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2017 Best of the East Bay: Kids

Billiards, bowling, and karaoke in Concord; a mom-and-pop toy store.


Illustration by Basemint


© Javier Díez/Stocksy United

New Kids’ Bookstore

Editor Pick: Bel and Bunna’s Books
Lafayette, belandbunnasbooks.com

Step inside Bel and Bunna’s Books, and you’ll be whisked away to a magical place filled with stories, cozy nooks, and entertainment for tykes. Stop by to pick up a favorite children’s book for a kiddo in your life, or bring him or her to the weekly story and circle time. Held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning, it’s the perfect way to introduce little ones to a new children’s story or an old-time classic. Plus, you can find publications by local authors and attend special events for both the young and the young at heart. —K.H.


Gymnastics Studio

Encore Gym
Concord, encoregym.com

Known for its wide array of gymnastics classes plus an assortment of dance classes, Encore Gym in Concord is the place to learn how to tumble or to get your tap dance training. But Encore doesn’t just stop there: It also offers a full party package to help you throw the birthday party of your kid’s wildest dreams. By decorating the party rooms for the celebration, and by supplying everything from the invitations to the set-up and clean-up crew, Encore ensures this birthday party is one for the memory book. —K.H.


Swim Lessons

Splash Swim School
San Ramon and Walnut Creek, splashswimschool.com

At Splash Swim School, swimming lessons take on a whole new vibe.

4: Students to each teacher in the Ribbon Level classes, ensuring optimal attention and quality of lessons.
6: Age, in months, that students can begin taking lessons—and it’s recommended that kids start early.
9: Ribbon levels students can achieve as they advance in their lessons, from participating without a parent to swimming each of the competitive strokes.
92: Degrees at which the teaching pools are kept, making for a comfortable swimming environment for even the youngest of students. —K.H.


Game Spot

Editor Pick: Round 1 Bowling and Amusement
Concord, round1usa.com

Bowling, billiards, arcade games, darts, Ping-Pong, and karaoke: There’s no shortage of entertainment at this game zone. A one-stop shop for all things fun, Round 1 is a must for anyone looking for an afternoon activity with the kids or a night out with the entire family. You can even reserve a private room to host a karaoke night with your nearest and dearest. Regardless of the activity you choose, Round 1 guarantees a good time for the whole family. —K.H.


© Maa Hoo/Stocksy United

Dance Studio

Lareen Fender’s The Ballet School Performing Arts
Walnut Creek, theballetschool.org

Lareen Fender opened her ballet school on Main Street in Walnut Creek in 1976. It became a popular place for young girls to learn how to dance, but most importantly to learn how to build confidence both in the studio and in the outside world. For Jennifer Perry, Fender’s granddaughter, it became a second home.

Perry developed a love for the school, as she literally grew up there. She first experienced it as a baby, playing in the office where her mother worked while her grandmother taught classes. At the age of three, Perry began taking classes and continued through high school. When the time came to choose a career, there was no question where Perry saw herself in the professional world. Turning down a full-ride scholarship to the drama program at the University of Southern California, Perry opted to take classes at Diablo Valley College and pledge herself full-time to the dance school, which she took over as director in 2001.

Students learn more than just dance—or any of the number of other skills the school offers, including piano, singing, Pilates, and performing arts. “We teach life skills,” says Perry. “We teach students the discipline of commitment by picking something, sticking with it, showing up on time, and not expecting to leave early. It’s important [for kids to learn] to choose something and see it through. Students walk out of the studio as professional people, having learned those valuable life skills.”

As The Ballet School commemorates its 40th birthday this year—and celebrates being one of the longest-running female-owned businesses in the city—Perry’s enthusiasm for the stage hasn’t waned. This fall, she will be directing and choreographing Billy Elliot for Contra Costa Musical Theatre, where she also acts as the casting director in addition to running The Ballet School. In fact, Billy Elliot will be entirely rehearsed at the school in the evenings once classes are over.

“Even when all the classes are done for the day, there is life in the studio,” says Perry. “When I open up in the morning, I can still feel the artistic presence left over from the night before. And the students get to see the actors they [look up to] on the stage. There is a feeling that [students] can reach what they put their mind to.” —K.H.


Gretchen Adams

Family Photographer

Gretchen Adams
Concord, gretchenadams.com

In this digital age, it’s easy to let favorite family photos get lost in the “cloud.” But when you do a photo session with Gretchen Adams, your photographs come printed and framed, or assembled in an album that’s sure to be a family keepsake. Adams can also show you what a wall display will look like in your home before you decide to purchase anything—and she’ll even hang the canvas for you. If your walls are already full of family photos, the studio can put together a handcrafted coffee table album or a folio box, which you can rotate for a new look whenever the mood strikes. —K.H.


Birthday Party Spot

Editor Pick: Lost Worlds Adventures
Livermore, lostworlds.rocks

Party with dinosaurs at this 27,000-square-foot indoor fun center that transports kids to the Jurassic Period. There’s a four-level play structure (the largest in Northern California) with a “lava” pit, mini golf through prehistoric flora and fauna, and laser tag set in a mysterious jungle—plus arcade games and eats at Dino Bites Pterodactyl Cafe. Twelve-person party packages range from $220 to $455. Bonus: No singing animatronic mice in sight. —L.J.


Toy Store

Five Little Monkeys
Walnut Creek, 5littlemonkeys.com

“Five Little Monkeys is the cutest mom-and-pop toy store I have ever visited. Whether you’re looking for the latest toy trend or something unique, Five Little Monkeys has something for everyone.” —Estevan Gonzalez, Concord

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