Sometimes it seems like the days of the old fashioned ice cream parlor are a thing of the past, but then you run across a place like Petaluma's Lala's Creamery. Located right downtown on Petaluma Boulevard North (across from Starbucks Coffee), Lala's is a retro temple to all things ice cream, and it's definitely worth a visit if you're in the area. Heck, it's probably worth a trip up to Petaluma just to go there!
Step through Lala's Victorian façade and into their cool and clean ice cream parlor. In keeping with the exterior architecture, the indside of Lala's makes you feel like you've stepped back into the 1890s, with crisp white paintwork, marble tables, exposed brick walls, swiveling stools at the counter, and a black-and-white checked tile floor.
Step up to the counter and order your treats. Your choices, including a selection of seasonal ice cream flavors and a variety of soda fountain creations, are written on chalkboards. Lala's makes their ice cream in small batches on-site from local ingredients, and uses it in old school indulgences that you and your family probably have never had before (but your parents and grandparents might recognize some of them).
One of our favorite West Marin dining spots is the Station House Café in Point Reyes Station. We don't always get to dine there, though, because it's a busy place—you usually have to wait for a table on weekends. We recently got a chance to swing by during the week for lunch, and it was a real treat.
The Station House Cafe is located on Point Reyes Station's main street, so you can't miss it. It serves up comfort food classics made from fresh, local, and organic ingredients for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's a great place to stop off for a hearty breakfast before you hit the hiking trails or the beach, or to unwind over lunch or dinner after a day at Point Reyes National Seashore. Their pretty comprehensive kids' menu offers selections like fish and chips ($6.50), noodles with butter ($5), grilled cheese ($5.50), a Niman Ranch frank and fries ($6.95), and a kid's cobb salad ($6.95).
One of our wonderful readers told me about the new Cafe du Cirque, a child-friendly coffee house in downtown San Rafael that opened last week, so I had to go check it out. Cafe du Cirque was opened by Marin mom Kerstin Fleischer and her husband Tom Coleman, and features food made from fresh local organic ingredients, locally roasted coffee, and a play area for little ones near the back of the cafe. Relax with a cup of coffee or tea and a salad or sandwich while your kids play safely.
Kerstin is the mom of a three-year-old, and added the play room to the cafe because she was more than aware of the need to have a space like this in Marin. The cafe itself is clean and modern and occupies a long narrow space with lots of natural light.
My children both enjoyed Cafe du Cirque's kids' hot chocolate and fresh muffins, and my daughter liked the play area. Designed for younger children, the small carpeted play area includes toys like a play kitchen, a kids' table and chairs, a chalkboard, and a soft crawling area for babies. You can sip your coffee or eat lunch or breakfast and watch the kids while they play under the play room's festive red-and-white-striped awning.
When we head into the city for some fun, one of the places we like to stop for a bite to eat is the Beach Chalet at the western end of Golden Gate Park. Housed in a historic building, decorated with amazing WPA murals from the 1930s, that's also home to the Golden Gate Park visitor center, the Beach Chalet and its downstairs sibling the Park Chalet are both well worth checking out if you're in the area visiting the park, Ocean Beach, or on your way to or from the San Francisco Zoo.
Since the weather has been so amazing, we jumped at the chance to dine upstairs at the Beach Chalet with its amazing views of Ocean Beach and the Pacific Ocean. With its exquisite view, the Park Chalet is popular with tourists and out-of-town visitors, and can get pretty busy at mealtimes, so get there early to grab a table by the windows.
Many families opt for the more laid back Park Chalet, with its unique indoor/outdoor configuration. The Park Chalet features a big fireplace and an expansive lawn where kids can run around while mom and dad sample one of the Chalet's house-made beers, each of which is named after a San Francisco landmark.
Both my husband and I love Indian food, and we're slowly trying to steer our kids in that direction, too. With its spices and heat, Indian food can be a hard sell with kids, but we take them along anyhow with the hope that they'll grow to appreciate it.
India Palace is located in, of all places, the Travelodge on the Redwood Highway frontage road in Mill Valley. It's been a Marin County Indian cuisine mainstay for as long as I can remember, so they must be doing something right. We've been going here for years, both with kids and without. The interior is nicely decorated and comfortable, and it really doesn't feel like you're dining in a motel.
While it seems that a lot of Indian restaurants have opened up in Marin in the past five years or so, we still love India Palace. Service is warm and attentive, and the staff seem to really like kids. There's a large window between the dining room and the kitchen, and the kids love to watch the chefs put skewers of chicken and lamb into the blazing hot charcoal-fueled tandoor ovens.
We finally had a chance to check out the Family Fare series at Novato's Ghiringhelli Pizzeria Grill & Bar. Ghiringhelli's Novato restaurant is a relative newcomer on the Marin dining scene (they've had another location in Fairfax since 1985), and has created this series of Monday night events with families of young children in mind. Each Family Fare event features a local children's musician or performer, arts and crafts, and other activities, in addition to dining from Ghiringelli's menu.
On our visit we ate pizza while local kid music legend Miss Kitty performed. Family Fare takes place in the restaurant's event room, where, in addition to dining tables, a large padded "dance floor" and activity tables were set up. Activity table offerings included coloring and painting, and a Wii console was available on a nearby flat-screen TV for game playing. Tables were covered with butcher paper and cups of crayons encouraged us to draw on our tablecloths.
When we want to get a bite to eat in Petaluma, one of our go-to family friendly restaurants is Old Chicago Pizza. Located in the 1876 Lan Mart Building in downtown Petaluma, Old Chicago has been serving up distinctive Chicago-style deep dish pizza for over 30 years. Both my husband and I went there when we were growing up, and we're happy that it really hasn't changed a bit. It's a great place to relax after a day of pumpkin hunting in the fall, and we think it's even worth the special trip up from Marin.
Walk up the steps and around the corner, following the Old Chicago signs. The dining room, with its bare brick walls and big chandelier kind of makes you feel like you've gone back in time. (Rumor has it the building once housed a brothel, and Old Chicago is located in what used to be the parlor.)
When we're travelling around the Bay Area, we always keep on the lookout for family-friendy (and budget-friendly) places to grab a bite to eat. We find ourselves in the west Sonoma County town of Sebastopol every fall and winter for apple picking, pumpkins, and Christmas trees, and one of our go-to places for a quick lunch or snack is Mom's Apple Pie, located on the north side of town at 4550 Gravenstein Highway North.
To be honest, the lunch part is just an excuse to go to Mom's and chow down on what she's famous for—homemade apple pies. As you might have figured out by its name, Mom's is all about the pie. Fresh baked, handmade apple pie takes center stage here. I think it's probably the best I've ever had, anywhere, and if you visit Mom's at the right time of year (August through November only) you can get apple pie that's made with Sebastopol's own Gravenstein apples. To make things even better, the Gravenstein apples come from the trees growing right behind the shop. The rest of the year the pies are made with Granny Smiths—but the Gravenstein pies are a special treat.
Finding decent barbecue in the Bay Area and especially Marin County can be a challenge. That's why we were really happy when San Francisco's Roadside BBQ opened up a branch last year in the recently remodeled Northgate Mall in San Rafael. It's a great place for family dining and delicious Southern-style comfort food.
The first thing you notice when you walk up to the restaurant is the smell of wood smoke in the air—a good sign. The rustic interior is decorated from floor to ceiling with old advertising signs for agricultural supplies, tobacco, beer, and other rural staples, and wagon wheel light fixtures overhead add to the ambience. Tables are all set with giant rolls of paper towels; a good thing, since barbeque isn't a cuisine noted for its neatness.