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The Best of the North Bay 2004

Kids
Writer's Choice

Best Place to Soar Like a Hawk
Tucked in the hills east of Petaluma Hill Road in Rohnert Park (due west of Sonoma Mountain) and studded with oaks, Crane Creek Regional Park is a 128-acre jewel that offers six miles of well-kept trails, most of them flat and easily navigable by toddlers and even stroller-pushing parents. Best of all, there's a sheltered calm about this place that takes you just a few hundred yards from civilization, but miles away from your hectic schedule. To find Crane Creek Regional Park, turn east on Roberts Road (off Petaluma Hill Road a mile south of Sonoma State University) and continue to 6107 Pressley Road. The park is open from sunrise to sunset. There is a $2 parking fee. 707.565.2041.--G.C.

Best Place for Kids to Learn That Beauty Is Relative
With annual competitions like the popular look-alike contest (featuring excitable contestants who somewhat resemble one another) and the baby derby (crawling babies, racing to the finish line), the Sonoma-Marin Fair, routinely occurring in June, is weird enough, easily ranking as one of the most idiosyncratic events in the North Bay. The fair's annual ugly dog contest easily clinches that reputation. This will be its 15th year of canine ugliness, which has made a star (including two appearances on The Tonight Show) out of repeat winner Nana, a charmingly alarming critter. To paraphrase a certain person's Scottish grandfather, you could also say Nana's of the ugly bean breed, as in, "Someone's been feeding that dog some ugly beans." Based on the dozens of dogs brought to compete every year, it's obvious that some dogs eat a whole lot of ugly beans. The 65th annual Sonoma-Marin Fair will take place June 16-20 at 175 Fairgrounds Drive in Petaluma (near Washington and Payran streets). 707.283.FAIR..--D.T.

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Best of 2004 Categories
Culture
[ Writer's Choice | Readers' Choice ]
Everyday
[ Writer's Choice | Readers' Choice ]
Food & Drink
[ Writer's Choice | Readers' Choice ]
Kids
[ Writer's Choice | Readers' Choice ]
Recreation
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Romance
[ Writer's Choice | Readers' Choice ]

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Best Security Blanket
Forget the silver rattles and $50 infant gyms. Baby nirvana has arrived in the form of Taggies ($20), a snuggly square of blanket with a dozen or so satiny tags sewn around the sides for baby's tactile pleasure. To those of us able to chew solid foods, anything with more than one tag sticking out of it is almost evil. But then consider Teletubbies and mashed peas; there's simply no understanding the whims of the little droolers. Tiny fingers seem to love rubbing the different-sized tags while heading off to the Land of Nod, and local moms are snapping them up by the truckload. Taggies are available at Reverie Baby, 2318 Magowan Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.544.4630.--H.I.

Best Place to Trip Over Strollers While Buying a Big, Spicy Cinnamon Roll
Every Thursday morning, the San Rafael Farmers' Market at the Civic Center in San Rafael becomes the hot spot for local farmers, craftspeople and peddlers of various edibles. People shout things like "Tomatoes! Tomatoes!" while others pop steaming batches of kettle corn. It's pretty darn pleasant. Meanwhile, as every second passes, the place becomes more and more crammed, from booth to booth, with parents and kids and, this being Marin County, packs of nannies, all jostling and wheeling their way through the meandering crowd in search of fresh veggies and chewy bakery goods, while keeping an eye out for the clown who makes balloon animals. Thursdays and Sundays, 8am-1pm. Marin Civic Center Lagoon, near the corner of North San Pedro Road and Highway 101. --D.T.

Best Hookup for the Stroller Set
Despite the rumors, motherhood ain't always precious moments and perfect play dates. In fact, it can get pretty grisly some days, which is why it's great to have another slightly spit-up upon shoulder to lean on. The Santa Rosa Mothers Club is a well-oiled machine, connecting local mothers to one another and the community. For $30 a year, members tap into an extensive network with a well-maintained website and newsletter, monthly meetings and outings, play groups and a circle of friends who don't mind if you've got a few stray Cheerios in your hair. Meets the second Wednesday of the month from 7pm to 9pm at the Finley Community Center, 2060 College Ave., Santa Rosa. For details, call 707.525.5902 or visit www.santarosamothersclub.org.--H.I.

