Bay Area fun for kids

I realized that my Bay Area travel guide really needed an update, so I added a whole bunch more restaurants and things to do and took off some that either closed or aren’t really hot spots for us. And because I know it’s a huge list, I still have my top 10 list so you can cut to the chase.


Mike and Harper at Codornices Park in Berkeley. This one has a cool hill slide and a tunnel to the Rose Garden. 

Now that we’re parents, though, we have a whole new perspective on travel and dining out. Most touristy places — well, let’s be honest, most everywhere in the Bay Area — can be crowded with long lines and inadequate parking. When you’re hauling around small children and all the stuff that goes with them, you want to make sure you’re going to be able to keep them entertained while finding things like clean bathrooms and high chairs. So, I wanted to put together a list of our favorite places to hang out with kids. When I first moved here I thought this wasn’t a particularly kid friendly place (more like dog friendly!) but now I realize that there are plenty of super fun places that cater to kids. You just have to find them. *When in doubt, search Red Tricycle.

Here are a few that are definitely worth checking out:

Steam trains and Little Farm. It’s a nice drive through the eucalyptus trees to reach Tilden Regional Park, which is up in the Berkeley hills. You can stop at one of the overlooks for a view of the whole bay. Then continue on to one of our favorite stops, the steam trains. It’s about a 10-minute ride through the woods in a cute little train. There’s a spot nearby where you can have a picnic in the grass.

You can also drive to the carousel and the Little Farm, where kids can feed farm animals. And there are some great hiking trails in the area. 

Children’s Fairyland. They call this Oakland’s storybook theme park, and I’d say that’s a perfect description. It’s full of tiny houses to explore, plus a train ride, puppet show and other performances. Bigger kids can go down slides and ride the carousel. 


Harper inside one of the little houses in Fairyland.

Lake Merritt. Fairyland is right next to gorgeous Lake Merritt, which has a great playground and nature center. Harper likes to watch the ducks and geese. There’s a huge lawn where you can have a picnic. 


Running near the playground at Lake Merritt.

Bay Area Discovery Museum. This place is much more than a museum. It’s like a theme park without all the schmaltz. Kids can explore different areas, inside and out, with climbing obstacles, water to splash in, musical instruments and a lot more.

It’s a little pricey, but the first Wednesday of the month is free! Plus, you can’t beat the Golden Gate Bridge view and the proximity to Sausalito and other fun things in Marin. 


The view from the parking lot at the discovery museum.

Treasure Island Flea. The last weekend of every month there’s a huge flea market on Treasure Island. It’s only $3 admission and kids under 12 are free. They have activities set up for kids and food trucks, where you can get a really yummy lunch. The market’s great, but it’s also just a fun place to hang out. 


Food trucks at the Treasure Island Flea.

Crissy Field and East Beach. Harper loves the water, so even if it’s freezing cold, we still have fun taking her to the beach. The one near Crissy Field is right in San Francisco and has great views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge. It has a nice walking/bike trail and bathrooms nearby. 

She also loved the beach in Pescadero, which is a bit of a drive but a nice getaway. 

Lafayette Park playground. If you’re looking for a playground in the city, you’ll love the one at Lafayette Park. We went there for a birthday party and couldn’t believe how nice it was.  


The playground at Lafayette park.

Berkeley Marina/Cesar Chavez Park. When Harper was a baby, my moms group used to meet here to walk our strollers on the wide path through this waterfront park. People come to “kite hill” to fly kites here, which is fun to watch. Nearby at the marina there is a nice playground and then a big adventure playground for older kids.

I might do a separate list for kid-friendly restaurants, but there are a few places I can recommend. For breakfast, we love Mel’s Diner. They have a bunch of bay area locations (apparently these are different from the Mel’s Drive-Ins, which would also be good), which have kids menus, crayons and balloons. For Mexican food, the Talavera in Berkeley is great because it’s right next to a little park. For ice cream, we love Fentons in Oakland. You can get huge sundaes to share, and although there’s sometimes a line, you can usually get a table pretty quickly. 


Baby-size sundae at Fenton’s.

I will keep adding to this list as we discover new things!

Finally, naps

I think it’s been about 2 weeks now that Harper has been taking a two-hour nap every day. I can’t express to you how revolutionary that is in our house!

