Subpar Miniature Golf - Places For Kids

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Children's Fairyland

699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland, CA 94610

Ever wish for an old-time magical kingdom to go with younger kids, that didn't cost as much as Disneyland? Welcome to Children's Fairyland, the place where the Bubble Man dwells and puppet masters rule. Anyone who remembers the story of the Three Little Pigs will want to go inside their house, and of course the short train ride is too short, so you'll have to go again. Some of the older fairytales aren't known to the kids, or even some of the younger parents, so it can be a good reason to break out a copy of Grimms' Fairy Stories on the next trip to the library. The rides are low-key, from the Ferris Wheel to the Jolly Trolley, which is perfect for kids under the age of seven. There's even a merry-go-round for the younger and older kids, because of height restrictions. The puppet show can bring to life Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. The crooked house is just the place for pretending, especially after the Alice in Wonderland tunnel and maze, and kids have a blast sliding down Jack and Jill Hill. If the kids want to see and touch something more warm and personal, well, fairy tales always have animals in them. There are soft bunnies and guinea pigs, three little cackling hens, baby doll sheep, donkeys and goats, an alpaca – and a pony. Visitors during summer get to see something really unique: Children's Community Theatre. Kids get to dress up and put on shows for other kids, so it could be a Western about a cowgirl out to conquer the bull-riding circuit, it could be a fantasy about an orphan who meets a dragon princess disguised as a fish. Watch the calendar to see what the kids and directors thought up this year. Of course, fairy wonderlands can sometimes show warts. Some parents have commented on how the paint needs to be re-done in spots, and that some of the kids get disappointed when they don't meet the height or weight requirements. It's true that Fairyland has more gardens than new equipment, but that's what gives it an old-time feel – and the kids enjoy themselves anyway.

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Chabot Space & Science Center

10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland, CA 94619

Two words: Planetarium and Observatory. That should get all sorts of ideas flowing for space travel, star gazing, and going home to watch re-runs of Star Trek episodes. First, go to the Chabot Space and Science Center so you can get some good ideas. If you can make time to go on a Friday or a Saturday and stay through the evening, you'll be able to use the telescopes in the Observatory. Fortunately, there's coffee at the new Bean Sprouts Café, so you'll have enough caffeine to stay up. The Planetarium has a 70-foot screen and can seat over 230 people, so there will be plenty of room for watching shows that could rival any IMAX theatre. There are astronauts and alien searches, there is space travel and constellation investigation, there is time travel back to the Mayan days. For a small extra fee, there are even psychedelic laser light shows including music from the Beatles to Pink Floyd. The Exhibits are for those who want to explore with their eyes and their fingers. The Bill Nye Climate Lab has an invention station and a climate-themed video game, as well as displays on emissions and keeping the ocean from becoming the world's largest landfill. Stars, nebulae, and black holes can be found in Destination Universe, while moon rocks and the Mercury space vehicle ride will certainly inspire the kids to stay for telescope time. If everyone wants more information on the Mayans after seeing the Planetarium video, there's an educational display on their calendar, reading, and writing. This can be a great way to sneak in more social studies and history lessons. Also, if you've ever told your kids not to look at the sun, you'll have to eat your words at the Touch the Sun display – especially if the kids find out that there's an available mobile app.

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Junior Center Art and Science

558 Bellevue Ave.
Oakland, CA 94610

The Junior Center may be an under-appreciated Oakland gem. It's located just next to Lake Merrit's bird sanctuary, the still-popular Children's Fairyland, and the Oakland East Bay Garden Center, less than a mile away. It can be hard to find educational places that are open for free during the week, also offer science and art classes, and act as a drop-in center or camp during the summer. You and the kids can overlook the lake while looking at frogs and lizards, in the Animal Discovery sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays (free), or bring a picnic basket so that you can really explore the area around the lake. It's also fun to look around the room at the display of artwork and posters about the various animals, done by all of the kids who have explored their way through the Center. There are baskets of crayons and helpful staff who can show you how to draw, explain how the lizard can regrow its tail – and of course this will inspire your kids to add their artwork to the walls. Gary the tortoise is a real hands-on highlight. He's middle-aged, and a little slow, but his rescue story is inspiring – especially as he is now quite hale and healthy. It's also allowed to hold Tyler the bearded dragon, and the toads, but you might want to just admire the Madagascar hissing roaches from afar. On Tuesdays and Thursday mornings, parents of preschoolers can come and help their 'Little Leapers' get ready for a learning environment, doing art and science and music classes in groups. The after-school and summer courses can be taken for a very affordable fee, whether your kids want to build a bookcase and a chicken coop for the backyard (Carpentry for Kids) or become the next Calvin and Hobbes creator (Cartooning for Teens) with a side interest in charm bracelets (Jewelry/Metal Arts for Teens). The Rockets and Robots class is also very popular.

