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Did you know there is a place just a day trip away where hundreds of butterflies congregate during the chilly winter months? It’s a truly magical thing to behold for people of all ages, but for kids obsessed with all things winged and airborne (“plane! bird! bee!”) this is a mind-blowing experience. Here’s all you need to know about visiting the kaleidoscope of butterflies at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary.

Close-up of butterfly on the Monarch Grove Sanctuary pathway.

A Magic Time of Year in Pacific Grove
SF Bay Area families are fortunate to live just a couple hours’ drive from Pacific Grove, a prime overwintering site for monarchs. Imagine the kids’ rapture at seeing thousands of these delicate and graceful winged creatures at the same time. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime treat within easy access to Bay Area families at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary.

The sanctuary itself is a eucalyptus and pine grove with a short pathway you can bring infants and toddlers on without breaking a sweat. The butterflies arrive in October, staying through late February, when they leave for spring migration. Daily counts vary. Last year butterfly numbers peaked in late November at over 24,000.

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Prime Flying Time
Though the sanctuary is open from dawn to dusk, it’s best to come between the hours of 12 p.m. and 3 p.m., when docents are on hand to answer questions and point out clusters high in the trees that can be mistaken for leaves. They also have binoculars. Come when the weather is above 55 degrees (the butterflies only fly when it’s warm out), and remind the little ones that butterflies closer to the ground are for seeing, not touching.

Bring a book to trade at the free library located on the Ridge Road parking lot, which is always stocked with several children’s books. The sanctuary is an easy stop-over and not a full-day excursion, unlike the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium. Before or after your visit, continue learning about butterflies at the nearby Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, explore the tide pools at Asilomar State Beach, or have a picnic at Lovers Point Park.

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250 Ridge Rd.
Pacific Grove, Ca (Adjacent to the Butterfly Grove Inn)
Cost: Parking and admission are free.
Online: cityofpacificgrove.org

Have you witnessed the flight of butterflies at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary? Tell us about it in the comments below! 

–Renee Rutledge

All images courtesy of the author

Hair-Raising Family Thrills at Escape Alcatraz

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When the kids outgrow the haunted houses decorated with confetti and jack-o’-lanterns and start adding zombie movies to the Netflix queue, it’s a sign that they’re ready for something scarier. That’s what you’ll find at the San Francisco Dungeon, a 25,000-square-foot Fisherman’s Wharf attraction that’s sure to elicit at least a few genuine screams from the whole family before you plunge to your escape via the new, Escape Alcatraz drop ride.

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Old San Francisco Haunted Tour
The hour-long guided walking tour takes you through underground rooms simulating old San Francisco, including a creaking Gold Rush mineshaft, a Yerba Buena courtroom with a mad judge, and a saloon where patrons are kidnapped for labor at sea. The brood should be mature enough to handle moments of complete darkness, threats of meeting their impending doom, tour guides in character who will startle when they can, and other fun surprises. Audience participation will lighten the mood as you watch your fellow dungeon mates face the judge or spin the Wheel of Misfortune.

sf haunted dungeon

Escape Alcatraz with a Heart-Stopping Jump
By tour’s end, you and the kids will embrace role-playing as prisoners of a haunted Alcatraz. The brand-new finale includes initiation from Sgt. Gunter and a simulated jump from the prison into the waters of San Francisco Bay. Pre-teen eye rolls, be gone. They may even try to hold your hand again.

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Plan Your Escape to Alcatraz
Escape to Alcatraz opens Halloween weekend, Friday, October 28 at 11 a.m. Best for ages 10 and up.  From the East Bay, ferry into Pier 39 or take BART to Embarcadero and the F train to the wharf. Afterward, play San Francisco tourist for lunch at the Rainforest Café or enjoy comfort food in the form of fresh seafood, pasta, or clam chowder at one of the many Fisherman’s Wharf restaurants across the street.

145 Jefferson St.
San Francisco, Ca
Hours through Dec 22: Mon.–Fri. noon–7 p.m.; Fri.–Sun. 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Cost: $20-$26
Online: thedungeons.com/sanfrancisco

Have you experienced the San Francisco Dungeon? Tell us about it in the comments below! 

–Renee M. Rutledge

Your Alameda Adventure Guide

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Alameda boasts a small-town feel while just being a hop or skip (or ferry or bridge, to be exact) from bigger Bay Area cities. With miles of beautiful coastline to roam, hill-free streets that are perfect for an all-ages bike ride, and an abundance of family-friendly venues, it’s a haven for residents and a welcome escape for visiting families. Here’s a guide to help you get started on your own Alameda adventure.

