Saturday, 8:45 a.m. — Your five-year-old companion is dressed, hungry, and ready to go, which means you can make it to Lynn and Lu’s Escapade Cafe (3353 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-835-8705) before the witching hour of nine o’clock, when you’ll be turned into a name on the waiting list. In fact, since you’ve snared another hungry housemate, magically turning you into a party of three, you can snatch one of the two window tables and bask in the pale but warm spring sunlight. While the little one enjoys an oatmeal pancake, you can celebrate the arrival of the low-carb era (Dr. Atkins, RIP) with a no-longer-sinful order of eggs Benedict (“Sour cream? Sure … but hold the potatoes and the muffin”).
9:58 a.m. — Across the way, a line is already forming in front of Walden Pond Books (3316 Grand Ave., 510-832-4438) waiting for the doors to open at ten. You bid goodbye to your housemate and join it. The little one loves the playhouse in the children’s section, where you can find a well-chosen collection of books to read to her. A further stroll up the street to the Grand Lake Oakland Farmers’ Market takes you under the marquee of the Grand Lake Theatre. Your not-yet-literate companion becomes a young Roger Ebert when she spies a poster for Piglet’s Big Movie, registering “thumbs-up” for the noon matinee. It’s a date.
10:27 a.m. — The farmers’ market (Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.) has been relocated under the freeway while construction proceeds on the successor to “Splashpad Park.” It’s the youngest and smallest of Oakland’s weekend food and craft markets, but is still extensive and popular. Its temporary digs give it the shadowy atmosphere of a Middle Eastern souk, particularly when you’re inhaling the incense-scented air near the candle-seller’s booth. As relatively early arrivals, you have the pick of the strawberries and fresh asparagus, and snare a bouquet of lilacs from a stand that’ll likely sell out before noon. But you’re on a mission that nets a large chunk of hickory-smoked salmon, a couple of Indian chapatis, and bags of dried fruit and fresh roasted almonds. The kid is on a mission too: for a honey stick. Then, with a half-hour to kill before the movie, it’s off to swing on the playground behind the public library’s Lakeshore Branch (the library itself is closed on Saturdays).
11:55 a.m. — A “bargain matinee” these days costs six dollars, but it’s worth it for the deliciously sinful sensation of walking out of a perfectly pleasant day into a dark popcorn-scented cave to sit in a faded plush seat and watch a ninety-minute dream flicker by. You feel as if you’re initiating your young charge into a select fraternity: Order of the Milk Dud.
2:05 p.m. — Alameda’s Crown Beach at low tide presents a quarter-mile expanse of mudflats extending out into the bay suitable for clam, slugworm, crab, and (occasionally) jellyfish hunting, or just enjoyment of the ooziest, suckiest walking and jumping available anywhere. Eventually you’ll be ready to sit on the broad sandy beach and eat the goodies you bought at the market. But be sure and bring towels and extra clothes.
4:30 p.m. — The arrival of the late-afternoon onshore breeze marks a chilly end to the day’s bathing-suit weather, but not to the fun. Break out the kite and hear it rustle amid the cries of the gulls arriving to pick over the remains of picnic lunches.
5:45 p.m. — It takes the better part of a half-hour to escape Alameda Island and wend your way through East Oakland and up to Chabot Science and Space Center (10000 Skyline Blvd., 510-336-7300), which recently landed like an alien ship near the Redwood Regional Park archery range. You’re in no hurry, and the bay views from Joaquin Miller Road are stunning.
7:30 p.m. — After a brief tour through the exhibits, and a light dinner at the museum’s restaurant, you’re ready to sit back under the seventy-foot dome of the Ask Jeeves Planetarium. The day’s last show is keyed to the night sky soon to appear outside. Tonight the focus is on Saturn, which will be in a particularly favorable orientation toward Earth. When the lights dim and the projector rises from the floor to casting more than 9,000 stars, you both relax into a convincing simulation of the quintessential nonurban experience: gazing at a completely dark night sky. None of the sophisticated laser effects that follow compare to the elegant beauty of this virtual view of the universe.
8:45 p.m. — Real night has fallen upon the deck where the observatory’s two telescopes are nestled, and the great windows in the domes are open and oriented to distant Saturn. Already a line has formed. You’ll have to wait a half-hour in the chilly darkness for a glimpse, but amazingly your companion’s interest doesn’t flag. Just about the last waking image your little one will see before you carry her sleepy body down the hill to the parking lot will be a view through the giant telescope’s lens of the ringed planet floating majestically in space. And somehow, this is the most perfect thing of all.