Mookie’s Café Caters to Kid Tastes with Parental Flavor

When you take the time to take in the magnificent magnitude of The Jungle Fun in San Jose (or Concord) California, you need to beware that there’s a café adjacent, called Mookie’s Café, and more than that, you need to beware that in many ways they will cater as much or more to your parents wants and desires as your own. I’m not sure what my summary will be in the end, but I know the elders in my crew straight up raved about it.

Publicity photo of a great place for a snack and a break.
Publicity photo of a great place for a snack and a break.

If you’re a kid, don’t sweat it, they’ve got menu offerings from pizza to corndogs to PB&J and Mac & Cheese with very few stops in between, and you can even watch your master chef of cheffress whip your pizza in to shape from scratchy nothingness to oven-ready delightfulness. They’ve got kids meals with toys included and a full spectrum of soft drinks from root beer to juice and water, but that’s not the point. The point is that this is supposed to be a place for kids, but despite all that, they have all sorts of stuff designed to make the parents’ visit not just tolerable, but outright delightful… who authorized this madness?

Seriously, though the pizzas are fresh and tasty, the kitchen offers all kinds of topping offerings that, on the surface, appear to be more geared for old people and attendant types than us kids. Beyond that they’ve got a bunch of other menu items us kids would never eat, not to the least of which is salads with an assortment of decidedly adult-themed dressings.

What’s worse is that the music in the café isn’t even the typical, unending and often nauseating barrage of lackluster children’s music, but rather 10-year-old hits. It’s almost as if they want a welcoming environment for the parents to enjoy while we’re off in the other parts of the complex.

mookies-cafeLeft – I know it isn’t the best picture but we were just so wrapped up in stuffing our faces that we didn’t have time to take better pictures.

Worse still is that on weekends, rather than showing the typical kiddo-centric television that us juniors admittedly don’t even glace up at, they show the big sporting events of the weekend. It’s almost like they want the parents to have a comfortable place to hang out while us kids are tearing it up in ways we’ve never previously known we were able.

And you know I’m no technocrat or anything, so when I found out that the whole place is a WiFi hotspot, needless to say, I was even more concerned still. How can that be? Do we really want the grownups to enjoy their time and feel at ease? Out of curiosity, what is this WiFi stuff and why are spots of it so commonly hot?

I’m not saying I didn’t like my fries and what have you, and I’m also not saying that I’m not still playing with the toy bracelet I got in my meal, what I’m saying is that kids are supposed to be a steadfast hassle to their elderfolk, and that this place makes bringing us in to play an experience that’s affordable, satisfying, and dare I say even relaxing for them elders. This simply cannot stand.

When we go out to play, we should be fed nothing but garbage, the parents should be uncomfortable and regrettable for my attendants, and we should all go home cranky and dissatisfied. In all these regards, Mookie’s Café and it’s included Jungle Fun Adventure have let me down. Not only did I fill myself from tummy to gills on quality food at fair or better prices, but I got to play myself silly with my brothers, while the parents took a chill in the parental lounge.

Mookie’s Café is located inside of The Jungle Fun Adventure in both San Jose and Concord, California. For hours, rates and menu samplings, check out their website at www.TheJungleFun.com. But don’t be surprised if your parents find the overall experience as restful as you personally find it exhausting. I tried to find one to the contrary, but what can I say, these guys cater to parents as much as they do the kids.

 

Jungle Fun Adventure Boasts Fun, Adventure, Jungle

It was the end of an already long and dragging day when we peeled off from our already tiring and tiresome series of reviews in the San Jose adjacent area. We’d seen more things than I’m already capable of remembering and we were a smidge starved to boot. For some reason my handlers took us to The Jungle Fun and, despite my un-ignorable exhaustion, my batteries were quickly recharged.

Tough to see here but I was lost in a mega-maze world of fun.
Tough to see here but I was lost in a mega-maze world of fun.

The Jungle Fun Adventure’s got all kinds of things that I liked, and bunch my elder-handlers liked better even still, so I tell you what, I’ll try to cover all the highlights in here as best I’m able… sound like a deal? Too late, it’s irrescindable.

 

