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Staff Picks: Kids' Stuff
I'm going to marry my novels and have little short stories for children.
Best Cheap Carnival Rides
After the county fair has come and gone, my son continues begging for more rides! more rides! more rides! So I take him to Traintown in Sonoma. There's a little roller coaster that looks like a dragon, a Ferris wheel, a plane ride, and more. And they're less expensive than the rides at the fair. And, of course, there's the train, which is surprisingly soothing. Kids are genetically programmed to scream in tunnels, but other than that, they're fairly spellbound and silent. And you get the chance to ride under the trees with the breeze on your face with no one asking, "Are we there yet?"
20264 Broadway (Hwy. 12), Sonoma. 707.938.3912. --M.W.
Photograph by Rory McNamara
Best Place to Feed the Ducks
The town square in Sonoma has a pond that's always full of ducks, and it seems to have more than its fair share of ducklings. It's small enough that the kids stay in a manageable area, and it's shallow enough that you don't have to be on continuous maximum alert. It's a popular spot, especially on weekends, and there are tons of kids by the pond or on the nearby playground equipment. But beware of the infamous roosters and hens. They've been known to attack kids who come too close. Officials have been trying to keep them out of the plaza, but they're not cooperating. If you still haven't had your fill of fowl, cross the street and go to the ice cream shop on the east side of the plaza. The folks there are part of a bird rescue society, and they usually have a couple of macaws or parrots on their back patio. They should soon be getting a new macaw named Barney. And no, he's not purple. --M.W.
Coolest Educational Mission Statement
Carved in inspiringly graceful letters into the concrete walk leading to the Jackson Theater on the campus of the Sonoma Country Day School in Santa Rosa are the words, "Our search is for those moments and situations when we are most alive." We wish we'd gone to that school. --D.T.
Best Way to Hypnotize Your Kids
At the Sharpsteen Museum in Calistoga, there's a diorama that includes a train. You put in a quarter and watch the train come in, turn around, leave. That's all there is to it. But I've seen kids in there gazing at it endlessly. Even in these days of GameBoy and Nickelodeon and Chuck E. Cheese, there's still something mesmerizing about a little choo-choo. The rest of the museum is fun for kids too. When one little girl saw the extensive dioramas of old Calistoga, I heard her blurt out, "Oh, my Barbie would love to live in here." As you walk out the museum, turn right and cross the creek to Pioneer Park. It's a great spot with lots of shade and playground equipment.
1311 Washington St., Calistoga, 707.942.5911.--M.W.
Best Way to Interest Your Kids in Art
Yep, there's a nude descending a staircase over there and your eight-year-old could care less. Picasso's got the eyes wrong, Rembrandt likes 'em fat, and please switch out that naked light bulb over Francis Bacon. Ah, but the canny parent knows that the best, the ideal, the paramount way to open the exciting world of visual art to children is to feed them while you do it. This is why opening receptions, those two hours of free cut-up food, are the ideal classroom for a little off-the-cuff art education. There is just one caveat: Never let little Twain or Oona eat until they've looked. Sure, you can let them walk around and describe what they see in an exhibit, but they better have a wedge of Sonoma Jack nearby or you'll get nowhere. What kids know--and parents usually forget--is that two glasses of opening-reception wine and suddenly everyone wants to go out for dinner! All the better, chuckle the young ones artfully.
For details on opening receptions near you, contact the Sonoma County Cultural Arts Council, 707.579.ARTS; the Marin Arts Council, 415.499.8350; or the Arts Council of Napa Valley, 707.257.2117.--G.G.
Best Merry-Go-Round That Was--But Isn't Any Longer
The Bay Area Discovery Museum at Sausalito's East Fort Baker certainly is crammed with cool things to see and do. The groundbreaking hands-on science and art museum has been stimulating minds and popping eyes for 15 years now with a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits. One of the coolest installments--though, sadly, one of the temporary variety--was the magical, bicycle-powered Carousel of the Olympic Sea, which once stood on the BADM's sunny outdoor terrace overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Built by Bill Dentzel of Port Townsend, Wash., the amazing contraption featured hand-carved horses painted in riotously bright colors. The merry-go-round was small (make that tiny), seating only a few riders at a time, and was powered by whatever hardy soul was willing to climb atop the adjoining bicycle and kick up enough momentum to get the carousel spinning. It was exhilarating and just wacky enough to linger in the memory long after the device itself was packed up and shipped back to Port Townsend, where it now carries riders very October as part of an enterprising farmer's annual pumpkin patch. In its place at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, meanwhile, are a continuing series of amazing experiences just waiting to be seen and fondly long, long remembered.
557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito. 415.487.4398. wwwbadm.org. --D.T.
