Where your kids can find cool clothes, great toys, and opportunities to have fun, learn, and be inspired.
When Jen Juroff moved to Danville a few years ago, she says she couldn’t find a boutique-style shop selling unique outfits and accessories that would appeal to her discerning daughters—ages eight, seven, and five. So she decided to open Dandelion in 2010. The shop features a small collection of timeless, comfortable, and sometimes quirky clothes, mostly from California designers, for girls up to age 14 and boys up to 10. There are baby onesies featuring vintage rock band logos, Luna Luna separates, girls’ cotton shifts fringed with sparkly tulle, and boys’ linen shirts for special occasions. Hot-selling items are Native rubber shoes and MadPax backpacks. 145 E. Prospect Ave., Ste. 100, Danville, (925) 406-4727, shopdandelionkids.com. —Martha Ross
Place to Learn the Alphabet
It’s one thing for a four-year-old to sketch her family or go through a coloring book, but it’s quite another to learn about letters and geography through drawing. Using the Monart method, A Colorful Mind Drawing Studio teaches kids ages four to six to draw through the alphabet in hour-long weekly classes: A lesson on the letter g begins with a picture book about geckos, followed by a phonics lesson and handwriting practice, before ending in a step-by-step drawing of a gecko with high-quality markers or pastels. The structured classes are focused and quiet (no office telephone or unnecessary chatter), and instructors do not offer feedback—good or bad. It’s all about enjoying the process of art making and learning, and the results are impressive. Brilliantly colored geckos (and toucans and spaniels, from more advanced classes) hang around the room, each destined for a family refrigerator. 1341-G N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 322-1238, acolorfulmind.com. —LeeAnne Jones
Children’s Birthday Cakes
You would never guess that a non-descript strip mall near Concord BART holds the key to a child’s special day. The owners and staff of Alpine Pastry & Cakes build fantastic birthday cakes. How about a flaming red monster truck or a coral reef surrounded by colorful sea creatures? “We can do anything you want,” says Gabriela Freitag, who owns the shop with her husband, Ernst. The Swiss natives, who met working in a Geneva bakery, bought Alpine 17 years ago and have seen demand for their custom cakes boom in the past 10 years. And they’re popular for adults, too: While Alpine can create a cake in the shape of an Xbox console for your tween son, it can also build a fondant-wrapped golf bag for your husband’s 50th. Cakes come in a variety of flavors and cost $21 to $1,000. 2693 Clayton Rd., Concord, (925) 689-7220, alpinepastry.com. —M.R.
Key to Happiness
“Smile. Be happy!!” That’s how Ruth Kaiser autographs copies of her new book, The Smiley
Book of Colors. Like the Spontaneous Smiley Project, Kaiser’s Facebook-fueled social movement, the children’s book shows candy-colored photos of ordinary objects that happen to look like they are smiling. Kaiser is a Lafayette preschool teacher who crafts a message that is easy for kids to understand but packs profound life lessons that philosophers and spiritual leaders have preached for centuries. More recently, science has begun to document how the simple act of smiling can change your mood and how happiness is a state of mind you can choose. Or as Kaiser writes in her book, “Might all be OK? Might it really be fine? Tell yourself, ‘Yes!’ Life is yours to define!” Available at local booksellers or online, spontaneoussmiley.com. —M.R.
Nature Escape for Kids
In these überwired times, Sienna Ranch offers kids a respite from touch screens and overscheduling. Here, they can run their fingers along a horse’s mane, pull a fresh egg from beneath a hen, or milk a goat. The 21-acre family-owned ranch off Deer Hill Road in Lafayette introduces kids to nature, farm life, wilderness skills, and self-sufficiency through summer camps, home school and after-school programs, field trips, campouts, and family days. Sara Kim, owner and mom of six, wanted to continue the nature education experience started by the former Deer Hill Ranch. “The kids can go out in the hills, find edible plants, and identify animal tracks. If they find an animal carcass, they learn about it. Whatever they see, they learn about it,” she says. The ranch also offers archery, wood shop, and equestrian classes. 3232 Deer Hill Ranch Rd., Lafayette, (925) 283-6311, siennaranch.net. —M.R.
