Archive for August, 2012

All Weekend

It’s time for the Historic Rail Fair at Ardenwood Farm. It’s on Sat, Sun and Mon from 10am until 4pm. Our boys love this annual event but, sadly, this year it has to come with a health warning. The Dumbarton Bridge is closed all weekend which makes for a long journey from our side of the bay. Here’s the event flyer.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday witness a series  of great train robberies at Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton.  Advance tickets can be purchased here.

It’s the 147th Scottish Highland Gathering and Games at Pleasanton this weekend.  Here’s the website for more information.

At Watsonville it’s time for the 48th Annual Fly-In and Airshow, from August 31st-September 2nd. Adult tickets are $15 per day, but kids under 12 are free.  Find the event website here.

Visit the Capitola Begonia Festival for flowers, nautical parades, art projects and sandcastle competitions. The event runs all weekend. Check out the website for information and daily schedules.



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Last week we spent some time camping in beautiful Butano State Park and absolutely loved it.  It’s a quiet, secluded, rugged valley perfect for families with preschoolers and has lots of places for little ones to explore.

The Campsites

Butano effectively has two campgrounds: a car camping area and a series of sites that are ‘walk-in’.

The car camping area is pretty typical for a California state park: the sites are reasonably spaced, there are clean bathrooms with hot and cold running water, and several water stations with potable water. The usual state park rule applies when booking–if you want privacy, always pick a site on the outside of the loop.


We stayed in the ‘walk-in’ area which I thought was really lovely. The sites there were a little mixed in size and privacy, but some of them were gorgeous and pretty isolated for a state park.  Booking is a bit of a lottery as sites are assigned by the staff, but there weren’t any really terrible ones.  The ‘walk-in’ element to this camping is not very arduous. Our site was one of the more private ones furthest from the parking area and we were able to cart all our gear quickly and easily with the help of a hand-cart.  The facilities in this area of the park are more basic.  There are a couple of drinking water stations and one pit toilet.  It’s certainly not for those who like ‘glamping,’ but it is a really nice way to get a small taste of more ‘wilderness’ camping with little kids in tow.  Just bring some hand sanitizer and be prepared to be dirty. It also seems to attract a more outdoorsy type of camper, so if you’re looking for a quiet, relaxing weekend, it’s the place for you.  One of the nicest aspects of the walk-in section was the absence of cars and bikes which made it possible for little ones to wander round and explore in greater safety.

The camp staff were very friendly and helpful, but the critters were quite aggressive. I’ve camped in many places and never come across raccoons as bold as Butano’s.  My tip is to secure food and anything scented in the bear box at all times, even when you’re sitting around camp.  These raccoons are not afraid of people.  In addition, the park currently has some issues with wasps nesting in the rotting tree stumps around the campground.  I have to say that we weren’t bothered at all by wasps, but it’s a good idea to keep a closer than usual eye on your kids when they’re scrambling about the woods there and to warn them of the potential wasp danger.

Finally it’s worth noting that there’s not much for sale here apart from firewood. Make sure to pack-in everything else you’re going to need.

What’s there to do in Butano?

1. Animal spotting

There were lots and lots of banana slugs. If your preschoolers are anything like mine, this is a huge plus. We found 70 in 24 hours.  There are also birds a-plenty, deer, raccoons and a few California newts. And plenty of weird and wonderful woodland bugs.

Slug Number 63.

2. Hike

I have to add a warning that, in Butano, unlike some other local parks, there are no super-easy, 1/2 mile, paved walks.  It’s probably not the place to come for your preschooler’s first hiking experience. That said, there are a few fun loops and trails for the more seasoned little one who is able to handle a couple of miles.  We must have covered about 8 miles on three separate hikes, all of which my 3 year old walked and most of which my 2 year old walked.  These trails are not jog-stroller friendly and you’ll need a backpack or child carry for non-walking infants.

One of the Six Bridges

Our favourite walks?

We, and especially The Monkey, loved The Six Bridges Trail. We took the path from the Ben Ries campground to the visitor center and back, a little over two miles.  It’s mostly flat, but there are a couple of short, steep climbs. This is an especially fun walk for preschoolers as they love counting the bridges and watching out for newts.  We also tried the Goat Hill Trail Loop and the Jackson Flats Trail, both of which were narrow and windy, with a few scrambly areas, but which could be completed by our two year old without much difficulty.  Now we can’t wait until the kids are old enough to go all the way out to the Trail Camp for a back woods overnight stay.

