Monday, 30 March 2015

Spring Break in the Bay Area

Spring Break is here for many Bay Area kids including those in Berkeley and San Francisco.

We are so lucky to live in an area with so many fantastic places for families to visit. If you're not going away for Spring Break there's still a lot of fun to be had right here in our own backyard. Need a little inspiration? Here are some of our favorite Bay Area places to visit during Spring Break. Want more details? Just click on the name of each place and you'll be taken to a post with lots of photos and information from one of our visits.

San Francisco

Sometimes it can be easy to overlook fantastic places that are right there in front of you because they seem a little touristy. We found ourselves falling into this trap when we lived in Sydney. We avoided visiting certain places that tourists frequented because it just felt weird going there as a local. And you know what? As soon as we moved away from Sydney I regretted not playing tourist in my own city. We've tried not to fall into that trap here in the Bay Area so we make sure to play tourist as much as possible. A trip to Alcatraz is on pretty much every tourist's must do list when they visit San Francisco but I know so many people who live here who've never been. Sure, it's touristy but it's also a fantastic place to visit. It's full of history, the views over San Francisco and the Bay are amazing, and you get to take a boat ride on the bay to get there. Because Alcatraz is a National Park, kids can take part in a Junior Ranger program and earn a badge at the end of the visit.  

California Academy of Sciences
My favorite museum of all time! California Academy of Sciences is such a wonderful place, from the flooded Amazon forest in the lower level all the way up to the Living Roof on the top. Cal Academy is like several museums in one and features an aquarium, planetarium, rain forest dome, natural history museum and earthquake simulator. The resident albino alligator, Claude, is a huge hit with kids. Cal Academy is located in Golden Gate Park so there are plenty of other fun places to visit nearby - although if you're anything like me you'll find yourself staying there for the whole day!

Another favorite with our family, the Exploratorium is full of fun, hands on science based exhibits. There is just so much to do and see at the Exploratorium. We've never managed to see the whole museum in one visit! The Exploratorium's new location at Pier 15 makes it perfectly located for a stroll or bike ride along the Embarcadero and the views over the bay are stunning.

Japanese Tea Garden
The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is a beautiful place to spend a quiet hour or two. The perfectly manicured gardens are stunning at any time of year but especially in Spring when the cherry blossoms bloom. Ava and Lola enjoyed walking along the small paths and crossing the bridges, especially the Drum Bridge which you must climb to cross. If you feel so inclined you can even organize to take part in a tea ceremony.

Lands End
Lands End is a great place to visit for a little hiking and stunning views. The ruins of Sutro Bath are a highlight and if you're lucky you might spot Sutro Sam, the resident sea otter. From Sutro Baths there is a lovely hike along the cliff tops and even through a little rock tunnel. After a short walk the Golden Gate Bridge comes into view. You may even spot a pod of dolphins like we did when we were there.

Mission Dolores
For a little piece of history head to the Mission District and spend a few hours exploring its namesake, Mission San Francisco de Asis AKA Mission Dolores. This small church is the oldest intact building in San Francisco and is quite beautiful in its simplicity. There is a small museum featuring items from San Francisco's days as a mission and the history of the native Miwok and Ohlone people. Exploring the cemetery and looking for the oldest gravestone is a favorite with the kids and me. The best bit, of course, is that Mission Dolores is just down the road from Dolores Park and Bi-Rite Creamery!

San Francisco Bay Cruise
Just like Alcatraz, a bay cruise is pretty touristy but that doesn't mean you should dismiss it. We took a ride with Red & White Cruises when my parents visited from Australia last year and the whole family enjoyed it. These tourist cruises usually come with an audio tour but I chose to skip it and just take in the views. There is nothing like cruising underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. That was definitely the highlight for me. To save a little money on a bay cruise check out Groupon. There is almost always an offer available with one of the cruise companies.

