Lemos Farm - Places For Kids

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Gilroy Gardens

3050 Hecker Pass Hwy.
Gilroy, CA 95020

When the Gilroy Garden Park reopens on March 30th, the child world and plant world will again collide for good. The Garden Park is a good mix of education and fun, and can help kids think through conservation issues – especially if they're looking at the living Circus Trees that look like sculptures. During the summer, you can even go down a water slide through one of the trees, and pretend you're on a Jungle Book adventure with Mowgli. The rock maze is also a cool retreat from the sun, and there are shady trees all around the complex. Bring your bathing suit for walking behind the waterfalls, and tipping buckets onto the kids' heads at the Splash Garden. This is one of the best features of the park, not just because of the huge treehouse and twisty slide, but also because the kids can either shoot water at each other with super soakers, or use a water pump as a see-saw. The spinning water wheel may be as close as a city kid can get to seeing wheels and water other than in a movie. However, if you and the kids prefer to observe the beauty of water rather than interact with it, watching ducks while imitating them on paddle boats can be a lot of fun. The second great feature is not the rides, which are definitely mild to moderate on the thrill scale. The teacups, flying mushrooms, and little fire engines will probably thrill the toddler to four-year-old crowd. It's the gardens that are truly amazing. One of the really worthwhile rides is when you get to meander down a backroads area on a motorized antique car, going past a barn and a small pond with a tiny dock. You can see the Rainbow Gardens on a boat ride that goes around a small lazy river, and chase butterflies through the Monarch Garden greenhouse. Claudia's Carousel is especially good for toddlers, because then you get to slowly look at the amazing trees in all their twisty shapes – this could be a horticulture session for the older kids.

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Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

1300 Senter Rd.
San Jose, CA 95112

Happy Hollow is definitely the sort of place that kids love, and parents love that it's quite affordable. Many of the rides are quite young, and quite tame when compared to the thrills of Magic Mountain, but they are definitely suitable to the seven-year-olds and younger set. Parents may be underwhelmed by the Danny the Dragon ride featuring fairytale statues and a small dark tunnel, but small children seem fascinated and will probably insist on 'Danny again'. Since Danny is currently under a construction makeover, they may have to wait a while until he's ready to thrill them all over again. The carousel and Pacific Fruit Express roller coaster are also a quiet sort of fun, but the bumper cars and Frog Hopper may satisfy the boys' needs for a little adrenaline. The animals in the petting zoo can actually be petted, from the large cow to the ponies and donkeys, which is a step above some ultra-safety conscious facilities. You can brush them as well as feeding them, which is a definite plus, although the goats may have to be deterred from anything flapping that may look like food. No need to bring hand sanitizer, because there's a real hand-washing station with soap. If these activities aren't enough, try the puppet shows and the play areas. These are scattered across the grounds, so if at any time one of the kids has a desperate need to climb and slide and spin around, they can do so. If you pack along some yogurt bars and fruit cups, you can spread out at the picnic tables also scattered across the grounds, and then visit one of the many bathrooms. You may even be visited by face painters, if the season is right. In keeping with the rides, the zoo doesn't provide the larger impressive animals like elephants or giraffes, but the meerkats and birds are always good to see – especially if you make it during feeding time so the trainer can answer questions. Also, sometimes the jaguar lets himself be seen up close.

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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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Tilden Regional Park

2501 Grizzly Peak Blvd.
Orinda, CA 94563

If your kids don't know what a working farm looks like, Little Farm would be the perfect place to take them after it re-opens on March 2014. Toddlers will especially be fascinated by the various noises of the animals, which of course they'll want to imitate when you get home. The chickens will cluck, the ducks will quack – and the goats and cows will cluster around to be fed your wilted leftover lettuce and celery from the back of the fridge. (They are not picky about food quality.) The ducks have their own luxury pool with a sunning deck, so on the right day, you can catch them sunbathing as well as swimming. The pigs and rabbits are also good watching and observing value, though the pigs can get insistent about their right to snacks. The horses and sheep tend to be a bit more wary, so it's a good opportunity to teach the kids about the right way and the wrong way to approach different types of animals. Some parents and kids have been able to use their horse and sheep-whispering skills here, so try and see what works through the bars of the gates. There is a small playground complete with water fountains, which might be necessary for the kids to burn up any excess energy in minding their manners around the critters. There's plenty of room for strollers, but remember to strap on sturdy shoes or sneakers if there has been recent rain, as the puddles and mud can take some navigation. Also remember to bring along sack lunches or a picnic basket for the grassy area, just in case hunger calls as well as nature (bathrooms are also free). Especially because everything is free here, including an Environmental Educational Center, there are fewer crowds on the weekdays than on weekends. If your kids are clamoring for more than just animal interaction, Tilden Park also has an antique merry-go-round and a steam train railroad. Lake Anza is also good for swimming if you come in the summer, but can be visually enjoyed at any time. If your kids are budding horticulturalists, definitely do not miss the Botanic Gardens, which hosts a sale of native California plants every Thursday morning from May through December.