  • First thing that was really cool was that they stole our shoes upon admission. It’s great, really. They take the shoes from anybody who wants to go inside the maddened maze of unimaginable imagination, but they’ll also put your jacket, purse or other such carry-on baggage in it, and they mark everyone in your party so you can get it back when your day is done. They store it in cubbies, which is mystical all on its own, but there’s so much better stuff at hand that I just can’t bring myself to dwell on it.
  • Next you’ve got Mookie’s Café where you can take in a sip, drink, bite or whole encompassing snack, but we’ll cover that more in the next article.
  • Then comes the PlayLand. Oh man is it ever something! You know that vertical maze of ins, outs, ups and downs you may have climbed into at that McDonald’s place? Maybe you’re a fun-seeking kid or begrudging parent who had to recover such a funster, but you know the one, right? This is like that, except instead of being a story or so tall and spanning the entirety of a reclaimed parking lot, it’s easily four or five levels tall and it’s the size of a house. Seriously, you can lose yourself within their junglescape as surely as your parents can lose you in there, and it’s chamber after chamber of mind-challenging fun and exploration.jungle-fun2Left – Here you can see two staff reporters falling all over each other to get you the best posssible news take on the games and attractions at The Jungle Fun Adventure.
  • But if you’re more into playing in a place where your parents can watch you do it, there’s always the Tot Zone, where pools of colored balls, slides of lesser intimidation and any number of other interesting accoutrements await you. Daddy-O lost me for a while in the mad maze of jungle puzzlery, only to find me in Miss Mama-Lady’s care outside of it, where I’d found new fun with my baby brother in the ball pool. Endless jumping, swimming and frolicking fun in there, I promise you.
  • But upstairs they’ve got the arcade, and it was that place we found it hardest to peel away from. Everything from water shooting duck cannons to race cars to oddly colored dinosaurs to SkeeBall. And all of the games of skill reward you with tickets… but tickets for what? Surely you must read the next bullet point to learn that, of course.
  • Once you’ve successfully skilled your tokens into tickets, you can head back downstairs and redeem them for prizes. My handlers sagely chose to make it a step towards the exit, which by their estimation was already due for us to take, based on our tiredness and the hour at hand. At the ticket counter you can trade in your tickets for any number of prizes, and these guys are more generous with their exchange rate than even the Long Beach Laser Squad, which was the best we’d seen before. We got a triad of articulated plastic snakes and three wrist-warmers in assorted color and sport embroidery. We got football, baseball and soccer, you know, so we could all be the same but different.
  • You can do birthdays there, regular or special events, and there’s even a ton of spots for the tots to hang out if closer parental attention is required. Even though we’re big enough to run around unattended, we had a ball or ten thousand in the jumpity ball pit and on all the other youngest-friendly areas.

 

skeeball in San Jose Above - As much fun as it may be to help out the odd stranger at their game of SkeeBall or in the collection of the tickets they've won, it's apparently frowned upon. What? We were just trying to help!
skeeball in San Jose
Above – As much fun as it may be to help out the odd stranger at their game of SkeeBall or in the collection of the tickets they’ve won, it’s apparently frowned upon. What? We were just trying to help!

So if you’re looking to throw a downright, rompin’ stompin’, shoeless hootenanny, this place has everything you could want, including tons of space in which to do it. The Jungle Fun Adventure is located in San Jose, California at 950 El Paseo De Saratoga and in Concord, California at 1975 Diamond Blvd, and is open seven days a week for your out-tuckering delight. Check them out online at www.TheJungleFun.com for the latest rates, hours and everything else I might have forgotten to mention.

As far as a star-rating goes, I don’t know how to assess one fairly. I give it six thumbs up (the total I command under my staff) and I can throw in another maybe thirty toes up, based on their average direction during our play time. Soothing for parents, exhausting for kids, time well spent and sleep soon followed.

Baby in a Ball Pit Above - Behind the ball pit you can see the gigantic play maze rising up above all the other toys. Dominic would have spent some time in there with me but he was all mired down in the plastic of the ball pit... Oh, okay, we all were!
Baby in a Ball Pit
Above – Behind the ball pit you can see the gigantic play maze rising up above all the other toys. Dominic would have spent some time in there with me but he was all mired down in the plastic of the ball pit… Oh, okay, we all were!

 

GoCityKids.com Practically My Itinerary!

Before we went to San Francisco, and while we’ve been here as well, we’ve relied heavily on the internet and its many fine resources to help us understand where to go. We’ve got our tour books, but we’re basically web folk (having all been born after the online bust era) so we’ve relied more heavily toward online resources, and nothing has done as much for us as GoCityKids.com, and we’re stupidly grateful for it all.

Not just a site but a destination about your destination.
Not just a site but a destination about your destination.

If you have kids and you’re looking to visit San Francisco, you need look no farther than Perplexing Times and our many, varied reviews of hotels, events, attractions, businesses and the many fine and must-see proprietors in and about the greater San Fran area. If you want to look for equally diligent, and perhaps a few less biased articles about San Francisco, you’ll have to turn to the one and only web resource we found with a balanced voice, GoCityKids.com.

And it’s even worse than that. We’ve never even spoken with them. They run their publication, we run ours, and we’ve never even spoken about this, that nor any of the many others about any of the many others about any of the other others as it may pertain to this, that, the other, or any of the other others.

Confused? Me too, we don’t normally endorse outside publications who don’t syndicate our material, but we utilized them heavily in determining our “must see” attraction list, and their reviews, outside comments, ratings and linking resources were incredibly useful in picking where we’d go, what we’d see and what was worth our time and dollars.

So why on earth would we encourage your use of a website that hasn’t given us a nickel and has no event or attraction promotion to by which to purchase our favor? It’s sad craziness, really. We’ve got a grossly underfunded college fund to fill out and these guys haven’t given a nickel (even though they haven’t been requested as much either).