San Francisco Cable Car Museum
This free museum is home to the cables and mechanisms that actually run San Francisco's cable cars. See those big wheels above? That's what makes the cables cars go. Pretty cool, hey? Kids love watching the wheels spin plus there are several vintage cable cars on display.

San Francisco Heart Treasure Hunt
You know those hearts in Union Square? You know how all but one of them change every 6 months or so? Well, when those hearts leave Union Square they pop up in other places all around the city. Some can be found in banks (particularly Wells Fargo branches), some can be found in private offices and some can be found in public areas. I found an online map that we use for tracking down hearts in San Francisco and I've shared it in my Heart Treasure Hunt post (just click the link above). This is definitely our favorite kind of treasure hunt!

Wells Fargo History Museum
The Wells Fargo History Museum is another free museum that is a hit with the kids. An authentic stagecoach takes pride of place in the window and is a great spot for photos. While you can't climb inside of this stagecoach there is another (less authentic) one nearby that visitors are encouraged to sit in. This one has no wheels but can be rocked to feel like it's moving. A video plays in the window telling a little history of Wells Fargo and the Pony Express. The museum also features vintage telephones, telegraphs, banking machines and a game of Pong. These are all hands on exhibits that visitors are encouraged to play with. There's also a free horse and carriage ride of the type that used to be found in supermarkets.

East Bay

Berkeley Staycation
Looking for ideas in Berkeley that won't break the bank? This staycation guide features five days worth of activities, many of which are free.

Children's Fairyland, Oakland
For younger children Fairyland, located on the shore of Oakland's Lake Merritt, is magical place to spend a day. With rides, play structures and installations based on popular fairy tales Fairyland is a firm favorite with East Bay locals. While Fairyland is best suited to younger children, Ava (who is 8) still has an absolute ball when she's there.

Indian Rock Park, Berkeley
Looking for an outdoor destination with a great view? Indian Rock in North Berkeley is it. This rocky outcrop in the hills boasts amazing views over Berkeley, the bay and San Francisco. Climbing to the top can be as easy or as hard as you'd like it. As I'm always carrying Mathilde I take the staircase that is carved into the stone. Ava and Lola however, like to scramble up the side. And for those who are feeling a little more adventurous there is a vertical side that is frequented by rock climbers. You'll need to bring your own equipment for that. Indian Rock is located fairly close to Berkeley's gourmet ghetto so there are plenty of options to fill your belly with something delicious after all that climbing fun.

Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley
Like the Exploratorium, Lawrence Hall of Science is a pretty hands on place. There are lots of fun exhibits for kids to place with. Unlike the Exploratorium, there are also animals on display which can be seen up close (and sometimes even held) at certain times. Lawrence Hall also features a planetarium. Located up high in the Berkeley Hills Lawrence Hall has amazing views over Berkeley, the bay and San Francisco.

Oakland Zoo
So let's say that one of your kids wants to go somewhere with animals and the other wants to go somewhere with rides. Oakland Zoo is the solution! Not only is this fabulous zoo home to a large variety of animals but it also features fairground rides, a train and a sky ride. The sky ride is my favorite part of the zoo. Passengers ride high above the enclosures of animals such as tigers, lions, giraffes and elk gaining a birds eye view of the creatures below. Oh, and a fantastic view over the bay.

Tilden Park, Berkeley
Tilden Park in Berkeley is home to a wealth of family fun from The Little Farm where kids can feed cows, goats and sheep, to the vintage carousel and steam train. Lake Anza in Tilden Park is a great spot for a swim on a sunny day. There is also a botanic gardens and plenty of trails for hiking. And once again, views over the bay. We're all about the views!

USS Hornet, Alameda
USS Hornet is a decommissioned aircraft carrier docked at Alameda. The ship is set up as a museum with most parts open to visitors either on a docent lead or self guided tour. There are quite a few planes on display and even a space capsule. From its location in Alameda, the Hornet offers amazing views over the bay towards San Francisco.

