28 things to do with (and without!) East Bay kids in February

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Welcome to the shortest month, which is short on school days, too. (Note that Presidents Weekend is observed from Friday, February 13 to Monday, February 16, and many schools have President’s Week!) Here are 28 activities to pencil into your calendar, one for each day of the month:

F E B R U A R Y

  1.  Try sushi with the kids, on boats that float by your table.
  2. Go check out Kid2Kid toy exchange on Alcatraz. Update: these guys are no longer supporting their toy-trade in business.
  3. At-home parents should check out Breakfast With Enzo, a music circle time at Sports Basement in Berkeley, Tuesdays at 10 am. (Breakfast not included.)
  4. The Bay Area Discovery Museum offers free admission the first Wednesday of the month. That’s the Fourth of February!
  5. Let your children swing and bounce their heads off at We Rock the Spectrum in Berkeley. Open til 6 pm to make your afternoon outing worthwhile.
  6. Drop-in rockin’ music time at La Pena Cultural Center on Shattuck starts at 10:30 am.
  7. Build a heart-shaped box at a free Home Depot workshop on Saturday morning, or sign your tween up for a Valentine workshop at Berkeley’s Paper Source store.
  8. Family Sweetheart Dance from 3-5 PM at the El Cerrito Community Center
  9. Habitot invites children with special needs to a Valentine PlayDate.
  10. Attend an annual Valentine’s making party at Rockridge Library
  11. Free Jamaica-themed Black History activity at Bananas in Oakland
  12. Explore the hidden stairways of Berkeley with one of the Berkeley Wanderers walks.
  13. Make a snow globe in a free craft session at Oakland’s Dimond Branch library
  14. Parents who have more energy in the daytime for dates can drop their kids at James Kinney for a few hours. Register online for this Valentine’s Day Parents’ Day Out.  If you want evening, Bladium has Kid’s Night Out tonight.
  15. Let everyone stay up late for a drive-in movie. After all, it’s not a school night
  16. Bounce to the ceiling (not really!) at Sky High in Concord.
  17. Still no school? Visit the Children’s Museum in San Jose and catch up with your Silicon Valley friends.
  18. Plan a meet up at Codornices park and bring cardboard for the cement slides
  19. From 6-7:30 PM, an African American history celebration for all ages will be hosted at the Frances Albrier rec center in San Pablo Park.
  20. Don’t miss Fourth Street’s Lunar New Year celebration on the 21st. It’s a great show.
  21. Older kids may enjoy the Monster Truck show, Monster Jam, at the Oakland Coliseum.
  22. Parents with new babies should stop by BoobiePalooza in Berkeley. We’ll be there!
  23. Play miniature golf at SubPar mini golf in Alameda or GolfLand in Castro Valley.
  24. Kids eat free on Tuesdays at IKEA. See our list of other reasons it’s fun to go there.
  25. The Berkeley Forest School preschool-age classes welcome families to try one class, filled with magical exploration in Tilden Park, and then consider a session.
  26. You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown is playing at the Berkeley Playhouse
  27. Take advantage of MOCHA’s open studio time, Fridays and Saturdays from 10-1.
  28. Get crafty at the Michael’s drop in art class for kids. Cost $2 and kids take home a project. Today? A tissue paper frame.

It’s that time of year: Holiday light-peeping

Whether you stay in the car and do a “drive-by” or get out to stroll, appreciating the hard work of those who put up holiday light displays is a fun winter tradition. Here are our picks for light-peeping this year.carousel at night

Alameda’s Christmas Tree Lane is a must-see for East Bay families. Get a preview here >

Oakland Zoo’s Zoo Lights event is on every evening from 5:30 to 9 pm except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The light show is set to music in the field, and the entire Zoo is decked out in holiday bling. Members get in free on Mondays, otherwise there is a separate Zoo Lights admission price for everyone, not covered by membership.

Fourth Street in Berkeley is beautifully lit, making even a 6 pm rice and beans dinner at Tacubaya feel special.

Tilden Park Carousel’s Christmas Fantasy in the Woods is another must-do each holiday season. Take a couple of spins on the carousel and admire the display of lights and decorated trees. It runs from 5:30 to 8:30 PM until December 23rd. Bundle up; it’s dark and cold up there at night!

Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland has a beautiful scene called the Holiday Circle of Lights, open from 5 pm to 9 pm everyday. Go out for dinner on nearby Piedmont Avenue afterward.

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Morgan Family Christmas Light Show in Newark is a 15-minute music and lights show with 10,000 lights. Pull up and set your radio to 87.9 FM to hear the music. The address is 36811 Gum Ct. Newark, California. The show is 5:30 to 10:00 Sun.-Thu. and 5:30-11:00 Fri. and Sat.

Runners-up in the 510:

  • Monterey Avenue in North Berkeley features a handful of houses with extravagant displays, near Hopkins.
  • 928 The Arlington, also in North Berkeley, is spectacular, but the only house like it on the block.
  • A house on Ralston Court in Hayward is working its way toward becoming a destination for that community and has its own website.

Worth the drive {outside the 510}

A residential home in Clayton, CA (about 45 minutes from Berkeley) offers a state-of-the-art lights and music show. Called A Heart for Christmas, the program runs on Weds-Sat until Dec 21 and then nightly at 1185 Pine Lane, Clayton CA, 94517. The show runs every 30 minutes on the hour and half-hour, beginning at 6 pm. You may not use the family’s bathroom, but you can park in front of the house.

