Best of the East Bay
Kids and Parenting
Coolest Kids Clothing Store
Four years ago, Orinda mom Lisa Taapken turned her passion for fashion into two successful clothing stores for children. Taapken, who was raised in Beverly Hills, often wished that she could find trendy clothes for her daughter someplace closer than SoCal. Recognizing the need for a fun, hip fashion boutique for babies through teens in the East Bay, she opened Mia and Friends.
The flagship store, named after Taapken’s 11-year-old daughter, Mia, opened at the Rheem Valley Shopping Center in Moraga. The fashion-forward kiddie boutique instantly won a following from the tween set. The store carries “Mini-Me” versions of the same lines moms might purchase for themselves in stores such as Walnut Creek’s Samantha Lee or Elisa Wen. Mia’s racks are full of designer brands, including True Religion, Juicy Couture, and Flowers by Zoe.
Taapken also promotes a fun environment in her stores by holding regular events, such as fashion shows, face painting, hair beading, and embroidery.
Mia and Friends, 370-B Park St., Moraga, (925) 377-0554; 1509 Cypress St., Walnut Creek, (925) 274-0554
For first-time moms and dads, the East Bay is home to a plethora of parents’ clubs that offer support, information, and camaraderie. One of the largest is the Pleasant Hill/Walnut Creek Mothers’ Club. With 500 members, it holds monthly meetings with guest speakers and publishes a newsletter that lists playgroups, parents nights out, and other activities that are geared mostly to children five and under. Friendships made through the club can last a lifetime.
For information, call (925) 939-6466 or visit http://www.mom4mom.org.
Bellies n’ Babies, 166 E. Prospect Ave., Danville, (925) 837-7100,
Collectible Toy Store
Handlebar Toys, 3535 Plaza Way, Lafayette, (925) 284-4631
G.R. Doodlebug, 700 Sycamore Valley Rd. W., Danville, (925) 362-1560; 350A Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 600-1360; http://www.grdoodlebug.com
Comic Book Store
Flying Colors, 2980 Treat Blvd., Concord, (925) 825-5410, http://www.flyingcolorscomics.com
Kids ‘N Dance, 3369 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 284-7388; 3841 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, (510) 531-4400; http://www.kidsndance.com
Encore Gymnastics, 2490 Sand Creek Rd., Brentwood, (925) 240-1133; 999 Bancroft Rd., Walnut Creek, (925) 932-1033; http://www.encoregym.com
Indie Toy Store
G.R. Doodlebug, 700 Sycamore Valley Rd. W., Danville, (925) 362-1560; 350-A
Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 600-1360; http://www.grdoodlebug.com
The Storyteller, 30 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 284-3481
Kids Fun Restaurant
Chuck E. Cheese’s, 7448 Amador Valley Blvd., Dublin, (925) 803-0101,
Cool Tops Cuts for Kids, 3367 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 284-5360; 5697 Miles Ave., Oakland, (510) 601-6502; 3171-H Crow Canyon Pl., San Ramon, (925) 867-1836; http://www.coolcutsforkids.com
Chow, 53 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette,
McCovey’s, 1444 N. California Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-9444,
Lindsay Wildlife Museum, 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-1978,
Kids Skateboard Park
Emerald Glen Park, Tassajara Road and Gleason Drive, Dublin, (925) 833-6600
Moraga Commons, 1799 Saint Mary’s Rd., Moraga, (925) 376-2520
Kids Soccer Field
Sycamore Valley Park, 2101 Holbrook Dr., Danville, (925) 314-3400
Pleasanton Sports Park, 5800 Parkside Dr., Pleasanton, (925) 931-5340
French for Fun, 3470 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Ste. A115, Lafayette, (925) 283-9822,
Bellies n’ Babies, 166 E. Prospect Ave., Danville, (925) 837-7100, http://www.belliesnbabies.com
Music Together, various East Bay locations, (925) 551-7722, http://www.musictogether.net
Where Music Begins, 5460 Sunol Blvd., Ste. 1, Pleasanton, (925) 249-0661,
Heather Farm Park, 301 N. San Carlos Dr., Walnut Creek, (925) 943-5858,
Performances for Kids
Fantasy Forum Actors Ensemble, (925) 943-7469, http://www.fantasyforum.org
Place to Bring Your Kid on a Rainy Day
Lindsay Wildlife Museum, 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-1978,
Shop for Kids Sports Gear
Copeland Sports, various East Bay locations, http://www.copelandsports.com
Play It Again Sports, 1601 Contra Costa Blvd., Pleasant Hill, (925) 825-3396;
5548 Springdale Ave., Ste. C, Pleasanton, (925) 734-6750; http://www.playitagainsports.com
Sport Chalet, 4555 Rosewood Dr., Pleasanton, (925) 225-0708, http://www.sportchalet.com
Northstar, 100 Northstar Dr., Truckee, (530) 562-2470, http://www.northstarattahoe.com
Barnes & Noble, various East Bay locations, http://www.barnesandnoble.com
Sue’s Swim School, 2701 Stone Valley Rd., Alamo, (925) 837-2428, http://www.sueswimschool.com
Lafayette Tennis Club, 3125 Camino Diablo, Lafayette, (925) 937-2582
Moraga Country Club, 1600 St. Andrews Dr., Moraga, (925) 376-2200, http://www.moragacc.com
Round Hill Country Club, 3169 Round Hill Rd., Alamo, (925) 934-8211,
Birthday Party Spot
Girls ages three and up can channel their inner divas at Pure Girls in Pleasanton. In addition to being a hip boutique for the tween set, the store doubles as a popular birthday party venue.