A pretty typical stretch of the Goat Hill Trail

3. Check out the Nature Center

It’s small and fairly limited for adults, but the kids wanted to visit twice.  They really liked looking at the topographical map/model, especially at the end, and plotting all the walks they’d done.

Impersonating a tree on the Jackson Flats Trail

4. Creek Play

There are plenty of spots where you can easily access the shallow Butano Creek and our boys had fun playing there.

We had a really lovely weekend at Butano.  The campground was more beautiful and quieter than the average state park and the empty trails were appealing to the kids–challenging without being too hard. This might well become one of our regular camping destinations.

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Live Earth Farm in Watsonville is holding a tomato u-pick on saturday. They write:

“When: Saturday August 25th, 9am – 4pm
Where: come to our “Main” Green Valley Entrance (1275 Green Valley Rd). Follow signs for parking. The U-pick field is just across the ditch from the barn this year, so, very easy to find:)
Cost: $1.50/lb (1st 5 lbs. free). No harvest limit this year!”

Last year we picked and canned enough tomatoes that they lasted right through the winter.

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Sunday 26th August

It’s family day in Courthouse Square, Redwood City with lots of children’s activities promised from 11am until 3pm.

At Santa Cruz Wharf it’s the 20th Annual Aloha Celebrity Races and Polynesian Festival. Races start at 9am and the festival at 11am.

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Earlier this summer we discovered the delightful Kingscote Garden on Stanford Campus–a perfect spot for a picnic or to pass half an hour. Our little ones enjoyed watching fish:

Hoping to catch some fish

and jumping off the garden’s various walls:

We always bring our own chaos to the quietest of gardens

It’s also a tranquil spot for parents to enjoy.

Peaceful. Even with kids.

The garden is small so there’s not enough there to keep kids amused all morning, but it’s so close to the dry lake bed of Lagunita Lake and the beautiful New Guinea Scuplture Gardens that you can combine the three destinations for a fun, outdoorsy couple of hours.



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Recently some friends mentioned a secluded and hard-to-reach beach at Tunitas Creek, Half Moon Bay and the challenge sounded irresistable. So a few weeks ago we set off to find this mystery spot and ended up having the perfect toddler adventure: a short trek down a reasonably tricky trail to a wonderful, deserted, sandy beach.

A gloriously empty beach at Tunitas Creek

To find the trail to this beach, park (for free) at Tunitas Creek Road off Highway 1 a couple of miles north of San Gregorio and look for an overgrown path leading down towards the creek on the south-side of the road.  Just keep following that thin trail for about half a mile and you’ll reach the shore.  The trail winds under highway 1, along the creek, over a rocky outcrop and along an inland lagoon before coming out on the beach and makes for an interesting trek.  A couple of points to note:

-this trail is really, really overgrown with lots of poison oak. Personally, I wouldn’t attempt it without trousers and a long-sleeved top.

It’s pretty much a green tunnel most of the way down to the sand

-it does involve a little bit of climbing and scrambling. Don’t be put off by this — my three year old could do it pretty much unaided and I completed the path with a large toddler tucked under one arm–but don’t even consider bringing a jog stroller of any type. A back-pack or ergo would be best for very small toddlers and babies.  My little ones really enjoyed the rugged character of the trail and we found it provided just enough challenge to be really exciting for a preschooler.

The Monkey’s favourite part

-it is pretty isolated. It may be over-cautious, but I wouldn’t attempt it without another adult in the party.

The beach itself is expansive, pretty and empty. It also seemed to have more shells than most local beaches and my kids really enjoyed beach combing there.  I have to admit that it was really nice having the beach to ourselves–the kids could really run around and explore without bothering anyone.

We’ll certainly be going again.

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Saturday 11th August

It’s the Cajun/Zydeco Festival at Ardenwood Historic Farm. See here for the flyer.

There’s an afternoon Family Bird Walk at the Don Edwards S F Bay National Wildlife Refuge from 2.30-4.30pm. It’s free, but you do need to reserve a spot on advance at 510 792 0222 ext 363.