North Bay

Bay Area Discovery Museum
The Bay Area Discovery Museum has to have the most beautiful location you could possibly imagine. Look at that picture above. You can't get a location better than that, especially on a sunny day. Bay Area Discovery Museum is full of fun hands on art and science activities for kids. And as you can see, it's also home to the playground with the best view ever. It's a pretty good playground too.

Charles M Schulz Museum, Santa Rosa
Are your kids (or even you) a fan of Charlie Brown and Snoopy? If so, then the Charles M Schulz museum in Santa Rosa is a must see. The museum features original drawings from Schulz's famous Peanuts comic strip, an art studio for hands on fun, a cinema, and lots of Peanuts sculptures (which can also be found in various locations around town). My girls loved tracking down as many of the sculptures as possible. You can see them here. Next to the museum is an ice skating rink, cafe and a large Peanuts themed gift shop.

Muir Woods
Muir Woods is THE place to go if you want to see towering redwoods without spending too much time in a car to get there. Located just across the Golden Gate Bridge near Mill Valley, it's an easy drive from San Francisco. It does get super busy though and finding a park can be tricky. There is a bus service available from Sausalito and other nearby towns. Muir Woods features an easy walking route (much of it wheelchair and stroller accessible) through the redwoods as well as longer and more difficult hikes. There is a cafe and a gift shop. Like Alcatraz, Muir Woods is a national park so kids can take part in the Junior Ranger program and earn a badge. The badges here are made of redwood which makes them a little more special than the regular plastic badges that are handed out at most other National Parks.

South Bay

Winchester Mystery House, San Jose
Winchester Mystery House in San Jose is a great place to visit if you love ghost stories, architecture or history. Or maybe you're like me and you like all three! The house is full of all sorts of quirks (a second floor door that leads outside to a drop, stairs that go nowhere, hidden rooms...) and the story behind it is really intriguing.


I'd love to hear of any suggestions you might have for other fun Bay Area destinations, particularly those that are a little quirky or off the beaten track.

Kim is taking this week off work too so we'll be hopping into a Zipcar and heading out and about to a few places that we haven't visited before. Expect to see posts coming soon from the Oakland Aviation Museum, the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, Mrs Grossman's Sticker Factory in Petaluma, Mount Diablo and more!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Eleven Months Old

Eleven months. Crazy, right? I can't believe that this little one with be celebrating her first birthday in just under a month. I am in total denial!

Last month I ended Mathilde's ten month post with "Hopefully next month I'll be sharing my roly-poly walking girl with a few more teeth!". Well, I'm pleased to say that I can tick two of those things of the list. Can you guess which two?

You can probably see from the photos that she's still not looking all that roly-poly so that leaves walking and teeth. That's right, this one's a walker! After a few months of standing independently Mathilde finally took the plunge and started walking on her own at ten months and sixteen days old. Since then she's been walking more and more every day. Crawling is still much faster so she tends to crawl when she's in a hurry (ie. when she knows she's doing something she's not supposed to and is trying to get away from me!) but she's now at the stage where she's starting to walk more than crawl. I still can't get over how tiny she looks when she walks - or dances as she's doing in most of the photos below.

And then there are those teeth. At the end of last month she had just one little tiny tooth poking through at the top. That's right, her teeth are coming through out of order. She likes to do things her own way. Now she has two decent sized chompers at the top and one tiny tooth at the bottom. The second bottom tooth is nowhere to be seen but her third and fourth top teeth look almost ready to burst out of her gums. I wouldn't be surprised if she ends up with four top teeth and still only one bottom tooth. 

Wondering why Mathilde has her hands on her head in the photo above? That's one of her new things. We call it "Oh no!" or Macauley Caulkin face. When Mathilde drops something she dramatically clasps her hands against her face. She also does this on demand if I say "Oh no!". It's become one of her favorite games. The girls and I love playing "Oh no!" with Mathilde as she pulls the funniest faces when she does it. Often her hands miss where she intended them to go and she ends up squishing her eyes or mouth - which she finds hilarious! 

