Where the Toys Are

I've learned a lot in my four years as a mother. But one of the best lessons I've gotten is where to buy the best toys and children's books. And sadly it's not Target or Toys "R" Us. Both stores feature rows and rows of toys but not a thing that gets my 4-year-old's attention. Thankfully the Washington region is home to some great stores that only sell toys and children's books. And those stores are even more enticing these days because of their personal attention to where the merchandise is coming from. (Note: Not all toys from China are bad.) Granted, you'll pay a little bit more but I think it's worth it. Here are a few of them:

Tree Top Kids: This local chain has grown quickly over the last year with several stores in Maryland, Virginia and Washington. Take a trip to one of its locations and you'll see why people like it. The toys are unique and there are plenty of them. One of the two locations in Arlington has two levels and several different rooms, featuring infant toys, clothing, games, outdoor toys and everything in between. You won't find great bargains at Tree Top but I did see interesting art kits such as a Melissa & Doug stringing beads kit for $17 and a plate-painting kit for $12. They also featured a good selection of natural wood toys for infants, many for under $10.

Kinder Haus Toys: This Arlington toy store, which has been around for more than 25 years, is impressive. It's set in a large open space, which is great for finding certain sections quickly. But most importantly, the prices aren't painful. Some of the finds that caught my eye were a huge, wooden Melissa & Doug dollhouse for $40, Ravensburger puzzles for under $10 and Madame Alexander dolls for under $20.

Noodles & Noggins: This store will take you to sleepy Clifton, Va., which is a trek but worth the drive, especially if you can time it for when they have live entertainment for the kids. It's possible people are drawn to the small store for the culture of the place, with its almost-daily shows and chatty staff. "She's a godsend," said one shopper, of owner Jacquie Lambertson. Noodles & Noggins tries to carry unique products and keep close contact with the manufacturers of the toys they carry to make sure they're safe. They also have a large online catalog if you can't make it out to Clifton.

For children's books, it's tough to beat Amazon.com. The books haven't been broken in (as children's books in bricks-and-mortar shops often are) and most books are discounted. Plus there's free shipping on orders more than $25.

And then there are stores that primarily sell other things but have some toys on the side. While I personally have given up on most of these retailers for toys, one I can tolerate is Marshalls, where you'll find a small, messy section of toys and books tucked between men's clothing and luggage. Wooden puzzles sell for $5, books for under $10 and very few toys or games are more than $20. I also can't help but like Pottery Barn Kids' toys, which usually carry some hefty price tags. But the in-store toy display at the Tysons Corner location is a fun place for kids to sample the goods. Most of the toys are wooden and some are even educational, like a wooden puzzle that teaches six phrases in five languages. That'll run you nearly $40. The pretend play toys such as the retro kitchen sets are also pretty neat. Almost makes me wish I was 4 again.

Where do you buy toys and children's books?

By Tania Anderson |  December 13, 2007; 3:00 AM ET General Interest , Kid Stuff
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Out in Loudoun County (Brambleton shopping center) we have Go Bananas!.

The store is owned and run by a former early childhood educator. There is a wide selection for all ages with an emphasis of learning through play.

Posted by: agroshong | December 13, 2007 7:32 AM

Further out in Loudoun is a great little place, "Our Shop in Toyland" in Purcellville. Wooden, plush and generally high quality, unique stuff: zero electronics.

Posted by: Gilgamesh | December 13, 2007 8:05 AM

I can't believe you left out Child's Play, on Connecticut Avenue between Morrison and McKinley Sts. -- wonderful array of toys, very helpful staff, good service, great buzz.

Posted by: judyline | December 13, 2007 9:39 AM

There's also a great little place in Alexandria for children's books called A Likely Story.

Posted by: hype2 | December 13, 2007 9:56 AM

Unfortunately, I heard that A Likely Story had to close recently.

Posted by: FormerAlexandrian | December 13, 2007 10:29 AM

Sullivan's on Wisconsin Avenue in DC is great. They seem to have everything - crammed into a pretty small place - and the staff is superhelpful.

Posted by: Sheila | December 13, 2007 11:06 AM

Some great ideas here! For online shopping that carries ONLY toys that are NOT made in China, visit http://toysnotmadeinchina.org which has 47 different makers and variety of reasonably priced goodies.

Posted by: Julia Bourne-Smith | December 13, 2007 11:36 AM

Kinder Haus Toys in Arlington: Apparently this store has a policy of not allowing children to play with toys other than those in the play area although this policy is not posted anywhere. A fellow mom of a 2-year-old found this out when the store clerk took a toy out of her child's hand, causing him to cry. So moms may want to consider shopping at this store without the kids.

Posted by: Amy Fujii | December 13, 2007 11:54 AM

There's a Child's Play in Congressional Plaza in Rockville too. Also a new toy store opened in Rockville town center recently, though I don't know the name. My personal favorite is Anglo-Dutch in Bethesda. I don't quite know why they sell both pool supplies and toys, but the toy selection is enormous and wonderful.

Posted by: another mom | December 13, 2007 12:16 PM

There is Once Upon a Time in Vienna on Church St. Lots of "classic" toys like play mobil, curious george and a huge selection of dolls and accessories. http://uponatime.com/

Posted by: robbie | December 13, 2007 12:26 PM

One Two Kangaroo Toys in Shirlington is an incredible toy store - they have a huge selection of Melissa and Doug Toys and lots of other great stuff. My nieces and nephews' favorite toys are always the ones I bought for them there!

Posted by: Ann | December 13, 2007 2:01 PM

If you are in the Reston area of Fairfax County, check out Cradle and Crayon in Reston Town Center. This fun little store carries many things for kids, babies, and parents-to-be, but they have a small section dedicated to great toys including hard-to-find wooden HABA toys from Germany. The staff's always very helpful and the selection way beyond the plastics or electronics found in Toys "R" Us.

Posted by: Minnie | December 13, 2007 2:14 PM

Please check out Doodlehoppers on Broad Street in Falls Church. It is a great little store with everything you could want...and various price points to boot!

Posted by: Falls Church mom | December 13, 2007 10:19 PM

Does anyone know if Jabberwocky in Fredericksburg is still open? Back when I lived there ('91-'97) it was an outstanding children's-only bookstore that also stocked interesting toys.

Fredericksburg itself is a lovely destination - just stick to the historic district (nix the Rt 3 shopping craziness) and you'll have a great time. Nice restaurants too.

Posted by: Loren | December 18, 2007 9:21 AM

I have to second the previous poster's recommendation of Once Upon a Time in Vienna. It's kind of cramped, but that's only because the small store is full of so many kinds of toys. Lots of crafts, lots of Playmobil and dollhouse accessories, and hidden off in the back are some bookshelves and racks of books that my kids love!

Posted by: Vienna family | December 18, 2007 11:08 AM

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