For $35 per child (eight children minimum), girls enjoy a themed birthday party with an ice-cream cake, purses with party favors, and a mini makeover for each guest. For the grand finale, partygoers take to the store’s karaoke stage and receive DVDs of their performances.
Pure Girls is the creation of Pleasanton’s Tracy Hazzard, who opened the boutique last September. The mom of an 11-year-old daughter, Hazzard recognized the need for a store that catered to what she describes as “girls too old for princess play but too young for the teen world.”
The boutique’s clothing is trendy without being too revealing. Both girls and moms will appreciate the wide selection of T-shirts, gauzy dresses, shorts, and capris.Located in the heart of downtown Pleasanton, Pure Girls also holds classes, including a mother-daughter self-defense course and one about the proper use of makeup. Call ahead to schedule a mini makeover ($25) or an appointment for your daughter’s first bra fitting.
Pure Girls, 660 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 485-4380, http://www.puregirlsclub.com
Au Pair/Nanny Service
Robin LeGrand knows that necessity is the mother of invention—and that for many East Bay families, having a nanny isn’t a luxury but an absolute necessity.
LeGrand worked as a nanny while attending college. More than 10 years ago, she launched A Nanny Connection to serve as a matchmaker between qualified nannies and local families. Her clients include dual-income families, single parents, and even stay-at-home moms. Some require a full-time caregiver, while others might need someone for after-school care or for a few hours each week.LeGrand, a Danville mom, interviews all families and prospective caregivers to ensure a good match. Nannies undergo a thorough screening that includes a criminal background check, fingerprinting, proof of eligibility to work in the United States, a minimum of three references, a DMV record check, CPR certification, and a TB test or chest X-ray.
After a match has been made, the family pays LeGrand a finder’s fee (five weeks of a candidate’s salary) and then works directly with the nanny to set a salary and schedule. Caregivers are asked to make a minimum one-year commitment, and LeGrand works only with families seeking nannies on a permanent full- or part-time basis.While none of her employees is named McPhee or Mary Poppins, LeGrand recruits a wide selection of nannies, ages 18 to 60. Some are college students, others are empty nesters, and all are interested in providing quality care to children.
A Nanny Connection, (925) 743-0587, http://www.nannyconnection.com
High School Cheerleaders
High school cheerleaders do a lot more these days than don cute outfits and cheer on the boys. Many are hardworking athletes in their own right who can assemble themselves into human high-rises and fly through Olympic-worthy tumbling passes. They put in hours each week working up routines and working out with their personal gymnastics and dance coaches. And because they cheer for their schools’ football and basketball teams, their season lasts pretty much year-round—not just a few months, like your average quarterback’s. As if that’s not enough, girls at schools with particularly ambitious programs also train to win trophies at regional, state, and national cheerleading competitions.