While walking is definitely one of Mathilde's favorite activities right now her outright favorite has to be the pretty general "getting into things". She gets into everything. I never had to do much baby proofing for Ava and Lola but this time around we have locks everywhere: kitchen cupboards, the oven, the stove top, the toilet, the windows... She has a sixth sense for knowing when one of these locks has been left undone. Accidentally leave the under sink lock undone and Mathilde's there seconds later holding the container of crickets that we feed to Ava's gecko! Leave the toilet unlocked and there she is leaning over the edge head first trying to splash her hands in the water! Leave a cupboard unlocked and the next thing you know five vases are laying on the floor smashed. Luckily she was not hurt at all that time.

Mathilde is becoming more expressive every day. If she wants something (or doesn't want something) she is sure to make it clear. She points at things that wants while making happy little noises. She blows kisses (making cute little kiss sounds), waves bye bye and gives high fives. She's starting to use "words" in context. She says Mama when she wants me rather than just saying it on demand and I swear she has started saying "hi" and "up". And of course there's her favorite word: "buh" for button.

Buttons are still a major obsession for Mathilde. If there's a button to be pressed somewhere she'll find it and press it. Even if it's not a button, she'll press it anyway. I had no idea how many things in our apartment could be perceived as a button by a toddler. If it's on a wall, it's a button. Light switches, door stoppers, power outlets. They're all buttons according to Mathilde and they all need to be pressed as she passes by - if she can reach, of course. If it's a circle or square, it's a button. Phones, computers and remote controls have become her favorite toys as they're all covered in buttons. My phone is her favorite as she can press the button and talk to Siri! Of course, she presses buttons and changes all sorts of stuff on my phone too. She sets alarms, locks the screen orientation, changes the volume, mutes the ringer, turns off wifi... I had no idea just how many things you can do with a locked iPhone until Mathilde started playing with it!

As well as pressing buttons, Mathilde works on her fine motor skills by doing lots of sorting. She likes to stack or sort cups, toys, food etc and she loves to take lids off bottles and put them back on. She is allowed to play in one drawer in the kitchen which contains the kids plastic bowls, plates and cups. She mainly likes to just throw everything out of the drawer, but once she has it all out she gets to work sorting and testing out lids on sippy cups.

Outside of our apartment Mathilde has two favorite places: the playground and Cheeseboard. She gets so excited when we approach either one. At the playground she loves to swing, ride the bouncy zebra and push around (or be pushed on) the various ride on toys. When we go to Cheeseboard she loves to eat a brioche. She loves her brioches so much that we never make it to the counter to pay before she has to start eating! She used to just have a little piece of my morning brioche but now she eats so much of it that I have to buy a second one. She doesn't eat the whole thing, maybe about half, so that means I get a little extra brioche when I eat her leftovers. I'm not going to complain about that!

I can't believe that the next time I post one of these updates Mathilde will be twelve months old. Time to get working on her first birthday party!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

52 Weeks: Week 12

Week 12: Maker Faire Street Team

One of our family's all time favorite festivals is coming up in just under two months: Make Faire!

The kids and I are so excited for Maker Faire. We've been the last two years and it's just such a fun event. Two days full of robotics, crazy contraptions, technology, scientific experiments and all round fun. There's always so much to see and do for all ages. Maker Faire is fun for adults and kids alike. You can see our previous visits to Maker Faire here and here.

This year we're helping to spread the word about Maker Faire by being part of their street team. This means that we've been out and about, armed with a stack of flyers and post cards which we've been putting up in local cafes, stores, bars... If you see a Maker Faire flyer somewhere in Berkeley there's a good chance we put it there!

Here's a look at the girls out and about all over Berkeley putting up their flyers and postcards over the last few days...

