Indoor Drop-in Activities for the Little Ones for Marin & Beyond

December 2, 2014

Indoor playWhether it's too hot outside, too cold, or too rainy, I’m always looking for places to take the kids to get them out of the house and burn off all that extra energy. Here are a few ideas for fun indoor drop-in activites in Marin County and beyond:

Mill Valley

  • Jump Indoor Playday
    Mill Valley Community Center
    180 Camino Alto
    (415) 383-1370

    Drop-in for children ages 1–5 every Wednesday from 9 am–noon. All the mats will be out with push and pull toys, balls and obstacles to play on. Parents and/or caregivers must attend. The cost is $5 child or $7 for the family. No registration necessary. Exact change appreciated. No class: 12/24, 12/31. For more info, call or visit their website.
  • Parent and Baby Playdate
    Sprout San Francisco
    12 Miller Ave., Mill Valley
    (415) 389-1312

    Pop in on Fridays from 3:30-5:30 pm and enjoy their playroom and meet up with other parents and their tots looking to make friends. Drop-in classes are $10 per family.For more info, visit their website.

Festive Holiday Teas for the Family in Marin and San Francisco

December 1, 2014

Holiday Magic Toybox Tea at FalkirkHoliday teas are a fun seasonal treat for children and their parents, whether they're at a local library or a fancy hotel in the city. There are several in Marin this season. Holiday teas are popular and usually fill up quickly, so reserve your spot as soon as possible if you plan to go. Here are a few of our favorites in Marin and San Francisco.


A Holiday Magic Toy Box Tea at Falkirk
Saturday and Sunday, December 13 & 14, seatings at noon & 3 pm

1408 Mission Avenue at "E" Street, San Rafael
The tea is an old-fashioned tour de force in the elegant Queen Anne Victorian Falkirk Mansion. Homemade tea sandwiches and sweets are served, along with tea, hot chocolate, and other beverages. Features include life-sized toys, a raffle, and plenty of photo opportunities. Make sure you bring your teddy bear or other favorite toy! The Magic Toy Box Tea is hosted by the Cultural Affairs Service League. This extremely popular event is by reservation only and always sells our early! Reserve your spot by calling 1-800-838-3006 or online here.. The cost is $25 for adults and $22 for children, or $45 for an adult-and-child combination ticket. For more info, visit

Slow Cooker Chili for a Cool Fall Evening

December 1, 2014

slow cooker chiliFall and winter is the perfect time to fire up the slow cooker and make some long-simmered comfort food. Chili is a perfect food for a chilly evening. Everyone in our family likes it, and you can offer different condiments so everyone can customize their bowl to their own liking.

Here, I’ve adapted my go-to chili recipe for the slow cooker. Put all the ingredients in the cooker in the morning and let it go and it will be hot and ready in time for dinner. You can also chop up the vegetables for the recipe—onions, garlic, and green peppers—in the food processor, saving a little more work in the process.

If you like your chili spicy, feel free to add some cayenne pepper or chopped jalapeños. Since we're feeding both grownups and kids, so I tend to make it mild. Besides, you can always add your own heat after the fact, but it's impossible to take it out once you've put it in!

Stapleton Ballet's Nutcracker: A Marin Holiday Tradition

December 1, 2014

Stapleton Ballet NutcrackerThe Stapleton Ballet's annual production of the Nutcracker has been a Marin County tradition for over 25 years. It returns to Marin Center in San Rafael for performances on Saturday, December 6 and Sunday, December 7 only.

With over 250 talented dancers from San Anselmo's Stapleton School of the Performing Arts as well as professional guest stars, a visit to this production marks the start of the holiday season for many Marin families.This production features inspired dancing, stunning imagery and beautifully crafted sets and costumes. The timeless tale of Clara and her wondrous adventure with the Nutcracker opens with the lavish Victorian holiday party, featuring exquisite, period-authentic costumes created in 2013. The captivating, mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer makes a grand entrance, weaving his magic into the festivities and placing a spell on Clara’s wooden toy.

