Thursday, May 9, 2013

Toddler Activities in Athens, Georgia

When my daughter first learned to walk, she was suddenly no longer content to be confined within the walls of our home. I remember panicking, wondering where on earth I could take her every day.  After all, Athens is a town geared towards college students, not children...or so I thought.  It turns out there are actually a decent number of activities in our lovely town, although they can be difficult to spot amidst all the collegiate activities.  I remember feeling so lost in the beginning, trying to find ways to entertain my feisty toddler, and unsure of where to go.  I am therefore motivated to share what I've learned to help prevent other parents from feeling the same way. 

After months of research and exploring, I now feel like I have a pretty good idea of what is out there for toddlers in Athens.  There is actually an activity nearly every single day--and most of them are free!  To ensure that I'm not recommending something not-so-fun, I've only listed activities that I've personally brought my toddler to, experienced, and enjoyed.  If you live in Athens, and notice that I'm missing some event or activity, please let me know in the comments.  As long as it's free or decently priced, I'll give it a try and report back!

World of Wonder
State Botanical Gardens of Georgia: This is absolutely one of our favorite places to go. It's a great area to let your child run around and enjoy the beautiful scenery.  There is also an indoor (air conditioned) area that's open during most of the day too.  My toddler prefers the outdoor area though; she loves to run around and smell all the flowers, and to splash her hands in the creek. It's free, but donations are accepted. 
Sandy Creek Nature Center:  This is my favorite place to go on rainy or cold days.  Inside you'll find tons of aquariums with fish, snakes, turtles, and more.  Plus there are activity stations such as a play garden and puppets, a planetarium, interactive exhibits, and even huge microscopes.  Outside there are interactive trails; plus it's also where the Greenway begins, which is a great path for biking. We like to put our daughter in a bike buggy and go for a nice ride.  Free.
Sandy Creek Park & Beach:  This is a giant park, with a playground and more importantly, a beach on a very calm lake.  The water is warm during the summer, and the sand provides endless amounts of toddler fun.  $2/Person (age 3 & under free)
Athens-Clarke County Library: Even when they aren't hosting their weekly events (detailed below), it's a fun place to take your toddler.  There are (obviously) a ton of books for your child to read, along with toys galore.   Plus there are usually other children there for your child to interact with. The only downside is that it is set up in an L-shape that it can be hard to keep an eye on your child if you have a runner like I do (I lose her at least once a trip in the book aisles).  Unlike...
Oconee County Library:  Although the children's section is smaller than the Athens library, it has a better set up to keep an eye on toddlers.  All the toys and activities are in one central area, and there is even an enclosed outside area for your child to play in (there is sidewalk chalk to draw with!).   
World of Wonder Playground:  Also known as Southeast Clarke Park, it's the biggest playground in Athens.  Perhaps its greatest selling point is that it contains a "Tot Lot"; a designated playground area meant specifically for children under 5. The entire playground contains plenty of slides, swings, and obstacles for an adventurous toddler to climb on; plus walking trails.  Downside? There is very little shade at this park, so it can be unbearably hot in the summer.
2017 Update:  The WoW playground is set to be demolished March 2017.  This is sad news, because my children adored the "Castle Playground", BUT, they built a new amazing playground in the adjacent spot, that we have now dubbed the "Jungle Playground".  However, because this playground is just so darn cool, it can be insanely packed and parking can be a problem, so it's really best to go on weekday mornings or early afternoons.  
Memorial Park Playground & Bear Hollow Zoo:  This is a popular park because of its prime location--in the heart of 5 Points.  However, due to it's popularity, parking can sometimes be an issue, especially on weekends. The playground also seems to have a lot of smokers (though illegal).  Despite this, there is a beautiful pond, and it's next to the Bear Hollow Zoo. The playground is smaller than some of the others in town; though the amount of ducks in the nearby pond make up for it.  Bear Hollow Zoo seems to be better regulated, and is one of my favorite places to take my toddler. It has alligators, bears, eagles, bobcats, and more, and it's all free.  The best part? It's completely shaded, so it's the perfect outdoor adventure for those hot and sunny days.
Bishop Park:  This park has a large number of tennis courts and athletic fields, making it more of a destination for organized sports rather than toddlers. However, it does offer a great deal of space for kids to run around, plus there is small playground (though a little dated).  
Georgia Square Mall:  This is a great rainy day destination if you need to stretch your legs.  It's indoors and air conditioned, and if your child tolerates a stroller, you can walk laps inside the mall and get some exercise.  Near the center of the mall there are quarter-rides that your child can ride (mine likes to play in them even without paying to make them move), and there is a childrens' train you can ride that travels around the mall (unsure of cost).  It's only a small little area for your child to play in out of the stroller, so (for me) it's only worth it on days you'd rather be inside (but still need to get out).
Harris Shoals Park:  This park near downtown Watkinsville is old school.  It's made of wood and has a huge metal slide, and neat obstacle courses.  It definitely looks like it was built in the 70s or 80s, but I'm sure it wasn't actually built that long ago.  It's completely shaded under huge trees, so it's great during the hot summer months.  It's rarely too packed too.  In the park is also a river for the kids to splash around in, and a 1-ish mile loop trail that is fun to hike.  The hike includes a really long boardwalk over some marsh.  
East Athens Community Park Splash Pad:  This just opened up in June 2013.  It's a huge park, that contains a great splash pad (pictured below) that is perfect for toddlers who can't swim yet.  It's all the fun of the pool, without the deep water you have to worry about.  It's also got a playground next to it, that your child can play on when they tire of the water fun.  The downside to the park is that it can get crowded with older children, who have a habit of knocking younger children over in their spirited play.  $1/Person.   2017 Update:  They redid the whole Splash Pad so it's set up differently than you see in the picture below.  It's still a lot of fun, but I personally prefer the old one.  
YMCA:  You have to get a membership to enjoy the facilities, but if you do, there is an outdoor and indoor pool, a track, trails, and a great playground.  The best time to enjoy most of these activities is in the summer; however, the YMCA is overrun by summer camps then, making it difficult to use a lot of the facilities. We chose not to renew our membership because of this, or at least until our child is old enough to partake in the camps.  Instead we joined the...
Georgia Aquatic Center:  Also requires a membership (except for swimming lessons).  They have 4 pools; 2 indoors and 2 outdoors. One of the outdoor pools has several water slides and a 2 feet deep section, and the other one is a Beach Pool, with a zero entry (sloping like a beach would be), both perfect for toddlers.  One of the indoor pools is used for swim lessons. We took Mommy & Me classes there, and loved it. 
Georgia Aquatic Center


