Imitations of Disneyland are scattered around the globe and there will probably be more Pretend Cities soon, too, considering how popular it's been in its first year. Like Disneyland, its Orange County neighbor, Pretend City is a marvelous concept begging to be copied. And like Disneyland, it's all about a child's imagination.

The difference is that Disneyland is run by adults, with adult imaginations inventing the rides and fantasies for kids. At Pretend City, kids run the city. And make no mistake, it's a city. Occupying a 15,000-square-foot warehouse-like building in the middle of Irvine, you step inside ("Grown-ups need to be accompanied by a child," reads the sign), you pay $11 per person of any age, and you step into a "city" with a bank, market, restaurant, art studio, theater, construction site and much more.

Everything is kid-sized, though not so small that parents are excluded if they don't mind ducking under low doorways. Kids can visit just to "pretend," but older kids in the ideal age range of two to nine like to pick up an "Employee Timecard." This lets them work one or more jobs-selling pretend canned goods at the market, delivering pretend mail or putting out pretend fires, for example-to collect stamps on the timecard's boxes.

Once a child earns a few stamps, he or she can go to the ATM, cash it for pretend money and then spend it at one of the city's businesses, put it in the bank or donate it to a cause. The idea is for them to learn how to manage money. (They could use a Pretend City in Washington, D.C.-for members of Congress.)

Perhaps because it's a nonprofit, Pretend City is tasteful compared to many children's attractions. Cellphones (real ones) are prohibited because parents are expected to observe and supervise their kids-not treat the visit like it's childcare. Food and drinks are allowed only in the "Real Café" (there's a pretend one too). And kids get an education about how the world works even as they're pretending. For example, different cultures are introduced in "Our Home" (I've lived in apartments smaller than this home) and kids learn about the importance of not polluting the water at the "Beach."

HelloIrvine Tip: Although any child can participate in one of Pretend City's classes, workshops, programs or field trips, a one-year adult/child membership (starting at $100) is worthwhile if your kids get hooked. This lets you come any time, including the less crowded members-only hour-daily from 9 to 10 a.m.

- by Bob Cooper, Irvine Reporter for HelloMetro