She had been starting to enjoy her bedtime routine more at night, even to the point of asking to go to bed when she got sleepy. So I guess I had the sense that she might be ready to commit to a nap routine as well. One day I just said that if she wasn’t asleep by X time, I would put her in bed. So I did. And she protested a little, but I think she slept about an hour an a half the first day.

After that she pretty quickly got into a routine of going to sleep at 2:30 and sleeping until 4:30, sometimes later. I just couldn’t believe it. I was really stunned that it was that easy to get a child that was taking 30-45-minute naps at all different times of day to sleep consistently. Sometimes she had even been skipping her nap altogether.

What’s stranger is that the long naps haven’t really affected her bedtime or wake-up time. She does seem to be in a better mood than before. I can imagine that she’s been tired for a long time. So days have taken on a completely different rhythm, with an actual break every afternoon for both mom and I. Of course, Harper is still a 2-year-old, so it’s always an adventure. But it’s better.

This all hit me in kind of an unexpected way, though. At first it made me really upset. I just felt like it was the first thing I had done really wrong as a parent and I felt really dumb. Like the answer was always there and I just couldn’t figure it out. I felt I had tried everything to get her to nap and always failed. But I guess I had never really tried to get her to sleep at the same time and place every day with an established routine. Maybe because my days are always so different it didn’t seem possible to be consistent.

So I’ve had to work through those feelings and I feel a lot better now. All I can do is move forward having learned a big lesson. And who knows, she may have just needed to be ready.

We just heard from the preschool we were planning to send Harper to that they have an opening. So I guess she is about to have a whole new routine that will certainly require a nap. Good timing!

DIY Brobee cake

I’m excited to share the cake I made for Harper’s 2nd birthday because it was one of those rare DIY projects that turned out exactly like I hoped it would. But it also took a last-minute change of plans to get there, and that’s worth sharing, too.

If you haven’t yet discovered the awesomeness that is Yo Gabba Gabba, I highly recommend it! It’s one of those kids shows that is very much for parents, too. Lots of quirky actors guest star with their “dancey dances” and indie bands play songs. (We record old episodes on Nick Jr. so we always have some to watch.) It’s kind of like if Barney was on an acid trip or something. Strange, but lots of fun. And Harper’s favorite character is Brobee, the little green guy.

I figured I could fashion a Brobee cake by making one rectangular cake the body and another cake the arms, which did work. I decided to make one 9×13-inch chocolate cake and one 9×13-inch vanilla cake so people would have more than one flavor option. I used boxed mixes to save time, but I can also recommend the recipes we used for our wedding cakes, which I blogged about on Goodsmiths (RIP…).

The body and legs were easy. I just removed a long skinny triangle to create legs. For the arms, I cut the chocolate cake into thirds lengthwise, and used two of them for arms. I rounded the corners where the hands would be and cut the bottom of the arms at an angle so they would fit next to the body. The other third I cut in half and made one part the head and used the rest to cut triangles to go on top of the head.

That left a lot of delicious cake to snack on.

I had to add a little piece of vanilla cake right next to where the head attached because there was a height difference. Then I smoothed it all over with one layer of buttercream frosting. It took every last bit of a half batch of buttercream to cover the cake.

I did this part the night before so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed with cake decorating right before the party and I’m so glad I did. Here’s what he looked like before the final decorating.

By the way, I used a piece of foam core board covered with parchment paper to hold the cake. It worked really well. I certainly didn’t have a plate big enough to hold a cake like that.

This is where I had to stray from my original plan. Inspired by this Pinterest post, I had gone out and bought some piping bags and a grass tip at JoAnn (who has an amazing selection of cake decorating tools, if you need any). But when I started piping on the buttercream it very quickly started going wrong. The “fur” was coming out all squiggly and then eventually the tip kept getting clogged and it would squirt out way too much. So I kind of stopped for a minute and decided it was not worth the effort it was going to take to keep using that tip. So I abandoned it and just spread on the frosting with my favorite little offset spatula. And though it took some precision, it was much faster and it looked great.

I’ve had mixed results with gel paste food coloring so I ended up buying a bottle of liquid green food coloring to dye the frosting. Basically I added enough food coloring (combined with a little bit of yellow I already had) to get a light green color. I frosted on all the light green stripes. Then I mixed in more green to make the remaining frosting darker and used that to fill in the dark green stripes. This is where it really helped to have a Pinterest photo and a stuffed doll to look at for inspiration.

