Thursday, June 12, 2014

Toddling with Daddy: A List of Toddler-Friendly Father's Day Ideas In/Near Silicon Valley

Still no concrete Father's Day weekend plans? Me neither. Mr. X isn't the type to go for big, Pinterest-worthy celebrations, and he'd rather not spend his special day battling crowds at a large-scale event, so the X family will turn to low key, easygoing adventures this weekend.

Other dads like a bit more action, or want to pursue a special interest, or perhaps check out an attraction they've heard mom and toddler talk about in the past. Fortunately, I have plenty of ideas for all different kinds of dads -- from low key (a hike and picnic) to pretty intense (Pirate Festival!). Hopefully one of them will be appealing to you and the dad in your toddler's life.

Have fun, and Happy Father's Day!

For dads who like planes, trains and automobiles (and boats)...

Oohing and ahhing over moving vehicles isn't just for toddlers -- dads love planes, trains and automobiles as much as their two year-old counterparts. Here are some fun activities for dads on the move:
  • Planes
    • Head up to Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos for Open Cockpit Day on Saturday from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Dad and kids can check out, and even climb insider, the cockpits of various aircraft, from a Boeing 747 to a Cessna to a Bell Helicopter. If dad has been really good this year, cough up the additional $3 to buy him an experience in the Flight Sim Zone, where he'll enjoy up to 30 minutes of simulated flight time from a pilot's perspective. The Sim Zone operated from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission to the museum is free for kids 4 and under, and they have a coupon for $1 off Sunday admission on their website.
    • Choose a good spot in the shopping center on Coleman across from the San Jose airport (the tables in front of the In-N-Out or Chipotle are ideal), grab some dad-friendly food, and watch planes take off and land on the runways across the street. Toddler X loves this activity, and I'm pretty sure Mr. X does too. Then, to make dad's day, head across the parking lot to Lowe's, where your toddler can cruise around in the cool NASCAR carts while dad shops to his heart's content.
    • Pack a picnic and head down to Emma Prusch Farm Park in San Jose, where you can grab a table (if you're early) or a spot on the lawn and watch small planes circle as they take off or land at Reid Hillview Airport, which is less than 2 miles away. (Note that you won't actually see take-offs or landings from Emma Prusch, just the planes overhead, but that's still fun.) Emma Prusch also has a small animal area, where you can feed goats, ducks and birds, and a not-so-toddler-friendly playground. But the best part: the park and parking are all free!
    • Visit the model airplane flying area at Rancho San Antonio County Park in Los Altos. Although you need to have a permit and some serious know-how to fly a plane here, anyone can come watch. It's located in a large meadow adjacent to the parking lot just above the one with the bathrooms. Afterwards, enjoy a picnic at the Rancho picnic area or a walk up to Deer Hollow.
    • Bring dad to the playground at Oak Meadow Park in Los Gatos, where there's a big old plane that you can climb on, just as I (and everyone else who grew up in the South Bay in the '80s) did as a kid. They recently closed the plane for some maintenance, but I've heard that it's reopened now and will no doubt bring back some fond memories if dad is a plane-loving local boy.
  • Trains
