Thursday, January 12, 2017

Eleven Fun Indoor Activities for Kids at Lake Tahoe

Mom, me, and the world's most beautiful lake, circa 1982
Lake Tahoe is my happy place, the setting of so many of my fondest childhood memories. Now, with children of my own, it is a joy to relive those moments while discovering new experiences that will become a part of their cache of memories -- hikes, playgrounds, beaches, adventures and more (see links for previous posts).

While most Tahoe activities take place outdoors, there are occasions when a dry, indoor environment beckons -- summer thunderstorms (very common, and definitely not a time to be outdoors!), winter blizzards, or just days that you need a break from the snow or the sun (like this past summer, when I was 37 weeks pregnant). Here are eleven options for indoor fun at the beautiful Lake of the Sky!

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Feeling creative at KidZone
KidZone Museum, Truckee

Located right next to Truckee High School, this delightful learning experience/play space is a perfect indoor/outdoor adventure for a Tahoe morning or afternoon (hours vary by season and day of the week -- be sure to check the website before heading over). The museum is a member of the Association of Children's Museums, and therefore offers discounted admission to members (Explorer's Circle and above, or the equivalent) of the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose and the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Kidzone is like a much smaller version of one of those museums, though it manages to feel larger than its actual footprint due to its well-designed space and cool domed architecture.

There are several discrete areas of hands-on learning and discovery inside -- blocks and building materials, pretend play (including a plane), an awesome vacuum/scarf contraption, a huge train table, quiet spaces for reading, an indoor climbing structure, a well-stocked art room, and a baby/crawler area (with a nursing chair for mom -- yay!).

On nice days, you can head outside to the delightful garden area, with creative water and sand play options, a garden, musical instruments, nature activities, and whimsical ski-related decor. Crocs are provided for kiddos to keep their shoes clean around the water.

Recommended for ages 1-5, though it's appropriate for up to age 6. My 7 year-old niece joined us when we took Toddler X two summers ago and she had fun playing with him, but I certainly wouldn't have taken her on her own.

Hours: Vary by season and day. Check the website for a current calendar.

Price: Babies under age 1 are free. Ages 1-69 are $8, and ages 70+ are $4. If you are an Explorer's Level or higher member at the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose (or whatever the eqivalent is at any other member of the Association of Children's Museums), you pay half price. Those who are active military get free admission year-round.

Location: Kidzone is located at 11711 Donner Pass Road, right next to Truckee High School. At our last visit, there was construction being done on the parking area, so it was tough to spot the museum and we actually had to drive back and forth a few times. Drive slowly and keep an eye out for a cool dome structure.

Random note: One of our favorite Tahoe lunch spots, Wild Cherries, is just down the street from KidZone. Stop there for tasty sandwiches, soups, pastries, breakfast treats, coffee, smoothies, and frozen yogurt.

Tahoe Tot Spot
Tahoe Tot Spot, South Lake Tahoe

This South Lake Tahoe spot is a favorite drop in play space for toddlers, preschoolers, and now older kids (up to age 8) as well. (It used to just be limited to little ones.) They offer Open Play hours seven days a week, plus fitness classes and special events. While we last visited in 2015 and there's been a change of ownership since then, it looks like they are getting the same rave reviews as before.

The Tot Spot gives kids both creative pretend play fun and an opportunity to burn some energy with mats, a trampoline, a climbing wall, ball pit and more. Toys (at our last visit) include a play kitchen and ice cream stand, trains, blocks, puzzles, and the like, as well as the aforementioned physical play options. The space is clean, bright, and well-maintained.

I recommended the Tahoe Tot Spot for ages 1-5, though it sounds like they've done some renovating that may make it appropriate for older kids -- I haven't visited since, so I can't report on that. Unless they've actually expanded the space, though, I can't see an 8 year old safely burning off much energy here.

Hours: Open Play is available Monday - Friday from 10:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. They also offer special events -- see their calendar for details.

Price: Drop in price is $12, with discounts for the second and subsequent kids in a family. They offer a vacation package, which gives you three visits in a two week period for $30. Kids under 9 months are free.

Location: Tahoe Tot Spot is in a strip mall at 1012 Al Tahoe Boulevard in South Lake Tahoe, with lots of shops and restaurants nearby.

Rideout Community Center
Rideout Community Center

This was one of my best discoveries of the past few years, a true hidden gem for visitors to the north or west shores. For a mere $3(!!) per person, you and your kids can enjoy an indoor space that consists of a large toddler room, a central area with ping pong and foosball, a section with board games and tons of movies to watch (including classic Disney -- I was able to introduce Toddler X to Lady and the Tramp), and a large basketball court, which may or may not be occupied with a camp or team practice of some sort. If the weather is okay, there's a large field and a playground outside as well.

