Riding the Rails at Sonoma TrainTown

May 24, 2014

Sonoma TrainTown RailroadWhen we're in the Wine Country, we always make sure we visit TrainTown, the fun and fantastic miniature railroad located in the town of Sonoma. It's a place that I used to visit back when I was a kid, and it's the kind of destination that takes you and your family back to a simpler, less hectic time.

Sonoma TrainTown offers train-related activities that are fun for everyone, from toddlers to grade school kids (and adults, too), as well as a selection of carnival-style rides. It's also a short drive from pretty much anywhere in Marin, which makes TrainTown a must-visit attraction for North Bay families.

A Sonoma Valley landmark since the early 1950s, TrainTown has that old-fashioned roadside-attraction kind of charm associated with a bygone era. It's right on Broadway as you head into town, so it's impossible to miss. Park your car, buy your tickets at the admission booth, and hop on when the train arrives at the station. Train rides last approximately 20 minutes, and are drawn by a variety of engines, both diesel and steam.

Marin Memorial Day Weekend Family Events 2014

May 22, 2014
American Crown Circus comes to Marin on Memorial Day Weekend
American Crown Circus/Circus Osorio brings its big top to Marinwood this Memorial Day weekend.

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

Friday, May 23

  • American Crown Circus/Circus Osorio
    St. Vincent's, Marinwood
    Friday, Saturday, Sunday & Monday, various times

    This family run bilingual circus, presented by Rotary Club of Novato Sunrise, is centered around acrobats, performers, and clowns, with no exotic animals. Performances are on Friday, May 23 at 6:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday, May 24 and 25 at 1:30, 4, and 6:30 pm; and Monday, May 26 at 1:30 and 4 pm. Advance tickets are $12 and are good for any performance; two children under 12 admitted free per paid advance adult ticket. Tickets at the gate $18. Advance tickets available until 6:30 pm on Sunday, May 25. Parking fee $5. For more info or to order tickets, vist their website.
  • Kiddo Family Carnival
    Mill Valley Community Center
    Friday, 4–10 pm, Saturday & Sunday, noon–10 pm & Monday, noon–5 pm

    Bring the family for a four-day real old-fashioned carnival. There will be rides for all ages, plus food and games. The littlest ones in your family will love the Berry-Go-Round and the Tune Train, while your teenagers will be thrilled with the Sizzler, Zipper, Century Wheel, and the Typhoon. Advance discounted ticket books will be available in the Kiddo! office and Mill Valley Community Center while they last. Books are $20 advance, $30 once the carnival begins. Books may be turned in for a one-day wrist band for unlimited rides. Food and games extra. Location: 180 Camino Alto, Mill Valley. For more info, visit their website.

Saturday, May 24

  • 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.
  • New Exhibit: Broken? Fix It!
    Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito
    Saturday & Sunday, 9 am–5 pm
    Broken? Fix it! invites visitors to embrace the broken as they discover the joy and satisfaction in making things whole or usable again. The exhibit encourages children and adults to learn together to diagnose problems, then roll up their sleeves and get inside the repair process. Visitors try their hand at a variety of fix-it activities, including figuring out why the car thumps and clangs, getting a bike rolling again, repairing a shoe, and fixing a toy train track. General admission $11; free for infants under 6 months and members. Location: 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito. For more info, visit their website.
  • Forever Family Spring Walk at Muir Woods
    Muir Woods, Mill Valley
    Saturday, 9:30 am–12:30 pm

    Bring your family on this slow and moderate walk through the redwood forest on the Fern Creek Trail to Camp Alice Eastwood and back. Discover wild and endangered coho salmon, banana slug trails, the Native American uses of plants, ghost redwoods, and more. Appropriate for ages 6 and above. Stroller and wheelchairs not advised. Backpack baby carriers ok. Dress in layers, bring water and a light snack, wear sturdy shoes with good treads. Reservations required; please phone (415) 388-2596. For more info, visit their website.
  • The 36th Annual San Francisco Carnaval
    Harrison Street, San Francisco
    Saturday & Sunday, 10 am–6 pm

