Ah, an American Girl store visit: It’s not just a shopping trip for most kids — it’s a rite of passage. After all, for many a doll-lover, what better way to while away an afternoon than roaming room to room in toy heaven, gazing at beautiful dolls in every size, shape, and color, not to mention boatloads of cute clothes and accessories? It even sounds fun to us, and we’re well past the age of playing with dolls!
Naturally, if your grandchild is old enough to have heard about the store — known as American Girl Place — she probably wants to go, which is why many adults find themselves packing up their excited young ones and embarking on a momentous journey to one of three flagship stores — Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles — or one of dozens of other locations in states all across the United States.
If you’re one such lucky grandma this holiday season, what exactly are you in for? Here’s what you should know before you go.
1. Kids can bring their own dolls.
Part of the fun at American Girl Place is to bring your favorite AG doll to enjoy the day with your group. Of course, the dolls — plenty of dolls, endless amounts of dolls — are available for purchase, but it's not just acceptable, it’s encouraged to bring along a beloved toy of one’s own to partake in the various activities. It's a good idea: Rather than shopping for a brand-new doll, it's enjoyable (and cost effective) to shop for accessories for your old doll. Think dresses, jackets, shoes, hats, handbags, school supplies, sports equipment, costumes, furniture, and more. So, so much more! They've thought of everything, believe us.
2. You can make a day out of your visit.
The average stay at an American Girl store is at least two hours, according to AG representatives, so be prepared to stay for a while. (A quick trip to the Target toy aisle this is not.) Many kids and their parents like to make it a special occasion and dress up — plenty of photos will be taken, after all! — and in turn will dress their dolls in their Sunday best, as well. Of course, there’s no dress code, and plenty of people will be wearing jeans — but if the child in your life wants to make a special outfit a part of the day’s fun, we say go for it.
3. There’s a salon — for dolls.
Talk about a doll-lover’s dream come true. The Doll Hair Salon at American Girl Place is one of its most popular features, and our unofficial experts (a handful of moms who’ve been to the store multiple times) say it’s an adventure not to be missed. Kids can choose a new ‘do for their dolls and watch as professional stylists provide hair styling, ear piercing, and even mini spa services (including doll-sized manicures!). Do yourself a favor, though, and keep your camera at the ready: It’s too cute not to capture.
Photo credit: American Girl
4. Don’t forget to go to the bookstore.
Books are really an important part of the American Girl experience — in fact, you could say they’re where it all began. Since the brand was founded in 1986, they’ve offered a wide array of historical and contemporary fiction and early chapter books based around each doll’s life and culture. Boxed sets of books are for sale, as are helpful advice books for young girls and pre-teens, activity kits, and even DVD movies. Browsing here is a must.
5. You can dine there.
You’ll want to make reservations in advance, but a stop at American Girl’s fancy café can make for a memorable treat during your visit. Brunch, lunch, and dinner options are all available, and there are (naturally!) doll-sized seats so the treasured toys can take part in the fun. Our favorite offerings include the afternoon tea menu and the cute desserts — they even have doll-sized cupcakes your grandchild can decorate. Does it get any sweeter?
6. Celebrating a birthday just got so much better.
You may want to save a trip to American Girl Place for your grandchild’s birthday, because this place knows how to do birthdays up right. Parties include every detail: Think invitations, a meal, a signature cake, ice cream, goody bags, thank-you notes, and even a special gift for the birthday guest of honor. All you have to do? Show up with a few friends.
Photo credit: American Girl
7. Local hotels get in on the fun.
If you need to travel far to get to American Girl Place (and there are currently 27 locations around the country), check out a partner hotel and stay overnight. Many offer special American Girl-themed amenities, including a doll-sized travel bed, cookies at check-in, and other exciting extras that will make your grandchild think you’re quite literally the best grandparent in the entire world. And just think: After a big day of shopping, you’ll be thrilled to put your feet up too.
8. Personal shoppers can be a godsend.
You may think your eight-year-old companion is all the shopping guide you need in this doll accoutrement utopia, but think twice. Store associates are on hand to help guide you to the right sections you’re interested in and help you make sure you don’t miss out on any sights or exhibitions. With so much going on, you’re sure to be overwhelmed the minute you walk in the door, and staff members can alleviate that feeling and ensure you get the most out of your visit. (Plus, their services are free.)
9. There are free events.
Speaking of free, call ahead or check online to find out about the variety of in-store activities, such as free craft hours, special story times, and other events available at no cost. Your grandchild will enjoy every minute of the experience no matter what you plan to do, no doubt, but packing in these extras is worth it. There’s no better way to bond with your grandchildren, after all, than doing something they love.
Ready to plan your visit? Visit the American Girl website to get started.