Get Out of the House


Reading Really Pays Off

 There we were, surrounded by supersized butterflies, gorillas and giraffes. The air filled with the sounds of a great waterfall and the screech of monkeys. All while eating a really good cheeseburger. No, we weren’t at the Wild Animal Park or the Zoo. I needed to do some last minute holiday shopping at South Coast Plaza so the girls and I were at the Rainforest Café. And we were having a great time.


The big game animals weren’t real, but they helped to create a fun atmosphere.  This was my first visit and I went with rather low expectations as I am not usually a fan of themed chain restaurants. But I have to say that we had a fun experience and a tasty, if not nutritious, lunch. 


My girls at 5 and 7 were old enough to enjoy the restaurant and responsible enough to walk around and look at the displays without bothering other diners or get in the way of the servers. They chose to sit next to one of the giant aquariums and we had a great time watching the (real) fish throughout our meal.  The balloon lady came around and made a giant sea turtle and monkey in a palm tree which were proudly carried home.


The highlight of the visit (for me, at least) was when the check came and I had two certificates for free kids’ meals, courtesy of the Laguna Beach Library’s Summer Reading Program. Our local library does a fantastic job of keeping kids reading during the summer with their engaging program that works on the honor system. Kids and parents pick up a chart at the beginning of the summer and bring it back to the library as the child reaches reading milestones. And you get rewards like books and certificates for free kids’ meals. I had put last summer’s rewards in the same spot where I keep gift cards (one of which I used that day) so that was the fortuitous way we found ourselves at Rainforest Café. Reading really does pay!


What amazed me were the numbers of people who were there with babies and young toddlers, who for the most part were crying at the noises or oblivious to the action around them. It’s like those people who bring their six-month old to Disneyland and hold the baby up to meet Mickey, like some type of ancient religious offering. The baby or toddler isn’t experiencing the moment – the adult is. To each his own, but, personally, I don’t need to meet cartoon characters or be entertained by animatronic animals while dining.


Having children (or grandchildren) means trying things and going places that you probably didn’t visit in your previous, adults-only life. But make sure that the place you are visiting is age-appropriate so that the guests of honor – the children – will have a great experience. If the kids aren’t happy, chances are you won’t be happy, and then what’s the point?


We also recently visited the new Pretend City Museum in Irvine, right by Irvine Meadows and the water park. Now, this is a facility that is perfect for the youngest members of the family. In fact, Isabel at 7 was as old as a child should be there – she just made it into some of the more toddler-sized cars. The word museum in the name seems a bit misleading as the place was more like an indoor stage set for young children to run around in and get to “experience” all the facets of “city” or, really, “town” life.


There is a restaurant, bank, grocery store, police station – you get the idea – that are child-sized and have props. The kids can create scenes and playact the appropriate roles. My girls had the most fun in the market, where they really enjoyed being the checker. The highlight? Restocking the shelves.


This is a great place to come on the next rainy (or scorchingly hot) day. I see this as great grandparent/grandchild outing. It’s not too big, and you’re in an enclosed, safe space. And the sets can lead to some enjoyable reminiscing. I got into the “I remember when” act by telling the girls about the days before scanners, when there were little prices on everything. Which proved that I was the right age to be there.


Rebecca Meekma is that friend who always knows something fun to do. Reach her through

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