    • Again, head over to Oak Meadow Park in Los Gatos for a ride on everybody's favorite choo choo, the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad. If you're not bound to celebrating on Sunday, go Saturday morning instead for the special "Flapjacks and Railroad Tracks Pancake Breakfast" event from 8-10:30 a.m. Whichever day you go, you're guaranteed a fun and inexpensive ride through Vasona Park aboard a cute little train. A snack shack sells burgers, hot dogs and cool treats, or get a dad-friendly sandwich from Los Gatos Meats on University (only on Saturday -- they're closed Sunday) and bring a picnic to eat on the Oak Meadow lawn (one of the best picnic spots in the South Bay). There is a fee to park in the Oak Meadow lot on Blossom Hill Road, but you can usually find street parking on University (on the far side of Blossom Hill -- the near side tends to fill up quickly) if you're willing to walk down to the park. Beyond the train, there is also the carousel, the playground (which features its own little play train), and all the amenities of Vasona Lake County Park across the bridge.
    • Take a jaunt on Caltrain -- we did it the other day, and both Toddler X and Mr. X (and me, of course) had a blast. Check out my Facebook post for ideas on stops from a number of SV Toddler readers. Bonus if you're willing to go on Saturday instead of Sunday: the model train museum at the South Bay Historical Railroad Society, located at the Santa Clara Caltrain Station, is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You won't find a dad on earth who doesn't think that's really cool. Check out my review of the SBHRS museum for more details. 
    • Ride the rails at the Niles Canyon Railway Steamfest in Fremont or the "Hats off to Dad" event at Roaring Camp Railroad in Felton (dads get an engineer's cap with the purchase of a BBQ platter meal, and one lucky dad gets to ride in the locomotive). These are big, real steam-trains, and the voyages aren't cheap, so make sure your toddler is up for it before you head out on these adventures.
    • Visit one of the big local attractions that have a train among their many features -- for example, the San Francisco Zoo (we love the "Little Puffer"!), the Oakland Zoo, Ardenwood Farm or Gilroy Gardens.
    • If you're up for adventuring on Saturday instead, head to Vallco in Cupertino for the Golden State Division of the Toy Train Operating Society's public train display, open from "mid-morning to evening", to watch model trains chug along on tiny little tracks. Then hit some of Vallco's pathetically empty hallways to let your toddler burn off some steam, and if dad has been extra good this year, spring for one of those lounge chair massages for the big guy. He deserves it.
    • And, if you're looking for a really low-key train adventure, grab one or two of your toddler's Thomas engines (be sure to mark them with your name), and bring dad over to a local Barnes and Noble for playtime on the train table. If dad is good, you can buy him a book.
  • Automobiles
    • Another option at Vallco: If dad likes racing little cars, hit Inside Line Racing for a pretty inexpensive (and low-commitment) adventure. Toddlers won't be able to drive (Inside Line prefers drivers to be at least 5 years old), but your toddler might love watching dad maneuver the cars around the track. And if your toddler wants to get behind a wheel, just bring a bunch of quarters -- there are three areas of coin-operated rides in the mall, so a chance to cruise in a Ferrari (or a safari jeep or a school bus or whatever else might suit your fancy) is only 50 cents away. Just know that some of the rides will eat your quarters -- if you put in one and don't hear it "digest" it, don't stick in a second!
  • Boats
    • How about hitting the high seas with your toddler? Okay, maybe it's not the high seas, but at Shoreline Lake, kids as young as two can go out on pedalboats with their parents. Combined with a nice walk on the trails, a visit to the boat-shaped playground, and a picnic lunch from the cafe, it's got the makings of a delightful Father's Day.
    • Or, if the high seas of Los Gatos are more your style, head to Vasona Lake, where pedalboats are also available for rent, and all ages are allowed onboard. Like Shoreline, Vasona has great trails (the Los Gatos Creek Trail, specifically) and a playground, plus it has the added benefits of Oak Meadow Park, with all its amenities, just across the bridge.

