'Tis the Season for Science at the California Academy of Sciences

December 20, 2014

Cal AcademyThis winter break, take in some holiday cheer and meet some real live reindeer at San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Through Sunday, January 4, you can take in not only classic Cal Academy sights like the giant T-Rex skeleton, aquarium, planetarium, rain forest, and African hall, but special winter-themed programming and attractions as well as part of its "'Tis the Season for Science" lineup.

Visit with Willow and Yukon, a pair of live, six-year-old reindeer, in the east garden and learn about how they live in their cold northern homeland. Then, step inside the Snowman Theater to see Roaming with Reindeer, a family-friendly show that explores what life on the tundra is like for these amazing creatures.

While you're there, you'll also enjoy indoor snow flurries, caroling special holiday performances, and more. You can even meet "Santa Claude", the Academy's albino alligator mascot, and watch "Scuba Santa" at work in the Steinhart Aquarium.

Marin Weekend Family Fun for December 19, 20 & 21

December 19, 2014
the Nisja's Bear's House in Marinwood
Visit the Mickey Mouse House in Marinwood this weekend. It's open nightly from 6–10 pm.

Here are our picks for great events and activities for children and families this weekend. Find more events for the whole week in Marin and beyond in our Family Events Calendar.

There's also holiday ice skating at numerous locations throughout the Bay Area, opportunities to visit with Santa Claus at local shopping centers, and amazing decorated holiday houses. Also, check out our North Bay Christmas Tree Farms and Lots article.

Friday, December 19

  • Family Holiday Tea
    Haas-Lilienthal House, San Francisco
    Friday & Saturday, noon & 3 pm

    Celebrate the holidays by stepping back in time through the doors of the festively-decorated Haas-Lilienthal House for a traditional Victorian afternoon tea. Crown & Crumpet promises to delight with its perfectly-blended pots of tea, savory finger sandwiches, scrumptious scones and holiday sweets. Tea will be served in the formal dining room and parlors. Tickets: $48 adults, $24 for children 12 and under. Location: For more info, visit their website.
  • San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker
    War Memorial Opera House

    Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 2 & 7 pm
    San Francisco Ballet’s awe-inspiring production is like no other, with colorful, larger-than-life scenery, over 200 dazzling costumed characters, and of course Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score performed live by the world-class San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. Performances of Nutcracker run through December 29. Ticket prices start at $26. For more info, call (415) 865-2000 or visit their website.
  • Family Concert: A Charlie Brown Christmas—Live!
    San Francisco Symphony, Davies Hall
    Friday, 4 pm, Saturday, 2 pm & Sunday, 2 and 7:30 pm

    Iconic Peanuts characters come to life in this colorful live-action performance, with animated backgrounds on the big screen, dancing, singing, and more—all with live accompaniment by the Symphony, Chorus, dancers, and narrators. This unique variety show opens with vocalist Lisa Vroman, the SFS Chorus, and the Symphony performing holiday classics. Come early and enjoy a family-friendly reception. The lobbies will be filled with festive decorations and activities, including gigantic trees, holiday photo booths, and special Peanuts décor. Tickets $12.50 and up; 17 and under half-price. For more info, visit their website.
  • San Francisco Zoo Lights
    San Francisco Zoo
    Friday–Sunday, 5–8 pm

    Come get a feeling for the San Francisco Zoo at night under magical holiday lights! Make your way from Entry Village to the Elinor Friend Playground for some magical playtime under the stars. Stop by to see Santa Claus to put in some last-minute requests. Grab some hot apple cider or cocoa and head over to the Playfield Lawn pay a visit to Santa's special reindeer Belle, Holly, Peppermint, and Velvet. And there will be light snow flurries at Zoo Lights, so bundle up! $7 adults, $5 kids 4–14, free 3 and under. For more information, visit their website.
  • Le Petit Cirque de Noël
    Marin County Mart, Larkspur Landing
    Friday, 6–7:15 pm

    Let Petit Cirque de Noël presents A Magic Box under the Big Tent at Marin Country Mart. Tickets: free for children age 18 and under; $15 adults. Tickets required for seating and can be purchased at the Trading Post or on Brown Paper Tickets. To reserve tickets, call the Trading Post at (415) 448-5043. For more info, visit their website.
  • Young Performers Theatre: Peter Pan
    Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
    Friday, 6:30 pm, Saturday & Sunday,1 & 3:30 pm

    The Young Performers Theatre presents Peter Pan. For all ages. Tickets: $10. Location: Building C, Room 300, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.

