you who understand the challenges of raising children and can offer advice when needed is priceless. Search Facebook for local playgroups, check churches around you for MOPs or other mom groups, strike up a conversation at library story time or a mommy-and-me class, maybe even reach out to that old friend you still see on social media who also has a baby now. Taking the initiative to meet other parents and caregivers will be worth it!
Host an Amazing First Birthday Party
Celebrate one whole year of Baby’s life as well as successfully surviving that year as a parent! Invite all your little one’s favorite people, skip the candles, and let Baby smash a small cake or cupcake instead. Keep things simple with an at home party, or consider hosting at a park with a playground if older kids will be attending. If you’re looking for a more unique venue, we have some options for you!