Photo: EBRPD

Photo: EBRPD

Play

Washington Park
One of this playground’s major charms is its proximity to other kid-friendly distractions—a duck pond with a wooden walking bridge, a grassy field practically made for freeze-tag, a dog park, and of course, the beach. Located beside a row of the island’s tallest palm trees, the playground features two play structures, a giant fish ladder, and a covered sandbox. Bring an extra change of clothes if you’ve got littles who love the water!

8th St. and Central Ave.
Alameda, Ca
Online: alamedaca.gov

Franklin Park
This local gem is nestled in the island’s historic Gold Coast neighborhood, surrounded by beautiful old homes. The entire play area is fenced in for your little one’s safety. In addition to romping on the two play structures complete with swing sets (one for small, one for big), kiddies love to wander to the adjacent grounds to climb a tree or take a spin on the classic merry-go-round.

1432 San Antonio Ave.
Alameda, CA
Online: alamedaca.gov

Lincoln Park
It’s fun to imagine Lincoln Park as it stood in the 1800s—a large estate complete with a mansion and sprawling gardens. Today, the park is a haven on hot days, when large trees provide shade over the larger of two play structures. There’s also a bocce court, rose garden, and outdoor exercise station with fitness equipment for mom and dad. There’s not a prettier place to play!

1450 High St.
Alameda, CA
Online: alamedaca.gov

Studio Grow
This popular East Bay play space recently branched out with a location in Alameda’s South Shore Center, where ice cream at Loard’s or lunch at Panera is just a hop and a skip away. Pop by for drop-in play in the large room equipped with educational toys, or schedule your visit during one of the daily storytime, dance party, or parachute time programs that are included with admission.

2202 S. Shore Center
Alameda, CA
Online: StudioGrow.com

tomatina_pizza_boyPhoto: Tomatina

Eat

The HobNob
Combine dinner and family game night at this laid back Park Street eatery where board games line the back shelves. Sliders, baked macaroni and cheese, and comforting soups like butternut squash or split pea will satisfy the little ones’ palates while their grown-ups enjoy more sophisticated choices, from ahi tuna tartare tacos to fresh oysters. Come during happy hour for cheap drinks and to avoid the dinner rush.

1313 Park St.
Alameda, Ca
510-769-1011
Online: thehobnobalameda.com

Speisekammer
A trip to Germany waits on the other side of the Park Street Bridge at this decades-old Alameda establishment. Toast to a family night out over a pitcher of Bitburger Pilsner while the kids enjoy Reibekuchen (potato pancakes served with housemade apple compote), Kasebrett mit Fruchten (European cheeses and seasonal fruits), or a variety of German entrees like stuffed cabbage rolls or grilled pork chops, conveniently available in half sizes.

2424 Lincoln Ave.
Alameda, Ca
510-522-1300
Online: speisekammer.com

Café Jolie
Did someone say beignets? The mere mention can make mouths water, and at Café Jolie, this delectable dish as well as a range of other French American specialties are prepared with local and sustainable ingredients. You’ll have to share your beignets with the kiddo, though, because the kids’ menu features faves like French toast and pancakes instead.

1500 Webster St.
Alameda, Ca
Online: CafeJolies.com

Tomatina
It’s hard to go wrong with pizza, pasta, and veggies dipped in ranch dressing, all on the kids’ menu at Tomatina, where kids eat free on Thursdays. The main menu also features soups, salads, calzones, piadine, signature beverages, and desserts. Request a seat on the outdoor patio to enjoy your sangria al fresco while your mini sips on sparkling lemonade.

1338 Park St.
Alameda, CA
510-521-1000
Online: Tomatina.com

Blue Dot Café
Well known for being family-friendly, the Blue Dot has a comfy seating area just for kids, complete with a basket of books and toys. On weekends, live music often accompanies your meal. Kids’ menu choices include the likes of bowtie pasta with butter and parmesan or marinara served with animal crackers for lunch and cinnamon swirl toast for breakfast.

1910 Encinal Ave.
Alameda, Ca
510-523-2583
Online: Bluedotcafeandcoffeebar.com

La Penca Azul
Many Alamedans still remember this Mexican restaurant by its original name—La Pinata. With a loyal patronage that spans decades, La Penca Azul promises a festive atmosphere for the whole family. Share your full-size orders with the kids, or order something from the kids’ menu, which always comes with a side of crayons.