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Mocha (Museum of Children's Arts)

1625 Clay St.
Oakland, CA 94612

While most child-centered learning centers, museums, and play spaces in San Francisco and Oakland have art classes, MOCHA focuses almost exclusively on art as a first-tier learning tool. Many kid-friendly places strive to incorporate art into other areas of education, such as science and environmental awareness. MOCHA's pupose has a bigger focus – using art to bond together community relationships and reduce city crime rates with more positive influences. The underlying seriousness doesn't keep kids or parents from enjoying themselves. Most of what's available is the Open Studio time, where parents and kids can drop in unnanounced on Friday and Saturday, pay their $7 each, and spend a few hours discovering their own creativity. Options may be a little limited for toddlers, though the glueing and stamping station can usually keep them occupied if the trucks and train tracks are in use. Four-year-olds and older kids will definitely benefit from the computers, Legos, coloring, and painting. Occasionally, the tasks change, so the kids can delve into something more complicated like making books, marbleizing paper, and the mechanics of printmaking. Parents who felt cramped in the old location will definitely want to take a look at the new building, which allows the staff to open up multiple art projects so that kids can take their pick of activities. The new location on Clay Street has also opened up possibilities for more museum displays, art parties, and summer camps, which can really help out parents. The summer camps mean that parents can drop off their children around 9 am, and have a day to get their own tasks done while the kids are busy expressing themselves and learning how to create beauty until 3:30 pm. For $65 per day, or $300 per week, this can be a sanity saver.

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Oakland Zoo

9777 Golf Links Rd.
Oakland, CA 94605

Animals and kids go together, especially at the Oakland Zoo. As a parent, it's important to have that 'magical' place in your back pocket, with plenty of activities, that isn't as pricey as Disneyland. (Parents in the Bay area should think about getting a membership, which includes free admission, parking, guest tickets, and 8 ride vouchers.) For parents without a car, the 511 Trip Planner can save a lot of time on public transport. Since the Zoo is spread across more than 500 acres with hills, parents with toddlers should definitely remember the backpack or stroller. What's great about the Zoo is that there's more than just waiting for the lions to roll over, or reading up on monkey grooming habits. If your kids are of the 'do everything' type, you'll want to check out the train, carousel, and rollercoaster. If your kids are of the 'observer' type, there are 650+ animals to watch, and Monday through Friday feeding times - from alligators to elephants to sun bears. If your kids are of the 'up close and personal' type, scrambling through the meerkat tunnel or the reptile cave is always a good idea, along with the play areas. (Don't forget to take a bathroom break after all that crawling – restrooms are right next to the meerkats, the Bug House, the picnic area, and the goat and sheep barn.) The lack of a 'concrete jungle' at Oakland is what sets it apart from the Los Angeles Zoo. Kids and parents who want to see animals in a naturalistic environment can't go wrong here. It's also more interactive, from the bat house to the goat petting area, and the cable car allows you to see the Bay area while peeking into animal cages.

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USS Hornet

707 W Hornet Ave.
Alameda, CA 94501

For a 900-foot aircraft carrier, the location of the USS Hornet is more hidden than might be expected. Once you arrive at the parking lot, the signs make it easy to get on board. The workings of the engine room should fascinate any kids who like to know how things work, while the flight deck and jets are just as fascinating visually as they are once you find out how they work. Bringing children under the age of five might be a small challenge, as the ship is large and might be a little spooky, especially the sick bay. History buffs will love seeing the sleeping bunks where men rested until it was time for them to be on duty, the elevators for the fighter planes, and the popular Apollo 11 exhibit. Essentially, this is a walkable, tourable World War II documentary, with live guides to explain the workings of aircraft and people from another era. The Officers' Lounge shows the history of other ships named 'Hornet', Ready Room 4 shows photos of fighter planes, Hangar Bay 3 shows some of the Nisei soldiers' contributions in combat and intelligence, and the second deck has a room dedicated to one of the everyday crewmembers and his team. Don't miss the forecastle tour if you can work it in, because it shows a miniature version of Titanic-like damage done by a typhoon. The hangar deck exhibit on Apollo 11 and 12 adds in a peacetime element of education, and information about how people traveled to the moon to explore. The hand stamp at admission makes it easy to tour a little and then take breaks outside, which is ideal if you want to do more food tours than history tours. The flight simulator is worth a little extra charge for kids who really need some multimedia thrills. Everyone does need to arrive in sturdy walking shoes and tote along a windbreaker, because going up and down the narrow stairs can really be difficult without comfortable footwear – and there are some chilly areas. Also, bring a camera to take some shots of panoramic San Francisco views from the flight deck.

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