Kids 

Best Rainy Day Destination: Climb Nashville Walk inside this former indoor tennis court warehouse in the Sylvan Park area and you'll be astonished. What lies before you is what its owners believe to be the largest indoor rock climbing facility in the Southeastern United States. We're talking vast—wall after wall of overhangs, flat pitches, or easy ascents for the beginner. Added bonus: the staff appear to really like kids. Looking for a birthday party for your little junior? There's nothing like a dozen of so rambunctious tykes taking off on 50-foot vertical ascents to get your ticker racing. Not to worry. Everyone is roped up and wearing helmets. Sure, the kids will fall, but that's part of the fun. Next time it rains, don't pop in a video. Go climb. Bruce Dobie

Best Playground (over 7): Nashville Zoo A properly designed playground for grade-schoolers should scare the hell out of parents at first glance. That way the kids think they're getting away with something, a smokescreen for the safety and security underneath. Thus the Nashville Zoo's formidable playground may be the only one in the city with a skyline, capped by what looks like a Lincoln Log tower ascending to a curvy three-story slide. Adventurous kids can reach the summit by climbing a grid of rope ladders with reinforced net ting, while those on the ground face an admirable variety of swings (the Harley-like half-tire is awesome), a padded bounce room, and a swinging bridge. It's the only play area in Nashville that looks like it was built by kids for kids. Park admission required. Jim Ridley

Best Afternoon Outing for Kids: Discovery Center at Murfree Springs, Murfreesboro Located off the main drag in Murfreesboro, within sight of the city's courthouse, this little treasure is well worth the 30-minute drive (especially if you add a stop at the Far East Market for noodles). Similar to children's museums in Chattanooga and Atlanta, this converted water-treatment facility features an indoor waterway, animal exhibits, climbing space, a pretend archaeological dig, musical instruments and other diversions. The clincher, though, is outside: a sunken garden with goldfish, adjacent to a boardwalk that winds through the nearby wetlands. From this platform, one day last fall, I saw frogs, turtles, a heron, a cloud of monarch butterflies, and a swimming creature that was either a river otter or some kind of mutant super-rat. (Either way, my little girl was delighted.) The only trouble you'll have is getting your kids to leave. (502 S.E. Broad St., 890-2300, www.discoverycenteronline.org.) Jim Ridley

Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant (Chain): Cracker Barrel When dining out with kids, there are three main things parents look for: a thick-skinned and indulgent wait staff; enough noise that a toddler's tantrum will not draw a roomful of accusing looks; and food that fits little fingers (and picky palates) without overwhelming their fickle appetites. From jelly biscuits to plump steak fries, this interstate oasis of comfort food offers plenty to keep the young'uns sedated with starch—and many times the signature golf-tee puzzles on each table have narrowly averted a screaming fit. (If that fails, there's always the toy section in the country-store lobby.) It helps that the even-tempered servers could watch Rosemary's baby projectile-vomit across the room, yet still address the demon spawn as "hon." If the Barrel's too crowded, Waffle House will do just fine: I'd be proud to have a child whose first words were "scattered and smothered." Jim Ridley

Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant (Non-Chain): Baja Burrito Perhaps because owner Troy Smith has a full house of his own, his enormously popular Berry Hill burrito joint welcomes Gen-X club crawlers who find themselves new inductees into the minivan mob. Like the rest of the menu, the kids' selections are limited but fresh and uniformly fine, including mini-burritos and a dollhouse-sized cheese quesadilla. Baja even manages to sneak some veggies into preschool diets with tasty beans-and-rice platters. To help Mommy and Daddy digest, there's little danger of disturbing other diners amid Baja's happy din. The only drawbacks are the near-constant line and congested parking lot: Yogi Berra must've been to Baja Burrito when he described the place nobody goes anymore because it's too crowded. For something a little more upscale, try the Red Wagon Cafe in East Nashville, where chef/owner Meg Giuffrida's little boy Henry often greets the guests. Jim Ridley

Best Place to Make Monkey Noises: Nashville Zoo Jack Hanna loves our zoo, and you will too. Located at Grassmere Park on Nolensville Road, Nashville Zoo will surprise first-time visitors, who probably never imagined meerkats and guenons in dry desserts and verdant forests just down the road from Harding Mall. The zoo's jungle gym is the largest community-built playground in the country. Designed by renowned playground expert Robert Leathers, the 6600-sq. ft. structure took 6,000 volunteers over three months to build. With sprawling acreage waiting to be developed into animal habitats, Nashville Zoo promises to bring even more of the animal kingdom to Music City in the years to come (www.NashvilleZoo.org). Carrington Fox

Best Cheap Alternative to the Zoo: Centennial Park Lake The mallard, the goose, the sparrow, the crow and the pigeon may represent the diversity of the avian kingdom, but as it turns out they share a common trait: a love of Doritos. But if you want to spring for the good stuff—which includes saltines, goldfish crackers and Cheerios—you'll be amazed at the mileage your child gets out of a sack of Colonial bread. The well-fed duck population of Centennial Park has its routine down cold: I'll waddle and quack and paddle adorably, and you keep shoveling the Fritos. And it is said that the chipmunks and squirrels by the bandshell will take French fries from your hand. Lay off the walnut-scented perfume. Jim Ridley