1440 Park St.
Alameda, Ca
510-769-9110
Online: LaPencaAzul.com

Alameda Marketplace
Find a variety of healthy choices for your picky eaters under one roof, from California rolls and miso soup at Sushi King to fresh, organic take-away at Greens & Grains. The Marketplace is home to 10 local vendors that focus on handmade, artisan foods. While you’re there, you can pick up some groceries, too.

1650 Park St.
Alameda, Ca
Online: AlamedaMarketplace.com

 le-petit-matissePhoto: Le Petit Matisse

Explore

Le Petit Matisse
As Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist,” so gather your young Fridas, Van Goghs, and Renoirs and set them loose at Le Petit Matisse art studio. Sign them up for painting, sculpture, shapes and colors, or drop in-art and rest easy knowing all the art materials here are 100 percent natural, from the non-toxic paint to the beeswax blend crayons.

1405 Encinal Ave.
Alameda, Ca
415-368-5155
Online: lepetitmatisse.org

USS Hornet Museum
Your little one may have a toy ship at home, but wouldn’t it be fun to explore the real thing? In addition to a range of historical exhibits, this giant aircraft carrier hosts fun events like Living Ship Days, Flashlight Tours, and birthday parties.

707 W Hornet Ave.
Alameda, Ca
510-521-8448
Online: uss-hornet.org

Subpar Mini Golf
Escape the wind and the rain with a game of indoor miniature golf. Each of 18 holes takes you through a tour of famous Bay Area landmarks. Kids will also love the skeeball, air hockey, foosball, arcade, and six-lane slot car track.

1511 Park St.
Alameda, CA
510-521-4653
Online: Subparminigolf.com

 

Photo: EBRPD

Photo: EBRPD

Crab Cove and Crown Beach
Alameda is perhaps best known for its miles of uncrowded shoreline. At the end of Crown Beach, Crab Cove is perfect for the kids, with regular low tides that are great for exploring. The Crab Cove Visitor Center contains an aquarium, interactive nature exhibits, and weekly programs like fish feeding and beach exploration.

1252 McKay Ave.
Alameda, CA
Online: ebparks.org

Toy Safari
Treasures line this famed toy store from floor to ceiling, where you’ll find all the classic games and characters you played with as a kid, as well as popular new additions for your playroom. The toy store also keeps a Toy Bucket List created by customers, so you will always find helpful recommendations on what to buy.

1410 Park St.
Alameda, Ca
510-522-1723
Online: Toysafaritoys.com

Alameda Point Antiques Faire
Each month, this one-of-a-kind antiques fair, the largest of its kind in Northern California, attracts hundreds of treasure seekers to the island to browse over 800 antique dealer booths. See what baubles or collectibles your kids will find. Children under 15 are admitted free. There are food vendors here, too, so you won’t leave hungry.

2900 Navy Way
Alameda, Ca
Online: Alamedapointantiquesfaire.com

cookiebar-creamerPhoto: Cookiebar Creamery

Sips & Sweets

Tucker’s
This Alameda institution is the first on many a list when it comes to dessert. Made the old-fashioned way in batch freezers, the ice cream here lives up to its name of being “supercreamed.” Junior scoops and fresh-made waffle cones are available.

1349 Park St.
Alameda, CA
Online: Tuckersicecream.com

Feel Good Bakery
Kids love macarons for their rainbow of colors. At Feel Good Bakery in the Alameda Marketplace, there’s always a new macaron flavor to discover. Everything here is made from scratch, from the sourdough bread to the pizza.

1650 Park St.
Alameda, Ca
510-864-2733
Online: FeelGoodBakery.com

Cookiebar
Relatively new on the scene, Cookiebar saw a quick rise to fame as an Alameda favorite. Housemade ice cream in flavors like Fruity Pebbles, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Sea Salted Caramel come delivered in a manner that kids love: between two soft cookies.

1606 Webster St.
Alameda, Ca
510-521-1544
Online: Cookiebarcreamery.com

Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden
The enchanting back garden at Julie’s is the perfect place to enjoy a cozy tea party, even if it’s just between you and your little one. The grilled cheese sandwich is a favorite with kids, paired with a lavender lemonade or ginger-lemon brew.

1223 Park St.
Alameda, Ca
510-865-2385
Online: Juliestea.com

Yogofina
Froyo may never go out of style, and the choices for froyo in Alameda are many. Yogofina offers smaller cup sizes for kids, who love to pick among toppings like fruit, cereal, and gummy bears.

1335 Park St.
Alameda, CA
510-814-0658
Online: Yogofina.com

—Renee Rutledge

What’s your favorite spot in Alameda? Tell us in the comments below! 