For dads who like to live on the wild side...

Lions and tigers and bears are just as cool when you're thirty-five as they are when you're three -- if dad is into wild animals, there are plenty of places to visit.
  • Our top wild animal pick is the San Francisco Zoo -- and, on Father's Day, dads who bring their kids to the zoo get in free! They have a bevy of fun events scheduled for Father's Day Weekend, including visiting characters from The Jungle Book. Besides the zoo animals and the train (mentioned above), the zoo has a great carousel and maybe the single coolest playground I've ever seen. Check out my review of the SF Zoo for more info on this wonderful place.
  • More wild animals can be found in the East Bay at the Oakland Zoo, another great toddler adventure. The big pro of Oakland over SF, in my opinion, is the elephants -- I have no idea why SF no longer has pachyderms, but it's a big loss. Oakland also has a miniature theme park area with toddler-friendly rides and a train. Dads ride the train free on Father's Day.
  • If dad would be satisfied with a little less wild-ness, Happy Hollow Park and Zoo in San Jose is a great, close-to-home option. There's a jaguar, some lemurs, some capybara, and a big tortoise -- things don't get much wilder than a tortoise. Plus, you get all the other great Happy Hollow amenities -- the rides, the petting zoo, the playground, the Crooked House meadow (one of our favorite picnic spots) -- and you're home in time for nap (or the World Cup game, depending on your perspective).
  • Wild animals live in the water, too, so how about a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to see some pretty amazing ones? It's one of our favorite places to visit as a family -- heck, we like it so much, we bought a membership (if you're considering it, know that there's a separate entrance for members, which could come in handy with Father's Day crowds). Monterey is full of other family-friendly activities too. Rent a surrey bike (with kid seat) to cruise along the great oceanside path near Cannery Row, visit Dennis the Menace Playground at El Estero Park (a truly incredible playground!), take a float in a paddle boat on the lake at El Estero (not sure about age limits, but it's worth asking), and definitely walk out onto Coast Guard Pier (near Fisherman's Wharf) for the most close-up experience possible with more sea lions than you could ever imagine (look for the jellyfish alongside the pier as you walk out -- there are a ton of them, and they're creeeepy!). (If you love sea lions but would rather stay a little closer to home, the end of the Santa Cruz Wharf is always a good place to see/hear some, particularly if the steps down to the little boat landing area are open. Awesome close ups there too!).

For dads who like sports...
  • Kick off the Father's Day celebration early with a Friday night or Saturday evening watching the San Jose Giants take on the Stockton Ports. While we haven't yet taken Toddler X to a SJ Giants game (my last one was when I was 5 months pregnant), I posted about it on SV Toddler earlier in the spring, and the consensus was that Municipal Stadium is a great place for a toddler to watch a baseball game. Plus, the whole outing is so inexpensive that if your little one breaks down, you just leave.
  • If you're willing to travel a bit further afield (and spend a whole lot more on parking), there is also action in the majors this weekend: the Giants are at home, playing the Rockies on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the A's are at home too, playing the Yankees all three days. Go to the Friday game in Oakland for Super Mario fireworks afterwards (assuming your toddler is good with a late night and loud noises), or the Sunday game in SF for a chance to score a Giants necktie.
  • Hit the (miniature) links for a toddler-friendly game of golf. This is our plan for Grandpa X's Father's Day Gift -- a round of golf and an In-N-Out lunch with his little mini-me. There are two options that I know of, but probably many more out there. Check out Emerald Hills Golfland in San Jose or Golfland Sunnyvale -- I called both, and kids under 4 are free with a paying adult.
  • And, if you really feel like taking it easy, I promise you that the dad in your life will be happy with just a comfortable chair and the remote: this is the first weekend of World Cup action, with four games on Saturday and three on Sunday. Even if your husband doesn't generally follow soccer, there's a good chance he's interested in the World Cup. Let him watch in peace, and he'll be eternally grateful. (Note: there are big World Cup watching parties throughout the South Bay -- one notable one is in Plaza de Cesar Chavez in downtown San Jose -- but I'm not sure I could recommend any of these as toddler-friendly. I remember when the Brazilian team was based in Los Gatos for the US World Cup when I was in high school, and the whole scene was a little wild. Use your best discretion in deciding what's best for your little one.)

For dads who like games...

Toddler X is hilariously obsessed with arcades right now -- flashing lights, funny noises, and lots of buttons to push make for loads of toddler fun. While most dads probably won't admit it, they still love arcades too. Combine a half hour at an arcade (any more would be sensory overload for you and your toddler) with another fun outing for a great Father's Day for gaming dads. Here are some options:

  • Oakridge Mall's arcade is Toddler X's favorite (and where he discovered arcades to begin with, while we were waiting for Easter Bunny pictures). The arcade has lots of super toddler-friendly games, including a whack-a-mole type game for little people, and a fun game where you bounce balls into a dog's mouth. They even have a toddler-size air hockey and skee ball. Enjoy lunch in the food court (Chipotle has a great kids' meal for only $4) and some play time in the soft play area, and your day is complete.
  • There are also arcades at the the two Golfland locations mentioned above. I've never been there, so I don't know their toddler-friendliness quotient, but if you're there for the golf, give the arcade a try.
  • In Los Altos, right next door to Bumble, you can find Area 151 arcade. Owned by the same folks that own Bumble, Forest on First (a few doors down) and Play!, this spot is very kid-friendly, though there's not all that much that's toddler-high (though they do have stools that can be pulled up to the machines, a nice plus). Combine this with a Bumble, Forest on First, Play, the Redwood Grove or Shoup Park, and you've got a wonderful day.

