.Best of Marin 2015: Kids and Pets

The boy who cried wolf

BEST CHILD CARE: Tie: Marin YMCA and Miss Sandie’s School

“I think we’re less childcare and more focused on youth development,” says Spencer Gapinski, Marin YMCA childcare site coordinator. The Marin YMCA is able to appeal to a wide range of children, offering programs that are technology-based to outdoor-focused. “It changes a lot with the community needs,” says Torrey Hughes, director of youth development. “We’re all adapting to the communities that we’re serving [around Marin]. But the programs are aligned so that the needs of children are still met.” The YMCA goes above and beyond childcare—“We care about reaching their family and becoming mentors to most of the children that we serve,” says Kirsten Mogensen, childcare site coordinator.

Miss Sandie’s School has been providing high-quality pre-school programs and infant and toddler care for more than 30 years. Open year-round and serving children from birth to 5 years old, Miss Sandie’s aims to foster the individual needs of every child, and assist in educational and emotional development. Activity-based curriculums are offered, and the staff develops a schedule to meet your needs and the needs of your kids.

Marin YMCA and Miss Sandie’s School

Marin YMCA:

1500 Los Gamos Dr., San Rafael, 415/492-9622, ymcasf.org, and

Miss Sandie’s School:

2001 Center Rd., Novato, 415/892-2712, misssandiesschool.com

2ND Cuddle Time Daycare, Corte Madera


At Play It Again Kids, your baby can do some major shopping damage. The store has been providing families with an outstanding selection of clothes for more than 23 years. In addition to clothing, the locally owned shop sells other snappy items such as baby gear, children’s furniture, books, toys and more. It’s also a great place to recycle and reuse well-kept children’s items instead of throwing them away and leaving them to rot in landfills. The store accepts “seasonal, clean, recent models or styles of baby or toddler equipment and children’s items for consignment.” Each item is listed at an affordable price, and the store caters to children of all ages. If you’re looking for a consignment store to donate some of your children’s pieces, or a place to shop for new spring outfits for your child, then this store will be a hit.

Play It Again Kids

783 Anderson Dr., San Rafael, 415/485-0304, playitagainkids.com

2ND Secret Garden, Greenbrae

3RD Baby World, San Rafael


“Dollhouses and trains aren’t just for the holidays.” At least, that’s what Marin’s best hobby shop, Dollhouses, Trains, & More believes. There are more than 400 dollhouses for sale, a fully stocked remote control parts and services department and the largest selection of miniatures in the United States. The shop’s in-house Train Manager, Ken Becker, has been a certified Lionel Service Technician since 2010. This hobby shop goes beyond sales and customer service to offer monthly miniature dollhouse and scenic display design classes from owner Linda Becker. And the store’s website features helpful how-to installation videos for miniature dollhouse appliances, such as doorbells and even working televisions.

Dollhouses, Trains & More

300 Entrada Dr., Novato, 415/883-0388, dollhousestrainsandmore.com

2ND Dauth Hobbies, San Anselmo

3RD Play-Well, San Anselmo


The Bay Area Discovery Museum, which has also been crowned this year as the Best Place For a Kid’s Party, offers both school-year camps and summer camps, with themes ranging from Art Attack, to Fort-Building to Shipwrecks and Treasure Hunts. The camps, like the rest of the museum, ignite creative thinking in children through an open-ended, child-directed approach. “The kids really drive the activities that they’re doing,” says Jen Helfrich, marketing communication manager, noting that there is basic facilitation by educators, but no set lesson plans. “It’s a great opportunity for kids to explore.” Children are invited to express what they have an interest in, and the museum is then able to develop programs and activities around those interests. “The museum is not just a fun, beautiful place to play,” Helfrich says. “It does have an educational component that runs through. We engage children to engage their creative thinking.”

Bay Area Discovery Museum

Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds Rd., Sausalito, 415/339-3900, baykidsmuseum.org

2ND Osher Marin JCC Summer Camp, San Rafael

3RD Camp Tamarancho (operated by the Marin Council, Boy Scouts of America, San Rafael)


Finnegan’s Marin is not your average “kid-friendly” restaurant. This Irish pub-inspired eatery offers traditional corned beef and cabbage alongside fish ’n’ chips. Kids eat for free on Sunday nights, choosing from a menu of full meals that cost as little as $3.99. Food is prepared by Executive Chef Michael Gaylord, who was formerly a chef at El Paseo in Mill Valley and K&L Bistro in Sebastopol. Since the recession of 2008, Finnegan’s owner Henry Hautau, father of two and grandson of Patrick Finnegan, has maintained the Kids 100 Club policy he created, which allows 100 Bay Area children to eat for free for an entire year. Day or night, Finnegan’s proves to be fun for the whole family.

