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FAO Schwarz | New York City, New York
Photograph: Courtesy FAO Schwarz

The best toy stores in the USA

For big kids as well as little ones, these are the best toys stores in the USA to indulge all your playtime pleasures

Scott Snowden
Written by
Scott Snowden
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Toys have come a very long way in a short space of time. When once we were satisfied with a wooden stick and a hoop, the young ones of today have the choice of flashing lights, remote control, microchips and more.

Traditionally speaking, toys are used to stimulate the mental growth of children. Realistically speaking, even adults enjoy playing with them and many — the adults, not the toys — take the idea way more seriously than any of our kids do. As such, we should remind ourselves that often when the cry was made, "Let's go to the toy store!" it was as much for ourselves as it was for our offspring.

That said, in addition to the gorgeous first editions, or limited editions or just anything that has a label on it saying, "Rare" of "Hard To Find" there are many incredibly cool toys and games now available to today's generation and they can be as simple or as complicated as you like. From jigsaw puzzles to preschool blocks, playhouses and play tents to paints, pencils, chalk and crayons to action figures, accessories to models, musical instruments to Lego and electronic learning. 

So wherever you live in the US, here's a list of the best toy stores in the USA that you can visit and either get in touch with your inner child, or the child actually sitting in the back seat of your car. Or both. Don't delay, expand your imagination today. 

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Best toy stores in the USA

Located north of Pittsburg, Playthings, Etc is probably the most unusual looking toy store you will ever visit — ever! Self-proclaimed 'The World’s Coolest Toy Store' may not do it justice, it could possibly be the coolest toy store in the galaxy. The building is designed to replicate a gigantic spaceship and an entry door that rivals the one at NORAD. Once inside you’ll discover over 6,000 toys for children and for adults who wish they were kids again. Get busy exploring a wide range of classic toys and puzzles, futuristic and educational games. There’s hours of fun and discovery for all the family and if you can’t narrow down what to buy their employees are happy to advice and give demonstrations.

American Girl, your one-stop-shop for all-things dolls! At the heart of downtown Chicago in the iconic Water Tower Place is where you’ll find the American Girl flagship store. Here you have everything you need to spend a day out, including a café where kids can dine with their dolls and have their picture taken to a beauty salon where they can both have matching new hairstyles, mini-manicures or their ears pierced! There’s even a walk-in hospital for dolls that need care or repair. Check out the American Girl bookstore for great books with titles covering advice for every interest and activity. With all of American Girls outfits, accessories, furniture and in-store experience under one roof, it’s the complete in-store experience, which makes for more than your average shopping trip.

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All aboard! If you love model trains, there is no better place to be than the home of 'America’s Largest Model Train Store.' Established in 1972, the Charles Ro Supply Company is the world’s largest Lionel dealer and number one train dealer in America. Geared towards model railway enthusiasts and collectors, this store is stocked with every model train set and accessory imaginable. Whether you are looking for a Lionel or Thomas The Tank train set, rolling stock, track or buildings you’ll find inspiration from their meticulously detailed model layout on the second floor. Only open to the public on Saturdays from 10am to 4pm you can enjoy watching six trains passing through a miniature landscape of mountain passes, villages and a waterfront. Beyond any doubt it’s an extraordinary place you will want to spend a day with your family exploring.

This toy store just keeps winning more and more awards! LARK Toys is a truly a magical playground (or place) and has been recognized by USA Today, Travel+Leisure, WCCO and Reader’s Digest as being the World’s Coolest/Bestest/Greatest Toy Store in the World. Located near the scenic Mississippi River, the family owned toy store is one of the largest independent toy stores in the country. It's not easy to find a more educational and play-friendly environment than this store. Here you’ll discover toys and games for all ages. There’s also a children’s bookstore along with several snug reading nooks. From their handcrafted fairground carousel to a mini-golf course to their immersive workshops where you can watch toys being created — there is something here to keep the whole family entertained.

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According to Toy Joy they have been 'Keeping Austin Fun Since 1987' and it’s not hard to see why they were voted 'World’s Best Toy Store' by USA Today and Travel+Leisure. Located in Austin’s vibrant 2nd St District known for its locally owned businesses you’ll find Toy Joy, an independently owned toy store that’s been going for over 30 years. The store carries an interesting variety of nostalgic toys, collectable figurines and novelties. For any adult who desires to travel back in time to their childhood this is the perfect place to spend a couple of hours, and it’s safe all ages!

Where in the world would you be greeted at the store entrance by a doorman dressed as a Toy Soldier? FAO Schwarz of course! The oldest toy store in the United States started out in Baltimore in 1862, and two years later relocated to New York. It even featured in a 1988 movie Big. Remember the infamous scene when Tom Hanks and legendary actor Robert Loggia dance to the song 'Heart and Soul' and 'Chopsticks' on a giant piano. Their flagship store is now located at the iconic Rockefeller Center and covers over 20,000 square feet. Offering an awesome selection of unique toys and memorable gifts for kids and adults. Check out their large collection of plush animals or create your own unique monster at the Elmo Monster Factory. Visitors can experience a wonderful array of magical attractions, dance on a life-sized piano and observe giant stuffed animals roaming the store. For diehard film fanatics take the special Toy Soldier Tour, a one hour behind-the-scenes experience which also includes a music lesson on the store’s said giant piano.

