Babies and toddlers love music, but finding a music class that fits your little one’s schedule and doesn’t break the bank can be a challenge. I’ve lived in two of the most expensive cities in the country (New York, San Francisco) and braved the real estate market in one, and I was still blown away when I started looking around for a music class for my then six month old.

$350 on a twelve-week music group at a fixed day and time when I knew Astrid would sleep through half of them? I’m all for artists making money and kiddies being exposed to as much music and art as possible, but for that price, I can join the de YoungSFMOMA and the Academy of Science for a whole year. I wasn’t going to wake my  baby up from her nap to dash across town because I spent hundreds of dollars so she could listen to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” I’m an attentive mom who wants the best for her child and all, but homie, please.

Also, we have a piano and both Ramon and I play, so that made it seem even sillier. I could spend that $350 on 20 hours of childcare while I learn all those kids songs myself. Or on a karaoke machine for each of us, and we could get an RV and hit the road, playing small-town fire halls and clubs in Branson. Which is totally going to happen.

So off I went to hunt for drop-in music classes. Turns out it’s almost as hard to find a drop-in music group as it is to find a drop-in nanny: most are a little unreliable and the ones that are reliable are really popular.

As I’ve noted before, the San Francisco Public Library branches do story and music times at many of their branches. I don’t love our local one, but check yours out: if it has a good leader, you’re all set with a weekly class that’s free and reliable.

The best one I’ve found – and it’s good – is Miss Kitty at the Discovery Museum just across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s far for those of us on the south side of the city, but it’s completely reliable (Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10 and 11AM), it’s $5 (in addition to museum admission) and Miss Kitty is great. She’s not cloying or cutesy with the kids, I love her voice, and she takes requests and sings a different set of songs every week. It might seem odd to go to the Discovery Museum to sit inside for half an hour when they have all those outdoor activity spaces, but we like it. We get there in time for music and then go play and have lunch.

Miss Kitty

Day One in Laurel Heights has a music hour for babies up to a year – very reliable schedule but also crowded, so get there early if you’re going. ($10 for members, $15 for non-members. By the way, I loved Day One, and the membership we bought paid for itself in about two months in discounts on products and classes. They were my rock when Astrid was tiny.)

Phoenix Books in Noe Valley used to host a free one on Wednesday mornings that was always swamped, but the leader, Alison Levy, has moved next door to The Playhouse to lead Tot Rock there (same time: Wednesdays at 11AM). Classes there are $20 for drop-in, which is a bit steep, but I understand that they’re just getting off the ground as a new business. I didn’t love it enough to commit since the song roster seemed to be almost exactly the same every week, but it’s a fall back if we’re at loose ends. (The Playhouse web site is not great and their hours are odd, so it’s hard to confirm or register for their classes: your best bet is to just show up.)

The Jewish Community Center (JCCSF) in Laurel Heights has three music groups on Monday mornings, but like Day One’s, they’re very popular, so you have to get there and get a pass ($14) at least half an hour before the class starts. Since we live on the other side of the city, this has proven prohibitive for us most weeks: getting over there (30 minutes) + the extra lead time (another 30 minutes) + getting back for naptime (again with the 30 minutes) = a lot of schelpping and waiting for a 30-40 minute class. If you live on that side of town, it’s an excellent option: big space and they limit admission, so there’s ample room to sing and dance. (Jacob, who led the JCC and Day One classes has recently relocated, so I can’t speak to the new staff. If you’ve been and have an opinion, shout it out.)

I hope you find a class that suits your schedule and budget to get your groove on! Happy hunting!

Last year, Astrid’s birthday party was a little bit of a circus. An awesome fun circus, yes. Also, enough people (40) and kids (12) that we couldn’t manage making the food, wrangling the drinks and baking the cake ourselves. (The party sort of doubled as a housewarming so, no, it wasn’t one of those crazy $40,000 Sweet Sixteen things!) Since I love Kara’s Cupcakes, I ordered mini cupcakes from them instead of making them at home.

Let me say up front that this, at $2/cupcake, is not an inexpensive commitment. But at that point, for us, it was the right choice and made for a more relaxing party.

I’m not an across the board, indiscriminate cupcake fan, so Kara’s is really the only place I get them. (Miette and Mission Minis’ are too dry.) Yeah, that’s a little snobby, but when you can get a kickin’ cake for so much less, a cupcake has to really be in it to win it.

Karas’ are always moist, the frosting is creamy (or fluffy in the case of the chocolate velvet and sweet vanilla), and their decorations are very cute and non-Disney for a little ones’ party. We did a jungle animal theme that included elephants, giraffes, lions…and a dog. Come on: Tarzan might’ve had a dog. You don’t know.

If you’re ordering more than a few, order at least 24 hours ahead (preferably a little more to ensure your order takes priority). Remember to specify your preferred decorations and it’s probably best to decide on your flavor assortment before going in – or just download the order form and email it to them. (They also do cakes of all of their flavors if you decide to go the cake route after all.)

