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The Bohemian's Best of the North Bay 2006

Photograph by Michael Amsler

Bob Burke


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Food & Drink
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Writers' Picks

Local Hero
Bob Burke
Best Kids' Crusader
Instead of tights and a cape he's more likely to don a Santa Claus or Easter Bunny suit, but Bob Burke definitely has special powers. Burke's powers help him put a smile of the faces of children battling serious illnesses and their families.

It began in 1967 when Burke met a young girl who told him the worst thing about having cancer was that there was nothing to do. "I just opened my heart and I started Bob Burke's Kids right on the spot," he explains. Now, 39 years later, he and a group of dedicated volunteers coordinate a year-round program of activities for youngsters who otherwise might not have much fun between doctors' visits and chemo treatments. The nonprofit group hosts weekly summer barbecues, bowling bashes, trout-fishing trips, pizza parties and more. There's always a Halloween extravaganza, a Thanksgiving party and a Christmas social. And, of course, Burke dresses up as Santa or the Easter Bunny to visit the kids in the hospital. The real heroes, he says, are the kids themselves, their families and the many volunteers and local businesses who make it all possible.

"It's a year-round commitment to the children. We have lots of wonderful volunteers who I really look up to with all my heart." His "day job" is helping run the family canoe rental business on the Russian River each summer, but asked how much of his time is taken up by the nonprofit group, this former chaplain answers, "All of it."

May all those whose lives are touched by Burke grow up to be as loving as he.

To donate time or cash, write to Bob Burke's Kids at P.O. Box 601, Forestville, CA 95436; call 707.887.2222; or log on to www.bobburkeskids.org. --P.L.H.

Photograph by Brett Ascarelli

Best Place for Kids to Play with Fire (Engines)
The Napa Firefighters Museum is small and cramped, stuffed to the fire-retardant beams with big, red, old-fashioned fire trucks, some of them being the horse-drawn kind (bet you didn't know horses could draw!), hand-drawn hose carts (bet you didn't know that hoses could . . . oh, forget it) and a whole collection of historical toy fire trucks, along with such fire-related things as hats, uniforms, nozzles, fire alarm boxes, a model fire house and two huge stuffed Dalmatian dogs (I think they are real, ugh!). The museum is a testament to the heroic history of firefighting, and works as a kind of subtle recruiting tool for the budding firefighters in your own family. Not surprisingly, the place has become a hot ticket (sorry) for visiting tourists, but a large number of local families visit the place very week. Napa Firefighters Museum, 1201 Main St., Napa. Open Wednesday-Saturday, 11am to 4pm; tours available upon request. 707.226.1426. --D.T.

Best Way to Visit all 21 California Missions While Drinking Zinfandel
You can visit all 21 of California's missions without the inevitable road rage that can happen inside the family car on a long trip, and I'm not talking about the you-sound-like-you-might-be-getting-the-sniffles-how-about-some-Benadryl kind of silence. Instead, pack the car up with picnic supplies and drive to Cline Cellars Winery at the south end of Sonoma, the original site for the Sonoma Mission. Just behind the tasting room is a new museum housing mission replicas created for the 1939 World's Fair at Treasure Island. Open every day except Christmas, Cline Cellars sells everything California for students and history buffs from reference books to arrowheads. Outside, picnic tables are plentiful, several aviaries are filled with exotic pheasants, doves and quail, and one of six spring-fed ponds is only steps away from the tasting room. Cline Cellars, 24737 Hwy. 121, Sonoma. California Missions Museum is open from 9:30am to 4pm during the school year and from 11am to 4pm during the summer. 707.939.8051. --T.C.

Best Place to Enter Your Own Special World While Parenting
Now that I'm past my 20s, I realize how much time and energy it took to keep up with the coolest music, fashion and lingo. Musically speaking, I've no idea what the hot band-of-the-moment is; I still risk beatings at Red's Recovery Room for playing Pink Floyd albums, in their entirety, on the jukebox. So it was liberating to leave all that keep-up-with-the-Joneses mentality behind, toss down a Vicodin for my bad back and enjoy the Chuck E. Cheese house band, Munch's Make Believe Band, as my youngster ran around in an overstimulated frenzy. Featuring Chuck himself on the mic, a winking mustachioed drummer, a guitarist dog named Super Jasper, a singing hen and some kind of purple mammal-like object on keyboards, the band does amazing versions of "Working for the Weekend" and "Daydream Believer," plus intriguing originals, including one about driving SUVs in the land of the free. I suddenly realized that Chuck's isn't just for for kids--it offers a surreal experience for adults, too. I just hope that they've fixed the wandering eye on that purple mammal-like thing. That was definitely freaking me out. Chuck E. Cheese exists at 601 Rohnert Park Expressway, Rohnert Park. 707.586.1949. --M.P.

Best Place to Catch Air
There's more to winetasting than swirling and spitting and looking at grapes. But for a kid, watching the parents glug vino and make funny faces before uttering strange phrases like "Hmm, smoky bouquet" can be as boring as watching a box stand still. Sterling Vineyards understands this, and therefore offers many things that will appeal to children. The big thrill is the aerial sky tram, with dangling gondolas that rise to the top of the hill, Disneyland-like, offering spectacular views of the vineyards and surrounding countryside. In the well-designed tasting room back at the winery, there is even more for kids to do while the stupid adults are sampling the stuff in the bottles. To keep the kiddies happy, Sterling offers juices and water (2005 was a wonderful year for Arrowhead), along with crayons and coloring books and fun things like that. Remember, your kids are the wine connoisseurs of the next generation; it's never too late to get them used to it. Sterling Vineyards, 1111 Dunweal Lane, Calistoga. Open daily, 10:30am to 4:30pm. Tours April 1-Nov. 1. $10-$15; kids under three are free. 800.726.6136. --D.T.

Best Place to Conduct Yourself
On Friday nights, the Napa Valley Model Railroad Club opens its doors to the public, revealing the 1/87th scale model of the landscape and tracks running from Napa up to Lake County that it keeps under ordinary lock and key. Kids (and grown men) run the model trains from a command booth on the second floor, where a green monitor shows live video feed coming from one of the tiny tunnels down below. Most of the adult members have had professional involvement with trains, either as train engineers or as employees at Sonoma's Train Town. The night I visited, two men were busy "planting trees" with a drill into the model sod. The model, which features 1,500 feet of tracks, is an utterly amazing piece of workmanship that's carefully maintained by the kindly yet stern ones who run it. They take train wrecks seriously, since they're training youngsters in the business. Don't miss the miniature Napa Valley Wine train. Napa Valley Model Railroad at the Napa Valley Expo, Third Street Gate. Open Fridays, 7pm to midnight. 707.253.8428. --B.A.

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From the March 22-28, 2006 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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