Kid’s cafes have been a blessing and a curse on our family during this stage of Sophia’s development.
Aside from most likely catching a stomach virus from a cafe (one that’s not featured in this post) that landed both Sophia and I in the hospital, we have been grateful to unleash her in these (mostly) baby-friendly environments that are plentiful in Korea so that she can have stimulation and socialization during these cold winter months.
Let’s recap Sophia’s latest milestones at eight months before reviewing the kid’s cafes, play rooms and baby groups we’ve recently tried in our neighborhood of Hannam-dong/Itaewon.
Welcome to Toddler Transitions
Standing room only
At this age, there is more “awake time” during the day as three naps transition into two naps per day. Sophia hasn’t struggled with staying awake as she continues to be a ball of energy. However, getting her to a quiet, calm state for napping is an almost daily fight. (Another topic for a later blog post: Dealing with those pesky sleep regressions.)
Sophia is more interested or motivated to stand and reach for items once out of her grasp. (Everything just keeps moving to higher shelves, choking hazards and such are locked away, wires are hidden, etc.) We laugh when when daddy comes home from work as she scampers quickly across the floor, mimicking a loyal puppy.
The most significant skill she has acquired this month: She has mastered standing with only one hand resting on something and is now experimenting with standing without any support! She always has an amazed look on her face when she realizes what she is doing.
She has also eaten a lot of different food as we have made the switch from giving her pureed baby food we make based on the different stages to full-blown baby-led weaning. Some interesting tastes have included bits and pieces of gyro meat from Halal Guys, country fried chicken from Original Pancake House, and edamame from Nori Table. (Can you tell we’re fans of the international food scene of Itaewon?)
Common staples of boiled and pureed foods had been sweet potato, carrot, zucchini and broccoli. Guilty pleasure pre-packaged, no-mess snacks when on-the-go include teething crackers and freeze-dried fruits like persimmon and strawberry and freeze-dried yogurt drops.
Kid’s Places and Spaces in Hannam-dong/Itaewon
Michal and I consider ourselves fairly active people as we took Sophia on her first walk on the Han River when she was less than one week old and went hiking with her in her first month, so we’re not surprised Sophia has become equally as active.
We are also avid restaurant-goers as we’re always interested in the latest place that has opened up and we eat every type of cuisine, so we’re not surprised that Sophia is curious enough to grab at our food.
With our budding hiker / future foodie, we’ve found that the best way to cultivate her sense of adventure is through the cafe culture of Seoul. Kid’s cafes are like a more sophisticated version of the American Chuck E. Cheese or the McDonald’s Play Place. In this blog post, I’ll also mention free community center, as well as paid members-only, play rooms in our area that we frequent.
When you can’t leave the house, get creative:
With bad air quality and dropping temps, we’ve found ourselves indoors too often than we’d like. Out of cabin fever/boredom, inspiration is born.
Based on concepts from the internationally recognized Gymboree program and the book Simplicity Parenting, Michal and I try to change out certain toys (rather than dumping all of them out at once) and rearrange the living room/nursery layouts every two weeks now.
Sophia inherently works on different “skills” and has more focused “playtime” when not overwhelmed with too many options.
Lilliput (Hannam-dong branch)
- Gourmet food and adult beverages: Michal and I were impressed with the many restaurant-quality dishes coming out of the kitchen. We saw groups of parents not only sipping lattes and cold-pressed juices over brunch favorites like French Toast, but also enjoying beer and wine over dinner entrees like steak.
- Wide selection of food and snacks for babies: One time we visited, we had a few snacks but didn’t pack enough to satisfy Sophia’s growing appetite. She tried her first prepared baby food here – organic pureed peaches with no sugar added. However, along with the food, it would have been convenient to have a bib and baby utensils. #newparentfail
- Spotless, bright and decorated beautifully: I love the wide floor to ceiling windows that bring in lots of natural light. There is also an abundance of staff to clean (counted a handful of times I saw them vacuuming while I was there during a birthday party), greet, serve, make food and drinks – even play with the kids! One of my all-time fav kid’s cafe moments with staff was when I saw my friend’s two-year-old drove past us in a car with a staff member in the backseat.