Again, it’s rare that you might think us to promote something that doesn’t directly promote us back, but this site is an exception. Why? Well, it’s because we searched far and wide to find the best attractions for San Francisco before we hit the town, and then we set out to hit them all, but we only had half of the best ones listed already, and the other half had always been listed accordingly on GoCityKids.com, a site that seeks to thoroughly log, document, chronicle and allow reviews of all the very best of any major city’s kid-friendly attractions.

Heck, we even looked at our own city and found more than a few things we didn’t know about, so that should tell you something. It should tell you that, even as diligent journalists, even living in a city, even while looking as far and wide as we’re able, there’s always more to find, even in your own city, and especially if you have kids.

gocitykids-wide

 

Chinatown Chinariffic, Not Quite Chinese Enough

No trip to an historically rich coastal or railway town would be worth it’s weight in fortune cookies, were it not for a quick visit to that town’s Chinatown. San Francisco’s got a pretty good one, I guess, and I’d really dig it if wasn’t for all the white people and rampant speaking of English.
story952
We’ve been to the Chinatown in Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as to several Chinatowns in the People’s Republic of China, not the least of which was Shanghai. I tell you though, when it comes to Chinatowns, those Chinese just can’t be beat. They’ve got the authenticity factor down to a science, and I mean a science like Calgon Water Softner, which we can all agree is the quintessential “ancient Chinese secret”… Too dated a reference? Sorry, I didn’t get it either, Daddy-O insisted I include it.

What I loved most about the true Chinatowns, those located inside of China, was that I was so ridiculously, unprecedentedly white that I was ten times the spectacle I usually am. Oh, I’m a walking freak show, make no mistake about that, but in China I was a special sort of exhibit. They’ve seen their share of ghastly white folk, but the white baby? I was like an albino ocelot, who the heck has ever seen such a thing? Certainly not them, and it served me like a 90mph overhand from Miss Chenandeler Bong herself… too obscure again? Sorry, Daddy-O keeps throwing these in, I can’t stop him, believe me, I’ve tried.

I’ve always loved the vibrant colors, the bustle, the exciting sights and sounds, but more than any of it all I loved how very, very not Chinese I was. For one thing, they took all my nonsensical ramblings as a language they couldn’t fathom, and that was great. These American Chinatowns don’t afford me such a luxury, these people know I’m just jabbering at the maw without reason, despite all the rhyme.

Sure, they’ve got kitsch and garbage on tap like anywhere, though by “on tap” I mean on tables, but here being white doesn’t do me any good. Half the people in American Chinatowns are white, what’s all that about?

If you’re going to San Francisco, you owe it to yourself to check out their Chinatown. I’m told that outside of New York, it’s the very best the continent has to offer. But if we can be serious for a minute, I’d say you’d better serve yourself to just leave the continent and check out a real Chinatown. My best advice would be to start in, oh, I don’t know, maybe China. What can I say, they invented the whole Chinatown phenomena, they pretty much run it better than anybody.

Frisco’s is well and good, plenty big and much, much safer than the rundown rat hole in Vancouver. Unlike Vancouver, this one is actually inhabited by the Chinese who make it so much fun.

Oh, and if you’re here, don’t forget to look around. That’s the only way to see what you might otherwise miss. I know it sounds a bit obvious, but at least two in our party of five forgot to do it, and they missed the whole experience. Bummer for them, no?

 

Tech Museum Makes Innovation Seem New

We skated in to The Tech Museum, located right in the heart of San Jose, late in the afternoon despite the fact that not one of us had any wheels on our feet. We’re techy folk for sure but we had no idea what this place had in store for us. With all their crazy, technological exhibits, honestly, the whole place made technology and innovation seem new to me; and I’ll be the first to tell you that I ain’t easily impressed.

You can see from basement to rooftop, and these colors and shapes are a hint of the planning that`s gone in to all of it.
You can see from basement to rooftop, and these colors and shapes are a hint of the planning that`s gone in to all of it.

Since it was afternoon we missed the rush of all the school fieldtrips and it felt like the place was just about shut down for our understandably critical news media review. What can I say, when the Perplexing boys show up on sight, the smart thing to do is clear the place out making way for us. We’re pretty high maintenance and unruly, so I figured at first it had been emptied for our arrival. Turns out that weekdays after 2:00 pm are typically pretty open, but either way, it’s a smart combination of executive decisions above and beyond me.

Did I already mention I’m not easily impressed? Us Perplexing journalists have just about seen it all, but this is by its own declaration a museum of technology and innovation, so they had at least a handful of things up their conspicuously invisible sleeves, and not a single patron of my party was prepared for the many new things we were about to experience.

First off, it bears mention that, while stroller-friendly, The Tech museum is quite gigantamongous, a word I’ve just made up just now to express the size of this place. Seriously, it’s huge! They span a quarter dozen floors and each one is its own world to be journeyed, and I never hesitated to fuss my way out of my stroller to explore it at my own unruly pace. Even if you like vaulted ceilings, you may be caught off guard by these twenty to eighty foot monsters. Toting us guys hither and thither was a workout for the adults, but with a net gain on the line of increased wisdom and awareness, what are they going to do, buckle me down?

