Hottest Holiday Toys for Kids 2014: Ages 9+

December 6, 2014

birds glitter boardsFor 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, kids ages 3 to 5, and kids ages 6 to 8.

Ages 9+ Indoor Fun

Birds Glitter Boards
A set to create fantastic sparkly pictures of birds surrounded by wonderful patterns. Use this set to create pictures of different birds surrounded by wonderful patterns, brought to life by the sequins. Designed for older children, this kit is a great way of encouraging them to be creative. $19.99

Marin Weekend Family Fun for December 5, 6 & 7

December 5, 2014
Lighting of the Snowmen at Cornerstone Sonoma
The annual Lighting of the Snowmen takes place this Sunday at CornerStone Sonoma.

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 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. Visit Marin's Amazing Lighted Holiday Houses! Also, check out our  North Bay Christmas Tree Farms and Lots 2014 article.

Friday, December 5

  • The Petaluma School of Ballet presents The Nutcracker
    Evert B. Person Theatre, Sonoma State University
    Friday 7:30 pm, Saturday 1:30 pm & 6:30 pm, Sunday 1:30 pm
    The Petaluma School of Ballet and Petaluma City Ballet present The Nutcracker. Tickets: $25 adults; $15 children 12 and under, students, and seniors; $2 more at the door. Tickets available at the Dance Shop at 19 Kentucky Street or the Petaluma School of Ballet at 110 Howard Street in Petaluma. For more info, call (707) 765-2660 or visit their website.
  • Dickens Family Victorian Holiday Party
    Falkirk Cultural Center, San Rafael
    Friday, 6 pm

    Join Charles Dickens and his family for a joyous evening of Victorian revelry at the Falkirk Mansion in San Rafael. Partake in a holiday treat as you go back in time to Victorian England and meet Charles Dickens, listen to him read from his famous works, watch his characters come alive (look out for Scrooge), meet and greet the true Father Christmas, play Victorian parlor games, dance and sing with our Victorian family and make traditional holiday crafts. Light food and drink will be served. A true family event. Tickets: $10 adults, $7 children. Order tickets at (800) 838-3006 or online here. Location: 1408 Mission Avenue, San Rafael. For more info, visit their website.
  • Presidio Community Tree Lighting
    San Francisco Presidio Main Post
    Friday, 5:30–6:30 pm

    Kick off the holiday season by joining the Presidio community for its traditional tree-lighting ceremony, with free holiday craft activities for kids and caroling from the Golden Gate Carolers. Light refreshments will be served in the Presidio YMCA gymnasium for all to enjoy. Afterwards, be sure to bring a flashlight and experience the park in the dark on a magical 20-minute, guided lantern-lit walk through the forest. Free; reservations suggested but not required. For more info, visit their website.

The Rombeiro Christmas House in Novato Opens Saturday

December 5, 2014

Rombeiro Christmas House NovatoTomorrow is the first Saturday in December, which means that the Rombeiro Christmas House in Novato opens tonight. If you see only one decorated holiday house this year, make it this one! It's been a Marin tradition for over 20 years, and a favorite with families from all over the Bay Area.

Marvel at the 140,000 lights and small army of Christmas figurines, dioramas, and decorations adorning the front yard and the house itself. And you can go inside, too—just look for the lit "open" sign by the front door and head on in to check out the holiday wonders inside.

We'll review this year's edition of the Christmas House after we visit this weekend—who knows what new features await! Until then, you can see some photos of last year's house and read about our visit in our article here.

Sonoma and Napa Wine Country Family Holiday Fun

December 4, 2014

Napa Valley Wine Train Santa TrainOne of the benefits of living in the North Bay is having the Wine Country of Sonoma and Napa right in our own backyard. It's a short trip from Marin but a world away, especially during the holidays, when the area does itself up in true style.

Here are some selected family-friendly events and happenings, as well as a few of our favorite places to visit in the Wine Country. There's nothing quite like taking in the Wine Country scenery (and maybe a glass of Pinot Noir) on a crisp and clear December day! Some of these events require tickets or advance reservations, so make sure you check for availability before you go.

Sonoma Valley & Sonoma County

Sonoma Holiday Tree Lighting
Friday, December 5, 5–6 pm

Kick off the holidays at Sonoma's historic Plaza with Santa's arrival, a tree lighting, and more. It all takes place on Friday, December 5 at 5 pm. More information at (707) 996-1033.

Holiday Crafts at Francis Coppola Winery
Saturdays & Sundays, December 6–28
Francis Coppola Winery on Geyserville offers festive holiday crafts for the family from December 6–28 from noon–3 pm. Make ornaments, create snow globes, experiment with hot chocolate blendings, and more. $5 per child; adult must accompany. Location: 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville. More information

Just in Time for the Holidays: Best Kids' Books 2014 from Diesel

December 3, 2014

The Farmer and the ClownThe holidays are here, and great books always make fantastic gifts for kids! Clare Doornbos, the children's book expert at Diesel bookstore in Larkspur, saves us all a lot of time and stress by highlighting her picks for best kids' books in 2014.

Clare will be on hand to show off her choices in person and help you choose the best book for your child this Thursday, December 4, at 7 pm. Wine and cheese from Rustic Bakery will be served and the store will be open late during this parents-only event.

Other holiday events include a pajama party on Friday, December 5 at 6 pm with author and illustrator John Agee (who shows us what Santa was like as a child); a winter cookbook extravaganza on Saturday, December 6, at 1 pm; and a holiday ornament making with illustrator LeUyen Pham, who will read from her new book The Twelve Days of Christmas, on Friday, December 12, at 5 pm.

Old Fashioned Jam Thumbprint Cookies

December 2, 2014

jam thumbprint cookiesThese old-fashioned jam thumbprint cookies are probably my favorite Christmas cookie from my childhood. I remember my mom making these buttery treats every holiday season, and of course I remember eating them, too.

While my mom's thumbprint cookies were rolled in chopped walnuts, I've also seen them covered in coconut, too. I decided to do a taste test and we decided that the coconut ones are our favorite, although the walnut versions are delicious too.

I followed a suggestion in the Ina Garten recipe for these and finished the cookies with an egg wash. I thought the step was kind of unusual for cookies, but it really made a difference in texture and appearance. You can use any jam you like in these; I used raspberry preserves and orange marmalade.


Win Tickets to the December 19 San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker Family Matinee!

December 2, 2014

SF Ballet NutcrackerHow would you like to go see the San Francisco Ballet's celebrated Nutcracker this holiday season? We're excited to give away two tickets to the special family matinee performance of Nutcracker on Friday, December 19 at 2 pm. This exciting San Francisco holiday tradition is truly spectacular and not to be missed!

Family performances include a special gift for the first 500 children in the door, a special photo op and with costumed Nutcracker characters, and sweet treats during the intermission. You'll definitely want to get there early, since lines at the Opera House can get long.

To enter to win, send an email to with "Nutcracker 2014" in the subject line by noon PST on Friday, December 5. We'll select a random winner on Saturday, December 6. Our thanks go out to San Francisco Ballet for generously sponsoring this exciting giveaway. Read our giveaway rules and terms here.

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

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