For the details on the face, I used these Wilton decorating icing bags that come with tips on them. I bought one white, one black and one red (about $3 each). I just freehanded the eyes, mouth and unibrow and then iced over the triangles on the head.

I feel like it was just luck that the icing came out the perfect thickness for the details I needed. The mouth was especially easy.

It’s one of those things where you have to take a deep breath and accept that you have one shot at getting it right. I suppose you could scrape off the frosting if you messed it up and try again, but I was really hoping not to have to do that.

In the end, Brobee looked like this. (I wiped off the excess crumbs with a wet cloth before serving the cake.)

The cake was a huge hit, and I think people really appreciated the two-flavor option. I also made some gluten-free cupcakes with green frosting. I’m finding that option to be more important now (plus some people just like cupcakes!).

The most important part, though, was that Harper liked the cake. She was so excited when everyone sang to her, and she definitely ate a piece of cake.

It was even better with the homemade coconut ice cream our friend Joanna brought. You know you have good friends when they bring you something like that!

I don’t know how much it would have cost to buy a cake like this from a bakery, but I’m guessing several hundred dollars. I think with everything, including the frosting supplies, I spent about $30 to make this cake. Plus, I love being able to do something like this for her. Sometimes — often — I feel like I don’t know what the heck I’m doing as a mom. But damn it, I can make a cake. 

The next day, this was all that was left of Brobee, so I think it was a success.

Next year, Daniel Tiger?

18 months

Harper is just about to be 19 months, but I can still get in under the wire!

She is really turning that corner from baby to kid lately. Thankfully she still has that delicious pudge and adorable toes, but in other ways she looks more grown up every day. 

She’s big on imitation. Loves to wear our clothes, which is so cute.

Her hair’s long enough to be pulled back, but whenever I try to do it she just pulls it out.

She’s gone through phases of wanting to sit in her car seat in the middle of the room or climbing up into her stroller just to hang out.

Her appetite is unbelievable. Sometimes it seems like she eats as much as we do.

But I guess you need a lot of calories to fuel toddler energy.

The best part about this age is watching her starting to form language. She has new words all the time: brush (for brushing her teeth), bubbles, duck and various other animals and animal sounds.

Hearing her teeny voice across the room just kills me.

Unfortunately it turned out that we could not escape the 18-month sleep regression. But I think we’re so used to sleeplessness now, it’s just part of the deal.

Harper has a doctor’s appointment soon so we’ll find out how much she’s grown. After several months of going down on the growth chart I think she’s catching up!

Some thoughts on raising a girl

I read this post on Design Mom about the #yesallwomen discussion the other day and it really struck a chord with me. It’s about all the uncomfortable experiences, big and little, we have as women that we tend to brush off as “just the way it is.” But if you really think about it, these things can’t be OK with us.

In my life I can’t say I’ve experienced much blatant sexism, as in “you can’t do X because you’re female,” and thank goodness for that. But there have been many, many other small things (paper cuts, as someone called them) that add up over a lifetime to a feeling of being vulnerable and less than. I remember at my first job at a fast-food restaurant there was another guy who worked there who would stand in the doorway so I had to touch him in order to get by. And one of the managers used to punch me on the arm. I know it was in a joking way, but like, why was it OK for him to touch a 16-year-old girl he barely knew? I don’t know how many times I’ve been cat-called while running, ugh. And I remember reading “Wild” and thinking how sad it was that a woman couldn’t do a spectacular hike like that without fear of being assaulted.

There are so many ways in which our culture still needs to change to be more fair to women, and it feels so much more important now that I have a daughter. I really don’t want her to have all the same struggles when she grows up, but I fear she will. (Don’t even get me started on the division of color in the toy aisle…) On the other hand, I sense a change that I’ve never quite felt before, and it gives me hope.

All the discussions “Lean In” brought up about women in leadership roles, all the commercials that have been going viral that address the way we urge girls away from math and science, all the brave women on college campuses speaking up about rapes going unpunished — those are all conversations that are so key to our girls having a better experience.