Then they buckled me down, but I found my way out soon enough. I’m clever that way, and to think I didn’t even know about innovation until I got here.

Each floor of this place could work you out to the tune of an easy hour or so, assuming you like to run and explore like I do, and this place forces this exploration to the tune of running around and seeing new things. From Bobsleds to human genes to super spy labs to submarines to the very vacuum of space, this place has almost everything technological a person could desire to see, innovation is all new and fresh once again.

Above - Here's what I'm talking about. We punched my name into a control panel and the robot spelled it out for me. How cool is that?
Above – Here’s what I’m talking about. We punched my name into a control panel and the robot spelled it out for me. How cool is that?

It’s almost as if innovation never rests, but I don’t know him personally, so I shouldn’t make assumptions.

So, before I’ll let you go today, I have to tell you about the truly unique things this place has to offer. Forget huge, new, nice and educational, those are a minimum for me, and one they exceeded quite nicely.

When you come in you can get a badge that can be scanned here and there around the museum as you work your way through exhibits. You can design custom DNA or ask a robot to draw your face or write your name, and there are too many more to mention here, but your badge will track it all… why? So you can go online the next day and download it for your further fun and enlightenment. How cool is that?

Pretty cool! Do you wanna know what’s even cooler than that? There’s this robot that will take a look at your face and draw it out with a ballpoint pen. His neighbor, the other robot, will write your name out with colored blocks if you let him… well, okay, if you ask him to.

But the very coolest of the cool things is the fully animated earth they have. It’s not full scale, unfortunately, because apparently that would take the whole world to build, but it is to scale and it is big. That’s nothing though, what’s something is that it is vibrantly bright and fully animated all the way around, top to bottom, America to Mozambique with every stop along the way, and it’s seamless. It shows how hurricanes develop, what global warming may do to the earth regardless of whether or not politicians admit that it’s real and underway, and it looks like nothing you, me, or anyone else in my party has ever seen before.

They even have an IMAX theater on location, but I’ve left that for my senior editor’s assessment.

The Tech museum is located at 201 South Market Street in San Jose, CA 95113, that’s right in the heart of downtown San Jose. They are open 10 to 5, but be sure to check them out online at their website, www.TheTech.org for seasonal adjustments, current rates and the latest special exhibits in rotation.

Above - In the underwater exhibits you can drive your own robotic submarines complete with cameras and everything. We're all in this picture, and we're all trying to control it. Just goes to prove the old adage, too many kooks in the kitchen mooks up the fudge. We mostly just banged around into the glass, but we had a blast doing it.
Above – In the underwater exhibits you can drive your own robotic submarines complete with cameras and everything. We’re all in this picture, and we’re all trying to control it. Just goes to prove the old adage, too many kooks in the kitchen mooks up the fudge. We mostly just banged around into the glass, but we had a blast doing it.

 

Lions and Wooden Ostriches and Bears, Oh My!

Even if you’ve been to a zoo before — which I am told that I have been, though I have no personal memory of it — everyone says you need to see the San Francisco Zoo. And by “everyone” of course, I mean everyone I know. My parents, my brothers, the people at the ticket counter at the zoo; everyone!

Here you can see me with a horsie in one hand and a sheep in the other.
Here you can see me with a horsie in one hand and a sheep in the other.

Unlike the zoo in my city, which is very, very good, this place has free space on tap and they’ve taken every opportunity to use it all. That means you’ll want to bring your walking shoes, but you should already know that when you go out. I don’t have any other kind of shoes and I’m not sure they actually exist, except of course for Cinderella’s glass slippers which sound just plain dangerous.

san-zoo2Left – Okay, maybe these aren’t the most exciting cut-outs for tourist photos, but we loved them and gladly stuck our heads through to see how great we looked petting critters. Also we got to see how we’ll look when we grow up, assuming our heads remain child-sized.

The San Francisco zoo isn’t just fun and full of animals, it’s really fun and loaded up to overflowing with the animals. That’s my kind of zoo.

They’ve got great main stage stuff like Africa and the tropical house, but they also have good sideshows like Eagle Island — which recently granted humor pundit Stephen Colbert adoption privileges — and a lively penguin community too.

If you want to spend half a day at the zoo, plan carefully because it’s not that small. If you want to spend a whole day, however, you can do that. There’s a bunch of chill-out parent places like a playground where you can turn loose with your munchkins, an antique and authentic steam train and the neatest, oldest carousel I’ve ever ridden, and I’ve been on a few. Not just that but the premium stuff like the train and the carousel — the only stuff you’ll need to pay for aside from refreshments — are priced to move. I didn’t realize it until we came home and tried to go to a traveling carnival only to find they charged more for a rickety piece of ugly garbage than we paid to take a long and even merry of going ‘round.

Right – Even the polar bears put on a good show for us. san-polar-animation

And if that’s not enough cool down time, head over to the petting zoo where you can play with and feed everything from ducks to goats to chickens to sheep to a double-horned whatzit… I don’t know what it was, but it sure loved us short folk.

