Do you have a young lad or lassie who loves music, puppet shows, theater, costume characters and games? Look no further than The Great Dickens Fair, a full-scale reproduction of 19th century London streets complete with decorated shops, tea houses, gentlemens clubs and themed theaters. Since there’s no holidays without Scrooge, expect to find characters of A Christmas Carol parading the streets, as well as Oliver Twist and other beloved Dickens protagonists. Around you, 700 costumed Victorian players will give your child a definite time-travel experience.

Entertainment

Inside the fair, dancers twirl, execute skillful steps  and tiptoe at Fezziwig’s Warehouse, a lively English holiday folk dancing party. Don’t miss the Scottish dancers in full regalia – and their fancy footwork!

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In the adjoining room, check out the schedule to see the twice-daily Christmas Pantomime at the Victoria & Albert Bijou Music Hall. The hour-long production “Aladdin & Cinderella Meet the Monkey King” will delight preschoolers with magical creatures, jolly good humor, a few thrills and fantastic fairy tales.

Head over to the Piccolo Playhouse at 1:30, 2:30 or 4:30 p.m., for a Punch and Judy puppet show where the popular anarchic English husband and wife babble and quarrel during short scenes.

The Father Christmas stage is where family fun will unroll, featuring a daily Toy Parade at noon and a daily Father Christmas Parade at 1:50 p.m.

Insider tip: If you missed the parades because you were laughing out loud in front of the Christmas Pantomime or listening to carolers or sea chanteys, you can still bring your children to meet Father Christmas and tell him their holiday wishes at the Father Christmas Stage daily between 2:30 and 3:40pm.

Click here for the full entertainment schedule.

Games & Activities

In addition to enjoying non-stop entertainment all day if they want, kids will love unusual games and activities such as the Candy Machine, a dart game à la Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang where a popped balloon triggers a crazy machine that delivers a candy cane. Other children’s favorites include the Boot The Cat game (with real boots!), Flip A Sweep (as in flipping chimney sweeps at chimney tops), the great safari adventure of the man-powered Safari Carousel or the beanbag throwing game called Footlight Fiasco. Don’t forget the new Tinsley Green Children’s Area. For junior pirates, a visit to the Pirates’ Cove is a must.

Insider tip: head to the carousel early as long lines form in the afternoon.

Dining

Even picky eaters will find meals to their liking, from Mr. Punch’s Pasta to roast beef, fish and chips, meat pies, Greek food or bangers and mash. From noon to 4 p.m. daily, your family can enjoy a traditional English tea with scones, tea sandwiches and tea at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe, a unique holiday tea with festive Victorian Christmas wreaths adorning the walls.

Insider tip: reserve your table ahead of time at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe as seating for this holiday tea sells like hot cakes. Book online or in person as soon as you arrive at the fair.

For quick snacks, the Cinnamon Crunch Almonds and the Chestnut Cart are always a hit – and oh so tasty. Meanwhile, adults can sip crisp and hearty ales at the four traditional pubs and the Bohemian Absinthe Bar scattered throughout the fair. How’s that for the best of both worlds?

Location & Details

Open Saturdays and Sundays until December 19th from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., The Great Dickens Fair takes place inside 3 acres of buildings at the Cow Palace in Daly City. Since all streets are level, strollers can access all areas of the Dickens fair. To drive there, see directions here. Parking on site is $10/car or free if you score street parking.

Tickets are $25/adult, $21/Senior (62+), student or military and $12/child aged between 5-11 years. Children under 5 are free! Order your tickets online before December 6, 2010 and save $5 per adult ticket and $1 per child ticket.

Insider tips:

  • Ride BART and take a free shuttle to London! A free BART shuttle runs every 20 minutes from 11:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. to and from the Glen Park BART station. BART riders may bring their tickets to the Fair gate for $4 off one full fare Adult admission (cannot be combined with other discounts).
  • As you enter Victorian London, you receive a map of the streets with listings of theaters, shops and stages, as well as daily schedules. Hold on to it! With 120,000 square feet, the Dickens fair is big enough that you’ll need to refer to the map frequently – and you don’t want to miss out on family fun because of timing.

The Great Dickens Fair takes place at the Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Avenue, Daly City, CA 94014. Saturdays and Sundays through Sunday, December 19, from 11 a.m. ’til 7 p.m. www.dickensfair.com.

—Laure Latham