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Asian Art Museum

200 Larkin St.
San Francisco, CA 94102

Unlike some museums, Asian Art incorporates both visual and interactive experiences. Not only will the kids be fascinated by the intricate Buddha statues, they can also take photographs without anyone pointing to printed-out rules of policy. Even the cafe is an interactive experience, and has more choices than just egg rolls and chicken salad. There's miso soup, there's Tokyo Ramen with tree ear mushrooms, there's Korean spicy beef....and Sake Sliders. Two of the only items you could get anywhere else would be the hot dog and french fries option, but it pays to have something that everyone recognizes. Of course, there are teas, and the kids may want to try them just for the names: Three Flower Celebration, Dragon Eyes, Plum Blossom. If you forget your water bottles, there are free cups and water abounding. Really, the cafe choices could describe the rest of the museum experiences, which range from pottery and painted postures to pork belly food samples. There are some standard calligraphy and painting exhibits, scrolls and sculptures, and Ming vases. However, since Asian territory covers many countries, you can view the similarities and differences between displays on Korea, China, Japan, and India – to name a few. Also, the yoga and Mandala cosmic center exhibits also have interactive classes for a reasonable fee. You and the kids can go through the gallery at a leisurely pace, learn postures and stretching, hear storytelling, and make some take-home modern art. Between the three floors, it would be almost impossible to be bored in this place of cultural learning. Most people recommend starting at the top third floor, with many of the standard exhibits, and then going down to the interactive first floor. This is especially important when taking a family tour, because the kids will probably be even more keen on doing their own art after seeing so many great examples.

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Bay Area Discovery Museum

557 McReynolds Rd
Sausalito, CA 94965

This Museum is more of a hands-on center for imagination and creative development, with a lot of Bay Area props, than a more classic outlay like the Asian Art Museum. It's like a huge playground for kids, but it would be hard to find a free playground with this mixture of inside amenities (puppets, full train station) and creative outside features (gravel pit with tow trucks, Golden Gate Bridge replica, toddler water zone with plastic fish). Children are offered objects outside to play with, from the natural elements of sand and water to larger versions of toys that already fascinates them (foam versions of Tinkertoys). The idea is that parents can ask their kids open-ended questions to get the kids involved in play, so that the kids are dreaming and creating things from their imagination rather than coming to a place to be entertained with digested information and ideas from multimedia. Inside at the Art Table, the kids are offered the ability to get more messy with paint and sand than at home – bring extra clothes or a smock. The simulated Bay Hall and Wave Workshop has representations of what they'd see at Fisherman's Wharf and in Oakland, along with trains and tunnels, so that they can start thinking about what they're seeing and how the ocean works. If kids get inspired and want to go outside again, no problem – take them to Lookout Cove where they can get on the Bonnie boat and pretend to be pirates on the sea. The shipwreck hull, the trail, and the sea cave can spark all sorts of survival questions, especially if you start reading Robinson Crusoe to them at night. Other reviewers have commented just as often on the stunning views of the actual Golden Gate Bridge, the number of activities and classes available, and the garden. Since the Discovery Museum is both indoors and outdoors, toddlers may love the streams of water, or they may want to go in and out of the reed maze, giant tree trunk, and climb all over the giant spider web. Themes and activities are geared toward the younger set, so you might not want to push the age limit of 8 years old.

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Children's Creativity Museum

221 4th St., San Francisco, CA 94560

The Children's Creativity Museum is like a multimedia studio left open for the directors' kids to explore. From the Animation studio with clay critters, to the Music studio with a green screen, children and young adults can put their energy and talents to good use here. What you'll really have to worry about is that the children will get spoiled for any other museum. Since they're not only allowed, but encouraged, to touch all of the art....well, use your imagination. In fact, the Imagination Lab, the Movie Studio and the Do It Yourself studio are all very popular. The Mystery Box challenge changes frequently, and requires the kids to think their way around design problems. For a minor fee, you can even take a DVD home with you instead of worrying about capturing a video via iPhone, since the kids' activities, songs, and storytelling can be recorded. Also, the children are no longer restricted to an older age group (6-12). Since the facility got renovated, the younger children (3-5) can play on the train table and busy themselves with crafts, from painting to playing dress-up. (Warning - bring ear plugs for the music room because the drums are popular.) A few parents have said that the toddler toys are rather generic and a little grubby. However, the Early Birdies program is popular, especially with the members who get to go free. (It's $15 for non-members.) If the kids have any energy left, there's a great and free playground outside the museum with grass, a labyrinth, and a sandpit.

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