Best Place to Photograph Your Kids Climbing on a Giant Technicolor Caterpillar or Sliding Down the Freaky, Fiberglass Front of a Big, Whimsical Earthworm
At the Village--Corte Madera's upscale shopping center--there is a small but truly charming bug-themed playground featuring half a dozen whimsical insects done up in bright, kid-friendly fashion. It's the perfect place to let the kids get all worn out before dragging them into Nordstrom's to shop for overpriced shoes.--D.T.
Best Place to Squeeze a Ball Python
Creepy critters. Kids love 'em. Kids hate 'em. Kids love to hate 'em. The Petaluma Wildlife Natural Science Museum will give your kid a new perspective on things that slither, slink, or crawl along the earth--and a whole pack of big land mammals as well. This private nonprofit organization, housed in a compound on the campus of the Petaluma High School, boasts a saltwater tide pool, mineral displays, and a vast collection of live fish, insects, and reptiles, including Chinese water dragons, rattlesnakes, and a 13-foot Burmese python named Shirkhan donated by the Humane Society after the snake got loose and almost ate a neighbor's cat. There also are dozens of taxidermied wildlife gazing down from the walls and arranged in natural displays, including many from the collection of Santa Rosa developer and former big-game hunter Hugh Codding. Of course, these days it's uncool--and even illegal--to hunt some of these endangered species, but they're a great teaching tool. And learning is the name of the game at this treasure-trove of knowledge. The museum, which opened in 1992, serves as an open classroom for up to 40 high-school students each semester, providing lessons in wildlife biology management, hunter safety, and first aid. Many of the students pursue careers in veterinary medicine, environmental studies, and related disciplines. The facility also offers tours for school groups, including preschoolers who still have that childish love for roly-polies and other creepy things. The public is invited to visit the first Saturday of each month, and the museum hosts birthday parties by appointment. And this is the best part: Summer day camps give kids a chance to feed the animals and learn, not just entomology, geology, and paleontology, but a real love of nature. And, who knows, your child might even discover the sheer joy of squeezing a ball python.
201 Fair St., Petaluma. 707.778.4787.--G.C.
Best Place to Show Your Kids the Stars
The sky is big. There are a lot of stars up there. These facts are known to anyone who's ever sat in the dark gazing up at the heavens. But it takes a true astronomical enthusiast--in this case, a whole army of them--to build an all-volunteer observatory so that people like you, with your kids in tow, can sit in the dark learning other fascinating facts to add to the obvious stuff. The mighty-but-tiny Robert Ferguson Observatory, at Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park, is gleefully operated by the Valley of the Moon Observatory Association, an assortment of amateur and professional astronomers who really know their way around the sky--and love to tell newcomers why. The observatory hosts events throughout the year, including monthly open-to-the-public sky-watching nights from dusk to midnight. The observatory--which stands beside a rustic little picnic and barbecue site--can be reserved (for a mere $125) for special events.
Best Teen Exercise Program (Accomplished While Moving Backwards and Getting Wet)
There they go. Cruising down the Petaluma River. Moving fast and, when they're in especially fine form, barely making a splash. They are the members of the North Bay Rowing Club, one of Petaluma's coolest recreational organizations on or off the water. Though the main club boasts members of all ages, a growing number of teens are taking to the river, learning their way around a lightweight scull as they make their way up and down the stretch. Introductory lessons are part of the deal, and yearly memberships are available for single rowers or for families.
Best Place to Zen Walk Your Toddler
You can't wait for Baby to walk and then once she does--you can't wait for her to run. But there's something wonderfully Zen about following the slow (mygoditsslow!) meanderings of a 14-month-old as he or she explores the world as a biped. If Baby isn't the type to fling herself in the water, the Sausalito waterfront is ideal. Featuring a long, fairly straight meander down Bridgeway, the wide cement pedestrian path wobbles right along the Bay's edge, where birds, seals, and interesting litter float. There are steps and perches for sitting and staring down a gull, and plenty of snack stands for your inner tourist. If you and Baby do it right, 100 yards can take a complete and happy afternoon to accomplish.
Sausalito exit north off Highway 101. Continue north into town. Bridgeway is the main thoroughfare along the water.--G.G.
Best Indoor Kids' Playground Located Near An Indoor Adult Playground
The 24 Hour Fitness Club in Petaluma was built inside the cavernous insides of an old granary mill. It hosts a hundred high-performance exercise opportunities, from treadmills and climbing walls to steam rooms and an outdoor hot tub. But what to do with the little ones while you're getting all buff, flexing in the reflection of the plate-glass windows? Lucky for you, the club features a pretty snazzy playground, with fun games, rubberized play equipment, ball crawls, tube tunnels--and (for a fee) on-site childcare. Just remember to stretch before grabbing for your wallet.
6 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 707.789.9050.--D.T.
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From the March 21-27, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.