Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fun Mini-Outing: Rivermark Village - Northside Library - Live Oak Park

Yesterday morning found me searching for a low-key activity that would entertain (and hopefully tire out) Toddler X while not requiring too much of me (I'd done a half marathon the day before, and was feeling about how you'd expect).

I decided to go with a library/playground combo and began running through the usual suspects in my head, but quickly realized that all San Jose library branches, excepting the King library downtown, don't open until 1 p.m. on Mondays. Never mind.

But then another option struck me, and it ended up being a perfect fit: Rivermark Village in Santa Clara, which contains the Northside Branch Library, Live Oak Park, a ton of toddler-friendly lunch options, and plenty of places to knock out errands, including banks, a dry cleaners, a post office, and a Safeway. Anytime I can get a bunch of things done without loading Toddler X back into and out of the car seat, I consider it a win. Off to Rivermark we went.


Rivermark Village is located in Santa Clara off Montague Expressway at Agnew Road. Pull into the main complex, and you'll find the library, park and Safeway in the back, all within a very short walk of one another, with shops and restaurants in the middle and front of the plaza. 

The parking lot is large (there's also a deck), but can get crowded -- if you plan to do grocery shopping as part of your outing, be sure to park within the bounds of the Safeway shopping carts!

Our first stop: the library.

The Northside Library

Our family has visited Rivermark several times for dinner and playtime at Live Oak Park, but this was our first visit to the Northside Library, which opened last year and is located right in the middler of Rivermark plaza, adjacent to Live Oak Park.

What a nice library! As you'd expect with a new facility, the library is clean and modern, with lots of natural light. The children's area, over to the left-hand side as you enter, isn't huge but is perfectly adequate, with fun wavy couches along the windows, some comfortable chairs for reading with your youngster, and a few toddler-sized tables.

The Northside children's section isn't separated with a barrier from the greater library (as, for example, the Willow Glen or Cambrian libraries' children's areas are), but it's a comfortable distance from the library's quiet areas, and nobody seemed concerned about the kids over there making kid noises. There are no toys out that I saw (the Bascom branch library in San Jose is the big winner for toys!), but there are board books at toddler level. There's a family restroom in the back corner, near the older kids' books, very convenient to the reading area.

By far the best part of the Northside library, however, is how carefully the library staff has arranged the books for a pleasing user experience, both for parents and kids. Between the shelves of books with spines showing are shelves with picture books standing upright and facing outward, so that parents and kids can see the front and grab what looks appealing. The books they've chosen to prop up in that manner are modern and relevant (there were several Halloween and fall-related books, for example). At some libraries, the upright books are all located at adult level, but here, Toddler X could grab what he thought he'd like -- and guess what? He was right! He discovered two different books that I probably wouldn't have picked based on the covers, but which turned out to be great finds. Hooray for the librarians giving kids a say in their own reading experience!

I was also very impressed with their collection of early reader and chapter books. Again, with a brand new library, it's not surprising that the books would be pristine, but seeing them all lined up so nicely made this compulsive organizer feel very, very content.

Having found some great books and a few kids' CDs that we wanted to bring home, I inquired at the desk and learned that you don't have to be a Santa Clara resident to get a library card. It took just a few minutes to get Toddler X his own card (all we needed was my ID), and the self-checkout machines were lots of fun for him (the books have a chip, so no need to scan barcodes -- a 3 year old could do the whole thing himself). They even had a step stool to make check out kid-friendly.

Overall, I was very impressed by this clean, pleasant library.

Rivermark Restaurants

After lots of reading, we needed, as Toddler X calls it, a "refresher". Rivermark is jam-packed with toddler-friendly eateries -- quick, in and out places that cater to the big lunch crowds from the nearby tech companies, and that are also a good match for families with small kids. In the past, we've enjoyed dinners at Yan Can Cook and Chipotle, and lunches at the Prolific Oven and Smashburger, but there are plenty of other great offerings as well. We just went with a quick Jamba Juice (pumpkin lovers, you've got to try the new pumpkin almond milk smoothie -- the cashier recommended it to me when I ordered the old pumpkin smoothie, and wow, he was right!), then headed over to the playground.

Live Oak Park

Live Oak Park is located directly next to the Northside library, just across the parking lot from all of Rivermark's restaurants. Besides a lack of shade -- it started to get pretty hot while we were there -- it's a really nice playground.

There's a good-sized toddler structure, along with a large and fun big-kid structure (which includes a zip line), two baby swings, two big kid swings, and a couple of spring toys. Ground surface is primarily sand, with a good amount of squishy stuff around the structures as well.

There are several benches between the big and little kid areas (it would be easy to supervise two kids here at once), and picnic tables and bbq grills off to the side (it struck me that this would be a nice place for a non-summer birthday party).

There's a huge field next to the playground, for running or games. There are bathrooms at the park as well, and plenty of parking can be found in the Rivermark lots.


After the playground, we swung back by the library to grab a few more books, dropped them off at the car (which I'd parked outside Safeway), and got all our grocery shopping done. The Rivermark Safeway is large, modern, and nicer than most Safeways around here, with a little sushi bar and lots of grab-and-go lunch options. I wasn't particularly happy with the turkey breast I got from the rotisserie area, but overall it's a fine place to get your shopping done. Just be sure that you park near the Safeway at the beginning of your trip, as the Safeway shopping carts lock up well before you get to the library/playground parking areas.


Park once, and enjoy a nice library, your choice of lunch (or dinner) venues, a fun playground, and getting your errands done, without ever having to reload your toddler into a car seat? I'd call that a win! So the next time you're feeling a bit lazy and want to pack a lot into a day, without a lot of hassle, think about hitting Rivermark. We had a really nice time and will definitely be back soon (at the latest, in three weeks when the library books are due!).

Happy toddling!

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