Hottest Holiday Toys for Kids 2014: Ages 6 to 8

December 1, 2014

plushcraft hedgehogFor our Holiday guide to the hottest toys this season, the toy experts at Five Little Monkeys, a great local independent toy store with locations in Novato, Albany, Walnut Creek, and Burlingame, put together this list, based on what kids seem most excited about, what is showing up at birthday parties, what parents are asking for, and staff favorites!

We've also reviewed the top picks for babies and toddlers and kids ages 3 to 5.

Ages 6 to 8 Indoor Fun

Plushcraft Hedgehog
A plush, personal pillow? Perfect! Especially when kids can say, “I made it myself!” Here’s a sweet little fabric-by-number craft project with no sewing required. Over 320 brightly colored fabric pieces are ready to be punched into the pillow with an easy-to-master stylus wand. Kids can rest on their accomplishment! $17.99

Visit Marin's Amazing Lighted Holiday Houses!

November 30, 2014

Rombeiro Christmas HousePerhaps our favorite thing about the holiday season is visiting amazing lighted and decorated holiday houses here in Marin. We've been taking in the displays all of these houses for years, and visiting them again each December is like dropping in to see an old friend. We love to find out what sort of wonderful new displays have been thought up for the season!

When you're visiting these Christmas houses, feel free to drop a donation into the donation box, if there is one, since that December PG&E bill is probably a whopper. (Rumor has it that the Rombeiro House costs upwards of $4,000 each season!)

U-Cut Christmas Tree Farms in Sebastopol

November 30, 2014

Garlock Tree Farm in SebastopolIt's time to think about getting that must-have of the holiday season—the Christmas tree. There are those practical people who merely unpack the artificial tree from its storage boxes, and assemble it in the living room, pre-wired, perfectly shaped and sized, and flame-resistant. Then there are those of us who have to have the real deal, despite any inconvenience.

For the hopeless holiday romantics among us, nothing beats the experience of going to a honest-to-goodness genuine Christmas tree farm, getting our hands dirty, and cutting a tree down ourselves. Of course it's a great family photo op and it's usually a lot of fun, too. Those annual trips to the Christmas tree farm remain some of my fondest childhood memories, and now it's a tradition with my own family

There aren't any Christmas tree farms in Marin County anymore (the last one—in Olema—closed down years ago), so to get the real Christmas tree farm experience you have to head north to rural Sonoma County. Most tree farms seem to be clustered around Sebastopol and Petaluma, with a few near Sonoma and Santa Rosa.

U-Cut Christmas Tree Farms in Petaluma

November 29, 2014

Little Hills Christmas Tree FarmIf you want to have the experience of choosing and cutting down your own Christmas tree, you're going to have to pack up the family truckster and head north on Highway 101 to visit our neighbors in Sonoma County. There, you'll find a selection of Christmas tree farms mostly concentrated in the rural areas of western Petaluma and Sebastopol.

Yesterday we made our traditional day-after-Thanksgiving trip to the three Christmas tree farms located in Petaluma—Little Hills Christmas Tree Farms 1 and 2 and Larsen's Christmas Tree Farm—to see what they had to offer this season. There's nothing that gets you in the holiday spirit more than visiting a tree farm. Did I mention that they're great places for holiday photo ops, too?

Check back later for our report from the tree farms further north in Sebastopol.

Little Hills Christmas Tree Farm

Every holiday season we make a point of visiting Little Hills Christmas Tree Farm in Petaluma. One of the most picturesque tree farms in the area, Little Hills Christmas Tree Farm is fairly close to downtown Petaluma on Chapman Lane, off Western Avenue on the northwest side of town. As is to be expected on the day after Thanksgiving, Little Hills was busy and bustling. Parking is in a lot at the entrance to the farm. It's a surprisingly big setup, and offers a wide selection of mostly Monterey pines, with some cypresses and redwoods thrown in for good measure.

Marin Weekend Family Fun for November 28, 29 & 30

November 27, 2014

Garlock Tree Farm

Here are our picks for great events and activities for children and families this holiday weekend. Find more events for the whole week in Marin and beyond in our Family Events Calendar.

