Category: Places (Page 3 of 5)

Seattle

Earlier this week, I spent three days in Seattle with my girls. We stayed near the Seattle Center, at the Hampton Inn (which, btw, is a great place to stay with kids), and visited some of the nearby child-friendly attractions. There is quite a bit to see in Seattle, and 3 days wasn’t enough. Indeed, I discovered after my first day there that it’s too tiring for me to go out with the girls for more than half a day.
Our first day we went to the
Woodland Park Zoo
Seattle’s zoo is considered one of the best in the country and for good reason. The animal habitats are large, complex and beautiful. The animals themselves look clean and healthy. It’s clear that they are well taken care of – indeed, the focus on the animal’s welfare comes at times at the expense of zoo goers. There are so many places for the animals to hide, that for a couple of hours at mid-day we could barely find any – something that proved quite frustrating. When the animals are out, you can usually see them from many angles – most habitats include large, impecably clean and scratch-free glass windows that sometimes allow you to be face to face with the animals. Indeed, Mika had a great time “playing” with a very friendly siamang through one of these windows. A whole family of gorillas was comfortably sitting next to another, and we couldn’t have felt closer to the enormous tapir who obviously wanted some attention while he half-napped.
The zoo is quite large, there are some inclines but it’s not particularly hilly (at least compared to the Oakland Zoo). In addition to the animal habitats, it has an African village which provides opportunities for pretend-play (not that a 3yo needs much in the ways of opportunities). From the school there are wonderful views of a grassy field populated by giraffes, zebras, deer and hippopotami. The children’s zoo is not as cool as Oakland’s, and the petting zoo closes at 3 pm, but it has a small play area resembling a vegetable garden which Mika loved.
My favorite part was the butterfly enclosure, a little area where you can stand while large colorful butterflies fly around. My 7mo loved it, though my 3yo was bored quickly. The garden outside is quite nice. This is a temporary exhibit, unfortunately.
We probably saw 2/3 of the zoo in the 5 hours or so we were there. It’s definitely a place I’d go back to with the kids.
The entrance is $10 for adults and $7 for kids, but there is a $1 off coupon in one of the coupon-books available with other tourist flyers. Unfortunately our membership in the Oakland Zoo didn’t give us a discount on admission. We rented a stroller for $4, though next time I’d make an effort and bring my own (I didn’t want to try dealing with a double stroller and two bus-journeys each way). The rental had a hard plastic seat with no head support and couldn’t recline. There was space for a diaper bag but not much more. Most annoyingly it made the most horrible and loud sound as it went and I wouldn’t be surprised if it scared away many of the animals.
We ate at the Rain Forest Food Pavilion, near the West Entrance, though next time I’d definitely bring a pic-nic lunch. The Pavilion features several food outlets, supposedly each with a different menu. When we visited, however, only three of them were opened – one serving ice cream and the other two serving the same type of fast food (hot dogs, corn dogs, pizza, salads). Drinks were unbelievably expensive, $3.50 for juices or soft drinks, though milk was just $2. We shared a cheese pizza ($5) which tasted like a micro-bake concoction. It was edible but just that.
To get to the Zoo, you can take bus number 5 from downtown – it runs on 3rd Avenue for a few blocks.


The next day we decided to stick close to Seattle Center. Our first stop was
The Children’s Museum
I hate to say it but I was somewhat disappointed by Seattle’s Children Museum. It’s quite large and its many “exhibits” are well made, of quality material and greatly detailed – but they seem to be there to be looked at rather than played with. Indeed, much of the stuff kids would want to play with is encased in plexiglass, providing endless frustration for little ones which can’t quite understand why they can’t play with it. This is particularly the case in the Global Village Exhibit. Here you can go visit a tailer shop, a beauty shop and a house in Ghana, a house and a store/restaurant in the Philippines and a house and a sushi store in Japan. Visit but not really play, while there are garments you can try on on the tailor shop, there is little you can use to try different hairstyles at the beauty shop – and practically no food to play with at any of the stores and restaurants. What it’s there is behind plexiglass and inaccessible, or plastic food with no ethnic ties. You can open the drawers in the kid’s room in the Japanese house, but only to find toys behind plexiglass – just like in the shelves and other places. I understand that kids might lose or break the actual toys or food boxes if they had them, but without them there isn’t much they can do but watch and go. On our second visit there, my little girl wisely took some plastic food from the Grocery Store in the “Your neighborhood” section to cook it in the grill outside the Ghanaian house, but that certainly didn’t teach her anything about Ghanaian food. If I lived in Seattle and visited this museum often I’d probably bring my props with me.
The larger amount of plastic food made the grocery store in the your neighborhood section more fun, and Mika played there a lot – but there seemed to be little point to the restaurant next door. There were instructions on how to make Mexican food, but nothing that approximated it. There was a pretend fountain soda machine – but no glasses for the pretend soda to go into. Some pots and pans where to put pretend food to cook would have been fun too. It was specially frustrating because Michaela LOVES to play restaurant and this should have been an ideal setting.
The theater area is pretty cool in that there is a large stage where kids can perform, though it’d be nice if there were more costumes for them to change into (the ones available seemed old and weren’t very colorful). They have a cool sound/light effect board – kids can push buttons and play different sounds & have different lights appear on the painted background. My 3.5 yo is a little too young for this sort of play, but I can imagine it’d be fascinating to an older child.
The baby area seemed to be the most popular place – unfortunately because of the museum policy of having to be with your kids at all times, it was filled with children over 3 (it’s supposed to be for newborns until 3 years old). Some parents don’t seem to care that their older kids get in the way of the babies – but you’ll encounter inconsiderate parents everywhere. This area has some foam structures – fun for babies to play around -, a water splashing area and some games. Indeed, this was the only water playing area we saw, perhaps it’s because Seattle is such a wet city they don’t need more water at the museum.
The center of the museum is taken over by a plastic forest. It has a couple of caves, a hill and it’s all in all very well made – but here again there was stuff behind plexiglass and a command to not climb anything that limited creative play.
There is also an art area, a kids radio station, a “clog” area, a media area and a special exhibit on the magic schoolbus. These areas required some parental involvement (at least for a 3.5 year old) and with the baby on tow I decided to skip them. We’ll give them a try next time we visit Seattle and the museum.
Admission to the museum is $7.50 for adults and childrens, but we got in free with our Habitot membership.
There is a lunch court on the floor above the museum, but with standard mall-food. If you want your kids to eat a healthier lunch, I’d recommend packing one and eating it at the museum.