One big benefit of the community center, unlike the spots listed above, is that it meets the needs of kids of varying ages, which is often what you have in family vacations at Tahoe. School age kids, pre-teens, and teens (heck, parents and grandparents too!) will enjoy foosball, ping pong, pool, movies or board games, while the little ones hit the enclosed toddler room, which offers small climbing structures and a little playhouse, as well as various plastic toys, books, coloring, and plenty of floor space for burning energy.

We've been there two summers in a row on rainy days, and both times it was practically empty (we didn't encounter anyone else in the toddler room), so it's quite a find!

Recommended for any age.

Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Price: $3 per person.

Location: 740 Timberland Drive in Tahoe City, a residential neighborhood just off Highway 89 a short distance south of Tahoe City's main drag.

Northstar Village Theater
Movie Theaters

I distinctly remember the summer movies of my childhood being played on the various screens of North Lake Tahoe. Today, some of those old theaters are gone -- so long, Brockway Theater in King's Beach! -- but others remain, and they offer a good rainy/snowy/extremely cold day diversion for preschoolers and beyond.

Unlike our megaplexes in the South Bay, each of the theaters at Tahoe runs just a few current films, and they rotate every couple weeks. There always seems to be at least one theater showing a family-friendly flick -- this summer, Incline was showing Finding Dory, while Northstar had The Secret Life of Pets -- but you may have to drive a bit to find the show you want.

The only theater we've been to recently is Northstar's, which is tiny but plays a movie just fine. Know that the theater seats do fold up -- always an issue with a kid under five -- and that they don't have any boosters to address the situation. Perhaps bring something from home if you think of it, or ask if you can use a cushion from one of the lobby chairs -- an employee suggested it to us, and it worked fine.

Theaters on the North Shore include Northstar, Incline Village, and Tahoe Art Haus and Cinema (formerly Cobblestone Cinema) in Tahoe City. You can find information about show times on Fandango.

Bowl Incline, Incline Village

I haven't been to Bowl Incline in almost ten years, so I can't report on its current condition, but it was an outing we considered last summer when I was too pregnant to spend another day at the beach (we ended up at a movie instead). I do recall Bowl Incline being a typical bowling alley, albeit with actual video poker stations and whatnot (welcome to Nevada!). If your child enjoys bowling (I would say it's generally best for ages 4 and up with bumpers, but you know your own kid), this would be a fine option, particularly with a mixed age group. Know that they don't serve food on site (except for vending machine fare), so eat beforehand or bring your own.

Recommended for ages 5 and up.

Hours and Pricing: See website for current hours and pricing.

Location: 920 Southwood Boulevard in Incline Village, NV.

Toy Stores

Toddler X loves exploring toy stores, and particularly playing with the "tester" toys they put out for kids to enjoy. I've made a point to never buy toys with him present, so he doesn't do the "Pleeeeease, mom, can I have it?" thing that could make a toy store visit so unpleasant. If your child enjoys visiting toy stores, but will leave without driving you crazy, these offer a nice, short, indoor diversion. I wouldn't think of any of these as an outing unto itself, but instead as a side stop.

Geared for Games
  • Geared for Games, Boatworks Mall, Tahoe City. This is our go-to spot for games or puzzles during family vacations at Tahoe, and it offers some great toys and books too. Geared for Games is convenient because it's located in the same building as Jake's on the Lake (a perpetually popular restaurant that often has a long wait) and Hacienda del Lago (a pretty good Mexican restaurant that we frequent), so Toddler X and his cousins have spent plenty of time down here with one grown up while the rest of us wait for a table or finish up our meals. Toy offerings include favorites like Green Toys, and toys out and available for play include a train table and various brain games (mostly directed toward older kids).

    In addition to Geared for Games, Jake's and Hacienda, Boatworks Mall itself is a nice, airy indoor spot for a kid to burn some snowy day energy -- lots of steps and windows and whatnot. There's even a somewhat hidden candy/ice cream store upstairs if you're in the mood for a treat.

  • Mind Play, Squaw Valley Village. This spot offers the same types of toys, games, puzzles, and books as Geared for Games in Tahoe City (I believe they're sister stores), with several out for kids to enjoy and explore (including a table with building materials set up outside the door on summer days). The space is very small, so you probably won't spend a whole lot of time there, but it's a great stop on a visit to Squaw Valley's village and will give you games and puzzles for later play at your cabin or condo.