All that hard work putting up flyers and postcards deserves a treat and what better treat than popsicles!

Maker Faire is held at the San Mateo Fairgrounds May 16th and 17th. For more information and tickets please visit

Saturday, 21 March 2015

We're going on a Macaron Hunt

Today was some sort of official Macaron Day. There seems to be an official day for everything now. I need to keep a special calendar full of all the important official days. Somehow I keep missing International Nutella Day, and that's just wrong!

Anyway, today was Macaron Day NYC and from what I've read online, patisseries throughout New York handed out free macarons to customers all day. Now, we don't live in New York (boo!) and it seems that this special day was only celebrated there, but macarons are pretty damn tasty so we just had to join in the festivities. Unofficially.

So, this afternoon after school we met up with a few friends and went on a macaron treasure hunt, visiting four local stores that sell macarons: Masse's Pastries, Virginia Bakery, Paris Baguette and Cafe Clem. To make it feel more like a treasure hunt I made up a simple map for the kids to follow. It's a good thing that three of these stores are on the one street, and the fourth is just down a side street. My map only needed two lines!

We started our macaron treasure hunt at Masse's Pastries in the Gourmet Ghetto. Lola (as always) chose strawberry, Ava went for lemon, and I had the most delicious lavender and earl grey flavor. Mmm... so exquisitely delicious.

From Masse's we headed to Virginia Bakery which is right next to Ava's school and a popular spot with the kids. Virginia Bakery doesn't have a large range of macarons, but what they lack in variety they make up for in size. Their macarons are huge! Ava went with chocolate this time and I had lemon. Lola was going to go with strawberry (of course) but then she spotted a butterfly shaped sugar cookie and just had to have that instead. It wasn't a macaron, but hey, why not? Mathilde shared a little of my lemon macaron and seemed pretty impressed. Check out her little pony tail! Doesn't she look hilariously cute?

From Virginia Bakery we headed to Downtown and Cafe Clem. Cafe Clem is one of our all time favorite places. We often go there for a treat after swimming lessons at the YMCA or after the library, which is right next door. Surprise, surprise, Lola chose strawberry. Ava chose caramel and I decided to skip the macaron this time and get a lemon tart. Cafe Clem make the best lemon tarts. I also got a coffee in a bowl. I love how they serve their coffee and hot chocolate French style in a bowl. The kids played in the nearby water feature after they'd eaten their macarons. You'll notice that Lola and her friend Sky have wet hair in the photos from here on out. I have no idea how they ended up with such wet heads but dry bodies!  

The last stop on our macaron treasure hunt was Paris Baguette by the Downtown Berkeley BART station. By now the kids were running on a total sugar high! Apologies to anyone else who was in there the same time as us and looking to have a nice quite coffee! The kids all went with raspberry this time. Contrary to what the photo says below, the raspberry macarons aren't actually more expensive than the other flavors - they just accidentally had the sign for the extra large macarons in the wrong place. Oh yeah, they sell extra large macarons. The regular size was just fine for us today though. Maybe another day when the kids haven't already eaten three other macarons we'll go for the big ones.

As I mentioned, the kids were pretty hyped up on all that sugar by the end of our treasure hunt. They needed to get outside and run around. As luck would have it there was a Klezmer street party and Yiddish flash mob happening in front of Paris Baguette as part of the Jewish Music Festival. The kids kicked up their heels and spun around holding hands to the music for a good half hour. That had to have worked off some of that sugar, right?

We had so much fun going on our macaron treasure hunt this afternoon. It has inspired me to take the girls on more treasure hunts. Maybe a few nature related treasure hunts along the bay or up in the hills, as well as more food related treasure hunts.

Do you take your kids on treasure hunts? I'd love to hear any ideas you might have for quirky treasure hunts.

P.S. If you're in Berkeley and you'd like to follow the macaron treasure hunt map that I made you can download a copy here.