A few months ago, I caught a ride aboard the Niles Canyon Railway. Finding the station was simple enough, though the location of the parking lot was far from obvious. As it turns out, a parking lot is located next to the station.
If you drive down the path alongside the railroad tracks, the lot will be on your left. But, this path looks nothing like a paved road, so I was not certain that vehicle access was even permitted until I had already parked outside, walked down to the station and then spotted the parking lot.
Nice, big locomotive, though not as friendly in appearance as Thomas the Tank Engine.
The inside of the glorious coaches. The train is totally kid-friendly with both a restroom and a snack bar. If you don’t mind sitting outside, you can sit in the open-air coach that offers unobstructed views of the surrounding canyon.
The round-trip journey from Niles to Sunol passes a rail yard, where you can spot other railcars lounging in the sidings.
Last month, I visited the Museum of American Heritage. Located at 351 Homer Avenue in Palo Alto, the Museum offers a free peak at American’s not-too-distant past.
During my visit, the Museum of American Heritage had a special Lego exhibit. An ordinary city block with the ubiquitous 7-Eleven convenience store and Starbucks coffee shop.
Santa and Rudolph out on a mid-day sleigh ride.
The exhibit also include Lego trains, ships, planes and carnival rides. I was particularly impressed with the moving Lego Scrambler.
Inside the museum, I saw an antique phone.
The museum also featured an Underwood typewriter. I am absolutely shocked that Amazon sells typewriters. I guess these relics have not been completely banished to the history bin just yet. However, you can imagine what happens to a typewriter when it is placed in a location accessible to children. The kids want to push all the
keys at once, thereby jamming them altogether.
The glance into the pantry of generation’s past was illuminating. Some brands have endured to the present while others have disappeared off supermarket shelves long ago.
The final treat was a glimpse at confederate money, with 2011 being the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. Perhaps, the last place you would expect to find confederate money is a small museum in California.
Located at the San Francisco Zoo, the Eugene Friend Carousel is an enclosed merry-go-round near the entrance of the zoo.
For $2.00, you can get a ride aboard a fine carousel horse.
If you want a wilder ride, you can hop aboard the tiger. However, animals on the outer track only circle around and do not move up-and-down.
A friendly pair of porkers is another option.
The two kittens are dedicated hunters. This one has a fish in its mouth. The other kitten caught a bird.
Not sure what’s up with this melancholy giraffe.
I spent a chilly New Year’s Eve at the San Francisco Zoo We were greeted by polar bears and snowmen at the entrance.
I saw a lot of free range peacock leisurely roaming around the park. This one was strutting around the reindeer pen. The reindeer must still be exhausted from their Christmas Eve deliveries because they just sat on the ground. I saw absolutely no reindeer games.
Didn’t see any lions at the Lion House. I did see two tigers circling around in their pens. The Lion House is a great place to warm up. Nice and toasty inside.
The cold weather did not bother the penguins. They were frolicking around in their pond.
This tapir was one of the more active animals. The tapir pen is next to the rhino pen. In cartoons, rhinos are often portrayed as bullies or foot soldiers, but the one we saw seemed quite docile as it busily munched away at a lunch of lettuce and celery. The missing horn also made the rhino look less intimidating.
Four dollars buys two spins around the track of the Little Puffer steam train.
The San Francisco Zoo features a lot of bronze animals just waiting for children to climb on top.
I spotted a pink color bear. I think the polar bears got dyed for the holidays.
At the South American Tropical Forest exhibit, I spotted a pair of macaws engaging in some tomfoolery.
Kangaroos! Last of the fun animal exhibits.
Last Sunday, I attended the Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party at the Cow Palace in Daly City. Having never been to the Cow Palace or a Dickens Fair, I was not sure what exactly to expect.
The Dickens Fair was a magical experience. At the entrance, we were transported to Fezziwig’s Warehouse for a holiday party complete with talented musicians and dancers. Actually, it was hard to tell who was a performer and who was a guest because many guests had dressed up for the occasion. Not sure where everyone is stashing their Georgian costumes.
While the Dickens Fair is at the Cow Palace, it was really located at a series of low-slung buildings next to the cavernous arena. Nevertheless, the Dickens Fair includes more than enough space to replicate an English town. Next to Fezziwig’s Warehouse is the Victoria & Albert Bijou Music Hall, which featured a fusion fairy tale performance: Aladdin & Cinderella Meet the Monkey King. As if those three are not enough, the big bad wolf also features prominently in the cast of characters.
Actually, the fair contains numerous stages featuring ongoing performances throughout the day. I found this band while waiting for a juggling performance to begin.
The highlight of the excursion was the Wild Safari merry go round. I had never seen a hand-powered merry go round before. That’s truly keeping in the spirit of the times.
I recently visited the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. I had expected a dedicated, attached parking structure to easily shuttle the kids in and out. However, after a quick trip around the block, I ended up at a fixed fee $5.00 parking lot on Auzerais Avenue tucked under Guadalupe Parkway/87. From the parking lot, the path to the museum is just a short, manageable walk.
If you are interested in arriving by public transit, the VTA Light Rail has a Children’s Discovery Museum station on the Alum Rock / Santa Teresa Line.
Bob the Builder really gets around. I saw him at Legoland and the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana during the past year or so.
The Bob the Builder activity room featured an impressive collection of Bob the Builder characters and construction vehicles. I loved the plumbing challenge where your junior plumber could attempt to reassemble the pipes under a play sink. Of course, the endless Bob the Builder video playing back on the television proved to be the true kid magnet.
