Tot Spots and Shopping
Every now and then I muster up the courage for a marathon of morning errands. When I’m brave, bold, and caffeinated, I pack up the car, load my little ones into the backseat, and armed with snacks, water, and enough baby wipes to clean up after a tiny toddler army, I embark on a mission.
The goal is simple: one stop, numerous stores, and stroller friendly. Hello, shopping plazas.
If timed correctly, I leave the house near the baby’s nap time, which means she’ll snooze en route and for some of the adventure.
While there’s plenty of options, below you’ll two of my favorite go-to errand spots that offer me productivity and marry play and pleasure for the little ones as well.
CASTLE RIDGE PLAZA
State Route 10 and River Road
East Hanover, NJ 07936
- On Route 10 in East Hanover lives a plaza that houses The Messy Artist. On scheduled days this studio hosts drop-in and play for ages 18 months-5 years old. Children cycle through stations that offer opportunities for mess, memories, and lots of discovery. I love the Messy Artist because it is casual and carefree. Somedays my toddler has played in the sensory box for the entire duration of our stay. Sometimes she’s shifted through stations seamlessly and tried each task in a timely fashion. Open play usually starts at 9:30, and I do my best to get there early on. After an hour and a half, we’re generally ready to wrap up and move on. A bagel store next door makes it an easy transition to snack time.
- In this same plaza, you’ll find Michael’s. Crafting isn’t my forte but occasionally I dabble in a Pinterest project and attempt something simple. Additionally, Michael’s is where I stock up on many of my art supplies for the playroom, which makes it a quick stroller friendly stop.
- Long live Carter’s. These kids grow like weeds and I’m a fan of Carter’s for its durability and affordability. Right near Michael’s, I usually wander in and find a seasonal steal to help keep the kids wardrobe fashionable and fun.
- I usually round out my trip with a quick stop at Five Below or the Dollar Tree. Inevitability, there's something I need. Whether it’s a party favor or seasonal Tchotchke, it’s another easy grab and go stroller scenario.
BONUS: There’s a Best Buy, some other small retail shops, and a few more restaurants within this plaza. If you’re hungry and in a hurry to get home, the drive-thru Panera is right down the road.
THE SHOPPES AT UNION HILL
3056 Route 10 West
Denville, NJ 07834
- Don't let the address fool you. This plaza is an easy twenty-minute drive from Madison. I start at Learning Express, which is a fun toy store that hosts crafts and DIY activities that are perfectly themed for tiny tots. They have an active calendar full of fun and unique opportunities and it's never the same experience. While toy stores can be chaotic, I find the space and pace of this place to be calm and creative. Most activities take place at 11:00 a.m so I try to shop first and promise play later.
- I like malls but I love smaller scenarios. Here, big names like Gap, Banana Republic, Loft, and Blue Mercury exist without the crowds. There's also no elevator to contend with, which with the kids makes for fewer wait times.
- Janie and Jack is a guilty pleasure. I love this kid clothing line that far often exceeds my own fashion sense and style. While pricey, I tend to shop holidays and special occasions here a few times a year.
- I like visiting the Pier 1 at this location because of its proximity to the other shops and restaurants.
BONUS: There's a Yogurtland, Five Guys, Panera, and Starbucks here in addition to a few more restaurants. I like the options of to-go, quick service, and dine-in due to the unpredictability of kids.
It's a given that when I can I shop locally. As we know, Madison has a lot to offer. However, there are days where certain errands are necessary or escaping is imperative. Enter the shopping plaza scenario. Grab the stroller, choose your stride, and shop. But, be wise. If there's something along the route that offers some fun for them and some sanity for you, go.