In the past two years, several East Bay schools have produced first- and second-place winners in different song, cheer, and group stunt categories at the USA High School Spirit Nationals, which takes place every March in Anaheim: Clayton Valley and Carondelet in Concord, Amador Valley and Foothill in Pleasanton, and Alhambra in Martinez.Says Leslie Runzler, program director for cheer and dance at Carondelet: “Cheerleading used to be a silly, fluffy thing that gave girls something to do. Now it’s so athletic. We cut girls who don’t improve, who don’t have the proper work ethic. They’ve really got to keep their nose above water.” —Martha Ross
For 12 years, Tot Drop has been the salvation of stay-at-home East Bay moms and dads who need a few hours to exercise, run errands, or just have some quiet, kid-free time to themselves. Located at community centers in five cities, Tot Drop is a fun, safe, and nurturing nonprofit “recreation” program for children ages one to five.
It currently serves about 1,500 kids and offers the same art, music, and circle-time activities as regular preschools. But it allows parents to be somewhat spontaneous in their child-care arrangements by letting them make same-day appointments. It also allows toddlers to attend with their preschool-age siblings and—very important—welcomes kids who are barred from many regular preschools because they haven’t mastered potty training.
“I tried to make it as parent-friendly as you can,” says founder Ruth Kaiser.
Tot Drop runs year-round, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, in Livermore, Pleasanton, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, and Benicia. Cost: $7 per hour; each additional child is $6 per hour. Call (888) 868-3767 or visit http://www.totdrop.com . —Martha Ross
Learning centers have become as common as soccer fields in the East Bay, and having a private tutor is now something of a student status symbol. Once thought of as being only for remedial students, learning centers now cater to students looking to excel.
The Lafayette Academy boasts a staff of qualified tutors who work with children in small groups or one-on-one. It helps students in elementary through high school enrich their math and reading skills, cram for tests, and prepare for SATs. It also helps them learn good study and time-management skills. Classes ($49 per hour for private tutoring; $30–$39 per hour for two ormore students) are offered after school and throughout the summer.
Lafayette Academy,760 San Ramon Valley Blvd., Danville, (925) 855-3700; 3400 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 284-1644; 1400 Moraga Way, Moraga, (925) 376-0747; http://www.lafayetteacademy.com
Martial Arts Classes
The Academy for Martial Arts in Walnut Creek is a suburban dojo where weekend warriors can take tae kwon do, hapkido, and sparring. Master Hun Cheol Park started training when he was knee-high to a grasshopper and has taught martial arts for the past 20 years. Park and his wife, Kristi, opened the academy three years ago and promote a family-oriented environment complete with movie days and sleepovers.
Classes are available for both adults and kids. An introductory package offers four weeks of classes and a uniform for $39.95. The academy groups children by age and ability, and offers a one-to-five teacher-to-student ratio for younger children’s classes.
The Academy for Martial Arts, 2086 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 943-3936, http://www.tafma.com
Chess may be known as the game of kings, but in the East Bay, it’s also becoming the game of kids, thanks to Elizabeth Shaughnessy. A former Irish Women’s Chess Champion, Shaughnessy shares her love of chess through her nonprofit Berkeley Chess School.
The school holds classes for more than 5,000 students at public and private K–12 schools throughout the Bay Area, including dozens of elementary and middle schools in Pleasanton, the San Ramon Valley, Walnut Creek, and Lamorinda.
Shaughnessy says the benefits of chess are simple: “Kids are sucked into playing something that exercises their critical thinking and memory skills. In chess, you have to ask yourself, If I do this, [my opponent] will do this, and then what am I going to do? Chess is the game of life.”
Berkeley Chess School, (510) 843-0150, http://www.berkeleychessschool.org —M. R.
If your children aspire to become the next Mia Hamm or Barry Zito, check out Saint Mary’s College’s summer sports camps. The camps give kids ages eight to 18 first-rate instruction and the chance to hone their skills under the guidance of some of the East Bay’s top college athletes and coaches.
Saint Mary’s started its camps 37 years ago, and today it features 12 sports, including baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and volleyball. It attracts more than 2,500 young athletes each summer. Camp sessions are offered Sundays through Thursdays throughout the summer. Kids can choose the college experience, living and eating meals on campus as a resident, or can come to morning or afternoon sessions as a day camper. The cost for a resident camper is $475 per week and for a day camper is $375 per week (except for golf, which is $515 for a resident camper, $450 for a day camper).
Younger children can also participate in sports typically offered only at the high school level, including tennis, lacrosse, rugby, swimming, and golf. All of the camps emphasize sports fundamentals, proper techniques, and, most important, having fun.
Saint Mary’s College Sports Camps, June–August, 1928 Saint Mary’s Rd., Moraga, (925) 631-4386, http://www.smcgaels.cstv.com/camps/stma-camps.html