For dads who like nature...

Many dads are like Mr. X -- they'd much rather enjoy some family time out in nature than go to big events every day of every weekend (trust me, we've had this discussion in the X family a time or two). For those dads, here are some ideas for a fun Father's Day nature outing:

For dads who like to oink, cluck or moo...

Wild animals are great and all, but you're not going to get much of a laugh setting your toddler free to run in a pen of tigers. Sometimes, domesticated animals -- chicken, sheep, goats -- are just the ticket for toddler family fun. Check out my comparison of local farm animal encounters for the basic info you need to determine the right farm for your family, or check out one of the following spots:
  • Head up the peninsula for the final weekend of the San Mateo County Fair. With everything from rides and concerts to youth livestock exhibitions, there will no doubt be something to please your toddler and his or her dad.
  • Visit Ardenwood Farm in Fremont to see a huge, working farm, with a wide range of crops and animals, nice picnic areas, and a fun train ride. There are plenty of fun events scheduled for this weekend, including ice cream making on Saturday and creating Father's Day cards (as well as a chance to meet some of the farm's dads) on Sunday. Ardenwood is a great, inexpensive family adventure -- if you haven't been there yet, I definitely recommend you check it out.
  • Hidden Villa Farm in Los Altos Hills is another great close-to-home option -- lots of space, lots of animals, and lots of fun to be had watching your toddler run amok in the chicken area. There's also a really neat little garden with several toddler-friendly attributes. Hidden Villa is closed during the week over the summer, but is open for Father's Day weekend for your toddling pleasure.
  • Other local farms, like Deer Hollow, and petting areas, like Happy Hollow and the San Francisco Zoo, are covered in my comparison of local farm animal encounters.

For dads who like pirates... (and honestly, what dad doesn't?)
  • Well, with a heading like that, what else could it be but the Northern California Pirate Festival, happening this Saturday and Sunday at Waterfront Park in Vallejo? This looks like a cross between a renaissance fair and a Disney ride, and is just all-around hilarious. There are apparently plenty of activities for "wee pirates", and no doubt any pirate-loving dad will be happy.

For dads who like princesses... (or who are just really, really good dads)
  • Evergreen Village in San Jose is offering a free outdoor showing of Frozen on Friday night after their evening art and wine stroll, and I know plenty of little toddler girls who are getting their Anna and Elsa dresses ready for the occasion. The movie will start at sundown, which will mean a late night for kiddos, so plan accordingly (maybe the Anna and Elsa pjs instead of the dress?). And all dads who choose to attend this screening with their families are guaranteed extra-awesome treatment for the rest of the weekend -- they deserve it!

For dads who want to get in touch with their Portuguese roots (or just like good food and music)...
  • Check out the Dia de Portugal Festival at History Park in San Jose on Saturday from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. There will be entertainment, kids' activities, a parade and food booths.

For dads who just want to relax...
  • Visit one of our favorite playgrounds for some sliding and swinging time with your toddler. Note that the water features are on this summer at Sunnyvale and Campbell parks, but not San Jose's.
  • Pack a picnic for lunch at the Municipal Rose Garden in San Jose (one of our most-frequent outings), Oak Meadow Park in Los Gatos, or Wildwood Park in Saratoga (not a great playground for toddlers, but a beautiful shaded meadow for picnicking).
I'm sure I could go on forever with ideas for other dad-friendly, toddler-friendly outings and activities this weekend, but hopefully this sparks some ideas to help the dad in your toddler's life have a wonderful celebration.

Happy toddling, and Happy Father's Day!

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