Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyborg Monday

So it is official. Thanksgiving is over, and the Christmas shopping season is upon us. Some folks - who are completely crazy by the way - ran out on Black Friday to snag deals in a shop-'til-you-drop marathon. Others waited until today (a.k.a Cyber Monday) to get started online. I don't know about you, but it's just not Christmas shopping if you simply sit in front of your PC and clickety-clackety your way down your naughty and nice lists. If you are like me, and I hope you're not, Christmas shopping means just one thing: toy stores. In my opinion, there is nothing like a toy store, and the bigger the better. Below are a few of my favorites which, if you ever get the chance to visit, also have timeshare rentals available nearby.

Starting out in the City by the Bay, San Francisco has two great independent toy stores. The Ark and Ambassador Toys both have downtown locations and feature "classic" toys, like the ones I played with back in the Paleolithic era. That is to say, made from wood, metal, and cloth. Although mine probably had lots of lead and asbestos in them too, the point is that they are durable, timeless, and simply fun. Don't get me wrong, there is a time and a place for some Wii bowling, but there is just something about a pedal car, a really good set of stacking blocks, or a quality hand-made doll. And I think it is more than simple nostalgia, judging by the throngs of young parents found at these stores who came of age in the plastic, play-with-it-once and toss it era. There are also many timeshare rental options available right in San Francisco, so you can do some shopping and dropping of your own.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you will find Wacko in Los Angeles. As indicated by the name, this place is simply crazy. To call it a toy store would not be quite right. It's more like the largest collection of pop-culture-inspired ephemera in one place. Within that are some of the coolest retro and original collectible toys and accessories you've ever seen. Don't believe me? How about Pulp Fiction action figures? Or maybe a Fonzie lunch box? If you came of age in the 70s (a.k.a. the Plastic Age) this place is like a time portal back to your youth: bad haircuts and all. Nearby Anaheim is loaded with great timeshare rentals and a place called Disney that you might want to check out as well.

Of course, no review of toy stores would be complete without talking about the grand-daddy of them all: FAO Schwarz in New York City. The Toys 'R Us flagship store in NYC is now the largest toy store in the world (and totally awesome by the way), but FAO is legendary. Started in the 1860s in Baltimore, it is the oldest toy store in the U.S.A. and one of the oldest retailers of any kind. Did you ever see the movie Big with Tom Hanks? Remember the scene where he played "Heart & Soul" with his feet on the giant piano? That's the place, and it is even better in person. It's a true hands-on (and sometimes feet) experience. You are encouraged to play with the toys, and locals and tourists alike flock here to do just that. If you can get here to see this place decked out for the holidays, you really should. Try the Manhattan Club for a timeshare rental experience, NYC-style.

Well I am off to see if I can snag LEGO's new Ultimate Building Set. It's 405 pieces of colorful goodness in a durable plastic box, with a see-through lid. That way your little one can see the pieces they need without dumping them out all over the floor. It's perfect for the toddler on your list who is graduating from the Duplo stage LEGO block up to the big-boy leagues. Or, as in my case, an aging boomer whose collection is incomplete without it. It's madness I tell you, pure madness.

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