Spring is in Bloom at the Japanese Tea Garden

March 15, 2016

Japanese Tea Garden

San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden is a favorite spot for tourists in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, but it's also a great spot for local families. I've been visiting since I was a small child, and I've made sure that I introduced it to my children, too. Before I took them there, I had forgotten how magical this place is.

It's especially worth a visit at this time of year when the sakura, or flowering cherry trees, and azaleas are in full bloom. It's a magnificent and colorful spring sight that's really worth the effort to see. The kids love to explore the grounds and get some tea and a Japanese snack at the tea room.

Dine in with Meal Delivery Services in Marin

March 15, 2016

Munchery meal delivery serviceLike many families in Marin, we lead busy lives—so busy that sometimes important things like family meals can get lost in the shuffle. Fortunately, that's where meal delivery services come in! These local culinary life-savers provide you and your family with delicious, healthy meals as well as the opportunity to sit down together at dining table in the evening, without having to resort to fast food or some other quick solution.

Here are some of the meal delivery services that deliver to homes in Marin County. All these services deliver throughout the county (usually with the exception of West Marin) unless otherwise indicated. If we've missed your favorite, please let us know about it and we'll consider adding it to the list. With all of these services, you can place your order online via the web or a mobile app. We've personally reviewed a few of these services, so read our reviews via the links to learn more.

Six Spectacular Spring Wildflower Hikes for Families in Marin

March 14, 2016

Ring Mountain Wildflowers

Spring in California is spectacular, with an abundance of wildflowers, seasonal waterfalls, and wildlife. Before the summer heat bakes the green hillsides brown, get the family out on the trail at one of these great Marin hiking spots with wonderful spring wildflower displays.

These hikes are perfect for a family outing at almost any time of year, but of course are especially nice during the spring. All the trails mentioned here are easy enough for everyone in the family to tackle, too.

Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve

This preserve near Tiburon is home to spring wildflowers and spectacular views of San Francisco Bay and Mt. Tam. The trails here are great for kids of all ages and even offroad strollers. Best of all, it's located right near Tiburon and Corte Madera.

Color Your Easter Eggs with Homemade Natural Dyes

March 14, 2016

Easter eggs with natural dyes

Coloring Easter eggs is a fun spring tradition, but do you really know what's in those commercial dye kits that you pick up at the supermarket? Dying your Easter eggs with your own homemade natural dyes is easier than you think, and the results can be really beautiful. You'll find plenty of recipes and formulas out there, some of which work better than others.

Over the years, we've experimented with various mixtures and figured out a few that really work well. You can make these plant- and food-based dyes with many of the things that you have on hand in the pantry or refrigerator, or can pick up at the farmer's market, so why not give it a try?

Traditional Irish Shepherd's Pie for St. Patrick's Day

March 13, 2016

Shepherd's PieWith St. Patrick's Day coming up this week, my kids have been asking me to make Irish food for dinner. Since corned beef and cabbage is not exactly something you throw together after school, I've been trying other appropriate dishes from the British Isles, like this rib-sticking, easy-to-make, and kid-friendly shepherd's pie. It's essentially a beef-and-vegetable stew topped with mashed potatoes and baked in the oven until golden brown. I topped this version with a little grated Irish white cheddar cheese for a bit more authenticity.

This pub-grub favorite is more correctly known as "cottage pie", since it's made with ground beef instead of leftover roast lamb, but it's delicious no matter what it's called. I always try to bulk up the stew part with extra vegetables to make it a one-dish meal. My kids love this and even my picky-eater daughter asks for a second helping. Feel free to substitute ground turkey or ground lamb for the ground beef. You can also use chopped leftover roast beef or lamb in the filling.

This recipe serves 6 to 8, so we usually get two dinners out of it, reheating the leftovers on a weeknight. It actually tastes better after sitting in the refrigerator for a day or two! You can make this either in a casserole dish or in individual ramekins. The kids like the ramekins because each person gets his or her own little shepherd's pie! Watch out, though—the ramekins will be hot.

Family Farm Tours in Marin and Sonoma County

March 13, 2016

slide ranch family farm day

Spring is here, and it's time to enjoy a day on the farm! We're lucky to live in an area that's surrounded by some of the country's top agricultural producers, and some of them offer farm tours for the whole family. On a tour, you can meet animals, learn where your food comes from, and find out about the efforts that local farmers take to provide us with high quality food. My kids love to visit farms, especially at this time of year when there are plenty of baby animals to see.

Here are some of the farms in Marin and Sonoma County that offer public tours. Some are free, and some require advance reservations. Please keep in mind that these are all real working farms, some of which raise animals for human consumption. All these tours are suitable for families.

On Saturday and Sunday, April 30 and May 1, 2016, Sonoma County Farm Trails offers its annual Blossoms, Bees & Barnyard Babies event, where farm hosts will offer tours, activiites, demonstrations, animal petting, crafts for kids, and more. Some farms will offer snacks, lunches, and picnic sites. Admission is free. Learn more and register here.

