Field Trip Friday: Lark Toys

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[2020 Editor’s Note: Lark Toys is open everyday 10 AM  – 6:00 PM.  Check their website for attraction hours within the store. Masks are required and physical distancing will be practiced. Hands must be washed or sanitized before entering the store.]

 

I had close friendships with a number of extremely creative and passionate individuals in college. However, one person stands out as an embodiment of imagination, kindness and fun. Miranda, a fellow dance minor and theatre enthusiast had a spirit that drew people to her and a caring nature that made others feel included and special. It is no wonder to me that she is now co-owner with her husband and parents of one of the most special places in southeastern Minnesota: Lark Toys.

You could easily mis-classify Lark as just a “toy store,” but then you’d be leaving out everything that makes it so special. Yes, they sell toys. However, the family owned and operated business provides so much more. It is a place where magic, childhood and fun all combine into a store/amusement park/mini golf course/treat shop/museum/zoo. It is exactly how I imagine the North Pole would look if Santa Claus’s operation was in Kellogg, Minnesota.

A perfect day trip, it is an hour drive from Rochester to the beauty of Mississippi River bluffs and the home of Lark Toys. The onsite toy workshop has been producing handmade, high quality, wooden toys for over 30 years. We received a wooden pull-along dragon from friends when our oldest was born. That little fire breather has made it through thirteen years in perfect condition.

One of the most well-known features of Lark is the famous, hand-carved, wooden carousel that operates every 30 minutes. A “rideable work of art,” the carousel was hand-carved by the original owner of Lark Toys. It contains seats in the form of highly detailed animals (both real and imagined), of which no two are alike. Kids and children at heart can enjoy the ride as it provides both moving and stationary experiences. Another experience that is not-to-be-missed is the 18-hole miniature golf course that includes a waterfall and some custom-designed course features. Golfing also gives you some great scenic bluff views as you navigate the holes. You might also get a peek at the resident miniature llamas: Francis, Irving and George.

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“Memory Lane” is a favorite spot for history buffs and toy lovers. Designed to look like an old-time Main Street, this area has many favorites on display. There are original Barbie dolls, Erector sets, metal lunchboxes, pedal cards, and so much more. My husband and I love pointing out all of the toys from our 80’s childhood to our kids. Our family’s favorite parts of the toy store are the do-it-yourself puppet show and dress-up areas. From the time our kids were tiny, they loved grabbing puppets to give a show to anyone willing to watch.

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Some of my favorite things about Lark Toys aren’t necessarily found within the store itself. Devoted fans take photos while wearing their iconic wind-up bird toy t-shirts in places all over the world. The photos are posted both inside the store and on their social media pages. They reward their most senior visitors with a certificate honoring their place in the Nonagenarian Club, a special photo and a ride on the carousel.

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In every single way, Lark Toys is a place for family, happiness and magic. Whenever we feel like our lives could use a little bit of imagination and fun, a trip to Kellogg does the trick!

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Jessica Schmitt
Jessica has lived in Rochester since 2000 with her husband, Mike, and their two children –Benjamin (2005) and Lucy (2010). After spending time living abroad in southern England and experiencing a truly walkable/bikeable city life, she became frustrated with the car-centric design of Rochester’s streets. Since then she has become very active with volunteer groups in the community. She can often be found commuting around town coaxing her oldest child to confidently ride on the streets of Rochester and with her youngest strapped to the front of her beloved orange commuter bicycle. When not biking or advocating for biking, Jessica enjoys giving back to the community in many ways. She teaches a digital photography community education course called Momarazzi Photography and recently had a leadership role in a community impact project with her Leadership Greater Rochester class to install free mini libraries in the yards of 40 Rochester homes. She works full time at Mayo Clinic as a Program Manager in Education. You can follow her thoughts on all things #rochmn and #bikerochmn on Twitter and Instagram.

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