One of the things a great children's book does is inspire imagination and pretend play. Treasure Island, for example, has launched countless imaginary journeys at sea, while The Little Mermaid has inspired countless adventures beneath it. And what child, after reading Alice in Wonderland, wouldn't love to jump down a rabbit hole herself? Spark your child's imagination by planning activities centered around her favorite tale, and taking her to places where she can immerse herself in her story book world. Here are five places around the Bay Area that do a great job of bringing a great book to life:
Young landlubbers will find themselves turning into pirates and scallywags when they step aboard the Balclutha, a three-masted, steel-hulled square-rigged ship straight out of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. First launched in 1886, this majestic vessel is now moored at San Francisco's Hyde Street Pier; it's one of several historic ships open to visitors. Guided ranger tours by the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park let visitors explore the deck and learn about what life at sea was like in the 1880s. Once your child helps raise the Balclutha's staysail and sings a sea chanty or two, it won't be long before he's imagining he's on board the Hispaniola and part of Long John Silver's merry crew.
Young princes and knights looking for dragons to battle need look no further than the Magic Mountain Playground at San Mateo's Coyote Point Recreation Area. The two giant purple dragons flanking the playground's five-foot hill are just begging for young adventurers to clamber on their heads. Perched atop the hill, there's even a 42-foot high castle they can climb to rescue Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, or any other damsel in distress. But if your daughter takes her cue from the headstrong Paper Bag Princess, don't worry—she can rescue herself by sliding down the castle's long metal chute and venturing into those stone dragon's jaws along with the boys.
At Oakland's Children's Fairyland, you won't need to pick a favorite fairy tale—they're all there! This wonderful retro amusement park is filled with storybook sets depicting classic fairytales like The Three Little Pigs, Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio, Humpty Dumpty and more. Little ones love to run from set to set, their eyes filled with wonder at the sight of their favorite characters come to life. To add to the fun, there are Magic Talking Storyboxes beside each storybook set, and your child can hear excerpts from the story by inserting a storybook key (available for just $2) into the Storybox. Add some amusement rides, a big pirate ship, an old western town and a giant dragon slide, and there's more than enough magic to keep your young imaginations happy for the day.
If your child loves Alice in Wonderland, you don't need to jump down a rabbit hole to enter Alice's Wonderland: just head over to San Jose's Municipal Rose Garden. This beautiful block of green is filled with row upon row of big, fat rosebushes. What better place to pretend you're painting the roses red? With over 4,000 bushes and 189 varieties, hardly a day passes without one rose or another in full bloom. There's also a manicured lawn great for playing flamingo croquet. A two-tiered fountain, restroom facilities and picnic benches under shady redwood trees make it easy to spend an hour or two at this urban wonderland, just leave the red paint at home.
Fans of The Little Mermaid can dive in and let their imaginations swim free at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. With over 623 marine species featured in over 200 award-winning exhibits, it's easy to imagine that you're part of Ariel's watery world. Your little mermaid will see swaying kelp forests, mesmerizing jellyfish, mysterious sea horses, colorful tropical fish and more. She can even crawl through pretend rocky caves and pose on a giant clamshell at the Splash Zone, the aquarium's special play and discover area for kids.
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