- Lockers for shoes and slippers are provided: I appreciate how they even have miniature chairs for the LOs so it’s easier to put on their socks and shoes.
- Variety of toys and play areas for every age: Little pieces, like from the Lego building area, are separated so choking hazards for LOs are safely segregated.
- “Nursing room” AKA re-purposed bathroom closet: Whenever I see these types of depressing hole-in-the-wall situations, I’d rather just nurse out in public no matter how faux pas it’s considered. No natural light, very little space and not much to look at.
- Restroom is a bit difficult to use with baby: I wished there was a baby chair in the bathroom stall so it would be easy to use but they do provide a toddler toilet.
- In need of crowd control: It’s extremely popular for a reason, but then it gets way too busy for a LO of Sophia’s age when it’s afternoon and on the weekend. Go early before it’s overrun. It feels like there should be an enforced capacity limit like how adults are bounced at the doorway of a nightclub.
Hours of operation
Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Basement 1 85 Dokseodang-ro (Hannam-dong)Seoul, Yongsan-gu
서울 용산구 독서가로 85 (한남동) 지하1층
It’s in a back alley behind the main road of Hannam-daero and across from U.N. Village. It will be about a 10-15-minute walk from Hannam subway station. There’s valet parking and it’s on the ground level with stroller ramp.
- Free admission for children under 12 months. (Yay for us!) 1,000 won for every additional 10 minutes.
- 12,000 won for two hours of playtime for children 1-8 years old and under 125 c.m. tall. 1,000 won for every additional 10 minutes.
- Adults have free admission with purchase of a beverage or meal. (Trust me- You’ll be happy to drink or dine here, so not a big deal.)
Petit 5 (in the Passion 5 building)
- Very easily accessible on Itaewon-ro, near Hangangjin subway station. Entrance is on the ground floor and there is an elevator up to the fourth floor.
- Adorable desserts like gourmet animal crackers and cupcakes – Wouldn’t expect less from a kid’s cafe housed in the same building as the famous dessert lover’s dream of Passion 5.
- Lots of space among the tables with some play areas interspersed among the dining area and a variety of high-chairs.
- Nursing room is one of my all-time favs: It’s a corner area blocked off with screen doors that has a round table and chairs so mom can converse with others and eat or read while nursing – rather than being sequestered from society. There was a very high quality swing for a baby to chill in, operated by the baby’s weight. The view was of the showpiece black chandelier on the outside/middle of the circular building.
- In the end, it’s mostly a showroom for expensive baby clothes.
- Shoes are allowed which feels very unsanitary for a LO crawling on the ground and wanting to put everything in her mouth.
- There are not many padded areas or toys for babies under one year old.
- Desserts seemed more like the star of the show on the menu rather than substantial meal items. Kids (and adults) hopped up on sugar = unhealthy and bound for a crash.
- Restroom is a bit difficult to use with baby: I again wished there was a baby chair in the bathroom stall so it would be easy to use, but they did provide a nice changing table, a toddler toilet and a toddler urinal (so thoughtful!) in the women’s bathroom.
Hours of operation
All seven days of the week – 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
4F, 272 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu
- If taking public transit: Go out of exit 3 of Hangangjin subway station and walk straight. The black wavy glass building will be on your left.
- Valet parking is free for the first hour and 1,000 won per 10 minutes.
- Garage parking is free for the first hour and 500 won per 10 minutes.
5,000 won per hour per child with a paying adult (a drink or food item). We went when it wasn’t busy – right when it opened during the week, so they said not to worry about paying for my LO.
Yongsan-gu Healthy Family Support Center (in the new Hannam-dong Community Center)
- Close to my house 🙂 – about five-minute walk up the hill toward Itaewon if coming from the direction of Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital
- Free to use
- Organized meet-up group on Mondays, which has helped to created a regular community. I’ve met and strengthened friendships with moms of babies of similar ages through this group, as I’ve known many of them already through expat mom circles that include childbirth classes, yoga classes, etc.
- Community center is generous and thoughtful with providing free instant coffee, tea and basic snacks for moms like crackers or cookies during our meetings. Sometimes, we get other baby freebies like handkerchiefs and bibs from the community center.