 Saturday, December 20

  • Marin Country Mart Farmers Market
    Marin Country Mart, Larkspur Landing
    Saturday, 9 am–2 pm

    Enjoy pony rides and a petting zoo for the kids from 10 am–2 pm adjacent to the farmer's market, arts and crafts by SCRAP from 10 am–1:30 pm, and children's entertainment from 9:30–10:30 am. Santa Claus will be at the Poppy Store from 11 am to 2 pm for complimentary photos. For more info, visit their website.
  • Family Walk: A Winter Wonderland 
    Muir Woods, Mill Valley
    Saturday, 9:30 am–noon

    Discover the wonder of an old-growth redwood forest in winter on this leisurely walk on the Fern Creek and Alice Eastwood trails. Look for salmon, mushroom displays, winter wildflowers, waterfalls, and more! Dress for the weather and wear sturdy shoes as the trails are steep and may be muddy (strollers not advised). Bring water and a snack. Entry fees apply. For information and reservations, call (415) 388-2596 or visit their website.
  • Gingerbread House Party
    Habitot Children's Museum, Berkeley
    Saturday, 9:30 am–4:30 pm

    Decorate a giant gingerbread house with oodles of goodies including candies, cookies and sprinkles. After the event, the completed house will be donated to a local family shelter for the holiday. Bring a bag of decorating candy to share and receive a free guest pass from Habitot. For more info, visit their website.
  • Dream Circle Holiday Concert
    Bay Area Discovery Museum
    Saturday, 10 am & 11:15 am

    Bring the little ones (ages 6 mos. and up) for a delightful and uplifting seasonal celebration featuring songs for a wide range of winter holidays, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Chinese New Year. Dream Circle is indeed a dream lineup of Marin’s best loved children’s entertainers. Tickets: $5 members, $7 general (does not include museum admission). To purchase tickets, visit their website.
  • Gingerbread House Decorating Classes
    Cake Art, San Rafael
    Saturday, 10:30 am–noon & 2–3:30 pm

    Decorate your holiday gingerbread house at Cake Art Supplies. The class includes a large preassembled, freshly baked gingerbread house, royal icing, assorted candies and decorations, and instruction. This class is a popular adult, child or parent/child class. Call now to sign up as space is limited. Cost: $50. Location: 1512 5th Avenue, San Rafael. For more info, call (415) 456-7773 or visit their website.
  • Frozen Sing-Along
    Children's Creativity Museum, San Francisco
    Saturday, 11 am & 2 pm

    “For the first time in forever” we will be screening Frozen in our Creativity Theater! “Let it go” and sing along with Elsa, Anna, Olaf, and all of your friends. All ages are welcome; costumes are encouraged! Tickets $5 per person, ages 2 and older. Location: 221 4th Street, San Francisco. Reserve your tickets here.
  • Kids' Concert: The Hipwaders
    Freight & Salvage, Berkeley
    Saturday, 11 am (doors open at 10:30 am)
    he Hipwaders specialize in kid-pleasing power pop anthems full of catchy tunes and beautiful vocal harmonies. Tito Uquillas (guitar, keyboards), DJ Kinville (bass), and Nick Baca (drums) honed their chops performing at the Jelly Belly Candy Factory in Fairfield before going on to play other venues and release a succession of albums, winning throngs of adoring fans (young and old) and numerous Parents' Choice, Children's Music Web, and National Parenting Publications awards—they were even invited to perform at Chicago's Lollapalooza Festival in 2007. Tickets: $10 advance, $12 at the door. Location: 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley. For more info, visit their website.
  • Family Holiday Sing-Along
    Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
    Saturday, 11 am

    Sing along with your favorite Christmas carols as the toys of St. Nicholas's workshop come to life! Discover the meaning of Christmas on an extraordinary journey, filling children, young and old, with the joys of the season. This program is particularly well-suited to those under age 8. Tickets: $10–$25. Location: 1100 California Street, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
  • Marin Dance Theatre: Sophie and The Enchanted Toyshop
    Marin Veterans' Memorial Auditorium
    Saturday, 1 & 5:30 pm

    Marin Dance Theatre presents this delightful full-length two-act children's ballet, featuring over 125 dancers plus professional guest artists. A Dickens-style street scene comes alive with gypsies, magicians, and mysterious commedia del arte masked players. As a kindly toy maker enters with his mischievous harlequin monkeys, he sweeps Sophie away to her amazing adventure. Following the 1 pm performance, meet the cast, enjoy sweet treats, and have your photo taken with cast members at the Teddy Bear Tea Party in the Redwood Foyer. Tickets: $38 adults, $28 students and seniors; Teddy Bear Tea Party $5. Purchase tickets here. For more info, visit their website.
  • Le Cirque de Bohème Holiday Circus
    Cornerstone Sonoma
    Saturday, 1 pm

    This Christmas, Cornerstone Sonoma presents a winter circus for the holidays by Le Cirque de Bohème. Experience the magic of a 1920s style circus based on the French tradition, featuring a magician, contortionist, jugglers, mimes, an eccentric clown, a knife-thrower, and other assorted denizens of 1920s Paris. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $15 for kids under 15. Last year many of these performances sold out early, so get your tickets soon. Order tickets online.

See "A Charlie Brown Christmas" Live with the San Francisco Symphony

December 18, 2014

Charlie Brown Christmas SF SymphonyThe holiday classic A Charlie Brown Christmas is always on our must-see list every holiday season, and this year it's being performed live at the San Francisco Symphony! A Charlie Brown Christmas—Live! features the animated backgrounds on the big screen, dancing, singing, and Vince Guaraldi's music performed by the Symphony.

