Free entertainment: the pet store

Sherry's easy toddler outing:

Perhaps others might not think this idea rocks quite as much as I do, but I have 19 month-old twins and finding fun and reasonably-priced things to do with two curious toddlers is tough.  Some places, like Gymboree, frown upon one parent bringing two kids because of liability issues.  But, yesterday, my husband and I stumbled upon a fabulous, seemingly unlimited source of free entertainment for our kids…the local pet shop!

We walked them in together, something that's SUCH a treat as they usually are in a shopping cart or stroller, and we saw the fish, birds, cats, dogs and rodents…at one point, my son was doubled over from laughing at a bunch of mice running on a wheel!

We spent about 30 minutes in the store, which luckily wasn't very crowded at the time, and they loved it!

We LOVE pet stores (the local ones, not the sad, mall-based places). If you do some digging, you might find some fascinating specialty animal shops as well. We've got a tropical fish store nearby (with eels, stingrays and a pufferfish named Frances). Back when I lived in Berkeley, we used to visit the East Bay Vivarium — reptiles of all sorts. We recently visited a "feed and seed" place that was full of baby ducks, chickens, turkeys and geese.


  1. Bob says

    We call it the “Miniature Zoo”.

    My 21 month old loves the mice on the wheel too. The local animal shelter brings in adoptable dogs and cats too which are a big hit.

  2. Sheila says

    Be warned – we went to one of those big chain stores and they were NOT friendly. They nearly kicked me out for taking a picture of a ferret.

  3. Kookaburra says

    It’s so funny for me to read this hear today. On Saturday, hubby and I took a trip to the pet store with our daughter who’s 15 months. We’ve been there before and she loves seeing the dogs, even though we have 2 at home.

    But on this trip, we went over and took a look at the fish and she looooved it! I was amazed at how long a young child could stare at some fish. I never even thought of taking her over to the other animals, but will definately get back there soon! Thanks for the idea.

  4. Nathan says

    Watch of for some of these stores — they often take dogs from puppy mills and many treat their dogs poorly.

    We go all the time to local pet stores that have areas for adoption and keep cats and dogs all the time. That way the pet store is doing good by helping adopt out abandoned pets and you aren’t supporting puppy mills.

    That said, my daughter LOVES the fish. Mice are OK and cats are cool, but the fish blow her away.

  5. Jessica says

    Oh! We love going to the local PetCo. They have puppy classes you can watch, doggy daycare and a grooming salon. We can spend a LONG time there! It’s like a free zoo.

  6. Jeanne says

    Camping stores like REI are also good for a rainy day. The kids can play in the tents! As with all stores, be sure not to overstay your welcome!

  7. Jill says

    We love the local pet store. I like the little ones rather than the chains because they usually have more cats and dogs. That being said, Petco is fun because a lot of people bring in their dogs and my daughter thinks it is fun that they are walking around the store.

  8. Cathy White says

    Just a note on feed store animals–you might want to do a parental scout on feed and pet stores before you bring the kids. We have a feed store in our areas that does all the baby ducks/geese/chickens etc every spring. The problem is that the mortality rate is pretty high. I took my kid when she was about 2, and luckily she didn’t understand what was happening, but lots of the babies were staggering around near death or were dead and being pecked and torn apart by their cell mates. We skip that place in the springtime.

  9. John says

    We also love taking the kids to the local pet store. We have a real nice locally owned store and the owners love having the kids visit. It’s always great for a 30 minute visit after we’ve dragged the kids to a dr appt or a shopping trip.

  10. JT says

    Our local PetSmart has a “Pet Hotel” inside, where you can watch the boarded dogs play through a window wall. This has become one of my 4-year-old’s favorite stops. I save it for when I actually need to buy cat litter or food, so that we don’t appear to be “using” them. Nobody at our local store seems to mind that we spend upwards of a half hour checking out the dogs, fish and shelter cats before buying our jug of crystal litter!

  11. Danni says

    I agree with that idea. As long as it’s not an exotic pet shop, kids will surely love it.

  12. Beth says

    My son’s (22 months) favorite is to go cruise the dog toy aisle for a “present” for his “girls” (aka the dogs). He can spend the better part of an hour testing the toys until he finds one that meets all of our criteria.

    Of course, he’s also endlessly fascinated with the girls’ toys at home, so this is one of those things.

  13. Bob says

    My kids never get bored visiting the pet store. They enjoy petting the animals, especially the dogs.

  14. rebecca says

    The big REI in Seattle has a whole play area upstairs with a treehouse and slide, it’s pretty groovy.

    I can’t wait for my son (4 months) to be excited about external stuff farther away than mom and dad. I like our zoo and aquarium quite a bit. And I’m even excited about the fish store.

  15. SheriVan says

    Check out your local public library! Even young kids love new books or videos.

    Children’s museums and zoos are not free, but can occupy an entire day.

    Water! A small bucket of water and a cup or other pouring things will keep a toddler busy for a long time, and getting wet always cools ‘em off. This is better done outside, and with parental supervision, of course. Running through the sprinklers or just sitting next to them can be hilarious.

    For kids that are a little older, try a water balloon fight! If this takes place on the lawn, the water isn’t wasted.

  16. S.C.Faulkner says

    Just an FYI, another great free haven for the littl’ns is the super bookstore. We spent 4 hours in B&N today with mine (5 and almost 3). Read tons of Dora, Clifford, Spiderman and others. We spent 15 bux, and that was on books for the kids, which is fine by me.

  17. jeff g says

    Fish farms are a great source of fun…(just remember to bring cups for the fish food). Go to the bread store and pick up a loaf of bread – feed ducks. Go to the airport – watch takeoffs and landings. Paper and scissors (dull) are always nice – teach them about hearts, snowflakes, etc… The Dollar store – $1 buys a lot of army men or a cool squirt gun. Any public garden will do… Give them a hose and turn on the water – let the fun begin.

  18. Bruce Savage says

    My parents take my daughter to Pet Smart everytime she visits. It is one of the highlights of her trips to gamma and gammpa’s house.

  19. David Syzdek says

    Be sure to check out reptile and other specialty shops. One of our local reptile stores has a better variety of reptiles and amphibians than most zoos.

  20. silverojo says

    @jeff g:

    Feeding bread to ducks or geese is actually harmful to them. Our city has banned people from bringing bread to the park, because the water fowl were getting sick from it.

    Videotaping and taking pictures of the ducks and their friends is safer, and just as fun. ;-)