As the father of a 2-year old, Tim Alley found himself running around to playdates scattered throughout the Bay Area, scooting to toddler-friendly lessons in art, gymnastics, and dance. While he loved the programming, he wished that he and his daughter weren't confined to such a tight schedule. So, he turned to his brother-in-law, Tom Limbert, head teacher at a local preschool, and they began to work on their own children's studio at Studio Grow—a supplementary preschool atmosphere with a focus on unstructured learning where children can play throughout the day. True to its name, Studio Grow now welcomes tots at three area studios. Though programs and amenities vary by location, kids might frolic through a color-splashed dance room, construct crafty masterpieces from watercolors, play-doh, and crayons in an art room, or plunge into ball pits. At all three locations, kids can tinker in a room filled with puzzles, toy trucks, dress-up clothes, and lego building sets. in a slide-filled run room. Instructors stay on hand throughout each romp, ready to lead Berkeley guests through sing-alongs or immerse Concord’s small listeners in story time. Teachers may also balloon a giant primary-colored parachute over the playroom for kids to scurry under and use to shield themselves from sudden broccoli storms. Though staffers emphasize unstructured play, they also lead summer camps for children up to aged 6 with guided romps through the studio; as well as Friday-night babysitting sessions, where kids of all ages can play sans parents until 10 p.m.
The next time you're on the roof of a five-story building, look down at the ground, and you'll get a rough idea of just how high people climb at Touchstone Climbing. The gym's seven locations feature lead walls that rise as high as 50 feet off the ground, though height isn't the only dimension that makes the space feel immense. Each spot has at least 11,000 square feet of climbing terrain, not to mention as much as 3,000 square feet of bouldering.
To prevent newcomers from feeling intimidated by the magnitude of the environment, the gym holds introductory classes. During these sessions, participants learn the basic techniques they'll need if they want to conquer the gym's crack systems and boulder problems. The classes are also an opportunity for students to scope out the terrain features at each location, such as Diablo Rock Gym's steep prow, which juts out crookedly like a thumbs up from a dizzy ballerina. While they're at it, the visitors might notice something else: the social nature of the gym. As the San Francisco Chronicle recounts, the fact that lead climbs require two people means that climbers are constantly asking around for new partners and chatting back and forth as they ascend.
Each location also boasts a weight room, cardio machines, and a studio space for everything from yoga to spinning to core classes.
All Zumba instructors claim to create a party-like atmosphere, but Raquel Call delivers on the promise by taking her routines all the way into the club. During evening classes at Vice Ultra Lounge, the lights dim and the beats resonate as though Raquel and her students are kicking off nights on the town. Special events incorporate themes and costumes, such as retro leggings for an ‘80s bash or sweatpants designed by Betsy Ross for Independence Day. Raquel also pays homage to her Brazilian roots with Carnival celebrations and Brazilian Nights, where she showcases her background in samba while dancing to live South American music.
Amid all the gyrating, it's easy for her pupils to forget that they're burning calories. However, Raquel's testimonials and weight-loss stories speak to the benefits of her classes. Her expertise enables her to host master classes with established guest instructors, and earned her Diablo magazine's Best of the East Bay award for Best Zumba Class in 2012. By helming additional classes in yoga, samba, and Zumba Toning, she helps her guests pursue their fitness goals with a combination of poise and pizzazz.
The appetizer list at Bravo Bistro touts a world of choices, almost literally. Fresh ahi tuna with crunchy wontons sits just beneath salmon carpaccio, giving way to shrimp and scallop ceviche and pomme frites drizzled in truffle oil. The international influence stems from owner and chef Habib El Jacifi, who learned to execute French, Spanish, and Mediterranean recipes growing up in Casablanca, Morocco. Contra Costa Times reviewer Ann Tatko-Peterson had admired Habib’s work at his first restaurant, Fiore, and a visit to Bravo inspired her to gush that the bistro is "proof that experience can lead to perfection.” According to Ann, diners might be loath to efface artfully presented dishes such as gamberi with tiger shrimp and crab, but in doing so will taste a creamy parmesan she likened to the best sauces from Italy. The menu’s entrees are mostly Italian, but patrons will notice subtly multicultural accents such as the apple chutney that sweetens the pork chops or the saffron sauce and caramelized onions that crown the oven-roasted chicken. Sunday brunch furthers the gastronomic globetrotting as diners trek through a prix fixe menu that has featured croissants, chicken penne pesto, quiche, and braised beef stew.
Legend has it that, one night, while Daryn Coleman was hard at work on the construction of his indoor mini-golf course, he watched a fan move across the floor all by itself. The irony of the event was not lost on an awe-stricken Daryn—the plan for his new course was to be centered on graveyard-inspired animatronics of his own design.
The hauntings didn't stop when Ghost Golf opened for business. Staff members continued to report supernatural incidents unrelated to the course's spooky decor. Finally, after catching some mysterious orbs on the security cameras, Daryn called in medium Maria Langana. Maria immediately discovered the presence of Everett, a self-described friendly spirit who expressed a fondness for amusement parks and admitted a special appreciation for the course's morbid special effects.
Everett purportedly continues to hang out around Ghost Golf—his favorite haunt seems to be the fifth hole. His supernatural presence only adds to the ambiance of a nine-hole, wheelchair-accessible course that meanders through a chilling array of urns, skeletons, and ghouls who take mischievous pleasure in blowing balls off track.
Pump It Up's indoor inflatable arenas launch socked striplings into the air with a plethora of kid-friendly bounce pads. Staffers supervise fun-filled visits, during which adult counterparts leap around with their kids through gargantuan bounce houses, skip down air-filled slides, and slither like snakes covered in bacon grease through an inflated obstacle course.
The colorful venue also hosts custom birthday parties and private team parties, each themed to please the partygoers in question. These soirees immerse children in a schedule of interactive activities befitting a pirate or a superhero while melting off youthful energy faster than ice cubes thrown into a running DVD player. The birthday boy or girl even gets to blow out the candles on their cake seated in their blow-up throne. Occasionally, the staffers switch off the lights, arming the roomful of players with glow sticks and bracelets as they navigate the air-cushioned obstaclescape. Relying on the staffers' vigilant, watchful eyes, guardians can rest assured that their charges will stay safe, and each piece of the inflatable playground is held to the floor and ceiling by a complex series of anchors installed according to strict safety standards.