    As one of the Bay Area’s most beloved events, the free family-friendly San Francisco Carnaval Festival is a 2-day event that showcases a diverse array of food, live music and activities for all. Enjoy a variety of dancing: Salsa, Samba, Reggae, Tango, Hip- Hop, Merengue, Calypso, Cha Cha Cha, Cumbia, and Mambo into the evening. The Grand Parade takes place on Sunday and starts at 9:30 am at the corner of 24th and Bryant Streets, where it will proceed west to Mission Street. From there, the parade heads north on Mission down to 17th Street, where it will turn East and flow into the Festival area. For more info, visit their website.
  • Washed Ashore
    San Francisco Zoo
    Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, 10 am–4 pm
    Through spectacular, giant sea life sculptures made with debris that has “washed ashore,” this new exhibit creates awareness about marine debris and plastic pollution and gives new meaning to the common man-made items we throw in the garbage every day. These amazing works of art have been created from thousands of pounds of debris removed from local beaches. A sea lion pup, a whale bones rib cage, and an ocean gyre—all made from ocean and beach garbage—are a few of the gigantic sculptures that will be on display throughout the summer. Tickets: $17 adults, $14 seniors 65+, $11 children 4–14, free for children 3 and under. Parking $8 weekdays, $10 weekends. For more information, visit their website.
  • Marin Greek Festival
    Nativity of Christ Greek Orthodox Church, Novato
    Saturday and Sunday, 11 am–10 pm
    Come celebrate the culture of Greece with fabulous authentic Greek cuisine, live Greek music and dance, children's activities, cooking demonstrations, and more. Adults $6, seniors 55+ $4, children 16 and under free. The Nativity of Christ Greek Orthodox Church is at 1110 Dickson Drive in Novato. For more info, call (415) 883-1998 or visit their website.
  • Kids Patchwork Series: Octopretzel
    Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, Berkeley
    Saturday, 11 am

    In a show as exuberant as their whimsical name, Octopretzel returns to the Freight stage to share exciting new material! The band creates engaging music, inspiring curiosity, wonder, and appreciation for the world we live in. Their skilled musicianship and magical way with children guarantees a dance-able, sing-able and fun experience for the whole family. For all ages. Doors open at 10:Cost: $8 advance, $10 at the door. Location: 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley. For more info, call (510) 644-2020 or visit their website.

U-Pick Season at Bloomfield Organics Begins This Sunday, May 25!

May 22, 2014

Bloomfield Organics U-PickU-pick time is almost here! Starting Sunday, May 25, Bloomfield Organics family farm (formerly known as Bloomfield Farms) will be open on the last Sunday of every month for you and your kids to not only see where your food comes from, but to pick your own seasonal organic produce, too! This certified organic family farm is located in the rolling hills west of Petaluma, and it's a short scenic drive from anywhere in Marin. It's a lot of fun, and at $40 for a large box of vegetables, it's a great deal, too.

The Collins Family and the staff at the farm are warm and welcoming and happy to help and explain about the different crops growing at the farm. Head out into the fields and pick exactly what you and your family want. Crops include, depending on the time of year, kale, broccoli, Swiss chard, lettuce, cabbage, beans, squash, celery, fresh herbs, beets, and more.

You'll also be able to buy other goods like eggs, strawberries, plant starts, and farm-made products at the farm stand. On most u-pick weekends, Chef Matt Elias will be on hand for a delicious "pay what you can" brunch made with fresh produce and eggs from the farm and other local producers. The brunch will not be offered on May 25, so bring a picnic to enjoy on the farm instead.

Cool Off at Marin Community Pools 2014

May 20, 2014

Looking for a pool in Marin to keep cool on a warm summer day? Here's our list of swimming pools throughout the county that are open to the public and offer drop-in recreational swim hours for families.

All schedules and drop-in fees are accurate at the time of publishing, but are subject to change and cancellation without notice. It always helps to give them a call to confirm hours and prices before you go. If you know of another local drop-in swim facility that you don't see in our roster here, please let us know and we'll add it to the list.


  • College of Marin Kentfield Campus Pool
    Physical Education Facility
    835 College Avenue, Kentfield
    (415) 485-9578

    June 16–August 17 (closed July 4)
    Monday–Sunday 1–6 pm

    Extended fall public swim hours (August 23–31): Saturdays and Sundays only 1–6 pm

Santa Maria-Style Tri Tip Is a California Barbeque Classic

May 20, 2014

Santa Maria style tri tipOn Memorial Day Weekend, or on any special occasion that warrants a backyard barbeque, one of our go-to dishes is grilled tri tip, cooked in the style of Santa Maria on California’s central coast. There, this triangular cut of beef is simply seasoned and cooked slowly over an oak-wood fire, in the traditional manner of the old California ranchos.

