"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fairies in Oakland? Fairyland at Lake Merritt

As one who prefers trails of dirt to those of concrete, and outdoor wonderlands made of trees and caves and creeks, I was a snob about visiting the Children's Fairyland in Oakland.

Then I visited and now I repent my snobby ways.

Children's Fairyland is the best man-made children's park I've ever been to, seriously, and blows doors on any modern playground or amusement park. I also happen to be a lover of myths, legends, and fairy tales, so this was a treat for me too.

I was afraid the setting would be hot, literally baking like most playgrounds constructed of artificial things in the middle of a city, but most of the play structures were under enormous oak trees, redwoods, and along a meadow. Flowers bloomed everywhere, and the place felt cool and refreshing.

I came for a play, but fell in love with the place. With forty different fairy tale and nursery rhyme settings, how could I see all of them? Then there were puppet shows, a hill to slide down, farm animals (I only saw the two donkeys), rides, a day camp, overnight possibilities, and more.

Blossom the Possum
We met some interesting characters there, and not just from fairy tales. There was a couple of my parents' generation: a visiting wizard named Oberon and his fairy-wife, Morning Glory, both sweet as can be, carrying a gentle opossum named Blossom in a knitted bag. (As an aside, they run a wizardry school, GreySchool.com, worth looking into if you like magic)

I love history and old places, and Fairyland opened in 1950, when my mother was a little girl and long before Disneyland existed (there is a rumor, or truth, that Walt Disney was inspired when he visited this park). 

Fairyland in the Fifties. Photo from alamedainfo.com 
As I wandered around, following my daughter as she went from carousel to toadstool to crooked house to rabbit hole to the belly of the whale to pirate ship, I thought about the generations of children who have explored this place. There's a cool retro style to the place, a real Fifties vibe. 
Fairyland in the Fifties. Photo from alamedainfo.com
Fairyland is right against Lake Merritt, a tidal lagoon that continues to draw enormous flocks of birds and resident Canadian geese. The walking path around the lake is a little over three miles, and there are boats one can rent, plenty of food places, and easy public transportation, like BART, nearby. 

One drawback to Fairyland is the price, $8 per person (everyone 1 and older), but that's not so bad considering entrance includes unlimited rides (carousel, train, Ferris wheel), and the place is a nonprofit organization where you can volunteer in lieu of payment. Membership only allows those people named on the card to enter (meaning no loans to friends or babysitters). Free passes can be obtained, according to Fairyland's website, but I don't know how easy they are to get.

The next time I come, I am going to pack a picnic (there's food to buy and an espresso bar, FYI), and maybe bring a book or two of children's fairy tales, plus a Mother Goose nursery rhyme book. Maybe a big ol' floppy hat too, since it's always so much sunnier in Oakland than SF.

Related Links:
Fairyland, Official Website
Bay Area Children's Theater

the ancient donkeys of Fairyland
Anansi the Spider's Ferris Wheel

1 comment:

  1. You can even get outdoors and camp at Fairyland which is really fun!