Best Movie Theater for Kids: Stardust Drive-In, Watertown Screaming kid plus movie theater challenges the definition of "victimless crime." Cut down on stress by making a 40-mile haul east to Middle Tennessee's newest drive-in, located on Purple Tiger Drive in Watertown, which shows first-run double features with an emphasis on family programming. Kids can frolic in the (sometimes muddy) lot until showtime, then curl up in the backseat with an Alien Glow Pop while Mom and Dad snarf down the concession stand's miraculously tasty cheese-steak sandwich. Bonus points for the surrounding fields' hundreds of bullfrogs, which inevitably make a kid-thrilling cameo. See www.stardustdrivein.com for directions and more information—and be sure to read about this Saturday's Pajama Party. Jim Ridley

Best Place to Take Your Kid Blueberry Picking: Golden Bell Farm A few miles east of Franklin on Highway 96 sits a pleasant little farm with a giant grove of blueberry bushes with berries ripe for the picking in the summertime. Kids of all ages can grab a bucket and wander up and down the countless rows of bushes while picking off blueberries. It's also a great place to play hide-and-seek. When the buckets are filled, take your loot home and put your blueberries in a stack of pancakes or try your hand at baking a "Double Good Blueberry Pie" using Golden Bell's special recipe. (794-3758). Roger Abramson

Best Playground (7 and under): Lily's Garden, Fannie Mae Dees Park If you've ever attempted the cat rodeo of chasing a scampering toddler under jungle gyms and through tunnels, you'll be grateful for the Hillsboro Village park's clear sightlines and rapid-access design. That's the good news for parents. The good news for kids includes distinctive features such as a dragon fountain that sprays mist, a gently rocking swing that mimics a sailing ship, and the giant mosaic-tile dragon that gives the "Dragon Park" its nickname. With its wonderfully well-behaved kids, its watchful parents, and maybe the most integrated mix of ethnicities anywhere in the city, it's one of the happiest places in Nashville. Jim Ridley

Best Place to Take Your Toddler for Two Hours on a Wednesday: The Bounce Factory No, the Bounce Factory (2921 Murfreesboro Road, 361-7662) is not another local strip club enterprise but, as Dave Barry might say about rock bands, that would be a good name for one. Instead, the Bounce Factory is a warehouse filled with giant, inflatable toys for toddlers to climb upon, jump on top of, or clamber over. With cold and rainy weather on the horizon, parents will enjoy letting their kids run wild on the moonwalk, obstacle course and slides, one of which is 20 feet tall. The Bounce Factory is geared for birthday parties and such, but every Wednesday from 10 am to noon is "Toddler Time," when, for just $5, Mommy, Daddy and Junior can bounce willy-nilly until naptime. There's no need to pack a lunch either; Papa John's is also on the premises selling pizza by the slice. Roger Abramson

Best Place to Find Nemo: The Aquatic Critter The Nashville Zoo is a nice place to go to see landlubbing animals, but South Nashville's Aquatic Critter (5009 Nolensville Road, 832-4541) is the place to go for fish. Every fish imaginable is available to purchase—or just to gaze at—in this store. Kids can wander around and peer in on the swordtails, the Moorish idols, and, yes, the clownfish, housed within the 50-plus tanks within. And don't forget to check out the reptile annex next door. Roger Abramson

Best Family Outing: Sounds Game Somewhere around my fourth or fifth Sounds game this summer I scheduled myself for a funnel cake. In earlier showings that season I'd already sampled the peanuts, the popcorn, the ice-cream and two-for-one beer specials. Some remember that when the young man bearing the tray of fried batter appeared in the stands I screamed; I like to think it was more of a welcome sigh. My friend's 7-year-old nephew certainly understood—he'd already consumed a hot dog chased and a cherry slushee yet was still asking for nachos. He and his parents were nearby in the "family section," a no-alcohol zone with an abundance of uniformed Little League teams. Where you sit really doesn't matter at Sounds games, since everyone's a loyal fan in Greer Stadium. Other than the baseball, there's plenty to enthuse the entire family. There's the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the seventh inning. There's the race in which children dressed as cardboard toilets run across left field. And, finally, there are the post-game fireworks at the end of this summer night outing. That's when everyone really sighs, their faces upturned, their eyes wide, the powdered sugar and sticky cola worn like a night's badge of honor. Lacey Galbraith

Best Child Care Program: Easter Seals McWhorter Family Children's Center This infant through pre-K program, with its jungle- and savanna-themed classrooms, therapeutic swimming pool and twinkle-light constellations in the ceiling, is enough to make anxious new parents want to go back to work. Children with and without special needs learn and play together with refreshing indifference toward their physical and developmental differences. Located at 2001 Woodmont Blvd., the center takes children ages 6 weeks to 5 years. Carrington Fox

Best Place to Connect with your Child (or your Inner Child): Funikijam Music Toddlers and mommies alike can try out their rhythm—or lack thereof—at Brian Barrentine's classes of "Music Exploration for the Next Generation." With exercises including clapping, dancing, singing and instruments, Funikijam introduces even the tiniest newborns to music. Located in Green Hills, Funikijam will come to you for birthdays and other events. For more information, visit www.funikijam.com. Carrington Fox

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