Best Place for Kids to See the Birds From 'Finding Nemo' Up Close
Yes, Finding Nemo was about fish, but there were also a bunch of birds, right? Most notably there was Nigel the Aussie pelican and, of course, all those yammering seagulls ("Mine? Mine?"). So just imagine how much fun the kids will have when you take them to WildCare Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in San Rafael where the courtyard contains a number of such beaked and feathered creatures. Wounded and maimed, some missing wings, these "animal ambassadors" hang out waiting for lunch time (be warned: they eat fish!), taking baths in the pond and charming the center's visitors with their rascally ways. 76 Albert Park Lane, near Albert Park, San Rafael. 415.453.1000.--D.T.

Best Place to Learn Patience With Other Parents
Here's the thing about having kids: suddenly you're obligated to spend time with people you have nothing in common with other than you've decided to reproduce. To prepare kids and parents for the rigors of that enforced social time, the California Parenting Institute offers inexpensive weekly educational activities, organized by age group, for both parents and kids. Kids get to be crazy together in a safe and squishy place, the worry wart can be reassured that Babycakes is right on developmental track, while the know-it-alls can learn a little bit more from CPI's teachers, and maybe other parents, too. Or not. 3650 Standish Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.585.6108.--A.H.

Best Place to Train Your Kids
Sonoma is best known for such adult activities as winetasting and restaurant savoring. But there is an unparalleled haven for kids that harks back to a time before technology sucked out their precious little souls. Train Town boasts being "the most well-developed scale railroad in the Americas," and though it would take a lot of traveling to confirm or deny this claim, your caboose won't know the difference. The conductor takes his role seriously, and as you snake across one-and-a-quarter miles of track, the wind in your hair, the whistle blowing, it's easy to fall in love with this old-fashioned form of transportation. There's a stopover to feed animals--llamas, sheep, goats--though be careful that it isn't your favorite sweater going down. There are also three full-sized cabooses from the '30s and '40s for adult curiosity. 20264 Broadway, Sonoma. 707.938.3912.--J.R.

Best Place to Play With Your Food
Unclothed and outside is the best way for kids to learn about cooking, but sometimes the adults involved desire an edible result. Although everyone must remain dressed, various dining needs can be met at DiVine Pizza in Healdsburg. Grownup-type choices are available, but the best for fulfilling the tactile demands of children is the make-your-own pizza. DiVine provides an unbaked crust and small containers of toppings. At their own counter, kids can then poke, pour, swirl and sprinkle, and when assemblage is complete, the pizza is baked. Satiated, the family goes home, and, happily, the mess stays behind. 1051 Vine St., Healdsburg. 707.433.3660.--A.H.

Best Place to Do Your Spiderman Imitation
Watching a six-year-old shimmy straight up a 20-foot indoor rock wall may inspire you to try the same--and that could get ugly. Save your dignity and leave the scaling to the kids each Saturday morning from noon to 2pm during one of Vertex Climbing Center's weekly open sessions. For $17, kids (and brave, well-stretched grownups) get a two-hour supervised lesson and one-on-one assistance with harnesses, belaying (they hold the ropes for safety) and a chance to swing, literally, from the rooftops, while you drink coffee and give the thumbs-up from a safe distance. 3358-A Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa. 707.573.1608.--H.I.

Best Place to Let Someone Else Get Hoarse
Of course you read to your kid all day every day. But for those rare moments when you just don't care to recite Oh, the Places You'll Go! for the 100th time, turn to your local branch of the Sonoma County Library. Other than the fact that all branches have fabulous children's sections with appropriately sized furniture, they also have storytime! Different branches have storytime for various age groups, during which a person blessed with patience and enthusiasm reads stories or tells tales with a felt board or organizes crafts. All this on a weekly basis. All this for free! www.sonomalibrary.org.--A.H.

Best Refurbished Educational Mecca
Technically, the expansion of the Bay Area Discovery Museum--the famous hands-on interactive educational center located in the Marin Headlands that attracts over 200,000 Bay Area families each year--hasn't actually happened yet. But it is happening. A three-phase project, the multimillion dollar expansion got under way in early 2003, and the first phase, featuring the 180-seat Discovery Theater, the grand Entry Pavilion, the Tot Spot play area and the high-tech Media Clubhouse, officially opened in October. This year woill see the completion of new facilities and attractions, including an enormous art-studio experience and Lookout Cove, a 2.5-acre "exploration area" featuring tactile mini versions of such local icons as a rocky shore, a sunken ship, tidal pools with real animals and the Golden Gate Bridge as it appeared in midconstruction. In 2005 the project will be complete with the opening of the Wave Workshop science lab, a working model of the ocean currents beneath the actual Golden Gate Bridge. Oh, to be 10 again. 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito. 415.339.3900.--D.T.

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From the March 17-24, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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