I don’t know if it was the weather, the feeding schedule or what, but we got really lucky with the animals liking us as much as we liked them. The tigers literally roared for us, the polar bears were pacing like they just took a pregnancy test, the lions walked right up and stared us down, the birds screamed at us like we just stole some eggs and the gophers popped up to check us out like the dogs of the prairie they are. Obviously the ducks quacked us and the geese goosed us, but that’s to be expected.

They were so interested in us that no less than twice we had to ask the animals to please not tap the glass. It scares the human exhibits, which in this case was us, but we got over it.

If you don’t like zoos and you don’t care a bit about animals, this may not be the place to go, but if you’re in the other 99% of readers enjoying this fine and uncommonly insightful article, check out the zoo. It’s bigger than you think, has a bunch of animals you aren’t expecting, and when you get tired, has more distractions for the chitlins than any zoo anyone in my family has been to, and my brother Brendan has seen zoos from Shanghai to Seattle… of course we live in Seattle but the other half is still pretty impressive.

The San Francisco zoo is located on Sloat Boulevard at the Great Highway (47th Avenue); next to the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco and is open 10 to 5 daily, 365 days of the year! Check out their website for current rates and seasonal adjustment to hours and driving directions.

Above - It may look like we were just a few feet from the prarie dogs, but only because we were. It was really neat because they kept popping their little heads out to say hello and all that kept us apart was a thick layer of nose and tiny hand besmudged glass.
Above – It may look like we were just a few feet from the prarie dogs, but only because we were. It was really neat because they kept popping their little heads out to say hello and all that kept us apart was a thick layer of nose and tiny hand besmudged glass.
Above - This was the tiger that decided to have a few choice words with its room mate. They growled at each other and Patrick got pretty scared. Tigers man, how cool is that?
Above – This was the tiger that decided to have a few choice words with its room mate. They growled at each other and Patrick got pretty scared. Tigers man, how cool is that?
Above - One highlight was the gigantic, indoor carousel. It's like a zillion years old, well maintained and has everything from horses to unicorns to, as you can see here and read in the headline, wooden ostriches.
Above – One highlight was the gigantic, indoor carousel. It’s like a zillion years old, well maintained and has everything from horses to unicorns to, as you can see here and read in the headline, wooden ostriches.

 

Park Chalet Offers Fantastilicious Food in Family Friendly Setting

So if you’re going to see the sights and sounds of the fantasticity of San Francisco, you have to take the 20-minutes to head out to the coast. If you’re an inner-continental American and have never seen the ocean, this should be reason enough alone, but if it isn’t, for some strange reason I can’t fully comprehend, consider that there’s cool stuff out there to see, as well as hot as heck food to gobble-all-gone just as much.

The ambiance was as good as the food and I don`t even like ambiance.
The ambiance was as good as the food and I don`t even like ambiance.

We’ve only covered a handful of restaurants in the entire heritage of our nearly-thousand-article history, and we’ve never covered a single restaurant twice… but today might just be the exception, and only because we hit the same spot twice, and both times had a fantastically delightful experience.

I’m talking, of course, about the Park Chalet, which lies along the California coast, about half way between the Cliff House (and ruins of Sutros Baths) and the wonderful San Francisco Zoo. The coast is no place to be missed for sure, and if you’re out there, human, and need the sustenance that perpetuates humankind, you simply have to take in a snack at the Park Chalet.

This is rare because, not only does it exceed our typical (admittedly McDonald’s grade) budget, but because it’s in the very most convenient place, and even with price taken out of the equation, you can easily assume you’ll get 5-star service and lunchstuffs at two-to-three star prices.

There’s a couple cool things about the Park Chalet that makes them as memorable as they are “must see” and I can say this with authority since it’s the only place I ate twice in my entire visit to the great city-state of Francisco de la San. Snark aside, it’s not just that they offer foods most tasty to kids and parents alike at reasonable (though not cheap, per se) prices, but rather that the experience of it all more than makes up for the difference.

If you want beach front food as close as can be (without getting sand in your fries) and still want a great time, the Park Chalet is the place to go.

And I know this may sound like a shill promotion, but let me tell you this without any doubt or deniability, we’ve never seen so much as the first nickel from San Francisco’s Park Chalet, nor any sort of discount off of any meal tab we may have incurred. No, we paid a full-rate on our visit to Park Chalet, it’s just that the food, people and overall experience was so spectacular that we’d be a pack of jerkwads to serve them anything but glowing reviews… but why, you might rightly ask?

The servers we met (and there were two because we changed tables) both seemed to know the menu inside out. That’s good, but what’s better was that, when we wanted to deviate from standard menu offerings, they were absolutely accommodating. Beyond that the environment was great, the prices were good and they food was as delightful as we’ve ever had, and we’ve had pretty good food when we were nearly starved, but this was every bit as tasty.

The Park Chalet have a smattering of family friendly offerings including a kiddo-comfortous concert series throughout the summer, but there’s just so much more than that which is offered.

