Toy Store (credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Pop into these family-run toy stores to meet a staff who knows its stuff. By all means, bring the children, as there’s lots to do inside. The kids will come across a storytelling time, hook up some Brio trains to head them downhill, peer out of the window of a playhouse, get cozy in a reading corner or discover a giant mural to add to the fun of shopping. There’s nothing big box or plastic about these neighborhood toy stores offering curated selections and good, old-fashioned service.

Talbot’s Toyland
44 South B St.
San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 931-8100 

After 60 years, Talbot’s Toyland is both a treat and a local legend. A walk through these glorious 30,000 square feet makes everybody just want to be a kid again. If you’re buying something big, or it’s a surprise, Talbot’s will arrange delivery. Gift wrapping and UPS shipping can all be handled as a one-stop-shop service, eliminating your wait at the post office. Best of all, for those who are mechanically challenged or short on time, the staff can assemble that tricky item (think dollhouse) for you. Bringing smiles since 1953, this is a much-loved institution with a menagerie of stuffed animals to rival FAO Schwartz.

Five Little Monkeys
1111 Burlingame Ave.
Burlingame, CA 94010
(650) 342-4411

A wonderful new addition to the neighborhood, the family-run toy store has added this fourth location to stores in Walnut Creek, Albany and Novato. Already displaying a nice bunch of “best toy store” awards from these Bay Area communities, Peninsula parents say the newest Five Little Monkeys is well-stocked with quality, nostalgic items. Remember Lego and Playmobil and the fun of reading a book or doing a puzzle together? The kids can busy themselves playing with a tabletop wooden railroad set while you browse among the selection that is curated to be totally “fun, educational, environmentally sound and safe.”

Nature At Play
1375 Burlingame Ave.
Burlingame, CA 94010
(650) 558-9258

With a focus on the littler ones, this cozy space lined with shelves is a cornucopia of color bursts. Visit for a baby shower gift or choose a rattle for a newborn. Find the perfect birthday present for an inquisitive toddler. Come here for those cute name train wooden carved letters hand-crafted in Middlebury, Vermont, and personalize your colors. Gift wrapping is on the house. In the meantime, the kids will enjoy the Brio wooden trainscape and tracks all set up, from the Swedish company that’s as good as it was back in 1884. Sweet-faced Corolle dolls from France are another quality choice.

Reach And Teach
144 W. 25th Ave.
San Mateo, CA 94403
(650) 759-3784

If you’re thinking of an alternative to a big box toy store for your next toy store outing, add this new shop to your list. Sustainability and recycling are two of the themes that come through via the curated inventory. Solar-operated cars, refillable soap, complimentary origami classes and pieces of fair trade chocolate with tea give you a taste of the kind of community enterprise this is. Cozy corners are filled with how-to books. Find 3-D wooden Suduko sets, Brain Quest boxes and environmentally-friendly and green science items such as Solar Rover. Re-discover classic puzzles, Chinese checkers, chess sets and award-winning toys that stretch the mind. This is home to a think-outside-the-box shopping experience and a heightened awareness around purchase decisions.

The Reading Bug
785 Laurel St.
San Carlos, CA 94070
(650) 591-0100

What’s not to love about a family-owned, local, independent book store that holds birthday parties, author readings and music events with a dedicated play area for the toy section? The whole place is designed to look like an enchanted forest. Watch a child sit on a polka dot mushroom stool while getting lost in the story of the fantastic Mr. Fox…it’s a future memory, a wonder-filled moment parents and minders can appreciate in a place like this. While it’s more books than toys, you can bridge those worlds whenever you come for story time and decide to choose a stuffed toy, game or dress-up clothing that complements a character from the story. Find eco-friendly play-dough, wooden toys, art projects and Applepark organic products. Take it home in snazzy ladybug gift wrap.

Laurie Joe Miller Farr is a freelance writer covering all things in her adopted San Francisco. A dedicated urbanite, she’s a transplanted New Yorker by way of a couple of decades in London as a hotel sales and marketing manager. Follow her work on @ReferencePlease, USA Today, Yahoo! and on