Reindeer Games: Where to Meet Santa’s Furry Helpers

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You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen… But chances are haven’t seen them in person! Get in the holiday spirit while teaching your little elves a thing or two about Santa’s most important sidekicks at one of the Bay Area’s awesome events where you’ll get the chance to rendezvous with reindeer.

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Photo: Academy of Sciences

‘Tis the Season for Science
Reindeer games are all part of the fun during the fourth annual winter festivities at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. As the Piazza turns white with snow and carolers fill the museum with holiday cheer, two live reindeer will be grazing peacefully in the East Garden. Pay these two antlered friends a visit and learn more about Santa’s sleigh-pullers during daily presentations of Reindeer Rendezvous. ‘Tis the Season for Science is happening now through January 4.

55 Music Concourse Drive
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, Ca
415-379-8000
Online: calacademy.org

reindeer_romp_sf_zooPhoto: SF Zoo

Reindeer Romp
You know it’s the holidays when the reindeer are back at the San Francisco Zoo. Four North American caribou (named Belle, Holly, Peppermint and Velvet) will be visiting the zoo, where their handlers will be sure to give visitors the inside scoop on the real stories behind all the myths. The reindeer will romp at the SF Zoo now through January 1 daily 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Sloat Boulevard and the Great Highway
San Francisco, Ca
415-753-7080
Online: sfzoo.businesscatalyst.com

six-flagsPhoto: Six Flags

Reindeer Village at Holiday in the Park
From Candy Cane Lane to Toy Land and from Snow Hill to the Main Street Festival of Lights, there’s enough holiday spirit to go around at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo. Santa’s reindeer characters (hint: they are awesome, but not real) will be waiting in Reindeer Village to star in photos with the young ones, before or after they’ve walked among the larger-than-life candy canes and taken a cruise through the faux snow. Holiday in the Park will be open on select days now through January 4.

1001 Fairgrounds Dr
Vallejo, Ca
707-643-6722
Online: discoverykingdom.sixflags.com

Do you know if Santa’s helpers are making any other stops that we didn’t include on our list? Share it below—we wanna know!

— Renee Macalino Rutledge, Susie Foresman and Erin Feher

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In the midst of all the summer concert hullabaloo, there’s one music series you might miss, and later kick yourself for forgetting, especially because it’s completely free! Kicking off its 76th season, the Stern Grove Festival is returning to the stage for another summer full of free shows. Starting June 16th (that’s Father’s Day weekend) and running through mid August, Sunday afternoons in the Grove will be bustling with crowds of picnickers on the terraced lawns of this beautiful outdoor venue. As you walk through the park, you’ll find toddlers stretched out on blankets with their parents, friends pouring wine into paper cups, and food everywhere you look. Read on to find out all the details about how to make the most of this free summer series in the park.

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Getting There
Parking is limited around Stern Grove, but if you’re going to find a spot, you might want to consider parking along one of the nearby avenues (20th Ave, 21st Ave, Wawona, etc.)

If possible, try taking public transportation to the Grove. Both the 23-Monterey and 28-19th Avenue stop right at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard at the park entrance. The M Ocean View or the K Ingleside both stop at St. Francis Circle. From there, walk west one block to 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard.

If you’re biking in, there’s a bike valet at the entrance to the Grove (19th Ave & Sloat Blvd). From there, it’s a beautiful walk down into the canyon surrounded by trees. The valet opens at 10:00 am and remains open until one hour after the end of the concert. No bikes are allowed on the festival grounds.

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What to Bring
Blankets or lawn chairs are a necessity. Chances are you’ll be sitting on the terraced lawn, West Meadow, or hillside and you’ll be thankful you brought something along to sit on. Picnic tables are awarded to families by raffle and benches are reserved for seniors and the disabled and one guest. This leaves the grass, where you can stake an 8×10 claim, or the hillside.

Pack the sweaters. It’s summer, but after all, this is San Francisco. While the weather could be comfortable in the Grove, it definitely can get chilly towards the later afternoon.

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Get there early
People show up as early as 10:00 am to stake out a spot for the 2:00 pm concert, so early birds definitely have the advantage here. As a reward for showing up beforehand, families have access to special activities just for kids from 12:00 pm -1:00 pm on the KidStage, with everything from art-making,  to Instrumental Petting Zoos to keep the little ones entertained.

The concerts begin at 2:00 pm and last until around 4:30 pm, with world-class acts bringing on the world music, classical, jazz beats, and more. It’s a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon and introduce the kids to the arts – one of the reasons the festival was founded 76 years ago!

