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Surprising birthday party venues, killer kids’ menus, and great reads for little ones.


Angela Decenzo







Kids’ Museum

Group for Gamers

Pick Your Party

Toy Store

Picture Books

Food Innovations

Kids’ Menus

More Winners



ShutterstockMuch Ado About Bee Hives

Reader Pick | Kids’ Museum

Hive Alive, the Plexiglas-enclosed exhibit at Walnut Creek’s Lindsay Wildlife Museum, offers kids an up-close view of the Shakespearean drama of a honeycomb. Yes, we’re talking sex, power plays, and tragic death scenes. Here’s who’s who.

The Queen
As the mother of them all, her royal highness is bigger than the drones and workers in her realm. She can lay up to 3,000 eggs a day, but after one to five years, her hive mates begin to sniff out her declining fertility and drive her out in favor of a younger, more sexually productive new leader.

These guys’ primary purpose is to fertilize receptive queens. A brief in-flight interlude usually costs the drone his, uh, manhood, and he dies soon after.

The queen’s daughters toil like Cinderella during their short lives, which only last a few weeks. They clean the hive and exit through a Plexiglas corridor leading outside to gather pollen to feed the hive. Not wanting to mess up the hive with their corpses, they fly off into the sunset when it comes time to die. wildlife-museum.org. —Martha Ross



Mitch Tobias




Cool School

Editor Pick | Group for Gamers

You see your nine-year-old engrossed in his Xbox or PSP, and despair that he’s not as passionate about something more enriching. Then again, he could be the next digital arts pioneer. So says Bobak Mazaheri, a former game design pro who founded the Academy of Digital Science in his hometown of Lafayette. His school provides a fun and educational framework for kids’ electronic obsessions. In after-school classes or weekly summer sessions, kids and teens create their own animated video games, websites, or mobile apps. academyofdigitalscience.com. —Martha Ross



Neiko NgPick Your Party

Well, you’ve pumped it up until you’re pooped and chucked enough cheese to last till the kids go to college. How about something different?


1. Animal Lovers

Reader Pick | The parties at Walnut Creek’s Animal Rescue Foundation include a visit from a therapy pet, a tour of the Adoption Center, and party favors. The coolest thing is the Learning Compassion Tour, where kids discover how it feels to be a dog or cat in a human world. arf.net.

2. Little Princesses

Editor Pick | Brand-new Little Fairy Princess Girls Spa and Party Palace in Blackhawk Plaza offers pampering parties with hair, nail, and makeup stations, a “bath bakery” of soaps and scrubs, and a fashion show runway. Packages include fake champagne. littlefairyprincessgirlspa.com.

3. Future Rock Stars

Editor Pick | Walnut Creek’s Red House Live brings out the musician in everyone. Birthday parties start with instruction, and then kids take the stage to try out different instruments and give a rockin’ performance. redhouselive.com.

4. Heroes in Training

Editor Pick | Maybe the coolest idea to slide down the pole in a while, Fire Stations 4 Hire has a Livermore warehouse designed to look like a fire station, with gear to try on, sirens to sound, and a ladder truck to explore. firestations4hire.com. —Sara Hare and Caitlin McCulloch



Angela DecenzoMeet: Stephanie Sala

This toy shop owner encourages creativity.

Reader Pick | Toy Store

"The focus has always been on creative play, and for that reason, we have stayed away from battery-operated toys."


Five Little Monkeys toy store owner Stephanie Sala inherited the family funny business. Her mom founded Sweet Potatoes, the whimsical children’s clothing brand, when she was pregnant with Sala. And her French dad, André, designed the zany Whoozit brand of baby rattles and teethers. As if that wasn’t enough, Sala’s great-grandfather was a candy shop owner, and family folklore has it that one of her relatives designed the board game Sorry (although Sala says this is not true).

As a kid, Sala, the oldest of five monkeys, er, children, tested out toys and kids clothes, and learned more than a little about how to sell them. After she graduated from Cal, her mom suggested opening a toy store.

Good thing Sala listened to her mom: Today, at 35, Sala owns four toy stores in Northern California, including the popular one on Walnut Creek’s Main Street. “The focus of Five Little Monkeys has always been on creative play, and for that reason we have stayed away from battery-operated toys, trying to keep the play more imaginative,” Sala explains.

A visit to one of Sala’s stores reveals a Willy Wonka–ized wonderland chockablock with the stuff that dreams are made of: train tables, Breyer horses and Calico Critters, a costume corner, and a kit for every kid, including one to build your own miniature Greek temple.

Sure, you’ll find the usual not-so-fantastic plastic from the toy world here, too, but you’ll also snag unusual Legos kits, stunning illustrated books, and tons of baby stuff.

Like many of her clients, Sala is a busy mom. She is a youth baseball and softball coach, and a Cub Scout den leader. She knows how parents need an organized and well-curated store. Parents will also appreciate Five Little Monkey’s commitment to eco-friendly toys as well as complimentary gift wrap for those last-minute birthday party purchases.
5littlemonkeys.com. —Sara Hare




Three books, products, and menus for your brood.

Editor Picks


Picture Books

Get a head start on your kids’ summer reading with these nature-loving favorites.

Lauren Gallegos

Vulture Verses: Love Poems for the Unloved
By Diane Lang
Fancifully written and illustrated, this book in rhyme includes a short explanation of why these unloved animals are so important to the environment. Ages four to eight.

Kathryn Robbins

Jimmy the Joey: the True Story of an Amazing Koala Rescue
By Deborah Lee Rose and Susan Kelly
Due out in July from National Geographic Kids, this book tells kids that koalas are in dire straits. A study guide for parents tells them how they can help. Ages four to eight.

