Children's Fairyland, the mid-century storybook theme park that inspired Walt Disney and where Frank Oz got his start

Oakland, California is home to a real gem of a storybook theme park. Located next to Lake Merritt, Children's Fairyland has been delighting families of young children since 1950. As the story goes, Walt Disney himself visited Fairyland in 1955 and soon after built Disneyland, incorporating ideas he learned at the park. He also hired Fairyland's first director, as well as one of its puppeteers, to work at his new amusement park in Anaheim.

While Disney's parks went the commercial route, Fairyland turned into a nonprofit after many years of being managed by the city. It remains the charming, lakeside mid-century park where no adult is allowed in the park without a child** and no child is allowed without an adult.

How do I know all of this? Well, I'm excited to share that I've started working with Fairyland. When I first moved to the Bay Area in the mid-1990s, I lived across the street from Lake Merritt and, as a childless young person, I often wondered what was going behind the giant (Old Lady in the) shoe. I remember devising ways to get in, eventually waiting until I had a baby to pass through its gates for the first time. When my daughter (who's now a teenager) was little, she and I visited many times together. Believe me when I say that it's a great thrill for me to be on the "inside" of this Bay Area institution.

Bert, Fairyland Master Puppeteer Lewis Mahlmann, and Frank Oz in August of 1970. This photo was shot when Frank brought Bert and Cookie Monster to Fairyland for a special visit.

In my short time there, I've learned that Walt's visit isn't the only interesting Fairyland fact. East Bay Yesterday podcast host Liam O'Donoghue recently interviewed the park's executive director, C.J. Hirschfield, and asked her many of the questions his listeners had. The questions ranged from, "Is Fairyland haunted?" to "Did Frank Oz begin his career there?" (spoiler: yes!).

Listen in. It's good stuff:

Got more questions about Fairyland? Ask me in the comments. I'll do my best to answer them.

The poster from Bert and Cookie Monster's Fairyland visit.

[**Yes, there are exceptions to this rule. Grownups can enter the park without a child in tow for three scheduled nights per year: the park's Gala Fundraiser in late May, Oaklandish's annual 21+ shindig called Fairyland for Grownups (TBD date in August), and the live-art event called Drawn Together (TBD date in September). The park can also be rented for weddings, birthdays, and other events.]