Four Easy Waterfall Hikes for Families in Marin

March 12, 2016

Fairway waterfall Novato

One of the things I love most about winter and early spring in Marin is being able to hike to a beautiful waterfall, and when it rains (as it's doing things season… finally) families have many to choose from. The waterfalls in our list here all involve hikes of varying length, and all are perfect destinations for a family outdoor outing. There's something for hikers of every ability here.

All of these waterfalls are at their most spectacular after a big rainstorm like the one we had last week. This also means the trails will be pretty muddy, so make sure you put on the rain boots and dress the kiddos in something that you don't mind getting dirty. Here are four of our favorite Marin waterfall hikes, in order of difficulty (although all of them are family friendly). All but one of these hikes (Cataract Falls on Mt. Tamalpais) are on lands administered by Marin County Parks; visit their website for more info and to download printable trail maps for each preserve.

Easy and Delicious Slow-Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage for St. Patrick's Day

March 11, 2016

Slow-cooker corned beef and cabbageSt. Patrick's Day is coming up, and for many that means it's time to cook that quintessential Irish-American dish: corned beef and cabbage. Corned beef—usually a tough cut of meat like brisket or round—requires long, slow, cooking over low heat to make it tender, so it's the perfect candidate for preparing in your slow cooker.

Start your corned beef in the slow cooker early in the day; there's a minimal amount of preparation involved. Some recipes call for adding most of the vegetables at the same time, but I think they turn out a bit overcooked. Instead, add them to the pot during the last two hours of cooking.

With the proliferation of vegetables cooked with the meat, there's something here for everyone in the family. Serve your corned beef accompanied by grainy mustard, horseradish sauce*, and gravy** made from the cooking liquid. Also, when it comes to corned beef, bigger is better. Much of the weight of the meat is water, and it shrinks in size during cooking, so budget about one pound of meat per diner for a generous serving and leftovers (think corned beef sandwiches… mmm…). This recipe serves about 4 people, depending on how hungry everybody is.

Marin Weekend Family Fun for March 11, 12 & 13

March 11, 2016
Just Between Friends Sale
Find a bargain at this weekend's North Bay Just Between Friends consignment sale at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

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

Friday, March 11

  • Just Between Friends Kids Consignment Sale
    Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa
    Friday, 9 am–8 pm, Saturday, 9 am–3 pm and Sunday, 9 am–2 pm

    Just Between Friends bills itself as the North Bay's largest kids and maternity consignment sale, and offers toys, clothing, outdoor gear, mommy supplies, furniture, and more. Cash, checks, and credit and debit cards accepted. There's a $3 admission charge on Thursday and $2 charge on Friday, but you can get in for free by registering for a pass in advance. The offer two sales each year: one in the spring and then another in the fall. Address: Grace Pavilion, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. For more info, visit their website.
  • Breakfast with Enzo
    Sports Basement, San Francisco Presidio
    Friday, 10 & 11 am

    Enzo Garcia plays guitar, banjo, accordion, musical saw, Jew's harp, enzotar, appalachian dulcimer, slide flute, percussion and more. Recommended for children 7 and under. Drop in any time. Cost: $15 for one child & $10 per each additional child siblings under 7 months free For more info, call (415) 652-2474 or visit his website.
  • Chinese Board Games & Dragon Parade
    Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito
    Friday, 10:30–11:30 am

    Part of the Children’s China exhibition, children play traditional Chinese board games and participate in a Dragon Parade around the Museum. Cost: Museum admission applies. Location: 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito. For more info, call (415) 339-3900 or visit their website.
  • Throckmorton Youth Performers: The King and I
    Throckmorton Theatre, Mill Valley
    Friday, 7:30 pm, Saturday & Sunday, 2 pm

    The Classic Broadway hit The King and I tells the story of Anna, a British schoolteacher hired as part of the King of Siam’s drive to modernize his country. The relationship between the King and Anna is marked by cultural conflict, as well as a love that neither can admit. Tickets $15–$35. Location: 142 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley. For more info, visit their website.
  • Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka: The Musical
    San Rafael Community Center

    Friday, 7:30 pm, Saturday, 1 pm & Sunday, 3 pm
    Come with us to see a world of pure imagination! Chocolatier Willy Wonka starts a candy bar frenzy when he puts five golden tickets wrapped inside five of his famous chocolate bars! The golden tickets will allow the lucky finders to tour his factory, a mysterious, locked delicious smelling place where no one goes in or out... Four of the five winning children are brats. The fifth is a likeable young lad named Charlie Bucket. The children must follow the rules of the factory or suffer the consequences!  Tickets: $20 per person. Purchase tickets here. Location: 618 B Street, San Rafael. For more info, visit their website.