Try the fingers, try the fries, or try the grilled cheese sammich. No matter what you try, I can promise you (from my own two-fold experience, for which I was not compensated) that your patience will not be tried.

What you’ll experience (based on my own encounter) is a good place in a great location with spectacular foodstuffs. You can pretend you don’t dig killer foods if you like, or that you don’t care if a place is convenient, but if you head to the crazy great city of San Francisco, and hit places as critical as the zoo, you can’t pretend that you’re not already in the area. Since you’re already there, don’t be a meany, take in the sites, tastes, smells and 5-star service of the Park Chalet. It’s unassuming, really, but having experienced it myself, I can tell you I’ve got pretty big assumptions of it for my next visit. It’s a 100% recommendation with what I consider to be 50% prices, with about 200% service.

Hands down (and I mean it because I fell asleep halfway through my meal — what can I say, it was a busy day and my hands fell limp to my sides, or so I’m told — this was the best food, best location and best overall experience (whether with the price in mind or not) that we encountered in all of our trip’s experience.

Park Chalet is located at 1000 Great Highway @ Ocean Beach in San Francisco, CA 94121 or find them online at their website.

Above - Given a choice in table almost overwhelmed me. The sun was shining so we got to pick whether we wanted to dine inside or hit the patio so us kids could frolic away.
Above – Given a choice in table almost overwhelmed me. The sun was shining so we got to pick whether we wanted to dine inside or hit the patio so us kids could frolic away.

 

Book Review: Around San Francisco with Kids

Before we struck out on our well-planned, but no less unexpected trip to San Francisco, we took a quick trip down to our friendly neighborhood Barnes and Noble to get us a couple books to make us more like travelers and less like tourists. Nothing wrong with being a tourist, I just wanted to avoid that ‘lost’ look so many of us perpetually wear.

Our guidebook took us to all the hotest spots in town.
Our guidebook took us to all the hotest spots in town.

Fodor’s is arguably the most trusted name in travel books, so we forked over the daddy-dollars and got two of them. Not just the regular one, which we’ll also review, but their more specific “Around San Francisco with Kids, 68 Great Things to Do Together.” I can’t say it was a lifesaver, exactly, but it sure cut down the amount of research we had to do.

I’ll take it a step further and suggest that it also helped us skip a handful of obvious mistakes. The 68 things to do isn’t all it talks about, of course, it also has helpful tips in the corner of each page and an introduction designed to help keep your budget in check. It even pointed out that we should go eat before hitting Alcatraz, because almost the whole island is a no-eating zone and there ain’t much to come by for food once you’re there.

If you’re going to travel to San Francisco — and you are like my parents, devoid of the option of leaving your little’uns behind — this is a good resource and it’s less expensive than a traditional guidebook. It covers the many of the must-sees regardless of price, as well as scads of cheap or free things you can do.

Of course, our reviews and forthcoming travel book on the matter is still critical, because we cover more of the ins and outs of the whole endeavor, as well as a bunch of things we covered that they missed. In a perfect world, I’d say go for both, because what ours may lack in comprehensiveness, it more than makes up for in charm, wit, diversity and full-color delight.

Fodor’s “Around San Francisco with Kids” is available from Borders, Barnes & Noble, and online through Amazon.com.

Above - From in front of Fort Point we took a minute to get our pictures taken with The City and Alcatraz as our backdrop. This was the trip where I learned that all non-duck varieties of birds are Seagulls... At least that's what I figured out, though people still keep correcting me.
Above – From in front of Fort Point we took a minute to get our pictures taken with The City and Alcatraz as our backdrop. This was the trip where I learned that all non-duck varieties of birds are Seagulls… At least that’s what I figured out, though people still keep correcting me.

 

Musée Mecanique’s Old Fashioned, New Fangled Fun

Right in the heart of tourist-central, waterfront San Francisco, there are tons and tons of attractions that beg you to visit, and typically charge you a hearty fee to do so. It was refreshing to find one different one, Musée Mecanique, which is right on the tip of pier 43, and it’s free for admission to anyone and everyone.

It`s so odd, you just pop coins in the piano and it plays itself!
It`s so odd, you just pop coins in the piano and it plays itself!

I wasn’t surprised that admission was free, mostly because I still have no concept of money and still haven’t paid for anything bigger than a candy bar myself, but also because what awaited me beyond the creepy front door was more interesting than almost anything else we’d seen during our entire trip thus far.

Musée Mecanique is an old-timey, penny arcade. This was what a gaming arcade was a hundred years ago, and Dan Zalinsky (the junior Zelinsky to run the operation) has kept them all up to speed, up to snuff, and fit to play.

And I’m not sure how many times I’ve already said it, so I’ll say it again, admission is free. The only thing you can spend money on, from among the 10,000 feet of antique novelty machines, is the gift shop and the actual operation of the machines… but don’t feel pressured to do so.

If you’re looking for something between the prices of cheap and free to share with your children or parents, there is little more exciting and interesting than Musée Mecanique. They’ve got player pianos, monkey machines that dance and sing, a stainless steel predecessor to Rockem Sockem Robots, a porcelain baker that pulls toys from the oven to give to children, and entire small cities of animatronic fantasy that come to life for a mere pair of quarters.

