Twenty-nine-year-old Lara Walklet knew exactly what she wanted as she made a beeline to one of the talking storybook boxes that brings stories to life in Oakland’s storybook theme park, Children’s Fairyland. For one night each year on August 16, the adults are allowed to rule the children’s playground above Lake Merritt.

“My parents would bring us here as kids,” she said excitedly.

“Through the years we picked up a collection of these storybook keys in all colors.  And the original gold one, you can’t find it on eBay. We had a routine where my older brother and I would race to make it to a box first. We also had to remember the nursery rhymes. There’s a garden with Mary in Dublin’s fair city…” she began to recite.

Children’s Fairyland opened its gates to grownups for three glorious hours on Friday. Old West Junction transformed into a giant dance party with the deejay playing 80s covers from Prince, Duran Duran, A-ha and The Cure.

At the front gate, people sped past the lady who lived in the shoe, through Willy Wonka standing under the giant mushroom, a little red schoolhouse, Noah’s ark, and Alice in Wonderland’s card maze to climb to the pagoda in the sky. Many came dressed in fairy wings, neon-colored tutus, Rainbow Brite knee-highs, top hats, corseted gowns with tiaras, glow-in-the-dark accents, and pirate outfits. They wandered around the park like children, posing with Snow White, Peter Pan, Little Red Riding Hood, and other familiar storybook heroes.

In the 1950s, Walt Disney visited Fairyland when Disneyland was not built yet.  Many claim he was so inspired that some of Fairyland’s innovations were later used in his famous park.

Designed by William Russell Everett, Fairyland was initially financed by the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, then the City of Oakland took over in 1994. A nonprofit manages it today. The first Children’s Fairyland for Grownups in 2011 was initially thought to appeal to a senior clientele, with many who are now in the AARP demographic having visited in the 1950’s, but Oaklandish brought the demographics closer to millennials. “We sell out every year with affordable ticket prices,” said CJ Hirshfield, Executive Director.

Included in the $20 ticket price is Linden Street Brewery and Urban Legend Cellars beer and wine. On top of the grassy knoll behind the park, Oakland’s food trucks offered tasty options: Pietisserie, El Taco Bike, Chop Bar, Go Streatery, and Red Boy Pizza.

Sweet waffle and honey scents filled the air, drawing the crowd past the food trucks to a couple making stroopies. Lily Tsay and Todd Hartman are the founders of Oakland-based Stroopie Gourmet. “Stroop means syrup in Dutch. And the wafel doesn’t resemble what we know as American, or Belgian, waffles at all. It’s much thinner, and round instead of square,” he said.

Hartman’s friends surprised him at Fairyland as they sang Happy Birthday on his special day. “Get in line and try the savory recipe paired with beer: a honey, bourbon, bacon, and cheddar cheese stroopie,” said Hartman, as everyone filed in for the treats.

At the end of the night, everyone’s expectation of Fairyland was fulfilled. “Free beer, food and Fairyland: it’s the best!” yells Shaon Barman, 23, excitedly to a peer group of scientists from Lawrence Berkeley Labs. Some were still straggling off the dance floor when Barman tripped on a hippopotamus.

“That’s why, for safety reasons, Fairyland only admits adults when accompanied by a child. If you don’t watch your step, you could fall on a little one,” a security guard said as he helped him up to find a ride home.

For pictures of Children’s Fairyland for Grownups, click here.

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