The Taiwanese Volunteer Group is organising Happy Kids Day at Cupertino Memorial Park. Find details here.

Sunday 12th August

It’s a little further afield, but Open Cockpit Day at the Oakland Aviation Museum (noon – 4pm) sounds like a lot of fun for little plane lovers.

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After resisting taking The Monkey to ‘A Day Out With Thomas’ at Roaring Camp Railroads for the last two years (I’m a big fan of the basic Thomas toys and books but I don’t like the commercial hoopla that now surrounds the brand), this year I broke down under his pleas and bought tickets.  And in the end it was both better and worse than I’d expected.

Off to find Thomas

First the positives

Some parts of the day were really well organised. The system for getting hundreds of families on and off the train worked remarkably smoothly.  I also loved the way they’d set up the bouncy houses with different bouncy houses for different age groups. This meant my 2 and 3 year olds could bounce safely away from the more energetic 6 and 7 year olds.

Roaring Camp itself is a beautiful location and we had lots of fun exploring the old trains and track.

Now the Negatives

It gets pretty crowded. We booked an early train ride and were in and out of the place by lunch. I’m not sure how my kids would have dealt with the long afternoon queues.

There were a couple of fun booths for kids set up away from the tracks with some interesting toys and art materials.  But these were totally inadequate to deal with the number of visitors.  My boys really enjoyed the painting area and, luckily, were the only kids there first thing in the morning. I say luckily because there was only one small table with room for, maybe, six kids and only four little pots of paint and paint brushes.  I can’t quite imagine the scene there when it got busier.  We found a similar problem in the toy area where there were five train tables set up but almost no trains. Seriously, there were twenty engines toys with about 50 boys trying to grab them even early in the morning.  It was a total melee and, after I was eventually able to procure our boys trains to push, I had to stand over them constantly to stop other kids snatching them away.  Given the organisers knew how many tickets they’d sold, I think they ought to have made better provision in the toy and art areas to deal with the expected number of visitors.

Synchronized painting. A new Olympic sport.

If your kids like face-painting (and thankfully ours don’t) be prepared for very, very long queues.

The train itself is very long.  If you are in the first two train carriages, you can see Thomas. If you’re not, forget it.  That said, the train ride itself is pretty enjoyable. But if your kid is really excited about riding with ‘Thomas’ in particular, he’s going to be pretty disappointed if you’re in one of the middle or end carriages.

Would we go again?

No. It’s pretty pricey and a bit too crowded.  Plus our kids enjoyed the old Roaring Camp trains and railroad far more than the Thomas events. I think next time we’ll visit on a non-Thomas day.

If you do decide to go these would be my tips:

-book an early train ride and visit all the booths in the morning. It does get packed out in the afternoons

-make sure to book early for the train and get a ticket in carriage 1 or 2. It’s not really worth the ‘special’ Thomas price otherwise.

-keep your kids away from the store unless you want to be whined at all afternoon. It was a buying frenzy in there and the prices were much higher than you’ll find on everyone’s favorite online retailer.

The best bit.

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Saturday 4th August

The ‘Day Out with Thomas’ Event continues at Roaring Camp, Felton. I’m told there are still train ride tickets available at the moment. See here for details.

There’s a Blue Bird Walk led by the Sequoia Audubon Society at Edgewood Park from 8.30-11.30am. This is a free event.

All day today Santa Cruz is hosting the ‘Families in Nature Summer Festival’. It looks fun. See here for more information.

A couple of fun events at Ardenwood Historic Farm: your kids can ‘wake up the farm’ and help feed the animals from 10.30-11am and try some traditional American pastimes in the ‘Fun and Games’ event between 2 and 3pm.

And if you still have energy, there’s a star-gazing party at Hidden Villa tonight from 8-11pm. It’s $8 a person and you need to register in advance here.

Sunday 5th August

Thomas continues his run at Felton

Palo Alto is hosting it’s ‘Dog Days of Summer’ 10am-2pm. This is a free event which looks perfect for small pet lovers. See here for more information.

More events at Ardenwood Historic Farm: the ‘Wonderful World of Worms’ will be explored from 11am until noon and there’s more ‘Fun and Games’ in the afternoon.

Tuesday 7th August

It’s the pigs turn for Toddler Time at Ardenwood Historic Farms, 11-11.30am.

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