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Playland Not at the Beach

10979 San Pablo Ave.
El Cerrito, CA 94530

Video games, pinball machines, and a magic show. Can there be more bliss at an arcade amusement park? Yes, there can, and it doesn't even depend on whether or not you like Pac-Man, Skee-ball, Sidewinder, or Donkey Kong – they're all here. If the kids have never seen a diorama except those made in school projects, they should come to Playland just for that historical experience alone. Every game has a historical explanation, so game buffs can really go wild about which games were created when by what companies. Minature circus displays, Haunted House displays, boardwalk games – all of these are free as soon as you get inside, and there are prizes for winning. Surprisingly, the magic show has gotten really impressive reviews, especially since the white rabbit can be petted after it's pulled out of the hat. You can have your palm read electronically – press in the palm and get your fortune told. Some of the machines are a century old, but they don't run like ancient artifacts because the volunteers keep them oiled and tuned properly, especially those in the 3D pinball room lit by blacklight. There are relics, but they work just as well as an Xbox. The younger kids may not have experienced the low-key joys of coin tosses and bean bag tosses, not to mention tic-tac-toe machines, so this could while away at least 20 minutes. The haunted house and Santa displays, not to mention Laughing Sal, may be scary for the younger ones – so be prepared. They can always get fascinated by the historical video about the original Playland and the Sutro baths and museum, which shows the difference between the 'then' and 'now' of Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park. If your group is fortunate enough to have a grandparent along, they might be able to tell stories about playing some of these games, and add in some personalized history.

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Safari Run

341 N Amphlett Blvd.
San Mateo, CA 94401

Though the facility at Safari Run seems small, there are plenty of options: fitness classes, open play times, an arcade, and a jungle gym on the playground. Air hockey tables vie for attention along with a giant shoe next to a frog video game in the arcade. Skee ball and whack-a-mole are a good reminder that not everything fun comes on a computer screen. What really gets the kids good and tired is the climbing area with fearsome gorilla and toucan heads, and slides. Also, parents of small children will be glad to know that the younger kids have their own age-appropriate area, so there's less chance of them being run into by the bigger kids. The staff are very conscientious about cleaning, from the obstacle course to the bathrooms, and the drinking fountains feature filtered water – but there is no air conditioning. There are also some rules that have to be observed, such as parents monitoring their kids during Open Play times, which aren't open on the weekends except to reserved groups. Both parents and children are asked to wash their hands before and after play, which helps cut down on the ever-present germ factor. Shoes go in the cubby holes, and waivers need to be signed. However, everyone can still have plenty of fun within those boundaries. If parents and kids come with a group for longer than the hour-long slots at Open Play time, there are computer terminals, large screen monitors, and a lounge where the parents can relax and chat. If you think of it as a smaller version of Safari Jungle meant for kids under the age of 8, this will give a good overall picture. You can come for half an hour for $4, and just check it out.

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