We (meaning the kids I babysit and Bug and I) went to this really cool place called Pretend City yesterday. It’s in Irvine and relatively new. I think they even opened this month. It’s super popular, loud and crowded but I think that might be only because they’ve been written about a lot in the local media lately. It’s geared toward ages 2-5 so if you have a kid that age who is a non-napper, I’d recommend going in the afternoon and avoid the morning rush. It was crazytown in the morning. Crazy but fun though. We loved it.
Basically it’s a pretend city (hence the name) in big office warehouse type building. They’ve got a bank and a grocery store, a farm and a police station… library, etc etc etc. Everything is kid-sized of course and you can play. Pretty much it’s your pretend world with real props. Well, plastic ones of course. You can work on the farm and dig up plastic vegetables, pick plastic apples off the wall and then take them to the market.
I might have to use this idea in a mural someday.
You can put on real rubber boots, a rain coat of sorts and a real fisherman’s hat and go fish in the marina. Bug loved the water works. Once you catch a fish with your net you can even wrap it up in brown paper. I loved that detail.
It’s all handled really well with minimal mess and fuss. I’m surprised that they can allow kids to get so hands on with so many props without chaos breaking out. I really hope this concept sticks.
Of course the water area was very popular.
What is cool about this little town is that kids can get a job so to speak or at least understand how jobs work. You can try on costumes, pretend to work and then punch your time card. They have little paper punch cards that they can stamp at various locations and then take to an ATM that dispenses real paper cash. That was a huge hit.
Of course nothing is super computerized or anything and you can rob the bank quite easily by sticking your punch card into the ATM over and over but that’s besides the point. Though I found it humorous that the seven-year-old boy I’m babysitting spent most of his time in the city swindling other little kids. Not that I think he’s going to grow up to be a con man or anything but I thought it was a bit funny that corruption breaks out no matter what the size of your population. And by size I mean, little kids.
After you get your hard-earned paper money you can go to the grocery store (sponsored by Ralphs, which I thought was cool. Go Ralphs!) and buy stuff! Bug LOVED this part. I think I have a little shopper on my hands. What I really liked about the grocery store area though was how the checkers (little girls in our case) took their job so seriously. There was no adult telling them what to do but they took each item and carefully scanned it. Then they hit a few keys and asked their little customer for whatever dollar amount they made up in their head. It was so real it was creepy. It really makes you realize how play is just preparation for the real world.
There was also a restaurant to work in.
And a theatre. Bug took a liking to the sound controls. The music was preset in one minute tracks but you could push buttons and make funny sounds. That was cool.
The building and construction areas were great. I would have liked to explore them more and take more pictures but they were very very busy with boys, naturally. Let me tell you, it was challenging to take photos in this place without getting everyone and their cousin in the shot too. Not to mention the lighting was unnatural (fluorescent? sodium? both?) and I HATE to use my flash so most of my photos are blurry but I figured you’d forgive me. It’s a place that you really have to see to understand, so blogging with photos seemed important.
We ended our visit in the art studio which made me happy of course. The kids made paper sushi. I thought that was ingenious. It’s basically a section of toilet paper roll wrapped in black construction paper, stuffed with tissue and then decorated with real rice and bits of colored paper. They looked remarkably real for paper and tissue.
Then we posed in the funny shadow area. There were so many things to do. We missed a lot of them because we were hungry for lunch. I could seriously see burning several hours here–which is nice for us because we are in the middle of a heat wave and it is HOT HOT HOT at home when you don’t have air conditioning. Spending some time in this indoor city was a blissful relief for me. I don’t care how many kids I have to wade through.
So that’s that! I’d give this place a thumbs up. And this is NOT a paid review. My trip was sponsored by the mom of the kids I babysit but admission is $10 for anyone older than 12 months and military and seniors get discounts. We say, “Check check check it out!”