- Mini-fridge and bottle sanitizer, along with tons of books for babies and moms to read – but all are in Korean.
- Lots of toys for varying age range and padding on floor
- Public restroom on the floor has a nice changing table and a baby chair in the stall so it’s easy to use the toilet while keeping an eye baby, plus there are toddler toilets/stalls.
- Very small so not meant for big groups or older toddlers
- Toys are of varying quality
- Not open on weekends or after normal office hours
Hours of operation
Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
용산구 이태원로 224-19 (한남동)
Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-ro 224-19 (Hannam-dong)
From Itaewon subway station, take exit 3 and walk straight on Itaewon-ro (about 10 minutes) toward Hangangjin subway station, just past the Cheil building or until you see Ganges Indian Cuisine directly in front of you.
At that point, cross toward the restaurant, but stop on that little sidewalk island in the middle of the road and take that to your right, all the way to the end. You’ll find yourself in front of the old Hannam-dong Jumin Center. If you turn to your left, you’ll see the new building.
Go into the shiny new building and take the elevator to the third floor. Look for the sign for the Yongsan-gu Healthy Family Support Center and make a right through the clear glass doors. Look for the room with a cabinet for storing shoes before going into it.
- Free to use the room
- There is parking available under the building, and it costs about 3,000 won per hour.
Yongan-gu Support Center for Childcare (in the Yongsan-gu District Office Building)
- Very easily accessible on Itaewon-ro near Noksapyeong subway station
- Free to use
- Lots of toys for all babies and toddlers up to age 5
- Separate comfortable nursing room for moms (doubling as general eating area for BYO food) that includes feeding high chairs, changing tables, a crib, microwave and couches
- So much variety in general with multiple “floors” and padded play structures as well as stations for building, reading, music, writing on white boards, etc.
Not open on weekends or after normal office hours
Hours of operation
Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with an observed lunch break for employees from 12-1 p.m. – Must sign in with attendant before use.
Level 5 of the Yongsan-gu Office, 150 Noksapyung-daero, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, 140-704
It’s a 10-minute walk going South of the Noksapyeong subway station out of Exit 3.
Make sure to go to the entrance of the larger, taller building as there are many smaller buildings within this complex.
There are two sets of elevators in the building. Depending on which set you take, you will either come out and see the playroom doors directly to your left or you will see a paper sign with a yellow arrow to the right of the elevator doors. The arrows will lead you to the playroom.
There is a parking area for strollers and storage for your shoes. The attendant will be just inside the doors.
- Free to use the room
- There is parking available under the building, and it should cost similarly to the other government building at about 3,000 won per hour.
Gymboree (Hannam-dong branch)
Please note: We have only visited during open gym time when classes aren’t in session. Sophia and I are excited to start an English-speaking class for 6- to 14-month-olds next month.
- Weekly classes are very intentional and educational based on cognitive developmental stages. Open gym time (usually at least one hour per day) allows members to use the indoor, padded playground space.
- Varied themes and layout of playground as staff changes layout every two weeks.
- More opportunity to create a community by bonding with baby and with other moms, as well as opportunity for baby to build social skills. We became fast friends with parents of babies who are similar in age as we would routinely use the open gym time and meet for lunch afterward.
- By making it a members-only environment and limiting hours of use, it’s hardly crowded nor dangerous for crawling LOs.
- Cost is expensive compared to other options
- Open time to use the indoor playground is limited to specific hours of the day when there isn’t a class.
- No food available but it is near many decent (although sometimes overpriced) Western-style restaurants in U.N. Village area.
Hours of operation
approximately 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. but call ahead to double-check regarding class schedules and open gym times as they change seasonally
4th floor of Hyundai Liberty House, 70, Dokseodang-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea
or 258 Hannam-dong (old address system)
You can find it easily on the corner of the main road Hannam-daero near Hannam-daegyo. Take the elevator to the fourth floor. (There is free validated parking in the basement.)
- 420,000 won for one session of 12 classes and use of the play gym during free hours, plus 50,000 won for the membership enrollment
- Offered 20 percent discount with the holiday season
- Continual offering of 10 percent discount if registering for three sessions at once