Reignite your kids’ creativity every first Tuesday by taking them to the Lego Store’s Monthly Mini Model Build. The first 250 kids between the ages of six and 12 receive a quick tutorial as well as all the pieces required to make a mini model—and they get to take it home for free. So far this year, young fans have scored a mini cobra, mallard, and hockey player, among others. On July 3, they’ll make a torch in honor of the Olympics. A line forms early, so arrive well in advance of the 5 p.m. start time. 1344 Stoneridge Mall, Pleasanton, (925) 737-0704, stores.lego.com/en-us/storeevents.aspx. —LeeAnne Jones
For the past 25 years, the family-owned Games Unlimited in Danville’s Livery and Mercantile has offered kids and adults opportunities for hands-on play. As parents of eight and grandparents of 14, owners Ron and Sue Banducci have a expert eye for toys that inspire fun, learning, and camaraderie. Here are a few of their recommendations.
Pound a Ball ($29.99)
This simple toy by Battat lets kids 12 months and older plop a ball through a hole, then watch it course through a maze and come out in a whole other place, a great lesson in cause and effect.
Mon Premier Baby Dolls ($39.99)
The French company Corolle makes baby dolls such as the 12-inch Mon Premier line for kids 18 months and up, and Les Cheries girl dolls that their human BFFs, four years and older, can dress up.
Rapid Fire Power Popper Foam Ball Gun ($16.99)
Kids four and older can easily pull the trigger and unload a barrage of 12 soft, bouncy projectiles. Grown-up geeks love them for friendly office warfare.
Spot It ($12.99)
You basically need a sharp eye and quick reflexes to match figures on cards in this simple but ingenious game. Kids as young as six can outmatch much older competitors, making it an ideal party game for all ages.
Large Format Puzzles ($16.99)
Little kids love the generous selection of Ravensburger 300-piece puzzles, with their easy-to-handle large pieces. Designed for players ages 12–94, the puzzles also provide bonding opportunities for seniors and grandkids.
810 Sycamore Valley Rd., Danville, (925) 838-6358, www.gamesunlimitedonline.com. —Martha Ross
More Reader Picks
After-School Program: The Ballet School Performing Arts, 1357 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 934-2133, theballetschool.org.
Art Classes: The Art Room, 50 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 299-1515, theart-room.com.
Baby Shop: Giggle, 1359 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 746-0300, giggle.com.
Dance Classes: Next Step Dance Studio, 3612 Blackhawk Plaza Cir., Blackhawk; 743 Diablo Rd., Danville, 109-A Town and Country Dr., Danville; (925) 831-0777, nextstepdance.com.
Family Photographer: Custom Moments, Alamo, (925) 984-9454, custommoments.com.
Fun Park: Ghost Golf, 1913 Salvio St., Concord, (925) 521-1913, ghostgolfconcord.com.
Gymnastics Classes: Diablo Gymnastics School, 2411 Old Crow Canyon Rd., Ste. J, San Ramon, (925) 820-6885, diablogym.com.
Haircut: Shear Adventures, 320 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 820-3697, shearadventures.com.
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Chow, 445 Railroad Ave., Danville, (925) 838-4510; 53 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 962-2469, chowfoodbar.com.
Kid’s Museum: Lindsay Wildlife Museum, 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-1978, wildlife-museum.org.
Martial Arts Classes: East West Kung Fu, 140 Alamo Plaza, Ste. C, Alamo, (925) 831-0292; 3684 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 283-2021; 2242 Camino Ramon, Ste. 101, San Ramon,
(925) 355-9091, bokfudo.com.
Music Lessons: Contra Costa Children’s Chorus, 1035 Carol Ln., Lafayette, (925) 945-7101, childrenschorus.org.
Preschool/Day Care: White Pony, The Meher Schools, 999 Leland Dr., Lafayette, (925) 938-9958, meherschools.org.
SAT Prep Course: Bay Area SAT Academy, Jason Ahn, (818) 633-8177; Raymond Tuason, (925) 323-0246, bayareasatacademy.com.
Summer Fun Camp: Adventure Day Camp, 975 N. San Carlos Dr., Walnut Creek, (925) 937-6500, adventuredaycamp.com.
Swim Lessons: Splash Swim School, 2411 Old Crow Canyon Rd., Ste. S, San Ramon, (925) 838-7946, splashswimschool.com.
Teacher/Mentor/Camp Counselor: Jeanie Small, Tassajara Hills Elementary, 4675 Camino Tassajara, Danville, (925) 648-7150, thes.srvusd.k12.ca.us.