Gather up your crew and head up to Mt. Tam for a theater experience where the birds sing as loudly as the cast and you can see the actual Pacific while you enjoy South Pacific. It’s Mountain Play, put on in an outdoor setting that will take your breath away (especially if you hike there). Read on for our guide to enjoying this theatrical adventure with your family.
For Mountain Play’s 101st production, you’ll be transported to a tropical atoll in Word War II. This Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, first performed in 1949, and later made into a film in 1958, is a love story that isn’t quite typical: the play was ahead of its time for discussing prevalent issues of racism (You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught). Kids will appreciate the catchy, more familiar tunes (I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair) and the two darling children in the cast. It won’t take much before you’ll all be humming Some Enchanted Evening all the way back down the mountain.
The best way to really enjoy your day here with the kiddos is to arrive early. Fill up with a big breakfast and then head up the mountain to avoid parking lot jams or shuttle lines. Unless you pay for upgraded seats, the majority of the seating is first come, first serve, so be a cockeyed optimist and plan to arrive at least two hours before the main show. Bring a picnic lunch (skip the larger hard-shell coolers) and score your spot, then check out the grounds and nearby trails and vistas. Be sure and be back for the pre show as it’s typical to get the crowds dancing in their seats. Each show has a different act, including the Marin Singers, The Lollipop Guild and a Hawaiian dance troupe. Check the bottom of this article for different themed dates.
This year’s play is not a children’s play and some of the plot will be lost on kids under 10. Kids will love the sailors, the cheerful songs, the army jeeps and airplane fly-over, but if they seem a little bored with the story, fear not! Mountain Play encourages families with young kids to attend by offering a designated place just for them.
Playland, on your right on the path up from the official drop-off spot, includes a twice daily marionette show by Fratello Marionettes (11 a.m. and 1 p.m.) and preshow crafts, plus face-painting and sno-cones (also available at intermission). It’s cool and shady, making it a great respite from the sun even if the activities are closed.
During the performance, kids with ants in their pants can also enjoy the beetles, ants, and lizards scurrying around the paths immediately surrounding the theater, and they can chat up one of the friendly Park Rangers or Marin County Sheriffs that are parked near the concessions. And with other little ones doing the same, your kids might just make a new bff.
Insider’s Tip: Just beyond the restrooms there is a path that cuts through a small parking lot and proceeds on to two different stunning vista points, just a few minutes’ walk from the amphitheater.
The amphitheater features nearly 4,000 seats and every one of them is made of rock. Pack a Thermarest or a similar camp pad to spread out under your blanket, or legless stadium seats. Or bring extra cash to rent foldable cushioned seats right there. You can also spring for the fancy tickets, which include comfy cushions and a shade screen!
Photo credit: Beth S. via Yelp
Sun Enchanted Evening
Most of the theater gets at least partial sun all day. You can use an umbrella or parasol throughout the day but are asked to take it down during performances (pre show or the main show) so be sure and have hats and sunscreen for the rest of the time. It’s a good idea to let the kids take breaks and explore the truly one-of-a-kind environment. See if they can spot the army jeeps. Bring playing cards, books, pens, and crayons. It’s a beautiful spot to sketch the local wildlife. Kids will enjoy the surrounding woods but stay on the path because poison oak is abundant. (Leaves of three, let it be!)
Good to know: Parents of bathroom shy kids should take note that the restrooms are port-a-pottys. There are plenty so lines aren’t too much of a problem, but potty-training parents may want to pack extra bribes.
Photo credit: Ed Smith
Pack a picnic with all your family’s favorites and munch all day long. The Mountain Play Tropical Cafe sells sandwiches, wraps, hot dogs, salads, and more. There are also ice cream and sno-cones, and the Tiki Bar is serving up beer, wine, and coffee. Patron’s Circle packages include Dining in the Woods. Bring lots of water, and refillable water bottles. There are a handful of drinking fountains around to fill up from. Keep hydrated! If you think your picnic beats all, be sure and enter the picnic basket contest on Father’s Day, judged by local food writer and gourmand Anna Haight.
Photo credit: Ed Smith
Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair
We mentioned sunscreen, right? Also, layers. Just like in the tropics, it can get hot in the sun, but once the shade creeps in so does the chill. A light jacket or sweater should suffice for the afternoon or foggy hours. Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes for walking on uneven terrain. And since this is the South Pacific, leis and various tropical flowers encouraged (leis sold on site) and there is a Hawaiian shirt contest each day.
Good to Know: South Pacific is set in WWII on a Navy occupied island so parents should be aware that the dialogue includes some very sailor-like swearing!
Photo credit: Ed Smith
Getting There and Back Again
Since the venue is at the top of Mt. Tam, there are several transit options.
Drive: If you drive, there are a few parking lots, including parking at the Air Force Base lot which has a $5 fee (Free for hybrids and electric vehicles) but overall parking is very limited and the lots fill up fast. For a stress-free option try the Mountain Play Express shuttle.
Shuttle: Park your car at Tamalpais High School or the Manzanita Parking Lot (just off Hwy. 101 in Mill Valley) and take one of the free shuttles up the mountain. It runs every 30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 12:35 p.m.
Hike: You can hike up the mountain but it’s a long climb and not really do-able for kids under 12. Alternatively, you can take the shuttle up and hike back down. There are hike guides to help you navigate your way down, and best of all you can ditch your (now empty) coolers and heavy packs because Mountain Play will shuttle it back down for you. Keep in mind that with rocky paths and steep terrain it is best to skip this 2-hour descent if you’ve got kids under 6.
Best for families: A new option this year is to take advantage of the mini-hike, which takes you down to the Mountain Home Inn. The shuttles will pick you up in the parking lot across the street from the Inn at 6:30, 6:50, and 7 p.m. and bring you down to the parking lots below. You’ll see some amazing views and experience the beauty of the mountain without over extending the kiddos.
Board Your Flight
When: Sundays May 25, June 1, 8, 15 and 22, and Sat. June 7. All performances are at 2 p.m.
May 25: Miltary Veteran’s Day
June 1: LGBT Day
June 7: Singles Day (Saturday)
June 8: Gleek/Musical Theater Geek Day
June 15: Luau Day
Where: The Cushing Memorial Amphitheater
801 Panoramic Highway. Mill Valley, Ca 94941
Please check here for the most accurate driving directions.
Cost: General admission tickets are $40/adults; $35/adults 65 and over; $30/youth 14-20; $20/child 4-14; children 3 and under are free. Reserved seating is $60-$175/adults; $45-$120/child. Get your tickets in advance here. Or call 415-383-1100.
Insider’s Secret: Mountain Play just announced that their 2015 season’s play will be Peter Pan! So get up there this year, scope it out, and be ready for Neverland.
What are your tips for parents heading up to Mountain Play for the first time?
— Amber Guetebier