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The Lineup
The Stern Grove Music Festival traditionally brings in some pretty big names, which makes the fact that the shows are free all the sweeter! Check out some of the performing acts for the 2013 season:

June 16 – The Big Picnic Starring Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs
July 7 – San Francisco Symphony
July 14 – Kronos Quartet
July 28 – The San Francisco Ballet
August 4 – Shuggie Otis, The Relatives
August 11 – Pink Martini, La Santa Cecilia
August 18 – The San Francisco Opera

Check out the complete lineup here.

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Insider Tips:
– A large part of the oncoming crowd finds refuge up on the dirt hillside, so if you’re late (or even if you’re early) be prepared to walk up the slippery slope. (And back down again for a potty break.) You may not be able to see the performers close up on the stage from here, but you’ll be able to hear them beautifully. There’s also more access to shade in this area. If you prefer to remain lower to the ground, there’s also the less crowded West Meadow, but you won’t be able to see the main stage from here.

– Bathroom are located at the Trocadero Clubhouse, on the southeast end of esplanade, and west meadow entrance.

– You can bring your own picnic lunch to the concert, as well as beer and wine. No alcohol is sold at the event, but food is available on site at the Grove Café.

What concert are you most excited about seeing this summer?

–Renee Rutledge

all photos courtesy of the Stern Grove Festival facebook page

Kite Runners: Where to Fly a Kite in the Bay Area

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If our kids could sprout wings and take off, we’re pretty sure they’d only ever touch down for dinner time. While their dreams of flying might just be flights of fancy, your kids can experience a similar thrill that will lift their spirits up to the highest heights (cue the Mary Poppins song). We’re talking about kite flying, and with our proximity to the coast, the Bay Area is often the ideal spot to pick up some ocean winds and send your kite soaring overhead. Below are some family-friendly destinations full of grassy (or sandy) expanses that offer your little kite runners plenty of room to run around with their paper and string (or perhaps a more sturdy store bought option).

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Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley
Home to the annual Berkeley Kite Festival, Cesar Chavez Park in the Berkeley Marina is a great choice all year long. The kids may run amuck on rolling, green hills, which offer many a fine picnic spot for a view of the weekly kites that soar overhead, from traditional diamond shape kites to giant kites shaped like ocean creatures to fast-flying show kites. Awesome views of the Bay are a plus.

11 Spinnaker Way
Berkeley, Ca

Crissy Field and the Marina Green in San Francisco
Crissy Field is famous for its northwestern waterfront breeze. The Golden Gate Bridge is a hop away and the many sailboats sprinkled along the horizon will be just as pretty to the kids as the kites sailing in the (hopefully) blue skies. The national park boasts acres of meadows and picnic grounds for launching your own flier, in addition to marshes and trails to explore and goodies to be had at the Crissy Field Center.

1199 E Beach
San Francisco, Ca

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Ocean Beach in San Francisco
Sand dollars, crashing surf, and generous helpings of wind. Ocean Beach is a mecca for kite flyers of all stripes, who are all too happy to show off their skills for the whole family’s entertainment. Kites with super-long tails making beautiful patterns in the air are a frequent spectacle here.

Fulton St & Great Hwy
San Francisco, Ca

Shoreline Park in Mountain View
This 700-acre park has everything from a dog run to water sports to a wildlife sanctuary and of course, kite flying. With steady but not overpowering winds, Shoreline Park is a popular launching spot on weekends, and the kites’ many colors are always fun to see. Find a designated kite-flying space along the fringes of the park or an open head to an open space next to the children’s playground.

3070 N Shoreline Blvd
Mountain View, Ca

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Baylands Park in Sunnyvale
Kite festivals and competitions are not uncommon in the large grassy field at Baylands Park, nor are casual weekend kite flyers with kids in tow. When they’ve had enough of the kites, the kids will have a blast in the Discovery playground.

999 E Caribbean Dr
Sunnyvale, Ca

Fowler Creek Park in San Jose
Massive grassy expanses and often windy conditions at this pristine park make it not only great for kite flying, but entertaining the kids all day. The paved paths snaking through the park make riding bikes a breeze, and the playground structure and slides are sure to be a hit. Nice weather also means you’ll probably want to pack a picnic to snack on in between your kite flying sessions.

Fowler Road at Cortona Dr
San Jose, Ca

kites flying

Pierce Point in Marin
There are multiple locations for kite flying in the Point Reyes Area, off of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Pierce Point is one of them, and you might spot some Tule Elk, too. Hiking families who wish to avoid the crowds should seek out the likes of Pierce Point. Walk the trail above the ranch and find the open headlands.