Finnegan’s Marin

877 Grant Ave., Novato, 415/899-1516, finnegansmarin.com

2ND Toast, Novato

3RD Iron Springs Pub & Brewery, Fairfax


Doggie Styles washed and dried its first pooch in 1997. Founder Janine Schengel is a master groomer and experienced veterinarian technician, and the veritable dog whisperer of Marin. The Doggie Styles website consists of little more than a picture of a golden doodle and contact information, but Yelp reviews tell you all that you really need to know: “I’ve taken my long-haired Polish Lowland Sheepdog to Doggie Styles for five-plus years. They’re miracle workers with tangled and matted canines. Absolutely the BEST! Janine and Melinda always go the extra mile for their customers, both two-legged and four-legged,” says Marie from Novato.

Doggie Styles

401 Miller Ave., Suite E, Mill Valley, 415/381-1777, doggiestylesmarin.com

2ND Cat’s Cradle Boarding & Grooming, San Rafael

3RD Pride & Groom, San Anselmo


It’s the staff that makes Pet Food Express stand out among its competitors, says Michael Levy, founder and co-owner. Every new hire undergoes extensive training for a week to immerse himself or herself into the world of all things animals. With five locations in Marin—San Anselmo, downtown Novato, Hamilton, Terra Linda and Mill Valley—Pet Food Express doesn’t sell animals, but don’t sell it short—the pet store partners up with local rescue centers for community outreach. Its latest project? A cat adoption center that will be located next to the San Anselmo store. Pet Food Express found the location for the Marin Humane Society and will pay its rent for the next five years. “It’s really all about our customers and employees,” Levy says. “We really want to thank them for choosing us—bottom line.”

Pet Food Express

Multiple locations in Marin, petfoodexpress.com

2ND Woodlands Pet Food & Treats, San Rafael

3RD Pet Club, Corte Madera


Kids can let their imaginations run wild at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, set on 7.5 acres next to the Golden Gate Bridge. With a mission to ignite creative thinking in all children, the museum aims to guide kids through projects that lead to wonder and discovery. Offering fun and stress-free birthday parties for children 1-8, the museum staff helps to set up and clean up parties that include admission to exhibits, face painting, art and science projects, treasure hunts, air time in the Bounce-a-palooza and much more. “I would say that our museum is about hands-on learning, fun, having a child really have that opportunity to be empowered to learn and play and innovate,” says Jackie Randazzo, marketing coordinator. “Especially with young children—they’re always told what to do. It’s their opportunity to really be a kid.”

Bay Area Discovery Museum

Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds Rd., Sausalito, 415/339-3900, baykidsmuseum.org

2ND Doodlebug, San Anselmo

3RD Tie: Cal-Star Gymnastics, Novato, and Love2Dance, Novato


In business for 21 years, A Child’s Delight! knows a thing or two about toys. “We started with a lot of wooden toys,” says Deborah Meyer, co-owner. “And over time, we looked at what children are interested in.” Deborah and husband and co-owner Jonathan have seen all the trends come and go, but a core of basic toys remain tried and true. “The toy business has a lot of traditional toys that we carry forever, but it’s also very fad-driven,” Jonathan says. The duo is looking forward to the opening up of a new location in the Corte Madera Town Center, which will be located across from Crate & Barrel. Selling a wide variety of toys, from classic to computerized, the couple invites customers to come and take a look—“There are more toys in the world today than ever before,” Jonathan adds.

A Child’s Delight!

190 Northgate One, San Rafael, 415/499-0736, achildsdelight.com

2ND Five Little Monkeys, Novato

3RD Toy World, Greenbrae


A full-service hospital that will care for nearly any pet—from your average cat or dog to exotic animals—East San Rafael Veterinary Clinic is the purrrfect fit for the Best of Marin winner in the category of Best Veterinarians. In addition to taking care of your favorite furry family member, the hospital also takes in all of the retired guide dogs and cares for the San Rafael Police Department dogs. “We like to help the clients and their pets,” say some of the team’s vets. “There is always something different at work that keeps us interested and engaged.”

East San Rafael Veterinary Clinic

820 D St., San Rafael, 415/456.4463, esrvc.com

2ND Marin Pet Hospital, San Rafael

3RD Bel Marin Animal Hospital, Novato

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