Above - Even with all the antique games and entertainments of so many sorts available, me and the brother were equally delighted to play the little choo-choo video machine.
Above – Even with all the antique games and entertainments of so many sorts available, me and the brother were equally delighted to play the little choo-choo video machine.

I was going to wind down the review at this point, but I just can’t do it. There are at least two big machines that are miniature cities. For half a buck you can bring the whole thing to life, from the carousel to the merry-go-round to the freak sideshow to everything in between. It’s amazing. I challenge you to build such a thing yourself if it looks so easy, but bear in mind you have to do so with ancient technology from yester-century as your only guide… Also, you have to donate it to me when you’re done so I can review it, cool?

If you’re old school, but not quite Jurassicly so, you might enjoy what my parents found fun. There are old arcade games from the quarter era such as Ms. Pacman, Pole Position, and other such unimaginably strange transitional games. I say transitional because they lack old world charm as well as new world technology, but still, you can see why dusty folks like my parents might dig them.

When I said cheap, I really meant it, because when you have a zillion machines that can entertain you a minute at a time for a quarter, we can all agree that’s a pretty inexpensive way of getting your giggles, but I also said free. If you’re seeing San Francisco with a budget of zero, this place has you covered too. I don’t know how you’ll pay your gas to get home, but I surely look forward to seeing you roadside with signs that beg cash for gas. But here, you can stand back and get almost as much enjoyment as the paying patrons. You’re still free to hear the player piano and watch the dancing gypsy or micro-city so long as someone else drops the coinage needed, and it’s just about as good.

Owner Dan Zalinsky has been running the business since his father, the original coin-op entertainment collector, passed on. Do a quick favor to him, us and yourself, and bring a buck or five to dump in to the machines. There’s so much fun to be had, and it’s every bit as new fangled as it is old fashioned.

Musée Mecanique is located at the end of Pier 43 on the San Francisco waterfront, between Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, which are also two places that can’t be missed.

Above - Something the parents really liked was the way all the machines had a little card in the corner that told the history. It said what it was, how old it was, where it came from and other stuff too.
Above – Something the parents really liked was the way all the machines had a little card in the corner that told the history. It said what it was, how old it was, where it came from and other stuff too.

 

Brown Bear Factory Either Stuffed Orphanage, Plush Mad Lab

If you’re going to do the San Francisco waterfront properly, as I surely did, you need to leave time to do the best kid-oriented attractions, and trust me when I tell you that any visit would be incomplete without spending time at the Basic Brown Bear Factory, a place I’m convinced is either an orphanage for undernourished bears or some kind of mad, plush, crazy bear creation laboratory. But which it is, I still can’t say.

Here you get a pretty snappy look at just how glorious the place really is.
Here you get a pretty snappy look at just how glorious the place really is.

If you go in during proper business hours you can join a free tour where you learn all about bears, the history of bears, how the bear gods make bears and what goes into a quality bear. Turns out God favors fluff and stuff over short-lived organs, who would have known? How great to know what your credit cards will be buying, once these bears are put together. On with the tour.

Josh was our guy of a guide, he told us a clever anecdote about Teddy Roosevelt who accidentally inspired the invention of bears, but I was already getting ahead of things so I didn’t pay attention to if it was all bears or just the stuffed kind. Either way it’s a pretty big deal.

basic-brown-bear2Left – Here you can see Baby-D picking and plucking through the bucket of bear hearts. We all got to pick out our own, but Dominic insisted on taking two. Hope that doesn’t cause future health problems for his new buddy.

So Josh dragged us around, told us what bears are all about, preached us the what-for, told us where baby bears come from (not as scary as I’d braced myself for) and when our tour was done, he set us loose to pick out our own bears to bring to life.

There wasn’t any lightning storm and there wasn’t a mad scientist around for miles, but they had bins and bins of unflated bears. Not deflated, since they hadn’t been preflated to require reflation, but just as yet nonflated. They had big, little, pink, brown, furry, fuzzy and at least a half dozen between each extreme. All the bears looked so lonely without a kid to carry them around. I felt bad about it, but only bad enough to convince my crew to wander around, convince each to pick out their own, and get to work on becoming true bear daddies.

And bear daddies we did becam… becomed? Becamedid? Let’s just say ‘turned into’.

It took a good fifteen minutes for all of us to decide, but once we picked out our bears we got to dip into a bucket and give them each its own heart. Baby Dominic was tired, so he insisted on picking out two or three to stuff inside his cuddly new pal, but nobody said boo about it so we moved on.

Right – Here you can see the delicate surgeons putting the finishing touches on the backs of bears, you know, to keep  basic-brown-bear3them from coming unraveled and spilling out their stuffings. It’s a lot like clamping the umbilical cord on a baby, except that belly buttons don’t usually come unraveled so much.

We handed over our flation-ready friends to Josh, who hooked them up with their (probably patented and trademarked) converted World War II era lifejacket stuffer, alakazam, bears are topped to the gills with stuffing.