Stinson Beach in Stinson Beach
With 3.5 miles of open beach space and dozens of acres of grassy parkland, Stinson Beach is ideal for kite flying. Stinson Beach was also voted one of the Top 10 Family Beaches by National Geographic.

1 Calle Del Sierra
Stinson Beach, Ca

Blackies Pasture in Tiburon
With easy parking and pristine views of the city, Blackies Pasture is the perfect spot on a windy day for flying a kite in the North Bay. The grassy area right next to the parking lot is great for kids to run and get their kites soaring up to new heights, and the proximity to the mini beach and playground means that there are options to entertain your kids when they get tired chasing their kites.

Tiburon Blvd at Trestle Glen Road
Tiburon, Ca

Where is your favorite spot to go kite flying in the Bay Area?

— Renee Macalino Rutledge

photos courtesy of Creative Commons

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Your little one’s a virtuoso when it comes to making a scene, but every now and then, you wish you could watch a different sort of drama, like Rock of Ages at the Curran Theatre or the latest production showing at your local independent. Many venues enforce age restrictions for families with kids, but even if your kiddo reaches the age minimum, it doesn’t mean the show’s age appropriate. If you think little virtuosos should have the opportunity to be exposed to the performing arts early on, Cal Performances agrees. Here’s more about the family programs they offer:

Family Fare
Earlier this month, Cal Performances teamed up with the San Francisco Opera to present an opera based on the children’s novel, The Secret Garden. The 2-hour opera was created with the whole family in mind, and geared to introduce the youngest theatergoers to opera. Little girls flocked to the Sunday matinee at Zellerbach Hall on the U.C. Berkeley campus in their pretty dresses, and inside the theater, the performers’ mezzo-sopranos were accompanied by the occasional gurgle of an infant cooing from the orchestra floor. Check in with Cal Performances often for like-minded family-friendly productions, or “Family Fare.” In April, they’ll have the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Les 7 Doigts de la Main Circus from France will be performing in May.

Interactive Family Workshops
Cal Performances incorporates education and community events with their regular performances. Check for free, pre-performance artist talks and $5 interactive workshops, when kindergartners and above, along with their parents, can meet performers and engage in activities about themes, storylines, music and characters before enjoying a snack.

First Stage for Families
For 1-hour-long weekend performances, Cal Performances offers First Stage for Families, a Sunday matinee series of concerts, plays, circus arts, and more, based in U.C. Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall, a smaller and more intimate venue than Zellerbach. Children and adults alike enjoy the more casual, interactive vibe and the visual as well as musical stimulation. Catch this season’s final First Stage for Families performance, Trout Fishing in America, a one-hour concert of folk/rock music, on Sunday April 14 at 11:00 am or 3:00 pm.

Parking: Street parking is free on Sundays. If you’re running late and need to head straight for the nearest lot, the Telegraph and Channing garage is super close to Zellerbach on the south side of the U.C. Berkeley campus, rarely gets full, and offers convenient and affordable pay-by-the hour rates of $1.50-$2.50. Entrances are on both Channing Way and Durant Avenue.

What to Wear: Dress down for First Stage for Families. For Family Fare, casual clothes are an option, but you can also take the opportunity to get the kids all dressed up.

Where to Munch: For longer performances, you may go to the café in Zellerbach Hall during intermission or before and after the show for water and/or snacks. Otherwise, foot it to Telegraph, Bancroft, or Durant Avenue for a wealth of options, from pizza to sandwiches to bagels.

Cost: Tickets for First Stage for Families are $10 for kids, $20 for adults, and regular-length, Family Fare performances range from $30-$80 per ticket.

Online: calperformances.org

What was the laster performance you saw with your kids?

–Renee Macalino Rutledge

photo credit: Peter DaSilva

Explore Big Ideas in a Small Museum

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Big museums cost money and take energy to navigate. And after all that cost and trouble, your toddler is usually interested in just one exhibit. That’s why every Bay Area parent should know about a small museum in Oakland that pulls all the stops of the bigger attractions, from hands-on play to live animal discovery, and all for less than $5, including parking. Here’s the inside scoop on this season’s drop-in programs at the Junior Center for Art and Science

JakesDiscovery
Go:
Drop in this spring from Tuesday through Friday (10:00 am to 6:00 pm) or Saturday (10:00 am to 3:00 pm). Classes on field trips often visit the Junior Center on weekday mornings, so weekday afternoons are the quietest time to come, and chances are you may even have the playroom all to yourselves. On Saturdays, the crowds vary, but tend to stay on the mellower side.

