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Best of the East Bay: Grow

From the educational to the recreational, here are all the places to take the kids, all year long.



Bathing Suits / Birthday Cakes / Family Photographer / Weekend Day Out / Art Classes / Toy Store / Fun For Teens / Reader Picks

Erika Pino

Swim Style

East Bay coaches design head-turning athletic gear.

Editor Pick: Bathing Suits

The days of choosing between a binding, thick-strapped suit and a dainty number that slips off when you dive in are over, thanks to two former competitive swimmers who are making bikinis that are functional and fashionable.

“Even when you’re wearing a swim cap, you still want to feel feminine in some way,” says Annie Babicz, one of the line’s founders.

Babicz, a Cal alum, and cofounder Sheeva van Gemeren, a UC Davis alum, founded Lo Swim in Oakland in 2009. Looking to revamp racing swimwear, they started by cutting up their own suits. (They even used scraps to make colorful hair ties to match.) After testing the bikinis on UC Berkeley swimmers and receiving rave reviews, the company was born.  

Lo Swim has become so popular that Babicz and van Gemeren quit their day jobs last year to focus on making suits. Well-known swimmers—including Cal’s Missy Franklin, a four-time Olympic gold medalist—have worn the suits for practices. And Kyle Richards of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills ordered some Lo Swim hair ties for her daughter, Portia.

There’s a reason the suits are making a splash: The material is the most-durable chlorine-resistant stuff on the market, and details like ruching add stylish flair.

Starting around $30 per piece, the suits are affordable, too. Just what your teen athlete needs this season. (925) 360-2288, loswim.com.  

Erika Pino

My East Bay

Place to Swim
Babicz: Cal’s Spieker Aquatics Complex. van Gemeren: Lake Anza at Tilden Park.

Way to Fuel Up
Babicz: Vitality Bowls. van Gemeren: In-N-Out Burger.

Suit Styles
Hipslung boy short or cheeky Brazilian bottom.

—Caitlin McCulloch


Illustration by Adam Nickel

Sublime Sweets

Go gourmet for your next celebration.

Editor Pick: Birthday Cakes

It may be tucked away from the main drag in a nondescript shopping center, but Café Attila is no secret to Tri-Valley foodie families.

While Attila Gogos whips up savory pork tenderloin and chicken gougère for lunching crowds, his wife, Lynne, is the queen of sweets. Schooled at the California Culinary Academy, with early training making wedding cakes at the Westin St. Francis, Lynne creates celebration cakes with a gourmet spin.

Cut into that clown cake, and you may find yourself in the middle of the “Rigó Jancsi,” layers of white and dark chocolate mousse over devil’s food cake in a Kirsch syrup cage. Or a tropical mango mousse and vanilla chiffon cake.

Lynne Gogos has an expert hand with the decorations, sculpting flowers, patterns, people, logos, and characters that are almost too perfect to eat. “I have stayed up all night getting something right,” she admits. 2211 San Ramon Valley Blvd., Ste. B, San Ramon, (925) 837-2886, cafeattila.com

—LeeAnne Jones


Jessica Anne Schwerma

Photo Pro

Tips for your next family shoot.

Reader Pick: Family Photographer

When San Ramon family photographer Jessica Anne Schwerma wants to put a smile on the faces of her young subjects, she sometimes just says, Booga booga! “It makes them laugh,” says Schwerma, the woman behind Creative Images by Jessica Anne. Feeling relaxed is the key to great photography, she says. Here are some of her tips for taking great pictures of your own. creativeimagesbyjessica.com

Photo Tips

Scout a Spot
Schwerma uses the 1/2–acre English-style garden behind her home, which has large boulders and architectural elements, including vintage doors.

Set the Tone
Personalities really shine when people are laughing, so get silly. Conversely, for that meditative or pensive shot, ask your subjects to close their eyes and then open them slowly.

Prompt a Pose
Show the connection between subjects by leaving very little space between their bodies. Or better yet, have family members put their arms around each other.

—Sara Hare


Illustration by Adam Nickel

Play Day

Experience Games of the past.

Editor Pick: Weekend Day Out

The five-year-old twin nieces were in town, so we thought a trip to the Exploratorium might be fun. A huge traffic backup on the Bay Bridge derailed that plan. Then, I remembered El Cerrito’s Playland Not at the Beach, a veritable wonderland of games and memorabilia from a long-gone boardwalk amusement park in San Francisco. The girls loved gazing at the elaborate miniatures of Santa’s Village and Dickens’ London, and had fun playing Skeeball. As for me, I could have spent all day in the vintage pinball arcade.