Pop in Playtime at Pump It Up:  An indoor arena with giant inflatable bouncy houses and slides.  9:30-11 am for 5 & Under.  $3  for 3 & Under, $6 for all others.


Toddler Storytime at Athens-Clarke Library:  Crafts, and story reading.   9:30 OR 10:30 am for 18 months to 5 years.  Free.
Toddler Storytime at Oconee County LibraryMiss Rebecca now hosts this story time; she moved from the Athens library to the Oconee library a few years ago.  She is AMAZING.  She sings all the stories and gets the kids moving.  Plus there is an awesome craft at the end.
Toddler Storytime at Athens-Clarke Library:  Crafts and story reading.  9:30 OR 10:30 am for 18 months to 5 years.  Free.
Toddler Storytime at Oconee County Library:  Miss Rebecca sings songs and even sings the stories; the kids love to dance and be silly.  Fun craft at the end.  10 am OR 11 am for 18 months to 5 years. Free. August-April Only.


Pop in Playtime at Pump It Up:  An indoor arena with giant inflatable bouncy houses/slides.  9:30-11 am for 5 & Under.  $3 - $6
Performance Series at Athens-Clarke Library: During the summer (June-August), the library hosts a different performance every Thursday at 10:30, from puppet shows to luaus.  Free.   


Fantastic Fridays at Bishop Park:  Open Play at the Gymnastics facility at Bishop Park: trampolines, beams, mats, slides, balls, mats, etc.  This event, is by far, our favorite Athens' toddler activity.  However, it can get packed and wild, so if your child is introverted (or if you are cautious), this might not be your jam.  10-11:30 am for 10 months to 4 years.  $5.  AUGUST THROUGH APRIL ONLY.
Fantastic Fridays
Athens Farmers Market: Food stands and samples, people watching, live band.  Bishop Park, 8 am-12 pm. Free.  Seasonal (April-Octoberish)
Zoo Open Exhibit Hall at Bear Hollow:   Local zoo at Memorial Park, with volunteers on hand to let your child get up close and personal with some of the wildlife.  Bears, snakes, alligators, oh my!  1-4 pm, Free.


Baby Music Jam

Baby Music Jam Oconee LibraryThe Children's room is filled with a large array of instruments; from bongo drums to keyboards to noise makers to rattles.  Miss Rebecca plays the ukulele and sings, while the children play instruments of their choice.  This event is GREAT fun!  Usually on Thursday mornings once a month. 
Botanical Gardens
Did I miss anything?  Let me know in the comments!


  1. Hi, Bridget! I went through a similar phase of panic when my kids started to walk and explore. It's easy when you're in your own town, but vacations can get a little crazy. I remember visiting Albany, GA a few years back and was so grateful to see Turtle Grove Play Park and Flint Riverquarium for the kids to enjoy.


  2. We haven't even attempted a vacation with our kid yet! haha

  3. Great website! I'm new here in Athens and have a 17 month baby girl that is very active. This website has helped me a in abundance. Awesome job, girl. Thanks!

  4. I already begin to explore some of the places and my little one and I are loving it. So happy!

  5. Toddler ice skating classes at the Classic Center (during the winter), Allegro Music (at the Bloom Community Space) or Kindermusik (at YMCA), and toddler art classes at Treehouse kid and craft.

  6. I wanted to thank you for this blog post! I have moved to Bishop, Georgia within the last six months and have a 2 year old with another little one on the way. I've been wanting to find some indoor places and toddler-friendly activities around me. I did a generic google search and came across your blog post and it is super helpful! Thank you!

    1. Hi Hannah! I'm glad it has been helpful! I really need to update this list, as thing probably have changed some in the past few years since I posted this! But a lot has remained the same I hope. If you are looking for a good local resource for families, I highly recommend joining Bloom Parents on Facebook. They have another group called Bloom Chit Chat and another called Bloom Classifieds. All 3 are great resources! You live near me and I definitely recommend checking out Oconee Storytime at the library on Tuesday & Wednesdays at 10 or 11am. Miss Rebecca is the children's librarian there and she is absolutely magical! We go every week!

  7. Hey girl! My little one is 8 months now and really starting to get moving! It's my goal this spring to really get him outdoors and moving and I love that you did updates for 2017! Your blog is so helpful, thank you <3

  8. I can't tell you how many times I have referred to this blog post during the past year! Thank you so very much!!!

    1. So happy to hear it's still useful!!