Get there: Find the Junior Center for Art and Science at 558 Bellevue Avenue in Oakland. The museum is located on the grounds of Lakeside Park, where there’s cheap parking for $2 on weekdays and $5 on weekends. If you want to park for free, look for a spot on Perkins Street, just off of Grand Avenue.

What to wear: Comfy play clothes for the museum. Bring a light jacket or hoodie for when you’re ready to play outside. The Junior Center for Art and Science is located right next door to the Lake Merritt Bird Sanctuary and the children’s playground.

the-junior-center

Where to eat: Pizza at Arizmendi on Lakeshore is a popular spot for families. Find quesadillas and other Mexican food favorites right across the street at Los Canteros on Grand Avenue, or kid-friendly Ethiopian at family-owned Enssaro. You can always hop in the car for dim sum in nearby Chinatown, or a nourishing meal made with local ingredients at Chop Bar in Jack London Square. If you pack your own lunch, there are lakeside picnic tables on the museum grounds, and several picnic benches line the lake’s perimeter.

Things to do: Jake’s Discovery Garden is one of the newest exhibits at the museum. The exhibit promotes learning through play for 2 to 5-year-olds, and the playroom’s got a beautiful, picture-window view of Lake Merritt, a quaint play house, and interactive toys like gardening tools and cooking play. The whole room is designed like a garden, with a pretend lawn, pretend vegetables you can pull from their roots, and felt lemons you can pull from a painted tree. Of course, learning is all part of the fun as parents read to their kids about how amphibians, reptiles, mammals, plants, and invertebrates are all part of Jake’s Garden. In the Science and Nature Lab, live animals like a bearded dragon, turtle, snakes, crickets, toads, hissing cockroaches and geckos smile from their cages. (They only come out on Saturdays, when kids make art with the animals as inspiration.) And for an extra fee, kids can glaze pre-made pottery in the Art Studio for pick up after it is fired by the staff.

Cost of trip: $2 drop-in fee per child. Adults are free.

Bonus: The Junior Center for Art and Science hosts a yearly Earth Day event, which takes place this year on April 20.

Online: juniorcenter.org

What did you do the last time you visited the Junior Center with your juniors?

–Renee Macalino Rutledge

photo courtesy of The Junior Center facebook page

The Inside Scoop on the 2013 Chinese New Year Parade

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Get your shoulders prepped – a parade is coming to town, and chances are good that your little ones are gonna want a good seat for all the action. In San Francisco, the Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade is to Chinese New Year what fireworks are to the 4th of July. A tradition in the city since the 1860s, the parade is one of the largest in the world, and a wonderful way to welcome the Year of the Dragon this February 23rd. Besides, when’s the last time you took the kids to an evening parade to see the streets lit up with floats, dancers, and marching bands? Here’s the scoop on how to get a great view of the 250-foot-long Golden Dragon and have the most fun at the parade.

parade 2

Getting there:
Downtown is crowded enough on a regular day, let alone for a parade. Safe to say, traffic won’t be pretty, especially when the show’s over and it’s a race to get home. Public transportation’s the way to go. If you’re BARTing in, choose your exit based on where you want to be on the parade route. Which takes us to…

Where to go:
The parade extends from Market and Second Street to Kearney and Columbus. The closer you get to Chinatown, the thicker the crowds will be. If you want a great view without the masses around you, try herding the fam somewhere along Post Street, where the parade passes through just before turning on Kearney. If you wish to be in the heart of the crowd, head to Portsmouth Square in Chinatown. Print out a copy of the parade route from the parade website before you take off.

When to go:
The Chinese New Year Parade takes place in the evening from 5:15 pm – 8:00 pm. The best bet with little ones is to come early and if you need to, leave early. Try getting to the city by early afternoon to sightsee or meander through the Chinatown shops– a visit to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is always a big hit with kids. For a good seat, try to line-up for the parade by 4:15 pm. If you don’t plan on buying knick-knacks, pack some distractions to keep the kids busy for an hour. And if your little ones are not in good spirits for an evening out, there is always the Chinese New Year Community Street Fair on February 23rd and 24th for some daytime fun.

festival

What to see:
Stilt walkers, elaborate floats and costumes, Chinese acrobats, martial artists, and lion dancers will be there on over 100 floats. This year’s zodiac sign is the Snake, so look for several snake-themed floats, banners, and costumes that reflect this year’s animal. Prepare the little ones for loud sounds and sights, since the grand finale is going to be accompanied by more than 600,000 firecrackers staving off evil for the coming year.

parade

What to bring:
The parade is coming rain or shine – so plan accordingly. This means umbrellas, stroller covers and rain gear. With or without wet weather, San Francisco gets awfully chilly at night, so dress warmly and remember to wear comfy shoes. Also, the parade is 2.5 hours long and takes place around dinner time, so sandwiches and snacks will help prevent a potential meltdown. Don’t forget the camera!

