Spend a week in Marin

by Heather Flett on November 3, 2008

in A Week in...,Bay Area,Eating,Free/Cheap,Mommy

One of Whitney’s former LeapFroggy co-workers, Meg, is an avid traveler, adjusting to becoming a parent. She writes about it at Backpack to Buggy in the hopes of encouraging more parents to travel with their own children. As her travel budget is severely constrained (aka was spent for the year) she is having a blast traveling close to home.

Mirielle says look ma no hands

Meg and her daughter, Mirielle, really raised the bar on writing guest posts for us as she provides a week of fabulousness in Bay Area’s Marin County for mama and toddler.

Rainy days or Mondays

Marin caught up with the East Bay this year with the opening of two indoor play areas, perfect for rainy days and Mondays (and days when you need a/c too). [ed: And then just as this was going to "press" -- one of them bit the dust]

Playdate Cafe
If you don’t want to bring your own food, have slightly older kids, or live in around the Ross Valley, try the Playdate Café in San Anselmo. In addition to a full line up of activities & classes for parents & kids and a creative playspace there is a good selection of food for both kids & adults, much of it organic. Check for live music on Sundays as well so the whole family can attend. Hours, prices, special event schedule and menu can be found on the website.

Tuesday and hot, sunny days

The beach is a great place to go with young children. Surrounded by water on three sides, Marin has lots.

McNear’s Beach Park
A beach on the San Francisco bay, little ones can have the fun of a little sand and gentle waves without the fear of a Pacific Ocean undertow. Unlike the chilly Pacific, they can swim, here, in the park’s public pool. It is about 15 minutes from US 101 in San Rafael. Regular vehicle parking at McNear’s is $8.00 / day in the summer. Swimming pool fee is $4.00 / person/day.

Stinson Beach
This is one of my favorite beaches in the whole world!! (OK, in the cold-water world) There’s soft sand and room for little ones to run around, build sandcastles, fly kites, play ball and what ever else strikes their fancy. It is also a good place for Mirielle to play in the waves (she is obsessed with jumping in waves). The north end of the beach (where the houses start) is known as “Dog Beach” as furry children are allowed. There is a snack bar near the south end that is usually open on the weekends and lots of casual dining on Hwy 1. From 101 in Mill Valley, the drive is about 30 minutes.

Cronkhite/Rodeo Beach
Located in the Marin headlands at the site of WWII military post, the Pacific coast beach is a 10-15 minute drive from the Golden Gate bridge. The break a favorite for Marin surfers, and not forgiving so watch the little ones in and around the water. After playing in the sand and exploring the beach, stop by the Marine Mammal Center visitors center at Fort Cronkhite.

Wednesday – crawling through hump day

While the days of pub crawls may seem a million miles away, you can still use those skills for entertaining the rug-rats.

Public Library – story times
Story time at the local library are a blessing for us. The animated storytelling and sometimes music, captivates Mirielle. It’s win-win-win: she is entertained during the storytime; she discovers new books; and, we can start rotating new books into the bedtime canon. (How many times can you read Goodnight Moon?) Each library has their own schedule, storyteller and style so check them all out to find your favorites. Right now many Marin libraries’ story time for toddlers is on Wednesday mornings. Check out library websites for updated schedules.

Lunch at Easy Street Café
After the literary experience, stop at Easy Street Café, in the Red Hill Shopping Plaza in San Anselmo. The menu is varied, including lots of comfort food and a great kids’ menu. The real reason to go is the play area filled with toys and activities. That’s right – the kids have somewhere to play with trucks or blocks, or make believe while you have a beer with your lunch. Other bonuses include a fruit plate for you little one on arrival so they don’t get cranky waiting for food, and a gift on the way out.
882 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, San Anselmo, CA 94960, (415) 453-1984

Playground Crawl
On twitter, I heard a dad was taking his kids on a playground crawl – four playgrounds in four hours. It sounded like a wonderful idea to me. Marin has a lot of great playgrounds, many which are enhanced by community support. A great resource on the playgrounds in Marin is the book and website Just Playgrounds.