I think the one thing that desperately needs to change is asking, or demanding, more from men. I’ve often thought the conversation about rape has to stop focusing on women and become much more about the men who commit rapes. Who are all these seemingly normal men who think it’s an acceptable thing to do? And why? And why aren’t we upset about THAT?

So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m glad we’re finally waking up and realizing the ways the feminist movement is far from over. And I think as moms we have to be honest about our struggles so our kids can learn what is and isn’t OK. Harper is such an adventurous little girl, and I just hope we can raise her without putting up any barriers to her success. I hope that someday when I tell her she can be anything she wants to be when she grows up that it’s really true.

Toddler adventures

At 16 months, Harper is one adventurous toddler. She’s figured out how to climb up onto chairs and then stand up. So I’m constantly going, “sit down!” while she teeters on a chair. 

While Grandma Corey was here, Harper picked out a talking dog named Violet. I think she carried Violet around, constantly pushing her paws for new songs, for about 48 straight hours.

We also got her a water table, since she was constantly trying to get into her little pool with clothes and shoes on.

She loves to scoop out the water and try to drink it (gross!), but she’s also started watering my plants and refilling the dog bowl.

I think she’s at the age where she’s very big on trying to imitate what we do. I’m constantly surprised at what she can understand even though she doesn’t really talk yet.

The other day she fell off one of the deck steps and scraped her forehead. Then she got a scrape on one knee, then the other. I think she’s going to go through childhood with constantly scraped knees. She’s a very curious soul who kind of charges through life. I have to admire her for that (even if it scares me).

Despite the vigilance required to parent a toddler, I’m finding that I’m able to enjoy parenthood a lot more these days. She’s more independent, less cranky, and a much better sleeper. Though her schedule still swings pretty wildly, she has been sleeping much later in the mornings and taking some long naps. She only wakes at night if there is something unusual going on, like houseguests, or if she has a dirty diaper.

The other day I was at the dentist and the hygienist was telling me about how she had a 1-year-old who didn’t sleep through the night. I told her about how much Harper had changed in the last few months, which seemed to make her feel a lot better. Like so many hard things in life, it gets better!

Officially weaned!


Nursing Harper on Angel Island when she was about 7 months old.

I think it was last Thursday that Harper went all day without nursing. And so, with basically no fanfare, we were done with breastfeeding. It was such a tumultuous journey with such drama at the beginning that it seems wrong for it to end so quietly. But I’ll take it.

My views on breastfeeding have really solidified since becoming a mom. I think all mothers have to make that choice for themselves whether to do it or not and for how long. But now that I know how truly unbelievably tough it can be, I am passionate about moms getting more support for their efforts. And it certainly makes me angry when they get flak for it.

I think if I had been working full time it would have been much harder for me to continue nursing Harper for as long as I did. After those early weeks of round-the-clock pumpings (10-1-4-7, 10-1-4-7, over and over), I grew to hate pumping. So I really felt for the moms who didn’t have a lot of support at work for it. I was so fortunate to be able to stay home with Harper and nurse her on demand for over a year. It’s one of the accomplishments in my life that I am most proud of. You never can tell, but I think the fact that she stayed so healthy for the first 6 months of her life was in large part because of my milk.

I have memories of nursing her in all kinds of places — on a very windy Golden Gate overlook, in Delores Park with pot smoke wafting by, squished in the backseat of our car, and especially in all kinds of woodsy locales when we got a chance to get out of town. It’s been a wild ride, and I’m so glad I stuck it out. But it’s also great to have a little freedom — and my old clothes back!

15 months

Harper turned 15 months today. We went to the park with our neighbor and her twins, born on the same day as Harper. Us moms were marveling at how much they’d changed and how quickly. We’re so cliche.

This age is a lot of fun. Every day I see Harper making connections that have taken months to achieve. Puzzle pieces fitting into their slots, rings stacked in perfect order. One day she just held up her little lovey that we call Baby and said “Bay-bee.” We kind of flipped out.

Other words: hi, bye-bye, dog, deedle-dee (we call it baby yodeling)

I can’t let her out of my sight for a second. She will be running down the street (always to the park), tumbling down a step or putting a dirt clod in her mouth.

Her baby-sized pool is full of floating wood chips. Maybe we should switch to a water table?

Her latest obsession is sorting through piles of clothes. Actually, I have no idea what she does with them, but it keeps her occupied.