Online: chineseparade.com

Got any tips for tackling this year’s Chinese New Year Parade? What’s your secret for taking your kids to the parade?

— Renee Macalino Rutledge

photo credit: Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade & Festival facebook page

Pedal On! Best Bay Area Bike Trails for Kids

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Strap on the helmets and get ready to go for a ride. Bike-riding is fun, free, and a great way
to tally up exercise points while spending time outdoors surrounded by some of the Bay Area’s prettiest landscapes. Whether the kids are riding solo, enjoying the view via trailer, or buckled cozily into their bike seats, the following trails make for some carefree riding.

East Bay

Bay Trail in Alameda
Biking families love trekking to Alameda for its accessible, wide paths, flat terrain, and picturesque views of the Bay. Start by the Crab Cove Visitor Center on McKay Avenue, where you can check out the aquarium life before following the path down the entirety of Crown Beach and back. Or, continue on over the bicycle bridge to Bayfarm Island, circling its perimeter before coming back the way you came. Click here for a full map of the area.

Richmond Bay Trail Landfill Loop
Richmond’s 30 miles of Bay Trail surpass that of any other Bay Area city in sheer number. One section that we love is the Wildcat March & Landfill Loop, an easy four miles by bicycle, with plenty of opportunity to stop and birdwatch along the way and a one-mile, scenic trail built into the upper slopes. Richmond Bay Trail’s beautiful tidal marshes and vistas peppered with wildflowers are largely undiscovered. Click here for a full map of the area.

Marin County

Marin’s Samuel P. Taylor State Park
Located in the wooded hills of Marin, Samuel P. Taylor State Park features a paved, three-mile bike trail near the campgrounds. Because it follows the former Northwest Pacific Railroad right-of-way, the trail is nearly level. Enjoy the trickle of a creek and see if you can spot some wildlife along the way. Be sure to check their website for park closure info and direction.

Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District Wildlife Trail
Nearly four miles of level trails make this 383-acre reclamation area accessible to walkers and bicyclists. Find migratory birds, enjoy the wildflowers, and check out the freshwater and saltwater marshes. You’ll also have a view of the Sleeping Lady as you enjoy your lunch on a picnic bench. 

San Francisco

Presidio Promenade
About two miles long, this multi-use trail is wide and stable, with minimal sloping and maximum views of Golden Gate Park and the city skyline. Begin at Lombard Gate and continue on down, passing the Crissy Field Overlook and the San Francisco National Cemetery along the way.

The Embarcadero
The Embarcadero has a convenient BART exit and paid parking lots near Fisherman’s Wharf. Flat and five-plus miles long, the running, walking, and biking trail leads all the way to the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, with many exciting stops along the way, from cotton candy at Pier 39 to the historic ships at Hyde Street Pier.

Peninsula

San Mateo’s Sawyer Camp Trail
Bike this hidden gem of a trail to its halfway point at about 3.5 miles, where you can show the kids the oldest California bay tree. Then, head back alongside shady trees and reservoir waters, or continue to the end of the 6-miles.

Half Moon Bay’s Coastside Trail
This easy-going five-mile bike ride takes you past beach after beach. The most difficult part will be choosing where to stop and have your picnic. Park at Pillar Point Harbor, where there’s a tiny village to explore.

Los Gatos Creek Trail
A special thanks to our readers for giving us the heads up about Los Gatos Creek Trail, which meanders through San Jose, Campbell and Los Gatos. Hop on anywhere on the 11-mile trail and you’ll be greeted with easy to navigate roads, nature, and stunning views at points. We love that this trail is kid-friendly and you’ll be totally surrounded by nature. At the same time, the long trail is close to urban centers, which means it’s easily accesible for all of us city folk.

Other Options:
With the warm Bay Area fall weather creeping up on us, you’re going to want to get the family outside! If you’re still looking for kid-friendly bike trails in your neighborhood, check out these other honorable mentions.

The Iron Horse Regional Trail in Lafayette

Bayfront Park and Bothin Marsh in Marin

Shoreline Park in Mountain View

Monterey Recreational Trail

Oakland’s Lake Merritt

Did we miss your family’s favorite bike trail? Let us know where you and the kiddos strap on the helmets and pedal away in the comment section below!

— Renee Macalino Rutledge

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