Tucked in a little corner bordering part of Lake Merrit in West Oakland is Children’s Fairyland. It’s not very well known outside of the East Bay. I asked my cousin if she wanted to go together with the kids but she had never heard of this place before, and she lives on the other side of the bridge next to San Francisco. I myself didn’t know about Fairyland until a couple years ago. But Fairyland has been established since 1950! Others, who’ve heard of this park located in Oakland, will avoid the area at all costs and therefor have never been.
Don’t let the location scare you off! Fairyland is close enough the freeway and you’re not likely to drive around at night. The park closes at 4:00PM unless you’re there for a special event. They also don’t open till 10:00AM so it’s not something you need to wake up early and prepare for.
It’s a locals park. You take it in at a leisurely pace. But it’s lovely for the kids. The young kids. The rides were made for little ones, with the exception of the “Dragon Slide” and a carousel (more on that later). It’s very whimsical and colorful! But it’s pretty much unchanged from the 50’s – which is all part of the charm.
The Park That Inspired Disneyland
Fairyland opened 5 years prior to Disneyland. Walt Disney visited and incorporated many ideas into his own park, even hiring the first executive director and puppeteer from Fairyland. How cool is that fact of the day? I’m pretty sure many Disneyland enthusiasts don’t even know about this – I was shocked to find out. In the park there is a little garden dedicated to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Rides & Entertainment
The primary focus of this park is on small children. There are rides, a mini animal farm, slides, shows, and little nooks and crannies for them to explore. Adults aren’t allowed on most of the rides. The park gets pretty busy on weekends, but during the week you’ll find all rides are walk-ons and your kids can ride their favorites over and over again.
This is the only ride my children had to wait a couple years before they were tall enough to ride. The height minimum is 38″ but the max is 54″ and can’t weigh more than 60lbs. Just this last year my kids were finally able to ride. It’s your average, colorful carousel. It’s also the newest of all the rides, having been installed in ’97 and recently refurbished.
This is my youngest favorite ride, and mine as well because of the whimsical design based on Alice In Wonderland. It’s specially for the younger kids and parents are required to stand along side them if they’re under 36″. The characters don’t move and its super tame. Perfect for a child’s first carousel ride. And a great substitute for those who aren’t tall enough to ride the bigger carousel. I love that the area is shaded because unlike SF, Oakland has its hot days.
This colorful train right next to the food court is another one of my daughters favorites. It’s the first ride she wants to go on (well, trains are, in general, the first ride she wants to go on) and also one that can see the longest lines. It goes around twice, under a short tunnel and circles around this fun, old western play area. The compartments are tiny and I’ve bumped my head more than once. Adults must accompany kids on this ride regardless of size (and there are no height requirements).
Anansi’s Magic Web
This is a kid sized Ferris wheel. Only children under 54″ allowed in, and absolutely no adults. This is fun for the little ones!
The Puppet Theater
The shows put on in this little theater are surprisingly well done. They periodically premiere new shows every now and then. There’s a showing 3 times a day so there’s no excuse to miss one (unless puppets scare your child). Watch a show, and if it’s not for you, walk to one of the other attractions close by, like the Wonder-Go-Round.
This “Wizard Of Oz” stage sometimes hosts magic shows. It’s also fun to sit down on a shaded bench while your kids play pretend. Follow the yellow brick road by the park entrance and it’ll lead you right here.
Play Areas & Animals
There are plenty of “storybook sets” or play areas for kids to explore. From “The Three Little Pigs”, to “Peter Pan”, “Snow White”, “Alice In Wonderland” there are lots of classic storybook sets and some unknown to me. With the few rides and shows available, there’s plenty other areas where they can use their own imagination. And you can get up close to the animals (although it’s no petting zoo).