After the museum we headed to the Fun Forest an “entertainment pavillon” with rides and carnival-type games. Being a weekday, most of the rides weren’t working – but we managed to hit the ferris wheel and another kiddy ride. In all they have ten rides for little kids and a bunch more for adults. Rides are quite expensive, tickets are $1 each and the kiddie rides cost 2 tickets each (so $2 a ride). You can get 10 tickets for $9 – a marginal saving – but after doing that I found that you could get a coupon for 12 tickets for $6 at one of stores selling t-shirts in front of the Space Needle. It may be worth it for you to head there first. On weekends you can buy all-day bracelets for $20. When we returned to the Fun Forest the next day, none of the rides were working – so don’t count on riding any during weekdays.


Our last stop that day was the Space Needle – the UFO-shaped tower which defines the Seattle skyline. Mike and I had eaten at the Sky City restaurant, on the top, a few years before but I didn’t want to spend the $ to do it again (the food was fine, but very expensive at $30-40 for entrees). Mika wanted to check it out, so we paid the fee ($13 for adults, minus a $1 off coupon available in the Seattle coupon book – free for kids under 4) and went up. Mika enjoyed it, though I’d say that she liked having been there more than actually being there, if you know what I mean. Camila really liked the wind.


The next day, our last in Seattle, my plans were to visit Pike Street Market and the Seattle Aquarium. Alas, the aquarium was closed (it reopens on 9/17) so we’ll have to leave that for another visit.
I quite enjoyed Pike Street and the Pike Place Market, there are dozens of stores selling all sorts of things in a building that not just looks but feels and smells old. While the building is pretty stroller friendly – there are ramps all over the place – most of the stores are too small and crowded to make it easy to peruse their merchandise while pushing a double stroller. While both my girls were great, I’d really like to return here without a stroller for leisury shopping. As it was all I managed to buy were some flavored hazelnuts and teas.
Our next stop was the Seattle Waterfront. We stopped for some lunch at The Fishermans Restaurant and then headed outside to Pier 57 where Mika had a great time playing with another little girl. They sealed their friendship with a ride in the carousel. We walked some more on the waterfront, had some ice cream, and then my two girls fell asleep as I made my way up pine street to the monorail for our trip back to Seattle Center (and a short visit to the Children’s Museum before flying back home).
In all we had a great time and I look forward to our next visit to Seattle.

Play Cafe

There are many places in the Bay Area where you can go with your preschool-age children, but very few where you can go, sit down, sip a mocha and talk to your friends while they play. Play Cafe, in Oakland, is exactly that.
This new hang out is a hybrid between a grown-up Cafe and a Children’s Museum. It has a counter where you can order the usual cafe-stuff (coffees, teas, soft drinks, pastries and even fruit/veggie plates and hot dogs for the little ones) and a large room with (less than comfortable) tables and chairs. But the fun for the kids are in the little play areas that surround the room. One is a “Malt Shoppe” and features a play kitchen complete with tons of plastic food, a selling counter and an eating area. This was perfect for Mika as she loves asking people what they want to eat (and then telling them she doesn’t have any). A second one is a theater area, complete with a lighted billboard, beautiful costumes, a puppet theater (with puppets, of course) and a camera/screen. There is also a very large, very deep ball pit and a classroom with art and other learning materials. Finally there is a little area that is made to resemble the outside with a hopscotch game, a picnic table and a play-BBQ grill. All the toys are very high quality.
There were several small toddlers there that day and they seemed to be having fun, but I think the place is probably best for kids 2yo and older who are into “pretend play” – the ball pit, though, is fun for everyone. There isn’t much space to set down a baby – and my 7mo got bored quickly, but my 3.5 yo had a blast.
Play Cafe is free for the month of August, but will then charge $4.25 admission per child. A family membership will be $45. I can imagine that in rainy afternoons it will be very, very popular.

California Academy of Sciences

Yesterday we went to the California Academy of Sciences which is now conveniently located in downtown San Francisco a few blocks away from BART. The building is pretty small and there wasn’t much to see beyond the aquarium. Their ant exhibit has closed and a new one on chocolate is opening soon.
The aquarium is much smaller than it used to be, but they have several big tanks with multiple windows in addition to smaller tanks with one or two species. The kids (3 yo) were pretty interested in looking at the fish, though not for very long.
There is a small area with penguins and you can see them being fed at specific times. They have small bean bags where people can seat and the kids just enjoyed playing in the area after glancing at the penguins for a few minutes.
Upstairs there is a toddler room where they enjoyed playing with other kids for a while.
In all we probably spent about 2 1/2 hours there, though you could see everything in well under an hour if you were by yourself.
As the place stands I don’t think it’s worth the $7.00 admission, but it’s free the first Wednesday of every month (yesterday). It wasn’t inordinarily crowded either. Lunch at the Grow Cafe was good.

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