By the time a magic show started, and niece Dolly was picked as an assistant, Playland had achieved home run status as a place to take little ones for a day of fun. 10979 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito, (510) 592-3002, playland-not-at-the-beach.org

—Peter Crooks



Awesome Art

Civic Arts delivers can’t-miss courses.

Reader Pick: Art Classes

When Walnut Creek’s Civic Arts Education program started 50 years ago, visual arts, theater, and music classes were held in two Quonset huts in Civic Park, as well as a downtown walnut-processing facility called the Nuthouse. Now, this go-to program operates in Shadelands, Heather Farm, and Civic Park, serving 8,000 families each year. More than 130 instructors host classes for preschoolers to adults, from melon basketry and night painting to Guitar in a Flash. 166 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 943-5846, arts-ed.org.

—Sara Hare


Courtesy of Five Little Monkeys



Reader Pick: Toy Store

Five Little Monkeys

1224 Solano Ave., Albany, (510) 528-4411; 1366 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 939-4411, 5littlemonkeys.com.




Get Your Geek On

Thank you, Steve Jobs and Marvel Entertainment: It’s never been cooler to be a geek. Here are some of the East Bay’s best high- and low-tech hot spots for kids, tweens, and teens.

Editor Picks: Fun For Teens

Courtesy of Trackers Earth

Comic Books

A popular weekend hangout, 35-year-old Fantasy Books and Games is packed floor to ceiling with comics. Friendly and knowledgeable owner Bob Borden can find just what you’re looking for, from Marvel’s newly relaunched Amazing Spider-Man series and Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, to collectible pre–’60s comic books and hard-to-find graphic novels. Plus, the shop has a great selection of action figures and trading cards. 2247 First St., Livermore, (925) 449-5233.

Role-Playing Games

Eschewing traditional kids’ toys, brand-new House of Games is all about role-playing, strategy, and cooperative board and card games. Teens and adults alike join in the shop’s weekly game nights, from Warhammer Sundays to Pathfinder Thursdays to Magic: the Gathering Fridays. 155 Railroad Ave., Danville, (925) 309-4087, h-o-games.com.

Video Games

For the coolest party ever, rent a modern mobile arcade. The 32-foot Ultimate Game Truck trailer has four flat-screen TVs and leather seats inside, and two screens outside. Up to 24 people can simultaneously play more than 50 new and popular games for Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Wii. A staff “game coach” keeps the fun rolling with tips and trouble-shooting. Pleasanton, (925) 513-2255, ultimategametruck.com.


Get your capes, wigs, and plastic weapons ready: East Bay Comic-Con returns for the second year next February. In addition to the usual costume contest, the event features special guest comic book artists, movie screenings, and a retail area with fantasy and sci-fi books, shirts, and art. Concord, eastbaycomiccon.com.


Every teen worth his braaaains has a plan in mind for the zombie apocalypse. Put it to the test at Zombie Survival Camp. Trackers Earth: East Bay teaches archery, wilderness survival, and stealth and evasion skills to sixth- through ninth-graders at day and overnight camps in July and August. Shuttles depart from Berkeley to Bay Area wilds. 3049 Adeline St., Berkeley, (510) 575-9444, trackersbay.com

—LeeAnne Jones

Reader Picks

Birthday Party Place

Super Franks
5341 Owens Ct., Pleasanton, (925) 271-5880, superfranks.com.

Dance Class

Next Step Dance Studio
Several locations in Danville, nextstepdance.com.

Fun Park

Hap Magee Ranch Park
1025 La Gonda Way, Danville, (925) 314-3400, danville.ca.gov.

Gymnastics Classes

Diablo Gymnastics School
2411-J Old Crow Canyon Rd., San Ramon, (925) 820-6885, diablogym.net.

Kid-Friendly Restaurant

Skipolini’s Pizza
1033 Diablo St., Clayton, (925) 672-1111; 2001 Salvio St., Concord, (925) 680-6888; 1535 Giammona Dr., Walnut Creek, (925) 280-1100; skipolinispizza.com.

Martial Arts Classes

Kungfu Dragon USA
7059 Commerce Cir., Ste. I, Pleasanton, (510) 648-1618, kungfudragonusa.com.

Summer Camp

Cal Camps and Youth Programs
25 Sport Ln., Berkeley, (510) 643-2509, 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) 937-7946, splashswimschool.com.


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.

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