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'A Mecca for Connoisseurs of the Strange' is how Archie McPhee sees itself and they are right, as they have also been listed as one of Seattle’s top 12 weirdest destinations. Located in a laid-back neighborhood of Wallingford, north of central Seattle, Archie McPhee’s iconic store pays homage to the stranger things in life and they even have their own siting of a mysterious beast — an unusually small six-legged animal that lurks around the store — called the 'Wallingford Beast.' Inside the store is an abundance of novelty toys, party supplies, action figures and costumes. It’s also home to the world’s largest rubber chicken, check out their museum exhibiting all sorts of poultry related paraphernalia.

Can humans and dinosaurs coexist? Find out by visiting a dino-mite toy and bookstore in South Pasadena! Established in 1994 The Dinosaur Farm prides itself in being 'Not your ordinary Toy Store.' Recent recognitions include being named 'Best Toy Store' in the New Times Weekly L.A. issue 'Best Independent Toy Store' for Southern California by L.A. Parent, 'Best Toy Store' by Pasadena Weekly and featured on Forbes' '10 Amazing Toy Stores.' There’s something here for everyone. Firstly, sneek past the large inflatable T-Rex at the entrance and discover the phenomenal world of dinosaur figures and dino products from inflatables, decor, clothes and party supplies. For the young, and young-at-heart paleontologist there’s a collection of easy and fun dig kits, activity and educational books to help you through an excavation or identify extinct species.

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'Everything is awesome' at the biggest Lego store in the USA! Visitors to the Lego Imagination Center at the Mall of America in Bloomington will be totally enthralled by the collection of gigantic Lego sculptures on display that includes a helicopter suspended from the ceiling and a larger-than-life model of the Herobot 9000, towering at 34ft and built with over 2.4 million bricks. Spread over 6,500 square feet and four stories, this store will without doubt blow the minds of every amateur and Lego enthusiast. Visit the pick-a-brick wall where you can choose from 180 bricks or pieces to replace broken or missing parts from your minifigures. If you or your kid want to try your hand at making something there are plenty of play areas where you can build with Lego for free, plus you can get expert advice from their Brick Specialists.

As the image indicates, if vintage, collectable Star Wars toys are your thing, this store has plenty of them. Toy Safari has been selling and trading new, used, vintage toys in the Bay Area since 1992. The store is very proud that each and every item on the shelves has passed the three questions of the Toy Safari toy-selection test. First, will a child relate to it? Second, will the toy inspire play and discovery? And finally, will the style of play evolve as the child grows? And you know, intergalatic space battles in a galaxy far, far away represent the perfect example of good vesus evil. 

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The store's first location opened at University Hills Plaza nearly 30 years ago and since then it has expanded to two more locations, Lowry Town Center and Aspen Grove Center. The staff at Timbuk Toys pride themselves on showcasing locally made toys and drawing attention to local and community events. They also host lots of events where children are encouraged to learn and focus their attention on having fun, like interactive entertainment with music and storytelling. The store has also won a number of awards, including Family Favorite Local Toy Store and such like.

If you live in Portland, Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts has been a favourite amongst locals young and old for over 40 years. This independently-owned store, once downtown is looking to establish a new base. They are only taking orders by phone or online, with pickup and shipping options available. You can easily view and navigate their beautiful and amazing online collection of classic toys, puzzles, science kits, novelties, dolls, plush toys, train and Lego sets. There’s something here for everyone.

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Las Vegas isn't just for grown ups! The epicenter of glamor, gambling and gaudiness is also becoming a retail destination. Nestled in the heart of Strip Shopping in the Fashion Show Mall you'll find Kappa Toys. It markets itself as a design-minded toy store, with a wide selection of never before seen oddities combined with a carefully curated selection of nostalgic classics. Their mission is a simple one, fun and as much of it as possible — and that includes both Kids and adults, from all walks of life. From simple distractions and cute collectibles to complex science kits.

Play is crucial for a child’s development and Smart Toys and Books goes well above and beyond creating a fun and educational environment for all its little visitors. Located in Franklin Square on the outskirts of Knoxville the store boasts a vast selection of high-quality and unique toys, books, games and dolls you won’t find anywhere else. Their toys focus on early development stages of a child that enhance memory, attention span and ability to focus. For the kids that can’t decide on a toy they have incorporated hands-on displays and for the little adventurers there’s a play area in the middle of the store with a custom-made pirate ship and climbing area with crawl-through tunnels and slides that encourages imaginative interaction. Your kids will never want to leave.

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This fiercely proud local toy store is positively packed with awe and wonder. Established for over 25 years, there are toys here to suit all ages, some modern and some more collectable, from jigsaws to GI Joe to books and bath toys, plus musical instruments and science kits. The store very much takes pride in its community service and is also an excellent source of information about any local events, like book releases, gaming events and such like.