I wish I could get full that easy, but I have to eat vegetables before I can top off with custard. Sometimes I just wish I was a bear, at least then I could maul people who don’t give me my honey.

Once stuffed we passed along to the back-stitcher, the master seamstress in charge of zipping up the bear backs to keep them as stuffed tomorrow as they are today. She was all smiles, but if your job is watching orphaned bears find new homes, you’d grin from your one ear to your other as well. (I have two ears and I think most people do, not sure if I’ve pointed that out before but it’s true.)

Then my gracious guide fixed the seam-bound fur, helped me put him through the bath of screaming wind to clean off his loose fur-bits, and then we were done… but in truth, we were just getting started.

You see, on the tour we came to know we were looking to fill out a bear or bunch, but what we didn’t know was that we were going to get to pick out their first outfit to keep them warm when we were done… well, half-done I guess.

Once your bear is all done being done, stuffed up good, properly fluffed and de-linted, you get to go back out to the main entry area and from there you get to ogle outfits aplenty, dress up your new bear friends and walk ‘em down the runway. That’s right, our bears don’t have to stay bare! As you can see from the picture, I chose a SpaceMan motif, complete with shiny silver mask, full body space swashbuckler suit and black vinyl boots. He’s a dapper Booboo bear if you ask me.

Dominic couldn’t be persuaded to go for more flash, he insisted his handsome buddy don a patriotic military outfit, though if you ask me, I think he should be a soldier in space. Maybe I’m biased.

Above - Here you can see master bearsmith Josh teaching us kids exactly where it is that baby bears come from. I have to say I thought it was going to be a bit different, but it's pretty adult stuff. You have to cut, stitch, do all kinds of tough stuff.
Above – Here you can see master bearsmith Josh teaching us kids exactly where it is that baby bears come from. I have to say I thought it was going to be a bit different, but it’s pretty adult stuff. You have to cut, stitch, do all kinds of tough stuff.

Patrick picked out a cowboy getup for his little dawgy (which was actually also still a bear, though more Kodiak than the brown or sun variety us youngers picked out.) His bear got a fancy hat, suede boots and vest, five-point Texan-style stars and a bandana to polish it off. He even got an official “Stuffed in San Francisco, Basic Brown Bear Factory” t-shirt to round it out. Again, maybe it’s just me, but what’s wrong with the idea of a space cowboy instead? Space is bigger than the Old West, I think, but probably only a little bit.

At the end of the day (which was fast arriving) we didn’t leave the place with decadent shopping bags, but with new best friends under arms. No discredit to Dog, you’re still my dog, dog, but these new bears are really special. We got to pick them out from floppy scraps of cuteness and build them out as our own, dress them to our tastes and everything.

That was our last night in town and we pretty promptly hopped back in the car, and I can tell you that our delight from that day on was much alike our demands from the long ride home; we demanded we have our bears to cuddle and snuggle for comfort, aid to slumber and general fun.

Above - Here you can see our new, usual suspects. From the prairie to the trenches to space, we each got something so specific to our tastes that these guys effortlessly beat out the hundred other bears we have back home, most of which we've never even played with. This was easily one of the most fun places we've gone, ever, and I can honestly say I speak for all of us when I say I recommend it fully. Of course, I don't speak very clearly for all of us, but I still speak it.
Above – Here you can see our new, usual suspects. From the prairie to the trenches to space, we each got something so specific to our tastes that these guys effortlessly beat out the hundred other bears we have back home, most of which we’ve never even played with. This was easily one of the most fun places we’ve gone, ever, and I can honestly say I speak for all of us when I say I recommend it fully. Of course, I don’t speak very clearly for all of us, but I still speak it.

So if you hate cute bears, this is no place for you. It’s not just because you’re going to walk out with a degree in bearology or that you’ll have something new, fun, festive and delightful that you’ll love, but the real deal-maker for us was that they didn’t hardly even cost more than a store-bought bear, but they are ours from first stitch to last. The Basic Brown Bear people really put their hearts where their hearts are too. It’s a family business owned and operated by the same people since YEAR, and they don’t pull the unscrupulous fast-ones you might find from the bigger bear chains.

But really, if you want my advice (and I just know you do, that’s why you come here, isn’t it?) you need to give them your time because it’s a great experience, a fine product, a fair price and a bear you won’t let go of for a long time to come.

Basic Brown Bear is located at 2801 Leavenworth Street in San Francisco CA and offers daily tours to families and groups from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; but a word of warning; don’t go visitin’ this orphanage if you don’t plan on taking a bear home, they’re a package deal. Check them out online for seasonal adjustments or changes in services or availability. Tell them Brendan sent you, if you like. I’m sure they won’t remember us, but even with my own terribly short memory, I still remember them and I’ve still got my bear right here… sorry Dog, it’s nothing personal.

Above - These are the bears we made our very own selves, complete with wandering felt hearts somewhere inside, and the joy they've obviously given us.
Above – These are the bears we made our very own selves, complete with wandering felt hearts somewhere inside, and the joy they’ve obviously given us.