San Francisco Beasts
With attractions based on children's books, an IMAX theater, and a dozen kid-friendly restaurants and shops, there's plenty to tickle the senses at Metreon, a new San Francisco entertainment complex. Find out where the wild things are via a Maurice Sendak-inspired fantasy. You and Sendak's hero Max can sail a boat, then explore a magical forest. Play in a sci-fi adventure zone based on the designs of French graphic-novelist Jean Giraud. Or get down to the nuts and bolts of things during a 3-D video presentation based on David Macaulay's The Way Things Work—perfect for the tyke who's apt to deconstruct the family telephone. Metreon, Fourth and Mission Sts.; 800/638-7366 or 415/369-6000.
—Caren Osten Gerszberg
A Fairy-Tale Princess
With satin bodices, layers of tulle, and beaded slippers, Lady Sophie Hamilton transforms girls into fairy princesses. The London-based designer discovered the neglected market after scouring stores in search of a fairy dress for her goddaughter. To fill the gap, she formed Little Wings (44-171/243-3840; www.littlewings.co.uk). Stateside, the dresses are sold by mail-order; her wands and wings, however, are available only in Europe. This season, look for a line of fairy dresses cut from denim—perfect for an urban princess.
Ringing in 2000
Can't find a sitter for New Year's Eve?Celebrate with the kids. Chicago: Join a 2,000-minute dance party, to be held in various locations around the city (312/742-2001). Fort Lauderdale: Frolic at the Munchkin Ball (954/761-5813). San Diego: Take a whale-watching cruise with Gray Whale Advocate (310/831-1317), which lands at Laguna Ojo de Liebre for a midnight disco party. San Francisco: Keep your kids on their toes with a Nutcracker performance by the San Francisco Ballet (415/865-2000), followed by fireworks at the Golden Gate Bridge.
It's in the Cards
Rubberneckers (Chronicle Books, $12.95) is the newest way to avoid the dread "Are we there yet?" In this travel game, players get ahead by spotting dogs, persuading a trucker to honk, and spying on other cars (10 points if you catch someone on a cell phone).
Most city kids (and some of their parents, for that matter) can't tell a guinea fowl from a pigeon. But the French aim to fix all that at the Musée Vivante de la Basse-Cour, or Living Farmyard Museum, in Normandy's apple country. The 15th-century stone manor house was built by the bishops of Lisieux. Now its stables and barns house hens, rabbits, ducks, geese, and turkeys, in hundreds of exotic varieties. A bread oven and a monumental cider press complete the picture of life on the farm. Musée Vivante de la Basse-Cour, D579, Norolles, Lisieux; 33-2/31-62-78-78.
It takes a brave child to tackle a 60-foot vertical-drop waterslide that passes through a shark-filled lagoon (hint: there's a Plexiglas tube). But at the Bahamas resort Atlantis, it's all part of the day's fun. Thanks to a half-billion-dollar expansion and a new Discovery Channel day camp, the 2,300-room Atlantis is the world's most over-the-top family resort. Just in case Mom and Dad want to check out the casino, a flotilla of baby-sitters is always on call. Atlantis, Casino Dr., Paradise Island; 800/285-2684 or 242/363-3000; two-night packages start at $179 a person, double. Children 12 and under stay free in their parents' room.
Los Angeles's newest beauty shop, SkinMarket, is modeled after an adolescent's bathroom—only better, with 1,001 custom-blended lipsticks, glitter hair spray, and free makeovers. Pick a fragrance—bubble gum, banana, sea breeze—from the 100-plus selection, and SkinMarket will add it to shampoo, conditioner, or body lotion. Need a gift for your best girlfriend?Write a short message and have it embedded in a transparent bar of soap. SkinMarket, 8522 Beverly Blvd; 310/854-6935.
Check out these top new travel guides: New York's 50 Best Museums for Cool Parents and Their Kids by Alfred Gingold and Helen Rogan (City & Co., $12) is a cultural roadmap, with fanciful illustrations by Catherine Lazure. • Vivien Bowers's Wow Canada! (Firefly, $19.95) is filled with facts, cartoons, and zany postcards. • America's Best Historic Sites by B. J. Welborn (Chicago Review Press, $14.95) offers vacation ideas for the budding historian. • The mazes, puzzles, and quizzes in My Sticker Book of Travel Fun (DK Publishing, $6.95) will keep kids occupied during the journey.
Looking to spend quality slope time with your kids but unwilling to risk a limb on a snowboard?Try skiboarding, a fusion of skiing, snowboarding, and in-line skating—the hottest, safest snow craze in years. Curved tips on both ends of the short, wide skis allow daredevils unrivaled maneuverability. But the sport can be mastered by under- and middle-aged novices the first day out. For info on skiboarding slopes or buying your own set, call 888/546-3754; $250-$350.
Round We Go
In Nashville, artist Red Grooms puts an unusual spin on a favorite ride with the recently built Tennessee Fox Trot Carousel. Among the 36 local legends that Grooms has transformed into fiberglass figures are the Everly Brothers, aviatrix Cornelia Fort, and a Goo Goo Cluster candy bar. The most rollicking seat is an 11-foot-long horse with a gaggle of clowns aboard. Unlike its American counterparts, this carousel turns clockwise, in the fashion of an English roundabout. Tennessee Fox Trot Carousel, Riverfront Park; 615/254-7020.
When you ask your kids how they're enjoying the food at Peanut Butter & Co., a New York City restaurant devoted to that staple of American cuisine, they'll have to nod, mumble, or mime their approval. Rendering patrons speechless is precisely what 26-year-old Lee Zalben had in mind when he created a menu of sticky sensations. While there's no shortage of PB&J, those with more experimental taste buds won't be disappointed. Should the spirit of the King move you, try the Elvis, drizzled with honey, stuffed with sliced bananas, and then grilled. And yes, they'll cut off your crusts on request. Peanut Butter & Co., 240 Sullivan St.; 212/677-3995; lunch for two $20.
No more battles with squirmy little ones trying to escape your sunscreen-coated hands on the next beach vacation. Just dress them in clothing made of Solumbra, a lightweight SPF 30 fabric from Sun Precautions. Wide-brimmed hats and T-shirts come in saturated colors; most notable is the new line of bathing gear modeled after wet suits. From $23 for a hat; 800/882-7860.
—Dara Y. Herman