Parents’ Guide to Solano Avenue

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A couple of years ago, two East Bay moms put together Peekaboo Maps, a nicely designed map of Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and Piedmont that highlighted all of the spots that parents should know. They’ve offered us the opportunity to share the data they collected, so we’ll be doing that in a series of upcoming posts. Today I’m going to focus on Solano Avenue, keeping in mind that one mom’s mecca is another mom’s nightmare. Here are Jessica and Seran’s recommendations, injected with a few opinions that I simply cannot keep to myself.

Snack Food

At the top of Solano is a Noah’s Bagels, if you’ve managed to get out of the house during the breakfast hour. (Editor: I don’t personally think what Noah’s produces is a quality bagel, but I’m certain my kids would eat it happily.) For lunchtime, Cactus Taqueria is an excellent choice with inexpensive kid-sized portions. Just down the block, at the intersection of Colusa, there is a Starbucks that now sells handy snack packs with fruit, cheese, and nuts.  Andronico’s has a full deli counter and many ready-to-eat items if you are considering a picnic.

Activities

The Albany Y has a Kindergym program and makes a great birthday party venue. Non-members may drop-in to the Babygym (9 months-2 years) and Kindergym programs (2 years -4.5 years) for $7 per visit.  Take a right off of Solano on Ensenada to find the Thousand Oaks tot park, a good spot to unfold a packed lunch.

Real Food

Zachary’s Pizza is a go-to take-out for Heather’s family, located near the top of Solano. Barney’s burgers, half-way down the strip, can be customized with pretty much any topping, any meat, or no topping, and in the case of my kids, no meat. (This is known as a grilled cheese sandwich.) Sunny Side Cafe is a causal, family friendly coffee shop that makes great pancakes and egg dishes. (Organic! And free-range!)

Lots of parents and kids like Bowl’d for Korean food and they offer a fun kid-friendly plate. Little Star Pizza has pleased my family many times as well, and that’s down at the West end of the strip. Finally, if you are a family who like to go letterboxing, there is a fun-to-discover stamp hiding in Cafe Raj near the bathroom. Even if you don’t know what letterboxing is, you can bring a blank piece of paper to embellish with their amazing handmade stamp of the Taj Mahal.

Bonus food tip: Parents on a date with a baby in tow might enjoy cocktails and tapas at Fonda. Order a side of avocado for the babe or guacamole if she likes a little flavor.

Shopping

Pegasus Books, next to Cactus has a kid section you can sit down and read in. Next door, Hannah’s sells used children’s clothes along with some new gift items.

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What’s greener than used kid’s clothes? Used toys! Toy Go Round is halfway down Solano, on the 1300 block. Used baby toys, construction toys, train tracks, books, doll clothes, and Playmobil sets. (Editor: One item I bought there was in excellent condition but missing a couple of pieces. Ask to open the package if necessary) Second-hand toys are about 60% of the current retail prices. This is a great source for a used trike.

Flowerland is a plant nursery, but also a destination. The plant selection is vast, and the attached shop is a well-curated gift shop, plus an onsite tricked out Airstream sells Local 123 coffee. Take a visiting grandmother there for a little walk and a scone-sharing session with her grandchild.

At the bottom of Solano, find Five Little Monkeys, a fabulous independent toy store with a clean bathroom for customers.

Services

Snippety Crickets at 1753 Solano specializes in children’s haircuts. A huge wall of bribes is available, plus a train table for siblings who have to wait their turn. (Editor: After some experimenting, we’ve become regulars at Supercuts at 1475 Solano instead. They give one balloon and it’s free.)

Treats

As You Wish is a frozen yogurt spot that allows you to serve yourself and charges you by weight. My kids LOVE this place. Tay Tah Cafe across the street serves Tapioca drinks and  Mitchell’s ice cream and has some outdoor seating. We love the purple yam flavor. Suzette Crepe Cafe, a super casual indoor cafe next to Five Little Monkeys, will make a crepe savory or sweet, combining whatever ingredients you want.

What did we miss?