Nice perk: if you order from the Chestnut location and ring them just before you get there for pick-up, they’ll bring your order out to the curb so you don’t have to brave Marina parking.

Kara’s Cupcakes, 3249 Scott Street (between Lombard and Chestnut), 415 563-2223

OR

Ghirardelli Square, Plaza Level, 900 North Point, 415 563-2223

(Mon-Thurs 10am-8pm, Fri-Sat 10am-10pm (9 in Ghiradelli Sq), Sun 10am-7pm)

It’s not pretty, but the San Francisco Public Library has put together a decent page of all the story times for all kids’ ages at all of their branches all in one place.

I haven’t been super thrilled with the woman who does the story time in Potrero (she’s a little too low key for me and for Astrid) but I hear other moms love her, so I guess it’s just a matter of taste. I’m planning on trying out some of the other ones that are close to us.

If you love your local library’s story time, would you post a note please and let everyone know? I know I’m not alone in wanting to have a go-to list of places to take Astrid when we’ve run out of ideas!

SFPL story time listings, some for babies, some for toddlers and some for preschoolers

San Francisco: Seesaw Update

February 18, 2012

I wrote about Seesaw’s great little cafe and play space a few weeks ago – we’ve LOVED having a place to go with Astrid where we could get great coffee and she could hang out with new toys and kids – but I have to revise my endorsement: they’ve closed the cafe.

I spoke with the owner this morning and, while promoting their classes (which we haven’t tried), she broke the bad news that the cafe wasn’t making enough money for them to keep it open. Perhaps if the cafe had been open more than just their inconsistent weekend hours it would have been more successful, but who knows? It’s a tough market out there right now. As with Recess‘ move over to a monthly subscription model (from their drop-in one) it’s a shame to see another we’re-here-when-you-need-us resource go away in favor of scheduled activities and pricey commitments, but there it is. Seesaw is now a private studio space only.

I’m really sad. It was lovely to have a sunny weekend destination that was welcoming to kids, especially in my old neighborhood of Hayes Valley where most of their great places to eat and shop are overrun by hipsters on the weekends.

I’ll keep you posted if I find someplace similar! And if you’ve been to their classes or workshops and have an opinion, please post a note.

It’s been raining a lot lately in San Francisco, which means limited activities for the little ones. My search for places to go with Astrid that are not just child-tolerant but actually FOR kids has turned up surprisingly few results. Maybe it’s because San Francisco usually has pretty stable weather so it’s not a great business to cater to rainy-season kids. Whatever the reason, it’s making me want to open up my own play space!

Someone did just that over in Hayes Valley: on Sunday, we finally checked out Seesaw.

I’ve been meaning to go for a while, but I didn’t quite get their concept. I’d heard it was a cafe with a play space, so you could meet a friend for a coffee and your little one wouldn’t have just the crayons and sugar packets to play with while you talked. That seemed nice but not a destination for A. and me on our own.

Turns out I didn’t have the full picture. It’s a cafe + play space Friday through Sunday, but the rest of the week, Seesaw is a “studio” for a variety of play groups and kid activities. (Note: the cafe isn’t open to the public Mon-Thurs as a result, although it does sound like it’s open to studio attendees.)

It’s a great space: very Scandinavian, blonde wood, high ceiling, cozy, open. The play space is open to the seating area but separate and has drawers of stuff for all kinds of activities – Lego, dress-up, kitchen – and there’s a wooden doll house, a train set and a rocking crocodile seesaw. Books as well and lots of nice, small touches like the recycling, compost and trash bins being toddler height. The menu is Danish and Korean, which I presume reflects the owners’ cultures. It’s a weird combo, but whatever: get a rice bowl and  those tasty Danish pancake balls, who’s counting?? The coffee (Four Barrel) is surprisingly good for a kids place, which is also a nice surprise.

The age range of the kids was pretty wide: one baby, several toddlers and a group of older girls I’d put at 6-ish. Everyone seemed to have found their thing to play with and were getting along well. I’m sure part of that is the wide range of toys they provide (none that make noise, thank God!)

We haven’t been to any of the classes yet, but I’ll report back when we do. It’s a pretty eclectic schedule, ranging from developmental play for toddlers to French, Korean and German sing/play times (separate classes, not all together!) to some unique ones that sound super-helpful for specific ages and situations, like grief counseling for young children, manners (including netiquette) for older kids, and a workshop series on social skills called Be Friends. Most classes seem to be sold as a series (albeit short ones: 3-4 classes per set), so not a lot of drop-in options, but there are some. Check the schedule on the home page.

If you’re looking for a pre-nap destination on the weekend, definitely check it out and get some play time with your coffee. We liked it a lot. (It was getting crowded by 10:30/11-ish on a rainy Sunday so go early!)

Seesaw, 600A Octavia St. (a block and a half north of the Hayes Valley shops/restaurants), cafe open 9-5 Friday and Saturday, 10-5 Sunday