Frigid temperatures. Snow. The winter blues. Sometimes getting your toddler out of the house can seem impossible in the cold. I know, I know; there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes (or so it goes). That being said, let’s be honest: there are days when mama is just too cold or tired to bundle up baby. Plus, I’ve found not all indoor kid-friendly outings are appropriate for toddlers under two (sometimes those big kids are too rough)! So, avoid the looming mom guilt, and the next time temperatures drop below freezing, get out of your house (but stay indoors) in Knoxville. I’ve curated an entire weekday — Monday through Friday, pre-nap and post-nap — of to-dos in Knoxville with your young toddler. Minding my daughter’s nap schedule and tricky weather, all outings are within a 25-minute drive from downtown Knoxville, aren’t something you have to schedule ahead like a class, and offer accessible parking.
A Week Of To-Dos With Toddlers Under Two in Knoxville
Morning Activity: We spent the morning ‘mall walking’ at West Town Mall with my daughter’s Gigi before the mall officially opened. When we arrived to a wide-open empty space, she was ready to run! We loved watching her dart back-and-forth through the empty halls, her voice-echoing with laughter as she climbed on all the benches without judgment. Mall walking is such a great option for toddlers under two. Let’s be honest; there simply aren’t a ton of warm, indoor places that are open early enough to satisfy a toddler’s need to get out of the house before most people wake up. She loved checking out the over-sized animals in the windows of the closed stores (and I loved that she wasn’t able to climb on top of them).
Afternoon Activity: On a totally random rainy afternoon, we found ourselves on Gay Street when a light bulb went off as we passed the Museum of East Tennessee History. I figured we’d give it a shot (reminding myself it doesn’t take much to make her happy — just something new to do and see). We spent over an hour walking through the first-floor gallery. My daughter was thrilled with the log cabin, the trolley, and any buttons she could push on the displays.
She was particularly enamored with the floor decals used to guide visitors through the exhibits, ha! It definitely doesn’t take much. On the way out we spent another 15 minutes in the gift shop. Let me tell you; I have neglected this gift shop for too long. It has so many thoughtful gifts for the East Tennessean in your life.
Morning Activity: We visited the South Knoxville Branch Library where I signed my daughter up for her first library card. I wasn’t sure if this activity would be more about my nostalgia since she won’t be checking her own books out anytime soon, but she actually had so much fun! Despite the modest size of our South Knoxville branch library, it had an abundant selection of board books for toddlers. The books all appeared to be in great condition, clean and organized. There was a toddler-sized table and padded bench she loved climbing on, and the staff was extremely accommodating. They told us to be sure to check out their KIDS ZONE for events, activities, and their animated talking picture books and audiobooks.
Afternoon Activity: We had so much fun that morning at the library, we decided to keep the fun going and head over to our favorite local bookstore. We live in South Knoxville, so Union Ave Books downtown is a local favorite. They have an amazing selection of new children’s books, games and plush dolls by Jellycat (one of our favorites). After picking out a few items, we headed next door to Mahalo Coffee Roasters where mama re-fueled while baby played with her new coloring activity book we selected. It made me feel so normal to sit in a coffee shop even for just five minutes! Reminder mamas, it doesn’t take much to stimulate a young toddler!
Morning Activity: We headed to Muse Knoxville for a morning full of stimulating play. We love Muse Knoxville! It’s perfect for children of all ages, but I can’t stress this enough — this is a HIT for toddlers! I was actually nervous taking her there last year thinking it would be above her head, but I’d say if your child is walking or even toddling, you’ll have a great time. Their staff is always walking around cleaning and sanitizing the play stations. We can easily fill two hours, but it also boasts a Planetarium show daily, as well as experiences, camps, and even adult nights to bring out the kid in mom and dad!
Afternoon Activity: Mama was tired after a long morning at the children’s museum, so we headed out of our house, and straight over to our dear friend’s home to bake some cookies. (My daughter has been obsessed with cooking ever since we got her a play kitchen.) We were lazy and grabbed store-bought dough this time, but the day was all about decorating anyway. I typically reserve cookie making for the holidays, but don’t overlook this super easy time filler with a fellow mom friend or even grandma! If you’re even lazier than me, we love two South Knoxville bakeries for all our cookie needs: Village Bakery and Mama C’s Gluten Free Cookies. Both offer delicious treats and are just a few miles south of downtown.
Morning Activity: This morning we headed to one of our favorite places in Knoxville: Ijams Nature Center! I know what you’re thinking. Ijams is a ‘nature center,’ hence, outdoors, right? One of my favorite things I’ve discovered about Ijams is the amazing aquatic life you can check out inside their indoor visitor’s center. From “Dolly” their snapping turtle, to a black snake, bass and more, it’s like a mini-zoo inside the gift shop. We probably spent a good hour-and-a-half between the aquatics and checking out their equally amazing and locally-focused gift shop.
Afternoon Activity: I am a huge fan of when you can combine retail therapy for mama, and stimulation for toddler. Enter one of my favorite local go-to retailers: Smart Toys and Books. Even if you’re relatively new to Knoxville, you’ve probably at least heard of their indoor playground. If I’m being honest, at two years of age my daughter is probably just now at the right age to be able to enjoy their playground simply because the big kids can be intimidating. But if you have a younger toddler or baby, they’ll love just hanging out with you on the store side. Bonus: I got my nephew’s birthday present knocked out while we were there.
Morning Activity: This morning was my toddler’s first visit to the Knoxville Museum of Art. While, of course, she’s oblivious to what art is beyond “coloring,” she had a great time pointing at the art. At one point, she pointed and said “blue mama, blue!” I beamed. And while I know you’re supposed to quietly observe art in a museum, we were there early so I let her have some fun playing the “echo” game (basically just her giggling uproariously at the sound of her own echo). We both enjoyed the student art on display from the East Tennessee Regional Student Art Exhibition. All exhibitions, current, past and future, are listed on their website. Note: the museum is closed on Mondays.
Afternoon Activity: Last but not least, we spent the afternoon thrifting at KARM (Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries). While now closed for the season, we went to the KARM Christmas store, but I know she’d have just as much fun at their traditional locations. I love thrifting, so I figured why not take my toddler along to treasure hunt with me. It was just silly fun the entire time! Bonus: we were able to drop off a bag of donations while we were there (nothing like cleaning out my basement and squeezing in an hour of toddler time in a single outing).