This special family concert also features vocalist Lisa Vroman and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, who, along with the symphony, will perform hoiday classics ranging from an Irving Berlin medley to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". You'll also be able to add your voice as you sing along with some of your favorite carols.

Wondering What It’s Like to Homeschool in Marin County?

December 16, 2014

Homeschooling activity in MarinMarin Mommies presents a guest article from Marin mom and homeschooler Julie Schiffman, M. Ed.

Why would anyone choose to homeschool in a county where nearly every neighborhood is prized for its distinguished, award winning schools? Lots of reasons…

Deep learning—one of my favorite things about homeschooling is allowing my children the time and space to learn all about their curiosities and interests. Their school day never ends, so they do not have to stick to time schedules and are not bound by state standards for subject matter. Some of our favorite "curriculum units" have been Animal Rescue, Agriculture, How It’s Made, and Our Community. Because these themes were interesting to my kids, we have participated in many field trips in and around Marin--the Humane Society, Richardson Bay Audubon, Wildcare, Petaluma farms and dairies, Heath Ceramics, Mrs. Grossman’s, Jelly Belly Factory, Marin County Fire Dept., Marin Municipal Water District, Muir Woods, etc. are just a sampling of the many hands-on learning experiences we’ve had.

Go Play in the Snow! Great Places for Family Snow Play in Northern California

December 16, 2014

Tubing in the Sierras

Most schools have winter break starting next week, so it's great time to get away and go play in the snow. While we love the skiing and winter fun at Lake Tahoe, we know that not everyone's a skiier, and sometimes families just want to go up and have some fun in the snow. While many of the Tahoe ski resorts like Northstar, Squaw Valley, and Heavenly have tubing parks, ice skating, and other winter non-skiing activities for the family, there are plenty of places in the Sierras where you can get your snow play fix without the ski resort hustle and bustle (and price tag).

Most of these snow play sites are within a few hours' drive from Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area. While some have tubes and sleds to rent, others, most notably the California State Sno-Parks, offer little more than a place to park your car so you can go play in the snow. For a list of Lake Tahoe ski resorts that offer both skiiing and snow play activities, read our article here.

A Family That Eats Together: Ziti Frittata

December 16, 2014

Ziti frittataMarin Mommies presents this week's guest recipe from Nicole Cibellis, Marin mom and author of the blog A Family that Eats Together, where she shares meal plans and recipes that will please foodies and children alike.

Hummm… bacon and eggs for dinner? Count us in! Sometimes it just seems right. Think of this dish as a take on quiche but instead of a crust I use cooked pasta. Add in some veggies and the kids will never know that you sneaked them in because my frittata is just that good. The best part is that this recipe is so quick and easy it is a perfect weeknight dinner. It can also easily be made vegetarian by leaving out the pancetta.

Servings: 8–10
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes


Get Crafty and Create Your Own Holiday Cards With Buttons

December 15, 2014

Button holiday craft cardsMy kids have always loved to make their own cards for special occasions, and the holidays are no exception! This year, we made these cute cards using colored plastic buttons as decorations. Get different sizes of buttons and make Christmas trees, candy canes, snowmen, snowflakes, and any other design you can think of.

The results really are delightful, and they're easy enough for any child to make, with an adult's help, of course. Because you made the cards yourselves they are a neat keepsake craft, too.

To make these holiday cards, you'll need:

Get Comfortable with Saving Energy and Money

December 15, 2014

Nugget Marin Mommies Presents a sponsored article from the Bay Area Regional Energy Network and Energy Upgrade California® Home Upgrade.

Energy Efficiency Improves Your Living Space and Pays You Back

With the holidays fast approaching and temperatures getting colder, many Marin families are looking for ways to make their homes more comfortable. What a lot of families don’t know, is that a home improvement project designed to make their home more comfortable in the winter months can also make their home more energy-efficient all year round, and qualify for rebates through Energy Upgrade California® Home Upgrade.

Energy Upgrade California® Home Upgrade offers rebates for energy-efficient home improvements such as air sealing, duct sealing, attic insulation, wall insulation, and high-efficiency furnaces, cooling systems, and water systems—all designed to enhance indoor comfort and air quality, lower utility costs, add value to your home, and protect the environment. Energy Upgrade California® Home Upgrade is funded by PG&E and the California Public Utilities Commission, with additional funding from the Bay Area Regional Energy Network and Marin County.

Make Your Own Holiday Gingerbread House

December 14, 2014

Gingerbread House

Every year we create a gingerbread house using the nice kit sold by Trader Joe's, but last year, after constructing a house from the kit, my daughter decided she wanted to take our gingerbread house building experience a step further and create another one—this time from scratch! Fortunately, as we found out, it's easy to do and fun.

First thing you have to do is come up with a design for your house. We created a template for a basic gingerbread house that's simple to create and put together. (You can download our template, formatted for two letter-size sheets of paper; get page one here and page two here.) You can embellish and elaborate on this little house and make it your own special creation.

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