Friday, June 6, 2014

Nature/Playground Combo Adventures


I've been working on this post for a while, and never seem to finish because I keep coming up with more entries is this fabulous category: toddler-friendly nature activities that can easily be combined with a playground for a wonderfully complete adventure that is GUARANTEED to get you a good nap. :) (It is a great category, isn't it?) I've finally accepted that this will be a growing and evolving post, so I'm just going to share with you several that we've done in the past few weeks -- all have been a blast:

The playground at Shoreline Lake Park
1.  Shoreline Lake Park, Mountain View (trails and playground): The Wednesday before last, we visited Shoreline for a walk and some playground time, and I was reminded of what a gem there is hiding behind all those Google buildings off 101. We parked at the Lakeside Cafe parking lot and enjoyed lots of walking/running time on the trails (there are MILES of them), looking at the HUGE jackrabbits that hop around in the bushes, the geese that pepper the lawns with poop (watch your step!), and the myriad types of shorebirds that wade in the marshes. I talked with Toddler X about the bay, the tides, and the flora and fauna we encountered as we walked along the paved or dirt paths (your pick). We then hit the unique and fun ship-shaped playground (be sure to bring some sand toys) before grabbing lunch at the cafe (average food, but the view from the patio can't be beat! High chairs are around the side of the building.). It was a perfect combo of playtime, energy-burning runs and communing with nature -- and yep, a three hour nap was the result. Victory! Bathrooms and food are available at the boathouse.

The Redwood Grove boardwalk
2.  Redwood Grove Nature Preserve trails and Shoup Park playground, Los Altos. Check out my post from a few weeks ago about our adventures at Redwood Grove, Shoup and Downtown Los Altos. The exact opposite of Shoreline's full-sun, waterside, windswept experience, Redwood Grove is cool, shady, and protected from the elements. It's a great place for a toddler to run and explore in a natural, safe environment. We let Toddler X run ahead of us the whole time, and at each fork, he'd stop and say, "Which way?" and we'd say, "It's up to you!" -- what a great feeling for a toddler! The Preserve is right next to the wonderful Shoup Park if you're craving some playground time afterwards. Bathrooms are available at Shoup Park -- or portable toilets at the Preserve, if you like that kind of thing -- and food is available in nearby Downtown Los Altos.

The Oak Grove trail
(Yep, he's in PJs. Christmas ones, at that.)
3.  Guadalupe Oak Grove Park trails and Jeffrey Fontana Park playground, San Jose/Almaden. Amazingly, a totally different landscape than either of the previous two -- an oak woodland, with partial shade, some big hills (totally avoidable -- don't take a stroller on the biggest, it requires you to navigate some tough steps), and a really toddler-friendly part dirt/part paved trail. We were there with friends last Wednesday and saw several deer right near the path, as well as the typical squirrels and whatnot. There is parking associated with Guadalupe Oak Grove (I believe off of Thorntree/Sterling Oaks), but we tend to park on Golden Oak Way near Knoll Park Drive, which is the closest parking to the Jeffrey Fontana playground. We then enter Guadalupe Oak Grove from the entrance between the playground and the dog park. (Note that because of the trail's proximity to the dog park, there are lots of canine users, which is great if your child is like Toddler X, but not if he or she isn't a fan of furry four-legged creatures.) You won't be getting a major hike here unless you venture up into the non-toddler-friendly hills, and you may need to do a few loops to tire out your toddler, but combined with a visit to the playground at Jeffrey Fontana, it should do the trick! (By the way, here's my old review of Jeffrey Fontana -- it was much more enjoyable on a sunny day in the spring than a gloomy one in the fall!). Bathrooms are available in a building near the parking area of Guadalupe Oak Grove Park, but there are none near the Jeffrey Fontana playground area. A Sonoma Chicken Coop -- which has great kids' meals and a Kids Eat Free promotion on Mondays and Tuesdays -- is close by on the corner of Almaden Expressway and McAbee Road.

The Stevens Creek Trail
near McClellan Ranch
4.  The Stevens Creek Trail between Blackberry Farm and McClellan Ranch Preserve and the Captain Stephens Playground at Blackberry Farm, Cupertino. I've enjoyed this adventure three times in the last few months, and each time it's been a hit with Toddler X. The .5 mile paved trail between Blackberry Farm and the McClellan Ranch Preserve is a nice one for toddlers, with plenty of wildlife and cool stuff to see. You can park at either end and set out from there. At the Blackberry Farm end, just behind the swimming pool, you have a cool KaBoom! playground -- very shady (yay!) but not entirely toddler-friendly, with some high drop points and a big focus on climbing apparatus (no swings). At the McClellan Ranch Preserve end, you have the Nature Museum (open Fridays from 3 - 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.), where kids can feed a lizard or meet a tarantula or snake, as well as a 4H Barn with pigs, goats, sheep and miniature horses. If you head toward the creek from the main trail next to the 4H Barn, you'll encounter some steps down to the water -- facing the water, if you take the dirt path to your left along the creek bank (which involves climbing over a couple of downed trees -- you may want to park the stroller), you'll come to an amazing little cove/beach where Toddler X and his pals LOVE to splash and throw rocks in the water. Bring some mosquito repellent and water shoes. There are bathrooms at both ends of the trail, but not much in the middle.

The trail at La Rinconada
5. The trail and playground at La Rinconada Park, Los Gatos. This one we just discovered today! Check out this post for my brief take on the playground -- more to come later. We didn't fully explore the creekside trail, but it looked like a great toddler nature activity -- we'll certainly be back soon. I didn't see any bathrooms around.
One of many paths at Belgatos
6. The trails and playground at Belgatos Park in Los Gatos. Ditto the above -- we love the playground, and have only begun to touch on the trails. We'll report back more once we've explored a bit. The one trail we have explored was quite hilly, so expect a short toddler hike or bring a stroller. There are bathrooms near the playground.

That's it for now, though there are many more entries to come on this topic! If you have a favorite nature/playground combination adventure, let me know and I'll add it to the list.

Happy toddling!

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