    Playing with Calico Critters at Mind Play
  • Ambassador Toys. We stopped into this shop in the village at Northstar this summer and were pleased with its offerings, toy-wise, but didn't find a whole bunch of toys set out for kids' enjoyment. They do have an outdoor checkers table and a cool, dark space-themed room (I didn't see this, but Toddler X reported it to me -- it's possible he was just making it up). If you're looking to entertain a child, a toy store is always a good bet, but know that you won't find much in terms of free play at this one.

  • The Tree House, Downtown Truckee. This is a great, all-purpose kids' store, with clothes, toys and gifts for youngsters. I remember this spot (and the neighboring Truckee Variety) from my own childhood, and we've visited with my niece and Toddler X in the years since. At our most recent visit, they had a couple of toys out for play, as well as a great selection of Usborne books. 
  • Truckee Variety Co., Downtown Truckee. This place is an absolute assault on the senses...and I love it! We've been coming here since I was a little kid -- without fail, we'd stop in before our drive back to the Bay Area to pick out some colored pipe cleaners from the little cupboards in the back of the store (a zillion colors, priced individually -- it was heaven!) to entertain us in the car. While the pipe cleaner cupboards are gone, the shop is much the same -- narrow aisles and full bins and way too many people and too much stuff for the available space. However, you can find almost anything you're looking for if you're willing to brave the chaos. We've picked up sand toys and Mad Libs and art activities and more here over the past few years. If you take small kids in, be warned that (a) there are lots of choking hazard-size items, and (b) little hands will constantly be grabbing things off the shelves -- be prepared to say no to some requests. 

Village Candle Shop (Northstar)

Northstar has clued in to the fact that, even amid the most beautiful scenery known to man, kids sometimes want an indoor diversion. So, alongside the skating rink and trampoline/bungee thing and miniature golf course, it features a multi-purpose store that entertains kids with creative fun while collecting their parents' money.

Village Candle Shop hits all the bases, letting kids make candles, design mosaics, paint pottery, or build teddy bears -- a one stop shop for craftiness. This is so not up Toddler X's alley (or mine), so we've never been inside, but we peeked from the outside, and I have no doubt many little kids would like it a lot.

Truckee Donner Community Swimming Pool

A visit to this pool has been on my to-do list for a couple of years now, and at some point I'm actually going to make it over there because it looks pretty cool. In addition to a standard lap pool, there is a rec pool with slides, spray and splash features, and a current channel (basically a lazy river) -- kid heaven, right? At $8 for adults and $6 for children, this makes a fun trip for summer days when you want water but have had a bit too much sun, or winter days when you just want to splash in an 89 degree pool. Check out the site for seasonal hours. The pool is located at 8924 Donner Pass Road in Truckee.

Incline Village Rec Center

I planned to check this rec center out last summer, but never got around to it. If you're staying in the Incline/King's Beach area, though, and are looking for some active indoor fun, this might be a good option. The center includes a pool and gym facilities (though not kid-specific), as well as drop-off childcare during certain hours (you must have your child's immunization record to use this feature) so that your kiddo can play while you work out. There are daily drop-in rates for adults and older kids; kids 5 and under are free!

The vast expanse of Cabela's
 Cabela's Reno (technically in Verdi)

Toddler X made his first trip to Tahoe when he was just 3 weeks old, and his first trip to the Reno Cabela's only a few days later. This past September, Baby X followed suit, making her first trip to the Reno Cabela's at about 6 weeks old. Mr. X loves this place, and when you have a newborn at Tahoe on a rainy or snowy day, your outdoor options may be limited. Cabela's, here we come!

If you're not familiar with Cabela's, it's very similar to Bass Pro Shops. They sell all manner of outdoor sporting equipment (hunting, fishing, camping, etc.), clothing, and decor (if you've been looking for candle sticks made of antlers, this is your spot). Like Bass Pro, the decor is log cabin rustic, but the stuffed animals (the formerly-alive variety, not teddy bears) are cooler (if you like that type of thing -- if you don't, don't visit) and more varied.

There's a great fish tank and, if you're a Pokemon Go fan (as Toddler X is), a whole bunch of Poke Stops. I've changed more than a few diapers in the convenient family restroom, and the cafe provides a nice spot for a break.

Honestly, I don't think of a visit to Cabela's as a day's activity in and of itself (though Mr. X certainly does!), but it's a fun stop on the way to Reno from Tahoe. It's located next to Boomtown (can't miss it), right off the side of I-80 in Verdi. If your plans take you to Reno during a Tahoe vacation, you're looking for an indoor adventure, and the sight of taxidermic (I looked it up -- that's a real word) animals doesn't turn your stomach, then this place is worth a stop.

And if all else fails...

The South Lake Tahoe McDonald's has an indoor play structure.

If you know of any great indoor activities for kids at Lake Tahoe that I've left off the list, please let me know!

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