There's also holiday ice skating at numerous locations throughout the Bay Area, as well as opportunities to visit with Santa Claus at local shopping centers. Also, check out our guide to North Bay Christmas tree farms and Lots.

Friday, November 28

  • Gingerbread Builders Workshop
    Bon Air Center, Greenbrae
    Friday-Sunday, 9 am-9 pm

    Bring the kiddos out to build a sweet home of their dreams. Gingerbread kits include house, candy and bag of royal Icing. Choose from 3 different sizes that range in price from $31-$52. Location: Bon Aire Shopping Center Suite #302. Reserve your gingerbread kit here. For questions, (415) 720-2193 or visit their website.
  • The Great Dickens Christmas Fair
    Cow Palace, San Francisco
    Friday-Sunday, 10 am–7 pm

    The Dickens Fair runs on weekends through December 21 from 10 am–7 pm. Experience Victorian London with hundreds of costumed players, shops offering one-of-a-kind gifts and Christmas treasures, dining, and pubs. Meet Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, Tiny Tim, Jules Verne, David Copperfield, Charles Darwin, and 700 costumed characters. Of course, Father Christmas himself will be on hand to join in the fun. Purchase tickets here. For more info, visit their website.
  • 35th Annual Parade of Lights and Winter Wonderland
    Downtown San Rafael
    Friday, noon–8 pm & Saturday, 9 am–noon
    Downtown San Rafael will once again commence the holiday season with its Winter Wonderland, Parade of Lights, and Holiday Marketplace with arts and crafts that starts the Friday after Thanksgiving. On Friday: free snow sledding, kids activities (noon–4:30 pm & 6–8 pm), Holiday Marketplace (noon–8 pm) and the Parade of Lights (5:30 pm) with Santa and Mrs. Claus's arrival and a tree-lighting immediately after. On Saturday, kids activities and snow sledding continues (9 am–noon). Location: Fourth Street from B Street to Lootens Place in downtown San Rafael. For more info, visit their website.
  • Ghirardelli Square Annual Tree Lighting
    San Francisco
    Friday,  4–9 pm

    Enjoy free live entertainment for the entire family throughout the day culminating with the lighting of the Ghirardelli Square tree at 5:30 pm. This year’s festivities will include live music, children’s entertainment and a visit from Santa. Location: Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point Street (at Beach and Larkin), San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
  • Macy's 25th Annual Union Square Tree Lighting
    Union Square Park, San Francisco
    Friday, 6 pm

    Macy's gift to the city and San Francisco's most recognized Christmas tree will be officially lit in Union Square at 6:40 pm. Macy's 25th Annual Tree Lighting will take place in Union Square Park between Sutter and Post and Geary and Stockton Streets, right across from the front of Macy's. For more info, visit their website.
  • Cinnabar Theater Young Repertory Presents The Wizard of OZ
    Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma
    Friday & Saturday, 7:30 pm

    Follow the yellow brick road with Cinnabar's Young Rep as they present the classic musical live on stage. This production of The Wizard of Oz is performed entirely by talented young artists aged 7–18. More than 65 kids take the stage to bring this beloved story to life. Admission: $15 adults, $10 your 21 and under. Location: 3333 Petaluma Boulevard North. For more info and tickets, visit their website.

Saturday, November 29

  • Fitness Hike: Hoo Koo E Koo to Huckleberry Trail
    Kent Woodlands
    Saturday, 9 am-noon

    Families can explore Baltimore Canyon and the Blithedale and Corte Madera ridges on a fast-paced hike with Ranger Ian McLorg. We will take the Hoo Koo E Koo Trail up to the ridge, come down the Huckleberry Trail and then head back to Crown Rd (approximately 5 miles total). Dress in layers, wear sturdy shoes, and bring water and high energy snacks. We request that no pets (except service animals) attend. This is a rain or shine event but high winds will cancel.  Meet at the gate at the end of Crown Rd in Kent Woodlands. For more info call Ranger Ian McLorg at (415) 473-2816 or visit their website.
  • Marin Country Mart Farmers Market
    Marin Country Mart, Larkspur Landing
    Saturday, 9 am–2 pm