What is the one toy that you wanted as a kid but never got it? Now there’s a chance for your childhood dream to come true. Located in the Short North Arts District you’ll find the Big Fun Toy Store. It’s a vintage toy store that has been collecting old and not so old toys over the last 30 years. Their collection of vintage toys starts from the 1960’s to the present and are available to purchase. Their inventory is constantly changing as they continue to add to their catalog. This is a store like no other, it’s an emporium of toys, comics and candy — every childs (and adults) dream. Toys range from GI Joes to Barbies, Star Wars to Marvel Legends, Lego to Jurassic Park and My Little Pony to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There’s something here for everyone.

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Sadly, only two of the three original locations still exists in Illinois, Chicago and Roselle. the Evanston store has permanently closed. However, this store is a must-visit if you're a serious toy collector. It's filled to bursting point and the floor-to-ceiling displays — along the walls and on every shelf — are crammed with with toys, collectables, souvenirs and memorabilia mostly from the 70s, 80s and 90s. From original Kenner Star Wars action figures and vehicles to board games, GI Joe and more.

As the name might suggest, a visit to A2Z Science & Learning Store is all about educational toys that are guaranteed to stimulate your thinking about science or history or about strategy or about make-believe or a bunch of other things. This simple act of playing with a toy can then start a whole chain reaction of thinking, exploring and learning. And they're not wrong. This store is positively jam-packed with all those cool toys you were never mature enough to appreciate as a kid, like chemistry sets and practical experiments. Funny, isn't it — all you wanted to do with them when you were a kid was cause havoc and devastation, but now, as an adult, you're actually infinitely more interested in learning the fundamentals of chemistry.

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Without a doubt one of the coolest toy stores in the south east of the country, O.P. Taylor’s currently has three store locations: Brevard, Hendersonville and finally Greenville in South Carolina, but the Brevard store is the biggest, with over 6,000 square feet of fun to explore. The company has deliberately chosen to focus on non-electric toys, encouraging both kids and adults alike to work more with minds and more traditional toys. That said, there is an interactive electric racetrack in the store, so you can always just do that instead if you want.

This store prides itself for specializing in non-electronic games and toys, choosing instead focuses on board games, puzzles, role playing games and Dungeons & Dragon-style gaming. It offers a try-before-you-buy policy, which means on a quiet day, you could probably a few hours playing a few rounds of Vault of Dragons or Tomb of Annihilation with the staff. The store also regularly hosts events, charity auctions and games nights for adults as well as children. Everyone can be a kid in a candy store here.

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Since 1931, Mary Arnold Toys has provided its local community with a wide selection of games, dolls and other goodies that all generations find equally appealing. After FAO Schwarz temporarily closed in 2015, Mary Arnold Toys took over the title of New York City’s oldest operational toy store, albeit even for just a short while. The shop has moved uptown along Lexington Ave since its inception and changed hands since its founding, but you'll find an almost-endless supply of toys here. From the latest must-have craze to nostalgic pieces, the small shop doesn’t miss a trick. It caters to all interests—arts and crafts, construction, science and even literature, as it provides pint-size patrons with a reading area.

Located in southwest Orlando, Gods & Monsters is a self-proclaimed 'nerd hub.' It specializes in pop culture collectibles and toys, comics, graphic novels, manga, D&D supplies, trading card games, model kits, original artwork and cosplay parties. This impressive store — that has repeatedly won Best Comic Book Store in Orlando — has also had the ingenious idea of incorporating a bar, or a 'post-apocalyptic, cosplay-friendly, retro-gaming lounge and drinking hole,' that can be reserved for private parties.

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This toy store located north of Oakland claims to have the largest game selection on the west coast, a result they claim, of the store's long history — going back over four decades — and deep stock. The store itself is crammed wall-to-wall with board games, jigsaw puzzles, playing cards, outdoor items, novelties and more. It also features four large games rooms where you can join a regular event such as Magic: The Gathering meetups, Dungeons & Dragons campaigns and Warhammer 40K skirmishes. If you don't know what any of that means, chances are this store might be wasted on you.

The origins of this store have a slightly unusual story; it was founded by Josh Heinzl when he was just 15 years old when he was looking online for parts his Lego robotics team could use, and he ended up figuring out how to buy and sell things online. The store itself does a lot of business online, but if you're in the neighborhood and/or are looking for something very specific in the second-hand or collector's toy market, this could be a good place to stop by and have a talk to the knowledgable staff.

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We couldn't publish a list as exhaustive as this without mentioning what is generally regarded as the largest toy store in the country, the flagship Toys 'R' Us store in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Located inside the the American Dream mall, this toy superstore boasts 20,000 square feet of shelves packed with playthings. More or less every conceivable brand of toy can be found here and you're guaranteed to find something that will appeal to children of every age. However, if vintage toys and collectables are your thing, this store only stocks what's current. But in all honesty, it's worth a visit just for the experience alone.

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