She likes wearing my skirts as shawls. It’s hilarious.

Our house is a tornado of toys every day, but I don’t mind. We just pick up at the end of the day. She loves dragging her wooden snail around the house. Thank goodness we don’t have to do all the pulling anymore!

After about a month or so of not eating much, she is back to a full appetite. And I mean full. She eats and drinks all day long, it seems. But then she’s burning off every calorie toddling around.

The nanny sends me pictures of her with the other little boy in the share. Those two are pretty precious. They look like they could be related.

I feel like the universe heard my plea about naps. It seems the long naps with the nanny have translated to longer ones at home. Of course there’s a tradeoff. She’s been waking up at 6 or 6:30 instead of 7:30 and staying up past 9 instead of going to bed at 8:30. You just can’t win with baby sleep. I think I’ll take the longer naps, though.

I’m sure we’ll have lots of adventures in the new house. Now she’s really got room to run!

My favorite part of this month, though, (aside from her discovering her popped-out belly button) has been the kisses. One day I found her leaning over and smooching a toy. Now she plants delicate kisses on your cheek and it’s just about the sweetest thing ever. 

Harper’s first real hike

So on Easter we decided to go for a family hike on the trail that’s just a few blocks from our house. The trail is steep, but short, so it’s kind of instant gratification.

We were lucky enough to find a hiking backpack for Harper at a kids consignment store.

We were looking at having to spend $250 or so at REI for a good one, so getting this Deuter Kanga Kid for only $50 was nice. It is a less expensive model, but we liked how all the components fold into the backpack. Harper liked it too. So much that she completely conked out for most of the hike.

Sort of like her first hiking experience, at 2 months old.

What can I say? This girl is never more relaxed than when she’s outside.

I love all the eucalyptus trees along this trail. They make it smell so good, and the giant sheets of bark hanging down make for a cool atmosphere.

One problem, though. There were slippery acorn things everywhere!

Here are some more photos from the trail.

There’s quite a payoff in views at the top.

We had a great time, so I think we’ll do more family hikes when we can.

On the way home I was practicing some close-ups with the camera. I think I’m starting to figure it out!

The hardest part

Of all the things that have been difficult about having a baby — the sleep deprivation, the crying, the frustration of not knowing what to do — nothing has been harder than having a baby who doesn’t nap. It probably sounds like a random thing to complain about, selfish even. But any parent of a non-napping baby understands. It is just brutal to take care of a baby full-time without breaks. And it’s even worse when you can tell your babe is tired but either can’t or won’t fall asleep. 

Most days Harper sleeps 25-30 minutes in the late morning and another 25-30 minutes in the afternoon. In 14 months her routine has been all over the place. But rarely has she ever slept longer than that. And usually if she has it’s because she was sleeping on me. Don’t get me wrong, those cuddles are so precious to me. But the cumulative effect of virtually non-stop parenting and breaks that are over almost as soon as they start is big. After a while you feel like you have given more of yourself than is even possible. And it’s just plain hard.

My workload really let up in the last month and I finally had some time for reflection. The other day as I was bringing Harper home from the nanny, where she had once again taken a 2-hour nap, I just felt like I’d been socked in the stomach. I feel like I’ve tried everything, EVERYTHING, to get this girl to nap during the day and had almost no success. I try not to spend much time in a place of self pity or to focus on things I can’t change. But I felt such longing for the kind of day where we could play for a while, then I could get some work done while she napped for a couple of hours. Maybe I could even read a book, or do nothing! 

When I was planning to stay home with Harper and work on my business part-time, I imagined it as an ideal scenario. But I never imagined that she just wouldn’t nap. And that all my work would have to be done after she went to sleep. That scenario just frankly doesn’t work. Getting the nanny was a godsend. Having my mom here, well, that will just be amazing!

My moms email group has been a huge source of support since Harper was born. But if I have to hear one more person complaining that their child is down to just one 2-3-hour nap a day, I might explode. Do you know what I would give for just one day like that? The idea that some people have 4+ hours of nap time a day is something I can’t even fathom. 

So maybe this Mother’s Day I don’t want breakfast in bed or sweet-smelling lotion or anything like that. I just want my baby to produce one glorious 2-hour nap. We all want things we can’t have. But what do you say, baby — just this once?