    Enjoy pony rides and a petting zoo for the kids from 10 am–2 pm adjacent to the farmer's market and live music from Scott the Storyteller from 9:30–10:30 am. For more info, visit their website.
  • Gingerbread Architecture Extravaganza
    Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito
    Saturday & Sunday, 9:30 am, 10:30 am, 11:30 am, 2 and 3 pm

    Kick off your holiday season with Gingerbread Architecture. Come to the Museum and we'll provide a kit for you and your family with everything you need to construct a creative holiday home, including gingerbread house pieces, icing and festive holiday candies. Cost per kit is $20 (Museum admission for non-members is not included). To register, visit their website.
  • Family Science Open House
    Buck Institute, Novato

    Saturday, 10 am–2 pm
    Make plans now to take a break from holiday shopping and Thanksgiving leftovers. Bring friends, family and visiting relatives to a world-class research Institute and get first-hand experience with science aimed at extending healthspan—the healthy years of life. Every half hour we will have a science experiment in our Learning Center for children of all ages. Free and open to the public; free parking. For more info, visit their website.
  • Reindeer Romp at SF Zoo
    San Francisco Zoo
    Saturday & Sunday, 10 am–4 pm

    Reindeer Romp returns with Santa's favorite reindeer friends Belle, Holly, Peppermint, and Velvet. These four majestic animals mark the return of the holidays at the Zoo and will be on exhibit through New Year’s Day. Stop by the reindeer area on the Playfield Lawn near the Elinor Friend Playground and check out the real story behind these majestic creatures. Free with Zoo admission. For more info, visit their website.
  • Let it Snow! at Treasure Island
    San Francisco
    Saturday & Sunday, 10 am-5 pm

    Bring the family to this weekend's SNOWvember at the Treasure Island Flea Market. Come shop and enjoy more than 20 tons of snow. Enjoy more than 400 local artists, makers, designers and collectors. The snow falls at 11 am each day. Cost: $3 per person and children 12 and under are free. For more info, visit their website.
  • 57th San Francisco International Auto Show
    Moscone Center
    Saturday & Sunday, 10 am–10 pm
    The International Auto Show features the world’s major manufacturers displaying their 2015 model cars, SUVs, trucks, and vans. There will also be classic cars, race cars, car simulators, hot rods, and more. Admission $10, children 12 and younger free when accompanied by an adult. Tickets at the door only. Location: Moscone Convention Center, 747 Howard Street, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
  • Family Sing-Along: Your Song My Song!
    La Peña Cultural, Berkeley
    Saturday, 10:30–11:30 am

    ysmsJaime Lee Currier and Eric Hart are Your Song My Song! We sing classic kids’ songs, Beatles, originals, sing-a-longs, finger-plays, chants and rock ‘n roll! For ages. Cost: $5 Kids, $6 Adults. Location: 2113 Rose St., Berkeley. For more info, visit their website.
  • Holiday Craferino
    Petaluma Veterans Memorial Hall
    Saturday, 11 am-4 pm

    The Petaluma Downtown Craft Mart presents its sixth annual “Holiday Crafterino” show, Saturday November 29th from 11am to 4pm at the Petaluma Veterans Memorial Building. The show brings together the best in handmade crafts and gifts and raises funds for several worthy causes. Admission: $1 donation. Location: 1094 Petaluma Blvd South, Petaluma. For more info, visit their website.
  • SFEtsy Indie Holiday Emporium
    Embarcadero, San Francisco
    Saturday & Sunday, 11 am–5 pm

    Start your holiday shopping at this weekend's Etsy event. The SFEtsy Indie Holiday Emporium is an annual market showcasing the SFEtsy team members and other artisan crafters and makers. See a list of sellers here. Location: Pier 35, 1526 Embarcadero, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
  • Santa's Riverboat Arrival
    Petaluma River Turning Basin
    Saturday, 11:30 am
    Santa and Mrs. Claus sail into the Petaluma River Turning Basin aboard a tugboat at noon and disembark in the Golden Eagle Shopping Center on East Washington St. to greet children and distribute candy. Performers will be on hand at the shopping center starting at 11:30 am. For more info, visit their website.
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