Illustration by Francine Yulo
The concept of this article is flawed. There is no good place to bring a toddler, because going anywhere with a toddler sucks. They don’t sit, they don’t stay, they fuck with everything in sight, they whine, and they hurt themselves. It almost makes you wanna trade in your kid for a dog, which would be way easier to handle. Plus, a dog doesn't require a baby bag, a stroller, or diapers. Dog or Baby? We’ll leave that article for another day.
If taking our kids out sucks so much, why do we do it?
Much like dogs, toddlers have boundless energy that they need to expend. For that, wide open spaces are key. We also want our kids to see shit, so they can develop their sense of awe. If you're an expat, you probably want your kid to enjoy grass, much like we did when we were children. And if you were smart enough to have just one kid, you probably want your child to learn social skills and interact with others. So we pack our baby bags (perhaps after arguing about what to bring), and set off for a day out with the kid.
Here’s my list of spots to bring your toddler that might not totally suck.
This is one of the few places downtown that actually allows you to go on the grass. For the longest time, my kid straight-up feared grass. It was this mystical, carpet-like substance that, once stepped on, caused a monstrous, chain-smoking, thermos-wielding creature in an oversized navy blue outfit to appear out of the shadows, yell, and blow his whistle.
Due to this [rational] fear of Bao'an, it took my kid about 30 minutes to gain the courage to run onto the grass at the sculpture park. Now he loves it. On any given weekend, the back corner of the park (facing Beijing lu) is filled with tons of kids jumping rope, hanging out in tents, and just running around. I even saw some kids playing marbles. Classic. Plus, it’s pretty contained, so you can sit on the grass and just let your kid cruise around without losing sight of him.
There’s lots of other families hanging out, who are usually more than happy to share toys, give your kid a piece of raisin bread, and push the kids to play together. It’s also a wicked spot to take your kid for a cruise in the stroller and check out the sculptures, or hit the guqing school in the back for a welcome dose of classical Chinese music. You soak in a bit of culture, your kid develops some social skills, tires himself out, and passes out by like 7.30pm, leaving you free to smash DVDs. Jing’an Sculpture Park: always a win.
The new Natural History Museum is right in the sculpture park. It has life-size, moving dinosaurs that make dinosaur noises. That’s enough right there! My 20 month-old stood under the brontosaurus for like 10 minutes, in utter awe. Just staring and pointing. It’s also a great spot to practice animal names, and the third floor has a display of everything from taxidermied sea turtles to Chimpanzees, and a model blue whale. Your toddler can be like, "monkey"… "fish"…."dog", and you can be like, "good job buddy, you're smart".
Honestly, it wasn’t even that crowded on a Sunday. The only downside is that a few spots only have stairs (no ramps), so you might have to carry your stroller a bit. Also, I recommend you avoid the butterfly enclosure, unless you wanna give your kid an early lesson in life and death. The underpaid Ayis went Pauly Shore on that bio dome fucking up all kinds of homeostasis. The result is a lot of dead butterflies. But other than that, 30 kuai well spent.
This one is right at the north end of Jiangning Lu, across the street from the QSW. It’s another rare gem where they let you chill on the grass. The layout is cool, with plenty of little forested nooks and crannies, and lots of space for your kid to run around and tire himself out. They have a kids area with a little playground and sandbox, plus a bouncy castle and cool little cars your kid can roll around in. It’s got that old–school adventure vibe, with paths running along the ponds and through the trees. It’s also broken up into self–contained areas, so you can chill while your kid runs around, and you don’t have to worry about losing him.
If you’re lucky you might even run into some hippies playing drums, and toddlers usually enjoy that shit. Trust me, this park is a winner!
I’m not referring to an actual shed. That would be creepy. I'm talking about the Aussie-run pub / sports bar on Shaanxi Bei Lu called The Shed that has beer, food, sports, and a wicked '90s playlist (killing it with Stone Temple Pilots). I realize this is an unlikely contender, but a few things make The Shed surprisingly kid-friendly.
The place is quiet, there’s a little contained space for the kid to run around (if no one’s playing darts), the pool table provides a surprising chance to teach your kid colors and numbers, you can get Strongbow on tap, and they understand the art of layering when it comes to nachos. But what really makes The Shed good for you and your toddler is Sunny. Sunny is mother, father, Ayi, and waitress all wrapped in one. She has given my kid a stuffed Panda, a rubber duck, and almost always gives him a ball to play with. On so many occasions, I’ve been able to enjoy a full beer at The Shed while she whisks away my baby and parents the shit out of him. I can’t promise your kid will receive the same treatment, but if you’re lucky, you might be able to sit back for five minutes while Sunny relieves you of the burden of parenting -- just long enough to enjoy a little bit of your meal.
When you have a kid, that’s all you can really ask for. Bless you, Sunny.
Also on Shannxi Bei Lu is Dogtown. You could probably even do a Shed / Dogtown day out, cause there’s nothing that helps a man really grow into a father like day-drinking.
Dogtown's cool because it's outside, so if your kid is being a dick you can just walk him down the street and avoid ruining everyone else’s day. The place usually has a lively vibe on weekends, and there will probably be a couple of other strollers on site, so you can grab a beer and talk parenting with some other dads. There’s usually a couple of actual dogs there as well. My kid really enjoys petting those dogs, seeing all the people, listening to some hip hop, and running around the wide sidewalks. Dogtown’s got that modern / cool dad vibe. You can point out the De La Soul tracks to your kid so the people next to you realize what a cool father you are. Very contemporary.
I don’t know the actual name for Love Park, but it’s right across from the Shanghai Concert Hall. It’s also one of the dopest skate spots in the city, and a rad way to introduce your kid to skateboarding. My kid always enjoys watching people skate the ledges and jump the three-stair set. I usually bring a deck and pull him around on it. People are generally friendly, there’s nice bathrooms in the mall across the street (ideal for diaper changes), and there’s a massive park directly behind the skate area.
That said, Love Park has fallen low on my list since the Bao’an kicked my kid off the grass. That’s a dick move.
But the park behind Love Park is big enough that your toddler can run around a bit, and the flat ground spot by the concert hall itself is big enough that your kid can go for a cruise. Plus, it’s just a cool way to spend an afternoon.
First, the downside. It’s in Pudong. Lujiazui is the worst possible place for a toddler. It’s crazy busy, especially on weekends. If you look away for just a second, your kid will get engulfed by the madness and you’ll never see him again. If you live in Puxi, it’s not scooterable. Getting a taxi there is nearly impossible, and the Lujiazui subway stop is rammed full of commuters. Not a fun area to carry around a heavy-ass kid or maneuver a stroller.
But the aquarium itself is a wondrous place full of magical creatures and giant salamanders. It’s dimly lit, giving it this cool sense of mystery, kind of like a giant submarine. For your kid, there’s fish. By 20 months, he probably knows that word, and will be stoked to apply it to almost every situation here, for like two hours straight. The tunnel is a great way to instill a sense of awe in your child. Plus, no matter what dickishness your kid gets up to, there will always be another 50 kids in there out-dicking him by banging on the glass constantly. Parents seem to go there in groups and just unleash their children with a kind of "strength in numbers" attitude. It’s like watching a zombie virus under a microscope attack white blood cells. They work so fast. Even the Bao’ans don’t dare step in. They know they’ll get stabbed.
If you do end up crossing the river, never attempt to go to the Aquarium on a weekend. It will be stressful. I recommend going on like a Tuesday at 11am.
Right, so that’s my list of places that make taking your kid out suck a little less. There's a few more, but perhaps we’ll get to those another day. If you know of others, drop 'em in the comments.
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