This trip took place from June 30th to July 15th of 2018. The Knutson family numbered three as James was joining Beth and myself on his first major vacation!
Day 6; Oakland: Another day, another early wake-up courtesy of our toddler, James. I let him run around in a diaper without pants because Beth’s Aunt, Debbie, likes to joke about pantless children. For parents of young kids you’ll probably understand our plight; it’s not always worth the effort to put pants on a thrashing almost two-year old. He ate half a waffle for breakfast (I had a bagel, not that you care) and ignored everything else I made for him.
James was having a blast on the trip so far and this particular day was going to be the best yet! We didn’t have specific plans for this day before the trip but at Elaine’s Independence Day get-together Beth’s cousin, Justin, suggested we hang out with him and his family. We decided to check out a fun kids attraction in Oakland called Children’s Fairyland. Justin, his wife, Lauren, and their daughters, Rosie and Eve, had been there many times before and said James would enjoy it. Given the opportunity to spend the day with two of his three grandchildren and us, Beth’s Uncle Thom also agreed to come along for the excursion!
Around 10am Thom came over and Beth loaded James in the car. The four of us headed to meet the others for an early lunch. It was almost an hour’s drive so I was hoping James would sleep on the way, especially since he woke up early, but nope! Parking was horrendous a few blocks from downtown Oakland. I circled three times before finally finding a tiny parking lot where it was roughly $6 an hour to park (better than East Coast parking prices but still). We forgot to put James’s stroller in the trunk before we left Debbie’s but Thom offered to carry James. He was (and still is) a dense little chunk of child so thanks again Thom!
We met the others at a sandwich place called Ike’s Love and Sandwiches. That’s where everyone else ate but Beth and I stopped in at the small Mexican place next door called La Bonita Taqueria. I ordered a delicious beef burrito with verde salsa. It was about the same size as a burrito from Chipotle but cheaper and more authentic (warning, cash only). Lauren grabbed a table on the patio out front of both restaurants since seating was limited in both and it was a really nice day (hot but still really nice). It was a popular lunch stop, evidently, as it was the only table left. James refused to sit still so one of us had to follow him around the whole time. He must have made ten or twelve laps around the triangular patio with his signature tiny steps. Eating in shifts is a common pastime for parents, anyway.
Children’s Fairyland was just half a mile away but we drove to get out of our expensive parking spot. Fairyland is a ten-acre park filled with storybook setpieces, animals, rides, and a cafe. Everything is geared to kids, especially those under eight. The park opened in 1950 and parts of it looked original (nothing there looked newer than 1985). It was large enough that a stroller was going to be helpful and luckily the park had one they lent to us for free (just had to leave ID).
The girls ran off immediately once inside. They are members of the club so they know this place well. There was a sizable chicken coupe with a two chickens in it and James bent down to stare at them (he does love the zoo). Rosie and Eve went up and down various slides and other rides very quickly. They buzzed about and I didn’t see them for extended periods of time. Justin followed them as best he could while Lauren and Beth found a place to sit and chat so it was just me and my bud wandering back and forth (albeit slowly).
James was too small to go on most of the rides but I brought him on the kiddy train and his face lit right up. He thought it was the coolest thing! It’s one of the original attractions of Fairyland so it looked retro and was designed for much small humans. I could not sit comfortably but that didn’t stop me from enjoying James’s happiness. The train goes through a tunnel and it didn’t get too dark so he just laughed. When our lap was done I went to disembark but James wouldn’t budge. I looked around and there was no line waiting to board so the lady just nodded and I got back inside the small train-car. That kid had so much fun.
James and I met up with everyone else. The girls were running (so fast) through a cement tunnel with fairies painted on the walls. Someone was screaming and it was echoing throughout the tunnel (and my ear drums). James smacked a few of the musical items on the walls (think xylophones and metal that clangs). Like the train it was difficult to get him to move on to the next attraction. There was a blue whale that you can walk down into. At the bottom was a fish tank with a single fake fish inside. It was a steep descent on a rickety-looking ladder thing so I had to assist James down. It was kind of gross at the bottom actually but that kid was obsessed with that fake fish. The only way to get him out was to have Beth take him on the train again.
It got hotter as the day went along and ten minutes of intermittent rain sprinkles didn’t quite help enough (it got sweaty real fast). Justin and I brought James to see the mini horse with a rainbow mane (they also have donkeys, rabbits, ducks, goats, and sheep) while the girls went on the little ferris wheel. There was an astroturf-covered hill for sliding down but James didn’t want to try that. He really wanted to ride the miniature merry-go-round but they had a height requirement and adults were not allowed to accompany small kids. I’m sure the next time we visit James will be able to take advantage of all the fun activities Fairyland has to offer that he just wasn’t old enough to appreciate this time around. He still had a ton of fun just running around on the paths and looking at all the storybook stuff.
Close to 4pm, with everyone ready to move on, Justin suggested another cool train we could see in Tilden Regional Park called the Redwood Valley Railway. It was only ten miles away in Orinda but traffic leaving the city at that time of day meant a 30-45 minute drive. We were again hoping James would nap a bit but nope! He napped in the car just fine most of the trip but there had to be an exception to prove this rule, I suppose.
After escaping bumper to bumper on CA-24 I followed the sweeping mountain road until I saw Justin stopped on the side of the road ahead of me. He waved us over so we parked in the this tiny gravel pull-off overlook. There were a half a dozen other people just chilling at this place too so we were lucky to get a spot. The views were amazing! We could see container ships in the Bay, Oakland Harbor, the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, Sutro Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
Justin took our picture and then we continued a couple minutes more up the hill to Tilden. I missed the turn and it took several minutes to turn around (whoops) as I drove deep into Tilden Regional Park. At least it was beautiful. The miniature train is steam powered and takes families through the park’s redwoods. It sounded like a lot of fun and I know James would have thoroughly enjoyed the experience but his mood quickly deteriorated having skipped his nap so we had to split from the group and head back home. I’ll make a point to include the train in our itinerary the next time we are in the area. The view from the overlook we stopped at was well worth the detour and I’m really glad Justin suggested driving up that direction. We never would have known about the great views available (there’s no website for the tiny pull-off, obviously) without the help of a knowledgeable local!
Back at Debbie’s we ate dinner (can’t remember what). James video chatted with Grandma back in Minnesota and went to sleep early (against his will). Jack and Debbie continued watching that week’s World Series of Poker tournament. I logged onto my work computer for a bit and put some reports together. It was weird working on vacation but this was the first time I was ever really able to do so. I couldn’t solve all the problems remotely but I could start or close jobs in our accounting system and send expedite requests to purchasing. I know, super exciting. End of day six.