Old West Junction
This is our go to spot to grab our lunch (or bring one) and eat. There are picnic tables within view of one of the cutest, immersive play areas. It resembles an old western town, complete with hotel, bank, jail and water tower – all shrunk down to the perfect child friendly size. Staircases lead to the second floor and kids can take turns down the slide. I love sitting down, relaxing, letting the kids play on their own close by. Bathrooms are conveniently located in this area. The privacy and shaded seating is relaxing. I’ve never had a problem finding seating here, even once when I ventured out on a weekend. This would have been a favorite of mine as a kid since I love playing “house”.
Alice In Wonderland Tunnel
This tunnel is so much fun! Complete with a life-size card maze at the end. It’s charming and rustic. The maze inside features twists, turns, storybook sets and fun house mirrors. The walls are lined with excerpts from Alice In Wonderland‘s pages. You can “slide down the rabbit hole” or take the stairs. You exit into a maze of cards, which is tall enough that your child can get “lost” in and try to find their way out.
Jolly Roger Pirate Ship
I am a huge pirate fan. And Peter Pan fan. Hook has been my favorite movie since I was two (according to my parents). I watched it twice a day from 2-12 years old. Anyway, this is a fun pirate ship play area, complete with sand and a crocodile. My kids love to pretend to steer their own ship, using all these sailing terms we’ve heard over and over on TV shows (and maybe my love for pirates rubbed off on them).
Jack and Jill Hill
My kids love grabbing one of the card boards and “surfing” down the hill. Our last trip we spent a majority of our time here. This small hill is surrounded by the animal exhibits so wandering around this area is always fun.
Besides Old West Junction, there are other themed slides around the park. Near the entrance is a slide for all ages but the climb is a bit steep. The kids tend to gravitate towards this one since it’s one of the first slides they see. The Dragon Slide is faster and longer, and only for kids 4+ but no adults. What I dislike about this one is the slide exits out onto the opposite side of the entrance ramp, so if you have a kid who likes to run off, it’s hard to get to them in time. My kids are old enough now to know how to make it back to the ramp, or get onto the slide themselves. Still, hate when they’re out of sight even for a second. Both adults and kids can still walk to the top which features a decorated Chinese roof pavilion. You can sit here and eat a snack with a view.
Our favorite animal to visit are the miniature ponies. They’re adorable! Other animals, in their fairy tale exhibits, include donkeys, rabbits, goats and guinea pigs.
Where To Eat
I’ve never had any problems bringing in my own food, but there is a cafe on site with a variety of menu choices. I try to avoid spending more than I have to so I bring food from home. But on special occasions we’ll order chili cheese fries or nuggets. Near the entrance is a small counter that serves coffee, but I’ve only ever seen it open once and I didn’t try it. I prefer to bring my coffee from home too 😉 .
The entire park is easily do-able in a couple hours. Strollers are only necessary for the really young ones who get tired quickly, but other than that your child should be able to walk around the park just fine. There are lots of shaded bench area’s to rest. The bathrooms by the puppet theater is specially made for kids. There’s a kid sized toilet stall and kid sized sink to wash little hands.
“Talking Story Boxes” are scattered throughout and only works with a Magic Key you can purchase (and keep) for $3. There’s a children’s library with seating where you can read to your kids. Some areas, such as a Cinderella themed play area, are closed off to the public. You can rent these event spaces for a birthday party.
Should You Go?
If you’re in San Francisco for some time, and ran out of kid-friendly things to do, then yes! It’s only a short 15 minute drive over the bridge (if you avoid rush hour). Not only that, it’s a very cheap, affordable activity. Admission prices recently went up from $8 to $10, unless you’re under one or over 100 then you’re free. There is a small parking fee which is recommended if you’re worried about car security. Kids up to 8 years old will enjoy this whimsical little park. Another reason to go is if you’re a huge Disneyland or Walk Disney fan. You can see where Walt got some of his inspiration from. There’s also a museum dedicated to Walt Disney in the city!
If you’re only in San Francisco for a short amount of time, then skip this all together. It’s a cute, vintage locals park, but not worth the effort if you’re in town for a while. You’ll be disappointed.
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