Children's Fairyland in Oakland never fails to delight the little ones with its age-appropriate attractions
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 10, 2010
At the age of 3, I enter Oakland's Children's Fairyland for the first time. Excitedly, I head through the entryway, a larger-than-life boot that is patterned after the nursery rhyme "The Old Woman and the Shoe." Farther along, I spot the longest slide that I have ever seen. How fun! When my parents aren't looking, I dash to the top of the Dragon Slide. My dad rushes to the bottom to catch me just as I come flying down, grinning.
Fast-forward a few years, when my little brother is about 3 years old. My grandparents bring us to this same park on the shores of Oakland's Lake Merritt. Ching Lung the Happy Dragon greets us, and I try pulling on his rubbery tongue to get him to talk. Directly behind is Oswald the Bubble Elf, who perplexes me by blowing two bubbles that are stuck together ("How come they're not round where they touch?"). My brother and I run around finding the talking storybooks that pipe out nursery rhymes or fables whenever a magic key is inserted.
CHILDREN'S FAIRYLANDGetting there
A round-trip economy ticket from Hawaii to Oakland International Airport (OAK) costs $350-plus. Children's Fairyland is at the corner of Grand and Bellevue avenues on the shore of Lake Merritt. It is accessible by car, bus (Alameda-Contra Costa Transit, bus No. 12) and train (Bay Area Rapid Transit, 19th Street Station).
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Much of what has appealed to young children over the years remains the same.
There are 30 storybook sets and exhibits, including beloved classics like "Alice in Wonderland," "Peter Rabbit's Village" and "Pinocchio's Castle." Many are based on nursery rhymes (e.g., "Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Hey, Diddle Diddle") or fairy tales (e.g., "Rapunzel," "Three Billy Goats Gruff").
The park was built before Disney, so there is a noncommercialized originality to the figurines. Instead of glitzy high-tech, the settings are more natural, featuring moats, woodsy areas and plenty of friendly live animals ranging from burros to llamas. Fairyland also reflects Oakland's diverse population with its Chinese Tea House, Japanese Party Area and Anansi's Magic Web (based on an African folk tale). It also pays tribute to California history with its Old West Junction.
The rides here are gentle and ideal for first-time passengers like my children. They include the Jolly Trolly Train, Flecto Carousel, Wonder-Go-Round (a petite merry-go-round) and the aforementioned Anansi's Magic Web (a pint-size Ferris wheel). My daughter, usually cautious when it comes to rides, happily goes on them all. However, she balks at the same Dragon Slide I had ascended decades earlier. Maybe next time.
While my daughter is busy with the rides, my son is intrigued by the diminutive buildings that are just his size. A miniature house, castle and chapel complete with itsy-bitsy pews make him smile with delight. Both children are fascinated by the wishing well with its winding rope and attendant bell.
Like many of the attractions, the wishing well is something that until now they've only seen in picture books. Speaking of books, the Duchess' Reading Room, with its ample collection, complements the many fairy-tale settings.
Live entertainment includes thrice-daily puppet shows. On the weekends there are arts and crafts, performances by local artists and plays put on by the Children's Theater Program. The latter's aspiring stars are known locally as the "Fairyland Personalities."
Special events include family overnighters, holiday festivities and even a performing-arts summer camp. No wonder my friend, a talented singer and actress who once starred in "Lost," calls this place one of her family's favorites.
When little (or big) feet get tired, a first-come, first-served picnic area is a nice spot to enjoy lunch from the Johnny Appleseed Cafe. The cafe's menu features kiddie favorites such as hot dogs, chicken nuggets and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Adults needing a caffeine boost can stop by Peter's Big Pumpkin Espresso for mochas, cappuccinos and the like. Near the exit, the Magic Lamp Toy Shop delights both my mom and potential future-shopper daughter.
Nap time is impending, although both kids (and, for that matter, my mom) want to stay longer. It is no wonder; a day filled with animals, bubbles and fairy tales-come-true is perhaps every small child's fantasy.
As we exit, I am also reluctant to leave this land of dreams and make-believe behind. Perhaps we could all benefit from more imagination in our lives. I pocket our magic key and make a wish that we can return to Fairyland soon.
Monica Quock Chan is a Honolulu-based freelance writer and former marketing executive. She has lived in Europe and Asia and traveled to nearly 70 countries.