Saturday, March 12

  • Just Between Friends Kids Consignment Sale
    Saturday, 9 am–3 pm and Sunday, 9 am–2 pm
    (see Friday for details)
  • Marin Country Mart Farmers Market
    Marin Country Mart, Larkspur Landing
    Saturday, 9 am–2 pm

    Enjoy the best local and organic produce, flowers, pastured meats, seafood, organic cheeses, yogurt and milk, breads, baked goods, pasta, confections, olive oil, and brunch and lunch offerings! Kids can take a pony ride and visit the petting zoo (10 am–2 pm), try out some arts and crafts (9 am–2 pm) and listen to music (9:30–10:30 am). For more info, visit their website.
  • Nature HIke at Bouverie Preserve
    Glen Ellen
    Saturday, 9:30 am–1:30 pm
    Experience the beauty and rich natural history of this 535-acre preserve. Guided nature walks range from two to five miles. Visitors of all ages are welcome. Suggested donation $15 per person. Contributions support the preservation, education and conservation science programs of Audubon Canyon Ranch. Reservations are on a first-come, first-served basis and can be made a month in advance of each respective hike. Location: 13935 Sonoma Hwy, Glen Ellen. For more info, call (707) 938-4554 or visit their website.
  • San Rafael Library: Special Book Sale
    First Presbyterian Church, San Rafael
    Saturday, 9:30 am–3:30 pm

    The San Rafael Friends of the Library will have a rare and special book sale across the street from the downtown library. Included in this sale will be rare and special books, vintage sets, leather bound books, charming oldies and many books on the arts:  fine art, architecture, design. Ample parking can be found on the street or lot at E and Mission Street. For more info, visit their website.
  • Spider-Man Weekend
    San Francisco Zoo
    Saturday, 10 am–4 pm
    Rain or shine, Spider-Man will be at the San Francisco Zoo this weekend! Have your camera ready to take a selfie with Spidey in the Pachyderm Building, home of the Rockin’ Ropes Adventure, from 11 am to 3 pm. Stop by the Insect Zoo for special keeper talks at 11 am and 2 pm because although Spider-Man is a crowd pleaser, spiders themselves are not always beloved by humans.Free after zoo admission. Location: Sloat Boulevard at the Great Highway, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
  • Creative Family Fun: Winged Windsocks
    Presidio Officers' Club, San Francisco

    Saturday & Sunday, 11 am–4 pm
    Learn about aviation history! Pilots at Crissy Army Airfield would have needed to know how windy it was as wind can affect a plane’s take-off and landing. See just how windy it is by making your very own Presidio-themed windsock to take home! Best for kids aged 5 to 12 years. Drop-in anytime between 11 am and 4 pm. Free. Read about our visit to the Officers' Club here. Location: 50 Moraga Avenue, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
  • Susie Jaramillo reads from Little Chickies/Los Pollitos
    Diesel, a Bookstore, Larkspur
    Saturday, 11 am
    Author Susie Jaramillo reads and signs her picturebook, Little Chickies/Los Pollitos, at Diesel in Marin Country Mart. Based on Little Chickies Squeal/Los Pollitos Dicen, one of the most popular nursery rhymes in the Spanish speaking world, Little Chickies/Los Pollitos is an homage to the demanding nature of babies and the unconditional love, care and warmth given to them by their mommies. This English adaptation of the song is as catchy and lyrical as the Spanish version and sure to engage new audiences not familiar with the original. Location: 2419 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur. For more info, visit their website.
  • Storytime: Too Many Carrots
    Barnes & Noble, Corte Madera

    Saturday, 11–11:45 am
    When Rabbit collects too many carrots, which leave him unable to sleep in his cozy burrow, other animals offer to share their homes. Will Rabbit make his way back? Join us to find out at a special Storytime featuring Too Many Carrots. Activities and coloring to follow. Location: 313 Corte Madera Town Center. For more info, visit their website.
  • The World's Smallest Parade
    Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley
    Saturday, 11 am–3 pm

    Design, build, and test your own miniature robotic float and take part in the World's Smallest Parade. Get hands-on experience with linkages, mechanics, and robotics as you create and decorate your float. Then, watch your designs come to life as the tiny parade takes a trip through Design Quest. Each miniature electronic float frame is built by teen interns in the Hall’s TechHive studio. Meet these young inventors and learn more about their creative process during the event. Location: 1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley. For more info, visit their website.
  • St. Patrick's Day Parade
    Civic Center Plaza, San Francisco
    Saturday, 11:30 am

    The 165th Annual San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival is the West Coast’s largest event celebrating Irish history and culture. The Parade will start at the corner of Market and Second Streets where over a hundred colorful floats, Irish dance troupes and marching bands will wind their way to Civic Center Plaza. Following the parade, the Festival will be held at Civic Center Plaza, in front of City Hall. This year’s Festival features cultural and exhibitor booths, a healthy selection of Irish food and beverages, Irish dancing, live music, both contemporary and traditional, and activities for children including inflatable and mechanical rides and more. For more info, visit their website.
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