The bubble room was also a popular destination. The museum featured a number of bubble tables with rings and other frames for creating bubbles of all sizes. A lot of fun for kids and adults alike.
Upstairs, the museum had a few craft rooms for some hands-on projects. During our visit, we were interrupted by a piercing alarm and a compulsory building evacuation. That decommissioned fire truck at the museum entrance proved no match for the flood of fire trucks that quickly surrounding the premises.
If you are going, bring your own food. I think I may have had the world’s worst teriyaki chicken bowl at the Kids’ Cafe. The sauce did not taste like teriyaki and the raw, baby carrots seemed out of place. I love my veggies, but I have never been to a Japanese restaurant where teriyaki chicken came with raw carrots.
The Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center offers an enchanting garden for young children to explore. Located in Palo Alto, the 2.5 acre garden showcases a delightful collection of brilliant flowers, soaring trees and a tantalizing fruit and vegetable garden. The grounds feature water fountains to discover and rows up rows of color-packed flowers in the spring and summer. Best of all, access to the garden is free.
Located in Danville, the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site features the Tao House, the former home of Nobel Prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill. The Tao House is located at the end of a private street, which is inaccessible to the general public. To visit the Tao House, you must first call in for reservations. You will then be directed to an off-site parking lot to catch a shuttle bus to the house.
The Tao House features a fusion of Chinese and Spanish styles. The main gate displays the four Chinese characters 大道别墅 out-of-order, which roughly translates to the big path to the villa.
Once inside the main gate, you will notice a crooked pathway that leads to the house. The zigzag design was adopted to deter evil spirits who could only travel in straight paths. In the same motif, the front of the house also features false entrances to mislead the spirits.
The inside of the house also carries a lot of meaning with blue ceilings and brown flooring symbolizing the heavens and earth. Another interesting detail is the three colored mirrors. The green mirror is located by the front door, the blue mirror appears in the living room and the black mirror stands in bedroom of Eugene O’Neill.
While the Tao House does include some Chinese influences, it is definitely not a Chinese house and those seeking more insight into Chinese architecture or artwork would be better served visiting a local museum. Instead, the Tao House is a wonderful place to learn more about this Nobel Prize winning playwright and to enjoy a spectacular view of the surrounding San Ramon valley.
- Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site From the National Park Service. Features information on visiting the Tao House.
- Eugene Gladstone O’Neill From The Nobel Foundation. Features an autobiography, the presentation speech and the Nobel banquet speech.
- eOneill.com The official web site of the Eugene O’Neill Society. Includes online texts and other information.
Last month, I visited Legoland in Carlsbad, California for the first time. Having never visited this amusement park before, I wanted to see how it measured up to the incomparable Disneyland. I had already heard about the models of international destinations rendered in Lego. I was quite impressed with the Lego version of the San Francisco cityscape, though I don’t know that the kids were similarly amazed.
Besides the Lego models, Legoland also offers an assortment of fun boat and airplane rides. I enjoyed a good laugh at the Splash Battle in Pirate Shores. As I rode the ship, I thought the ride was about soaking the patrons in the other ships with my water cannon. However, I was greatly mistaken.
Here’s how the ride really goes. My water cannon had a limited targeting range. Along the edge of the track, people on land have access to water cannons that can really soak those aboard the ships. And, I could not target my water cannon to fire back. Just completely defenseless. If anyone is manning the land-based water cannons, riders aboard the ships will get soaked.
The other attraction worth noting is the Fun Town Fire Academy, where your group races a manually-powered fire truck across a track, “put out” a fire using a manual pump, and then race the fire truck back to the starting block. These interactive, competitive attractions really stood out and made Legoland fun for the adults too.
Mount Diablo State Park (CA State Parks, Mount Diablo Interpretive Association, Reserve America) is located in Contra Costa County near the communities of Alamo, Danville and San Ramon. A visitor center is located at the summit of Mount Diablo where you can absorb a 360° view of the surrounding region. I could see the Golden Gate Bridge from the summit with the naked eye. However, I did use an inexpensive set of binoculars to confirm the sighting. During my visit, the center was closed on account of employee illness. However, the observation deck was still open to public access during this time.
The sunset, as viewed from the Juniper campground.
The Juniper campground features a trail that ascends up the mountain. On a hot summer day, I had no interest in heading up that trail.
The Juniper campground is quite large. The campsites varied in size and shade. Some sites were more exposed and had better views. However, even the interior sites with more trees were no match for the howling wind that swept through our campsite starting around 4 a.m. Hard to sleep while the tent is rattling around.
The Juniper campground does have running water near each campsite. In addition, the bathrooms are located at the far end of the campground with toilets and hot showers.
Once the sun sets, the sky really lights up with all the stars aglow. Right before the trip, I purchased Star Walk for iPad to see whether the iPad could make astronomy any easier. Incredible! Of course, with the iPad Wi-Fi model, Star Walk could not determine the precise location. However, I was able to enter Walnut Creek, CA, which was not far away. Star Walk works pretty much as I had expected. When I lift the iPad up to the sky, I can see the various stars and constellations in front of me. However, not all objects displayed on Star Walk were visible to the naked eye, so there’s some interpretation involved. Star Walk was not a mirror image of the sky. As I panned across the sky, Star Walk would track my movement and display the relevant celestial objects in my view. Simply amazing. A lot more fun than reading a compass and manually looking up star charts.