kids' town: san francisco
Talk about a San Francisco treat: kids are holding court at the new Rooftop at Yerba Buena Gardens, an urban playground atop the Moscone Convention Center. The block-long recreation area— with an indoor ice-skating rink, bowling alley, and a carousel— is a family outing smack in the middle of downtown San Francisco. It's all built around a massive garden, where kids can learn about plants with a horticulturist or explore a labyrinth made of hedges. At the colorful, cone-shaped Zeum, a technology and creative-arts building within the complex, junior techies and multimedia buffs can produce and star in a digital video, concoct clay-figure animation shorts, and build Web pages. An exhibition area shows the work of teen artists. Younger kids enjoy puppet shows, storytelling, and animation screenings. It's all aimed at ages 18 and under, they say. Good thing no one is checking ID. Rooftop at Yerba Buena Gardens, 221 Fourth St.; 415/777-2800.
A just-launched Random House series gives cooking and driving new meaning— in three languages. Learn Italian in the Kitchen teaches kids to speak un po' d'italiano while making panini. Learn French in the Car will have them singing "Sur le Pont d'Avignon." The car and kitchen titles are available in Italian, French, or Spanish; each includes a 60-minute tape and an activity book. The Learning Language series may not make your kids multilingual, but they might offer to make dinner. $18.95 each; 800/733-3000.
made in the shade
Beaching it?Tote along these new sunscreens, perfect for young, sensitive skin: Neutrogena's SPF 30 lotion and easy-to-apply sunblock spray. • Kiehl's Sunshield (SPF 15), extremely mild and chemical-free. • Mustela's Hydrating Sunblock Cream, in a convenient twist-top tube. • Johnson's Baby Lotion with daily UV protection, for ages six months and up.
Denmark's favorite plastic theme park has come to our shores. At Legoland in Carlsbad, California, kids can wander through a medieval castle, build Lego plants in a garden, or sign up for driving school and tool around in mini-cars. But the showstopper is Miniland: Manhattan, Mount Rushmore, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco are constructed entirely out of the signature bricks. Legoland, 760/918-5346.
If your child is a budding David Copperfield, you might want to plan a trip to Blois, three hours by train from Paris. There, a major new museum has been dedicated to Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin (his fame as a magician was so great that Harry Houdini swiped his name). The magic museum recounts the history of the craft while wowing young visitors with illusions. La Maison de la Magie, 33-2/54-55-26-26.
Fashion-forward moms will be seething with envy when their tots catch wind of two hip new Manhattan clothing boutiques that outfit kids up to age 10. Calypso Enfants, a pint-size offshoot of the seriously sexy Calypso St. Barths, carries everything from the avant-garde (silk-and-lace chemises, boot-cut pants) to the classic (cashmere cardigans, French sailor suits). The store Bu and the Duck has a decidedly historical take on children's wear. Inspiration for its signature three-button shrunken-wool jacket was found in old Ellis Island photos, whereas its quintessential little-girl gathered dress was modeled after a similar garment from the twenties. Calypso Enfants, 284 Mulberry St.; 212/965-8910. Bu and the Duck, 106 Franklin St.; 212/431-9226.
working girls (and boys)
Some of us could never quite figure out what a business trip entailed when Mom or Dad returned, bags bulging with souvenirs. With all that evidence, it seemed as if we should have been there too. Now the Junior Business Executive Package at Denver's Brown Palace hotel puts children in charge of their own "business trip." They check the family in, get their own portfolio of things to do (drop in on the baby polar bears at the zoo, visit the Children's Museum), and handle room service with their own Ben & Jerry's vouchers. And you thought your business trips were hectic. Brown Palace, 321 17th St.; 800/321-2599 or 303/297-3111; doubles from $195.
Here's something for the kid who has everything— or the kid who's seen A Bug's Life five times: the Ladybug Pop-Up Tent. This six-foot-long nylon wonder weighs two pounds and folds into a small package (ideal for travel). Since there are no life-threatening poles, children can set it up by themselves. If any boys think it's only for "ladies," tell them to climb right in and borrow a line from Francis, the movie's male ladybug: "Who you callin' lady?!" $59.95; 800/325-2502 to order.
get your pith helmet
Starting this summer, you'll be able to go on safari close to home at a 400-acre wildlife preserve in Sonoma County. Safari West— founded by Nancy Lang, a former San Francisco Zoo curator, and her husband— is opening a camp. Its 15 safari tents, imported from South Africa, have hardwood floors and private baths (several are family-size and sleep four). In the evening, sit on your deck and watch zebras and giraffes grazing nearby. Naturalists take guests on hikes, nature walks, bird-watching expeditions, and tours of Safari West's preserve, which shelters 350 animals— all are African, some are endangered. It's like having a piece of Kenya in California. Tent Camp at Safari West, 3115 Porter Creek Rd., Santa Rosa; 707/579-2551, fax 707/579-8777; family tent $275, including breakfast.
Let the young expeditioners take charge on your next wilderness adventure. San Franciscobased Wild Planet (800/247-6570) produces gadgets and gizmos tailor-made for negotiating the outdoors. Need to know which way is north?The Explorer's Watch ($10), with built-in compass, thermometer, and stopwatch, will provide the answer. Getting dark out?The Night Scope binoculars ($14), with an attached spotlight that shines up to 50 feet ahead, are just what the hiker ordered.
Airlines are getting savvy these days, in order to help families on long-haul flights. On British Airways kids are served food before the adults; there are also Treasure Chests filled with games and books. Singapore Airlines keeps youngsters in their seats with Nintendo games operated on individual TV screens. El Al has a new family zone— no more angry stares from fellow passengers when little Kim starts crying. United Airlines flies with the Golden Arches— McDonald's Friendly Skies Meal for children older than two (parents need to place the order 24 hours in advance on flights leaving the United States). Virgin Atlantic gives kids snacks the second they step on the plane. After liftoff, they get a backpack stuffed with books, puzzles, baseball cap, and way cool sunglasses.
kids in the city
New York and Los Angeles can be difficult to navigate with children, even for natives. Here's help: Kids Take New York and— coming in May— Kids Take L.A. (Bookhappy Books, $15.95 each). Great sources for visitors and residents alike, both guides cover the best restaurants, theaters, museums, and stores for kids, as well as listings of free activities, such as playgrounds and bookstore story times.