It’s easy to make a pretty authentic version on your grill, and it doesn’t need a lot of attention, so you can mingle with your guests and not spend all your time in the kitchen or tending the barbeque. My kids absolutely love this, and never seem to get enough when we make it. We always say that the leftovers make for great sandwiches, but truthfully we have no idea if they do because we never have any leftovers!

This recipe feeds 4–6; double or triple the recipe to feed more guests. (In Santa Maria, they say it isn’t authentic unless you’re cooking for at least 100 people!)


  • A 3–4 pound tri tip, preferably untrimmed
  • Kosher salt

Summer Swim Lessons in Marin

May 20, 2014

Summer's almost here, and one of the season's time honored traditions for children is swimming lessons. Not only are swimming lessons a fun way to get some exercise and cool off on a hot summer day, but they're essential from a safety standpoint.

Below is our list of local Marin County providers of swimming lessons for children. Although many of the facilities listed are private clubs, unless otherwise indicated, all locations offer public lessons open to all. Most programs require pre-registration; follow the links or call to sign up or for more information. As always, if you have a favorite swim class or teacher that you think should be added to the list, let us know by leaving a comment or contacting us.


The Mountain Play Goes Tropical with "South Pacific"

May 19, 2014

2014 Mountain Play South PacificThe Mountain Play makes musical magic once again with its 101st production: Rodgers and Hammerstein's South PacificSet in a tropical island paradise during World War II and featuring classic songs like "Some Enchanted Evening", "Happy Talk", "Bali Ha'i", and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair", this year's production is directed by Bay Area theater pro Linda Dunn. Dunn also happens to be the ex-wife of veteran Mountain Play director Jim Dunn, who performs in South Pacific as US Navy Captain George Brackett.

South Pacific tells two parallel love stories, one of Ensign Nellie Forbush (Taylor Chalker), a spunky Navy nurse, and local French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Peter Vilkin); the other of Lieutenant Joseph Cable (Tyler Costin) and young island woman Liat (Mia Klenk). The cast also features Randy Nazarian in  as Luther Billis and Lily Tung Crystal as Bloody Mary.

As always, it's fantastic live musical entertainment for the whole family, and a don't-miss Marin experience. My kids look forward to going to the Mountain Play every year. Great tickets are still available for Mountain Play performances on May 25 and June 1, 7, 8, and 15. All shows begin at 2 pm.

A Family That Eats Together: Farmer's Market Pasta

May 19, 2014

Farmer's Market PastaMarin Mommies presents this week's guest recipe from Nicole Cibellis, Marin mom and author of the blog A Family that Eats Together, where she shares meal plans and recipes that will please foodies and children alike.

As summer settles in and the bounties of vegetables fill the stands, I look for new ways incorporate these plump and juicy nuggets of goodness into dinner.

What I love about this recipe is how easy it is. For those of you with finicky eaters, it is easy to dress the pasta and leave all the veggies on the side for the kids. This way they can pick and choose which of their favorite veggies to eat. This pasta dish is flavorful and satisfying while being healthy and delicious.

Serves: 6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes


  • 1 pound linguine
  • 3 corn on the cob

Swimming, Play and More at McNears Beach Park in San Rafael

May 18, 2014

McNear's BeachMcNears Beach Park is one of those special places that I hold close to my heart. I grew up literally around the corner from it, and spent a lot of time there as a child. It's still one of my favorite places to spend the day in Marin, especially now that I have kids of my own. McNear's Beach is a 55-acre county park located on the shores of San Pablo Bay. It's the a perfect place to go on a warm day to wade in the bay, swim in the pool, picnic, fish, take in spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay Area, and more.

McNears Beach has been popular with Bay Area residents since the 19th century, when the McNear family owned most of the property in what eventually would become San Rafael's Peacock Gap neighborhood. The McNears operated a beach resort at the present location of the park, as well as a nearby quarry and brickyard.

McNears Beach offers a variety of things to do for visitors of all ages. The beach itself is a somewhat rocky affair, with lots of broken shells and interesting stones to pick over. You can wade and splash in the shallow and gentle San Pablo Bay waters, but the biggest attraction is the swimming pool, which gets pretty busy on a hot day. In addition to the popular main pool, there's a toddler pool, too. The McNear's Beach pool opens to the public this Memorial Day weekend (May 24–26), and stays open through Labor Day.

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