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By Lorraine Sanders
For any writer, working with a co-author can prove to be a creative challenge. But a collaboration becomes infinitely more challenging if your co-author gets accidentally sucked out to sea while conducting research atop a cliff near the ruins of the Sutro Baths.
Luckily, that did not happen to local author Leslie Crawford or to her co-author, Sam Fox, when they were traversing the rocky landscape where San Francisco's legendary swimming palace stood from 1896 to 1966. But that doesn't mean the thought didn't cross Crawford's mind.
"He was walking on a rock, you know, where the waves come in and sweep people off," Crawford says, describing one of the many adventures the pair had while working on City Walks with Kids: San Francisco, a boxed deck of 50 cards that map entertaining walks parents can do with their kids (Chronicle Books 2007).
Across the table, his left forearm decorated in streaks of black permanent marker, co-author Sam rolls his eyes in response to Crawford's alarm.
"The wave was, like, going negative miles per hour," he says, pleading his case.
Crawford clearly doesn't buy this argument.
"He thought I was being too protective," she says.
If this doesn't sound like an ordinary relationship between two authors collaborating on a book project, that's because it isn't. In addition to being Crawford's research assistant and key consultant on the project, Sam Fox is Crawford's 10-year-old son.
"I was just basically going on the walks, giving her company, and I gave a kid's opinion," Fox said of his role in creating the deck, which features sturdy, pocket-sized cards packed neatly into a box. One side of each card describes the route for a walk and includes helpful tips, a smattering of historic tidbits, and key information about sights walkers can expect to encounter along the way. On the other side of each card, a corresponding map, illustrated with cartoon figures by artist David Needham, identifies the sights and major landmarks.
Fox went on 49 of the 50 walks with his mom, who also regularly brought her 2-year-old daughter Molly (then 8 months old) along in a baby backpack. Each walk is aimed at parents out to explore San Francisco with kids in tow. There are walks that cover popular attractions like AT&T Park, Pier 39, Julius Kahn Park in the Presidio, and the San Francisco Zoo, as well as walks through neighborhoods from North Beach to Noe Valley. Designed with kids in mind, many routes are planned with downhill segments rather than uphill climbs and include stops at kid-friendly museums, playgrounds, shops, and restaurants.
"It's for the dedicated tourist who wants to see something different," Crawford explains. "There are some tourist traps, but that's what kids like. Fisherman's Wharf, we might poo-poo it, but it's great for kids."
Considering that Crawford has lived on 24th Street near Douglass with her husband Steve Fox for the past 12 years, you might think creating the Noe Valley walk would have been the easiest for her to complete. Wrong.
Crawford admits: "Noe Valley was one of the hardest to write because I know the neighborhood so well."
The Noe Valley walk begins on 24th Street with suggestions for kid-friendly dining at neighborhood spots like Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers and the Noe Valley Bakery. Next Crawford suggests heading to Terra Mia to paint pottery, perusing the topnotch kids' section at Cover to Cover Booksellers on Castro, and hunting for games and other fun diversions at Just for Fun. Crawford recommends taking the kids to the Noe Valley Farmers' Market on Saturdays and making a reservation at Lovejoy's Tea Room on Church Street for Wee Tea, a special spread made just for pint-sized patrons.
Other walks close to the neighborhood include routes through Glen Canyon, Valencia Street, Bernal Heights, and Dolores Park and Mission Dolores.
One walk that didn't make the cut? Crawford and Fox's adventure hiking up to the summit of Twin Peaks on an especially windy day.
"I almost got hit by a bus. I hated that one," Fox recalls.
Fox's favorite walk was the one he and his mom took to Fort Funston, where he enjoyed discovering places to romp underneath the heavy canopies of trees lining parts of the trails snaking through the coastal landscape.
And even though Crawford offers myriad options for activities and stops along each walk, she doesn't necessarily recommend following her directions to a tee.
As she writes in the introduction to the deck, "If a child is more interested in inspecting a giant banana slug at Stern Grove than hiking in the woods, or climbing on the zoo's lion sculpture rather than visiting any real animals, take heart-- that's the adventure."
The bottom line, Crawford advises, is simple:
"When you're with kids, be in the moment."
The City Walks with Kids series is available through Chronicle Books, www.chronicle books.com, and in Noe Valley at Cover to Cover Booksellers and Phoenix Books and Records.