A sample itinerary:

  1. Sausalito Cloud View Park – Cloudview Rd & Booker Ave, Sausalito. A basic playground with an awesome view.
  2. Old Mill Park – Throckmorton Ave & Old Mill St, Mill Valley. A suitable play-structure in a great location. In a grove, just off downtown Mill Valley, this is a great park for a picnic or to explore the woods and creek.
  3. Andy “Peri” Park – Bolinas Ave & Park Ave, Fairfax. A fun playground with lots of community support and shared outdoor toys.
  4. Marinwood Park – Lucas Valley Rd & Miller Creek Rd, San Rafael (Terra Linda). It’s my neighborhood park, so I am biased, but in addition to activities at the adjacent pool and community center, the playground has decent shade during the day.

Thursday – locavore’s delight

Farmer’s Market
This is my favorite day of the week, because it starts with a trip to the Marin Civic Center’s Farmer’s Market. I can pick up fresh, organic and local, fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, bread, and a variety of prepared foods. Many vendors provide samples so Mirielle is busy tasting while I buy fresh food for the week. Once the belly is full, you can find live music, bounce houses, story time, a puppet show, and a clown who makes balloon animals to entertain your little one. Plus, Blackbird coffee is usually a few feet away from the kid activities.

Bay Area Discovery Museum
One of the most popular and practical baby shower gifts for Marin moms is a one year family membership to the Bay Area Discovery Museum located at Fort Baker in Sausalito. For pre-crawlers to early toddlers, the tot spot provides a soft tactile environment to explore. Mirielle was a fan of the wave workshop where she could crawl through a re-creation of the habitat under the Golden Gate bridge and play with stuffed sea creatures & costumes. Toddlers, preschoolers and older children will enjoy the special exhibits, art studios and the outdoor playground, Discovery Cove. The first Wednesday of the month is free, and discounts are available for KQED, AAA and other members. Check out the website for more information and a calendar of special events.

Mirielle and mama at Discovery Museum in Sausalito

Friday — happy hours

Not that Marin is short on things to do with young kids, but one of our favorite activities is a half-day trip to the town of Sonoma. It feels like a get-away, but is only 20-minutes from Novato.

Larson Family Winery
On the way up, we stop at Larson Family Winery, located near the junction of routes 121 & 12. As a fan of wine & wine tasting, we were excited to discover a family and dog friendly destination with pretty good wines to boot. While I taste, Mirielle colors at the little picnic table set up in the tasting room, visit the donkeys, goats & sheep nearby, plays with the friendly winery dogs, runs around the grassy yard behind the tasting room, or munches on snacks provided to little guests. Our dog is equally welcome, and will take up residence behind the bar before heading out to herd other visitors.

Sonoma Traintown
Heading north on highway 12, less than 10 minutes from the winery, is Traintown. Known for the largest scale railroad in North America, children will love the twenty-minute train ride, peaking through the round house, or riding the carousel, Ferris wheel and other fairway rides for younger guests. Be warned, ten minutes of the train ride is a stop at the miniature town of Lakeview complete with petting zoo. Parents will love that there is no admission. You buy train tickets or ride coupons and hand them to the conductors. On an upper level, overlooking the park, are picnic tables for a picnic or party.

Sonoma Plaza
After Traintown, we head north a few blocks to Sonoma Plaza. The park at the center of the plaza is great for kids and parents. The fountain in front of city hall is stocked with energetic Koi fish. The lake includes a small foot bridge and lots of ducks to follow. My favorite part is the two great playgrounds that are on opposite sides of the park. When your 2 year old cannot see the 10 year olds climbing, she is not compelled to join them.

If after all that activity, you need to fuel up, there are lots of child and parent friendly selections around the square. For a quick snack, cross the street to the Sonoma Cheese Factory where there are a huge number of cheeses to try. For sweets (and a caffeine pick me up for parents), visit the El Dorado Kitchen’s Kitchenette (more of a café) for homemade soft serve ice cream with gourmet toppings like burnt caramel and olive oil and sea salt. For a full meal, our favorite stop is the Sunflower Caffe. With a variety of fresh items on the menu, tasty food, a nice wine list and great patio eating in the rear garden, the whole family is happy. Even our dog is welcome.

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We thank Meg so much for this great article on her stomping grounds. I know we haven’t actually met, but is there any chance you’d like to join me and the boys in New Zealand this February? I hear that the time zones are a mere 3 hours apart. Let me know!

(Any prices listed are as of September 2007. Please check websites for updates)

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RookieMoms co-founder & mom to 3 boys in Berkeley, CA. Bossy big sister and project manager turned blogger helping moms enjoy their first years of motherhood. Find me on my other site on 510families.com or hiding in my minivan eating dark chocolate.

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