After one look at the pristine pools packed with toys, and it’s no surprise why La Petite Baleen’s four San Francisco–area swim facilities are so popular with kids. What may be surprising, however, is that the flourishing network of schools started humbly in the backyard pool of John Kolbisen and Irene Madrid.
In 1979, the public school teachers were brainstorming ways to integrate their passion for educating kids with their love of the water. Starting with their own three children, some neighborhood kids, and their logo–Waverly the Whale, John and Irene began teaching swim lessons with a rather progressive philosophy: They approached swimming not just as an extracurricular activity, but as a means to boost self-confidence, build friendships, and learn to overcome fears.
More than 30 years later, La Petite Baleen has become a renowned family of schools, partnered with the U.S. Swim School Association and the Swim for Life Foundation. Part of the success has to do with how children are grouped. In weekly sessions, pods of tots of similar age, skill level, and personality evolve at a similar pace—earning individual achievement ribbons as they do. Kids make friends in the group, and the recurring scheduling means that they can stay enrolled with their new buddies indefinitely or until they grow their own dorsal fins. Each location’s indoor pools are kept at an inviting 90 degrees, in an attempt to make even the most timid student to feel comfortable in the water. Perhaps most importantly, the teachers participate in ongoing training designed to encourage empathetic, yet firm teaching methods.
At Maloney's Horses and Ponies, majestic steeds graze and buck in open pastures backed by a landscape of picturesque rolling hills and whispering ocean waves. Standing in the sea breeze is Cheryl Maloney, the proprietor and head riding instructor. Before opening her school, Cheryl taught throughout the United States and England, most recently directing the Stanford Riding School for 12 years. She is joined by fellow instructors Sara Williams, Sarah Platshon, and Jack Gosse-Fuchs; together, the team leads lessons in English-style riding for students of all ages and skill levels.
During lessons, students learn the fundamentals of riding—from sitting in a basic balancing position to standing while singing the horse anthem—along with necessary horsemanship skills such as grooming and tacking. The lessons take place in Maloney's all-weather back sand arena, where picturesque ocean views frame a colorful jumping course, and a front arena dedicated to dressage and flat exercises. The school also has access to more than 7 miles of beach trails that lead riders on explorations of the bluffs or trots down to the surf. The school also boards horses, sells and leases new mounts, and holds summer camps for riders up to 15 years old.
Once a bootleggers' haven frequented by the sister of Al Capone, today Cameron's Inn & Restaurant celebrates its 100-year history with old-fashioned hospitality and eclectic vintage décor. The restaurant harks back to English pub traditions with Inglenook-style seating crafted from old church pews and a menu that includes bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, and burgers flame-grilled over fragments of Big Ben. Near the bar, which touts 18 beers on tap and more than 60 bottled ales, walls are stacked to the ceiling with more than 2,000 beer cans, which owner Cameron Palmer began collecting at age 10. A functioning fireplace and five big-screen TVs cast a warm glow across the dining room, whose stage hosts occasional live music, karaoke contests, and shadow-puppet beauty pageants. Overnight guests snooze soundly within the rustic timber-lined walls of the inn’s three rooms, or at an RV park and campground near scenic ocean cliffs.
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean from the shoreline of San Mateo County, Moss Beach Ranch forms a hub for many miles of riding trails that branch out across more than 4,200 acres of Rancho Corral de Tierra. The ranch's director of instruction and training, Jeanette Jacobi, leads a team of experienced instructors and a stable of nearly 30 gentle horses, which students can ride during private or group lessons. Instruction can focus on either Western or English riding styles, and students pick up skills that range from jumping to dressage.
In addition to lessons, an experienced guide leads riders on trail rides across the surrounding terrain five times per week. On each excursion, parties climb rolling hills and traverse verdant ravines, even riding to spots that, like the private drinking clubs at Churchill Downs, are accessible only by horse.
Tucked into the hills of Rancho Corral de Tierra lies Ocean View Farms, where sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean combine with the expertise of Agnes Sadeghi, an instructor accredited by the Certified Horsemanship Association, to attract equine enthusiasts for lessons and trail rides. Agnes brings a lifetime of experience to the farm, as she began to ride at the age of 6 and went on to master British horsemanship exams as a teen—earlier than most riders and just after most centaurs. Her goal for students is to turn them into independent riders through dressage and jumping lessons conducted atop palomino paint horses and arabian thoroughbreds. Beginning riders can show off advancing skills on Two for Trail rides through the hills of Rancho Corral de Tierra and McNee Ranch State Park, whereas more advanced riders can take on longer, more difficult routes.
What started as a creative way to pay a debt led to the founding of Lemos Farm. Owner Bob Lemos' grandfather was repaid with a cow, so he bought land for the cow and her new calf in 1942, and over the years, the property morphed into a dairy farm, an alien robot, back into a dairy farm, and then a space for horses. Eventually Bob and his father, Arnold, peppered the land with Christmas trees, pumpkins, pony rides, and haunted houses, beckoning families to the sprawling grounds.
Visitors escape urban drudgery and revel in the decidedly country ambience, whether aboard hayrides or visiting the petting zoo for an introductory course in farm-animal massage therapy. During the holiday season, families wander the aromatic rows of the Christmas tree farm, where Douglas fir, incense cedar, and other pines await.