Tot to Trot: A Few Places to Take the Little Ones

By Sonja Fitz, Special to the Planet
Thursday August 21, 2008 - 10:32:00 AM

I suck as a mother. OK, suck is a bit strong. But I have been known to nourish my son with frozen dinners and canned soup, watch QVC fashion shows while pretending to listen to him regale me with the wonders of vacuum cleaners, and raise my voice beyond the Super Nanny-approved Calm Authority Voice decibel level.  

At the same time, I play ukulele back-up to his guitar-banging lead while singing “There’s a Hole in the Bucket” until I’m blue in the face, I have happily sacrificed many of my most treasured possessions to the bite-scratch-smash ravages of toddlerhood, and I regularly eat figure-unfriendly zillion-calorie helpings of cream-spiked mac and cheese in vain attempts to lure my little string bean to do the same. Plus, I try to take him out and about in the world so that his little brain, heart, and sense of confidence may grow and flourish.  

It is on the latter subject that I address you now, my friends, my parenting co-conspirators, my partners in just doing the best we can. When you just cannot hear one more strain of “Ol’ Macdonald” or break up another territorial conflict between siblings and you have to get out of the house despite a sink full of dishes and no clean clothes, where can you go with the little monster—darling!—in tow? Lucky for you, the local possibilities are endless. Following are just a few highlights (locations, hours, and fees on their websites): check out the blogs at the end for even more destinations. 


For developing brainiacs 

• Lawrence Hall of Science (www.lhs. (www.lhs.berkeley.edu) for hands-on learning, special exhibits, and good old- fashioned stargazing through huge telescopes every clear first and third Saturday night. 

• Chabot Space and Science Center (www.chabotspace.org) for astronomy exhibits, a full-dome digital planetarium, and even programs to earn scout badges (if scouting is deemed politically acceptable in your household). 

• Oakland Zoo (www.oaklandzoo.org) for, well, animals, duh—but did you know you could have a birthday party or even a sleepover at the zoo? 


For budding artists and wild imaginations 

• Fairyland (www.fairyland.org) for cool (and, let’s admit it, a little spooky) 3-D representations of children’s book characters, plus live entertainment including honest-to-goodness puppet shows, and yes, you can do specially scheduled sleepovers here, too—dinner and breaky included. 

• MOCHA (www.mocha.org) for arts activities, education, camp, and the Little Studio—art studio space for toddlers (artist smock and artist ego optional). 

• Kids ’n’ Clay (www.kidsnclay.com) (minus the apostrophe) for ceramics, clay painting, hand and foot printing, and other kinds of art-making (even corporate team building—smooshing wet clay with your co-workers, what’s not to love?).  


For aspiring musicians 

• East Bay Music Together (www.eastbaymusictogether.com) to enjoy singing, dancing, banging triangles, and shaking maracas with your little one—kids, toddlers, and even crawling babies along with parents, grandparents, and caregivers of all persuasions. 

• East Bay Center for the Performing Arts (www.eastbaycenter.org) for multi-cultural music and dance classes, performances. 

• Grand Lake Farmer’s Market (www. splashpad.org/farmersmkt.html), a fav-orite of my son, for live musical performances with adjacent tables to sit and nosh plus a row of little water spouts for kids to splash around in when the weather’s nice. 


For little athletes and pure playtime 

• Gymboree for developmentally ap-propriate classes and free play on padded mats and climbable structures, plus the highly anticipated once-a-class appearance of a big doll mascot named Gymbo, and ooh, the bubbles! (www.gymboreeclasses. com).  

• Habitot (www.habitot.org), a mini-me theme park of hands-on activities and themed play rooms (located in the same building as my office, so I can vouch for the happy smiles of kids at play as they scamper down the hallway nearly knocking the caffeine infusion out of my hand each afternoon). 

• Regional parks a-plenty (www.eb parks.org) with hiking, swimming, biking, ball fields, boating, horseback riding, educational activities, music concerts, and festivals. Here you are simply not allowed to say, Mommy/Daddy/(Whoever), I’m Bored. 


For dining or just chilling out 

• Zocalo Coffee House in San Leandro (www.zocalo.com): caffeine, edibles, kids play area, and baby-changing station in the restroom. 

• Tumble & Tea in Oakland (www.tumbleandtea.com): kid-friendly menu, cozy tables and couches on one side, huge play area on the other side. 

• Kensington Circus in Kensington (524-8814): pub grub, kids play area, and loads of fellow family patrons.  

• Cerrito Theater (www.cerritospeakeasy.com): Taking over from the Parkway in Oakland, which is abandoning its Monday night Baby Brigade, parents with babes in arms are welcome at the Cerrito for baby-friendly movies and food in a comfy living room setting. 


And much more... 

• Best of the Bay Area: www.bestofbayarea.com/kidfun.html. 

• Berkeley Parents Network: http://parents.berkeley.edu. 

• The Poop, a San Francisco Chronicle baby blog: www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/ parenting/index?blogid=29. 


And when all of the above fails (or you’re out of cash, since much of the above is not free), there’s always the library, your local park, or (don’t scoff) the mall—lovely, air-conditioned coolness when it’s hot outside, warm and dry when it’s raining, and no one can tell the squalling of your little angel from the din of all the others. 



Sonja Fitz is the happy, sticky, hoarse, perennially sleep-deprived mother of a 2-year, 7-month -old son and life-long East Bay native who never moved to Portland like her school friends since she still discovers fun new things to do here on a daily basis.