Eating out in Melbourne with kids can be a
conundrum if you don’t know where to go. Melbourne is known to be the eating
out capital of Australia – everywhere you turn there is a tiny bar, pop up
restaurant or hole-in-the-wall serious coffee shop. And while it is possible to
cram your stroller into a crowded Asian noodle shop or perch with child atop
lap on a milk crate down a back lane somewhere, sometimes all you want is a
comfortable eating experience for you and the kids. Here’s suitcases&strollers list of family friendly restaurants that
are still cool for parents.
Melbourne is filled with eateries and many of them have high chairs, colouring in kits and all the signs that they welcome children. There are even plenty of eateries that have playgrounds and food. Apart from the obvious fast food choices like McDonalds and Hungry Jacks, there are many bistro style family friendly restaurants such as Zagames, La Porchetta Altona Meadows or Matthew Flinders all over Melbourne for kids. While these might have kids menus and large playgrounds attached, they are also massive establishments missing something of the trendy urban vibe that is so quintessential Melbourne.
Instead, here is the suitcases&strollers list of family friendly eateries in Melbourne for kids that get the right balance between play area for kids and pleasant dining atmosphere for adults.
If you’re heading to Birdie Num Nums, park your car around one of the back streets off Nicholson Street where the parking is longer than one hour because once your toddlers see this place it will be hard to get them to leave. Push your stroller through the interior of the café and out the back there is a roomy courtyard with a large sandpit and plenty of toys (including some ride on vehicles) to occupy little ones.
There is a fun kids menu and the whole space is shaded providing good sun protection in summer. There is a sizeable breakfast, lunch and kids menu and if you come around 11am there are plenty of friendly local parents always willing to engage in a bit of banter.
Walk around the back towards the side entrance to the tennis courts and you will see the indoor section of the Cubbyhouse Canteen. Here there are highchairs and they served cooked breakfasts for little and big kids. Service here is really geared towards kids; as well as a family friendly toilet (with change table and kids sized sink) they give out colouring in sets, homemade edible playdough and jam jars full of animal figurines.
Even the boiled eggs come with cute knitted animal covers. There is an outdoor toddlers playground right next to the café but if your kids prefer to play in the much larger Union Street Park, then there is a takeaway window with a helpful step stool so you can send the kids over to order the caffeine.
On its own this café might not necessarily be a destination, but its location makes it a fantastic place to visit in Melbourne with kids. Alongside the large and all natural timber framed Phoenix Park playground, skate bowl and community centre, this casual and unassuming café serves sausage rolls, sandwiches, coffees and packaged ice creams. It is relaxed enough you can sit inside but on a sunny day there is plenty of grass as well as a few picnic benches for you to set up alfresco while the kids run, climb and slide wild.
[Melbourne is renown for its free gardens and parks for kids. For more family travel tips on free things to do in Melbourne with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Hipster parent alert, Green Park is just about the trendiest family friendly café around. Set in the inner city suburb of North Carlton, an abandoned strip of sidewalk alongside an old rail trail has now been converted into a very cool café. On weekend mornings locals ride their scooters, bikes and strollers, order brunch and then just plonk themselves right on the nature strip using the blankets provided for a makeshift picnic. There is a playground right next door too although you cannot leave the kids in there unsupervised (it is quite close to the road and the fence is not completely enclosed). In the evenings Green Park converts into a more sophisticated adult vibe with live music and a tapas menu.
[If you're a mad cyclist, don't miss the suitcases&strollers story about cycling with kids where we interview a family who cycled with kids from Alaska to Argentina here.]
When the weather is a little miserable (and being Melbourne, this happens not infrequently) and you need to be indoors, check out the backroom at Miss Marmalade. Follow the strollers parked along the wall to the dedicated kids area where there is a corner of toys. The play area is not particularly impressive, but what is great is that this is a space especially for families so other patrons dining here are far more likely to be tolerant of kids than they would be outside in the café proper. While there is no specific children’s menu there is a baby change table in the toilets and spare, free wipes and nappies are available in case you forget yours.
Happy River Café
45 Mooreland St., Footscray, Victoria, Australia, +61 3 9689 3244
For a chilled and unpretentious daytime dining experience, Happy River Café welcomes all members of the family, including dogs. Grab a rug, find a spot on the lawn and the kids can play with the many toys provided. While there may not be any baby change tables, there is plenty of grass space outside and little touches have been provided to make parents lives easier. For instance, forgotten your sunscreen? They have some customers can use for free. There is breakfast, lunch and a kids menu plus a range of alcoholic drinks if you find you just never want to leave.
Ice cream is always a favourite with little kids, so add in some gastro theatre to the experience and everyone is happy. At N2 all the gelato is made to order using liquid nitrogen so there’s lots of smoke, goggles, industrial-looking kitchen machinery and fun things for kids to look at before they even start licking. At the Brunswick Street premises there is plenty of room out the back for strollers and customers sit on crates covered in synthetic grass (which is more comfortable for kids than it sounds). The play with flavours might be a little sophisticated for most kids to comprehend, but if you just tell them to stick to the fruity flavours it’s hard to go wrong.
[How much ice cream is too much on family holidays? Don't miss the suitcases&strollers interview with a nutritionist on healthy eating for kids on family vacations.]