Fairytale Town in Sacramento, Calif., is an enchanting and refreshingly non-commercial amusement park that’s been charming small children for over fifty years. The park is home to 25 of what its staff call “playsets,” individual park areas that are based on nursery rhymes and fairytales, sweetly designed attractions that are interactive and imaginative. The park also houses a flock of farm animals, two performing arts stages, and gardens for kids to explore.
The 3.5-acre amusement park is situated inside a larger public park south of the downtown area of Sacramento, William Land Park. According to marketing and membership manager Kathleen Richards, the park is expanding its playsets with a new multi-cultural story this fall. “It’s called Anansi’s Web, and the new play structure was designed by an exciting local artist, Garr Ugalde. It will be a new story for us that is coming to live with three different climbing ‘webs’ and different structures that represent different animals featured in the classic West African fairytales about Anansi.”
The new attraction is not the park’s first multi-cultural story, but it is the first that will illustrate a tale from Africa, Richards reports. “We have a Japanese garden area that illustrates a traditional story, Urashina Taro, which is a story about a fisherman and the tortoise,” she says.
Along with the Japanese garden, Mr. MacGregor’s rabbit-friendly garden and an Alphabet Garden are ready for kids to explore.
“The majority of our playsets were original to the park, and focus on traditional fairy stories of European or English heritage such as the Three Billy Goats Gruff, Cinderella, or Winnie the Pooh; we also have some American classics like The Little Engine that Could and The Crooked Mile.”
Among the most popular playsets is Owl’s Tree House slide from the Winnie the Pooh stories. There’s a pirate ship to explore, Humpty Dumpty’s bridge, and King Arthur’s Castle, where birthday parties are held. The latter, one of the park’s original structures, includes an entrance maze, and murals of King Arthur’s guards, Merlin, and Queen Guinevere.
Scattered throughout the park are a series of 20 red “story boxes” that allow children to listen to the stories and songs that inspire the exhibits. Children must purchase an inexpensive keepsake key to unlock the boxes. The key can be used again and again on subsequent visits, and is priced at a reasonable $3.75.
Richards notes that Fairytale Town is one of a series of storybook parks that had opened in the 1950s. The original was Fairyland located in Oakland. “Not all the parks survived to this day, but the ones that have are very special,” she says, with their sweet, almost innocent attractions that eschew loud sounds and splashy, motion filled rides for something that is both interactive and gentle, in which the children set their own pace and really create their own activities within each playset.
“We opened in 1959, so we will be celebrating 50 years next year, of constant operation,” Richards says proudly.
Along with the playsets, the park is well known for the variety of animals in its family of farm animals, which were selected for their individual unusual characteristics, whether that is size, coat texture, or the country they are from. The animals are out in their corrals when the park opens, and children are encouraged to attend the animal feeds that usually occur between 3:30 and 4 p.m. Many of the animals are brought out onto the park’s broad lawn by their animal keeper so children have the opportunity to interact with the animals closely and intimately.
The animal exhibition is called Farmer Brown’s Barn, and is known as the home of the 3 Blind Mice, The Little Red Hen House, Charlotte the Spider, a goliath bird-eating tarantula; Maddie the Cow that Jumped Over the Moon: and Eeyore, who is a miniature Sicilian donkey. Every spring, a new group of freshly hatched chicks are a part of the exhibit. The barn exhibition itself was revamped and expanded in 2014, and now includes an observation beehive, a beekeeping tool display, plus, a wall of arachnids.
“In terms of pricing or promotions we don’t do anything special,” Richards says, and indeed with weekday pricing at $5 and weekend at $6 there is little reason to offer discounts for admission. “We always have something fun and exciting happening at the park in terms of programs and events though,” she relates, “and we promote those. We have signature events such as a children’s book festival for two days every September, which is free to the public, and our Halloween and Springtime Egg Hunt Extravaganza which is coming right up.” She adds that in the summer, there are even more events, such as evening concerts on the park’s Mother Goose Stage, and performances in the Children’s Theater.
“We’re really affordable for families and that’s what we try to be,” Richards says, adding that while the park’s age range is up to 12 years, regular attendance seems to peak at about age 7. “It depends on the child of course,” she smiles, “but we are designed for small children that hopefully will come back as adults who will bring their own children or grandchildren to visit. We hear a lot of stories about kids who grew up and now bring their own children. One of the benefits about being around since 1959 is seeing generations of families and hearing those kinds of stories.”
Richards says attendance at the park varies by month, and is very much dependent on the weather, with just about all of their attractions located outdoors. Her advertising budget is limited, so although the park does run advertisements in local newspaper and parenting magazines, social media is a large part of their promotion, particularly when it comes to events. “We also use email blasts to past visitors to encourage visits,” she attests.
Fairytale Town is a throwback to a simpler, gentler time in children’s amusement parks – one that they still enjoy a lot, today.