Niles Canyon Railroad Train of Lights runs now and sells out fast. Here’s what you get. Buy your tickets in advance. Locating the purchase link is very challenging on the Railroad’s website, so I’m going to go ahead and link you right there. Update: Completely sold out for 2014.

Christmas Tree Lane in San Carlos is the consensus from my South Bay correspondents. The street name is Eucalyptus Lane and you can drive or walk by. Google Maps says it’s forty minutes from Berkeley.

Vasona Park in Los Gatos is a well-loved light and music show among South Bay families. The 2013 Fantasy of Lights show begins November 29 and will run through December 31, 6 – 10pm nightly.  Admission is $10 or $15 per vehicle and the soundtrack pipes into your car radio. Vasona Lake County Park, 333 Blossom Hill Road (near University Avenue), Los Gatos

photos: Vasona Park pirate ship courtesy Santa Clara County; carousel

Must-see holiday lights: Alameda’s Christmas Tree Lane

For years I’d heard that the best place to see holiday lights in the East Bay is in Alameda.  I knew that Santa Claus would be sitting on the median, and I knew that every house on the block would be decorated. Somehow I just wasn’t sure it would be worth the drive. Well, it is.

It’s not just the lights that make the 3200 block of Thompson Ave feel so special; it’s the people milling about, the Girl Scouts selling treats, and the sweet and nostalgic displays of decorations.

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Plan to park and walk the length of the block and back again. My 6-year old sat on Santa’s lap in the median of the street, available to anyone who wants to stand in line. Donation suggested; take your own picture; Santa hours are 6:30 to 8:00 through December 23rd, weather permitting.

Neighborhood children gave out small candy canes. We spied so many favorite characters, from an oversized Grinch to Yukon Cornelius and the Abominable Snow Monster. These are homemade wooden cut-outs that you cannot buy at Target, people. One house has a light show timed to music with a Nightmare before Christmas theme. Another house is completely covered with pink, um, shingles?

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We were lucky to be standing by as the Black Knight Motorcycle Club drove through, each bike decked out with lights and holly.

Several photos from this post are courtesy of Oaktown Art, who has many more on her website.

The lights will be on through New Year’s Eve from 5:30 – 10:00pm. Bring your camera and your Christmas spirit!

Fans of this ignited form of Christmas cheer can follow special announcements on the Christmas Tree Lane facebook page.

Where to see Santa in the East Bay: 2014

If you’ve got a real Santa enthusiast in your family, you might want to know where else to find the Bearded One. Here are a few opportunities. We’ll update this list throughout the month.

Bay Street Santa Photos (Emeryville)
Saturday, December 6, from 11 am to 5 pm, classic Santa photos will be taken. Prices and details >

Gourmet Ghetto (Berkeley)
Santa will be greeting children at the Kid Dynamo children’s shop on Vine Street from 11 am to 4 pm on Sunday, December 7th.

Where to see Santa in Berkeley

Santa on Solano (Berkeley/Albany)
Free photo with Santa as well as snacks and live entertainment from 12-4 on Saturday and Sunday from now until Christmas at Chloe’s Closet, across the street from Safeway on Solano.

Fairy Winterland at Children’s Fairyland in Oakland
From December 5th-December 23rd Santa will visit with children at Fairyland on Fri, Sat, and Sundays from 5 pm to 6 pm. Fairyland is open noon to 7 pm, weather permitting, on these dates. There is also a light parade each day at 6.15 pm. More details at Fairyland website.

San Pablo Park at rec center building (Berkeley)
Little ones age 0-5 are welcome to meet Santa and receive a small gift from 11 am to 1 pm on December 19th. Call 981-6640 for more info.

Play Cafe (Oakland)
For the price of regular admission to Play Cafe, your child can interact with Santa and you can take as many photos as you like. Santa hours will be on Tuesday, December 9th, Tuesday the 16th, and Monday the 22nd and Tuesday the 23rd from 11 am to 2 pm. Admission is $12 and you can play as long as you like.

Christmas Tree Lane (Alameda)
Santa will be on the block from Dec 7 to Dec 23 from 6:30-8PM every night (weather permitting).

(Read more about Christmas Tree Lane in Alameda.)

Fourth Street in Berkeley
Vintage-styled Santa will sit in his sleigh where you can join him for a photo opp (free)  from noon to 4 pm across the street from Peet’s on December 13th.

Santa and Train Show (San Leandro)
At the Historical Railway Society, Santa will make an appearance – possibly in his train enthusiast outfit? – on December 13. More details >

Breakfast with Santa (Piedmont)
For $10, breakfast is available at the Piedmont Community Hall and Santa will be there – with elves! Saturday, December 13. More details >

South Shore Center in Alameda
Santa will be available for paid photos at The Little Ice Rink (in the parking lot near Petco). Monday thru Friday from 3pm-7pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11am-5:30 pm through December 24th. Find all the dates and times here.

Hilltop Mall (Richmond)
Santa’s hours in the mall until December 24 are: Monday-Friday, 12-7 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Sunday, 12-6 p.m. and Christmas Eve, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Zoo Lights at the SF Zoo (San Francisco)
On December 19, the Zoo Lights at the SF Zoo will include Santa Claus, food trucks and lots of festivities. More details >

Black and white photo above, courtesy Kid Dynamo