Karima Cammel

Commonplace Birthday
By Karima Cammell
The mouse world comes alive in this book that proposes, What if you just had a birthday to be with the people you love and didn’t worry about having the perfect decorations? Ages seven and under. —Sara Hare


Diane Lang // Robert J. LangBehind the Book

A New Kind of Cute

Diane Lang, a docent at Walnut Creek’s Lindsay Wildlife Museum, has a heart for the cast aside and the ugly. That’s why she penned Vulture Verses: Love Poems for the Unloved, a beautifully illustrated children’s book about the Bay Area’s most misunderstood animals.

Lauren Gallegos // Harvard PhotographySkunks, mosquitoes, snakes, and turkey vultures are all brought to life in rhymes and jingles that proclaim animals do not need to be fluffy or cute to play an important role in the environment. These animals deserve a second look for all the good tasks they perform, including flower and fruit pollination, composting, and preying on agricultural pests, says Lang and illustrator Lauren Gallegos.

According to Lang, animals such as our area’s ubiquitous turkey vultures have been “underappreciated” long enough. In addition to writing this book, Lang spreads her message by leading school programs and doing outreach with Lindsay’s raptor-handling team. —Sara Hare



Katie Newburn Photography

Food Innovations

Parents are always looking for faster, better, healthier ways to feed their kids. Here are three new leaders in the kids’ comestible arena that are worth a look.

Little Green Pouch
Storing or transporting applesauce or yogurt has never been easier. The zippered tops of these squishy bags, designed in Oakland, allow for easy filling and cleaning. And bigger kids love squeezing food directly into their mouths. $14.99 for a pack of four; available online at littlegreenpouch.com.

Plum Organics
This Emeryville-based company is revolutionizing the lunch box, with organic fruit and veggies packaged into shreds, drops, mash-ups, fruit straws, and more. No better way to make sure your kids get their three to five servings. Prices vary depending on the product; available at plumorganics.com, Target, and other retailers.

Mommy Made Goodness
Made in the kitchen of Lafayette’s Back to the Table Cooking School, Mommy Made Goodness offers local delivery of freshly made, pureéd organic baby food. Prices vary; info at mommymadegoodness.com; also available at Diablo Foods in Lafayette and Village Market in Oakland. —Sara Hare



Juan SotoKids’ Menus

Sure, you can go to a kid-friendly place for chicken nuggets or pizza, but what about a restaurant everyone in the family can enjoy? Here are a few with the best menus for kids.

Kids can make their own pizza with ingredients brought right to the table at this popular Danville eatery. It doesn’t get much more fun than this. $7.95, including a scoop of ice cream. piatti.com.

Table 24
Check out this Orinda restaurant’s Middles Menu for kids ages 10–16 (buttermilk fried chicken and steak frites) or the Littles Menu for kids nine and under (pasta or cheese pizza). table24orinda.com.

Corners Tavern
As mouthwatering as the regular menu at this Walnut Creek hot spot is, the kids’ options include smoked chicken with gravy, a ham and Gruyère sandwich, and fish and chips. cornerstavern.com. —Sara Hare



More Winners!

After-School Program

Contra Costa Children’s Chorus
1035 Carol Ln., Lafayette, (925) 945-7101, childrenschorus.org

Art Classes

Marvegos Fine Art
School 405 Market Pl., San Ramon, (925) 867-0671, marvegos.com

Children’s Birthday Cake

The Old Towne Danville Bakery
221 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 837-7844, danvillebakery.info

Clothes Store

145 E. Prospect Ave., Ste. 100, Danville, (925) 406-4727, shopdandelionkids.com

Dance Classes

The Next Step Dance Studio
3612 Blackhawk Plaza Cir., Danville; 743 Diablo Rd., Danville, (925) 831-0777; 109-A Town and Country Dr., Danville, nextstepdance.com

Family Photographer

Custom Moments
(925) 984-9454, custommoments.com

Fun Park

Hap Magee Ranch Park
1025 La Gonda Way, Danville, (925) 314-3400, ci.danville.ca.us/parks and_facilities

Gymnastics Classes

Encore Gymnastics
999 Bancroft Rd., Concord, (925) 932-1033, encoregym.com


Shear Adventures
320 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 820-3697, shearadventures.com

Martial Arts Classes

Kang’s Taekwondo Academy
1251 Arroyo Way, Walnut Creek, (925) 933-6647, kangsacademy.com

Math Tutoring

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, lafayetteacademy.com

Music Lessons

Music Together classes
in Danville, Pleasanton, San Ramon, and Walnut Creek, (925) 551-7722, musictogether.net

Preschool/Day Care

Old Firehouse School
984 Moraga Rd., Lafayette, (925) 284-4321; 55 Eckley Ln., Walnut Creek, (925) 934-1507, www.oldfirehouseschool.com

SAT Prep Course

Bay Area SAT Academy
Jason Ahn, (818) 633-8177; Raymond Tuason, (925) 323-0246, bayareasatacademy.com

Summer Educational Camp

Camp Galileo
camps in Berkeley, Danville, Lafayette, Oakland, and Walnut Creek, (800) 854-3684, galileo-camps.com

Summer Fun Camp

Cal Camps
camps in multiple Berkeley locations, (510) 643-2267, camps.berkeley.edu

Swim Lessons

Splash Swim School
2411 Old Crow Canyon Rd., Ste. S, San Ramon, (925) 838-7946; 1531 Third Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 838-7946, splashswimschool.com


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