There’s a youthful, energetic buzz in Berkeley that begins with the vibrant campus of UC Berkeley. Families are drawn here for the city’s diverse range of family-friendly attractions and activities. If you’re looking for an expensive, shrieking, high-adrenaline theme park experience – well, Berkeley may not be for you. But if reconnecting with loved ones at fun, educational and inspirational settings is what you’re after, Berkeley is your place.
Berkeley’s Tilden Regional Park offers a wealth of family-oriented diversions. One of the longest-running regional parks in the state, Tilden’s recreational activities have become a happy tradition for generations of youngsters. Start with a splendid, antique merry-go- round ride aboard hand-carved and beautifully painted wooden carousel animals, or a ride through redwoods aboard the Tilden Park/Redwood Valley Railway, a charming narrow gauge steam railway. Head to Lake Anza for a picnic lunch and a cool swim at Tilden’s tree-lined water play mecca.
Tilden Park’s Berkeley Hills neighbor is UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science. It’s a highly interactive “museum” that introduces science to kids in fun new ways with exhibits including “Forces That Shape the Bay,” where visitors can divert a river, trigger an earthquake, move tectonic plates, and learn about ocean creatures.
Nestled in the artsy landscape of West Berkeley, Picante offers traditional Oaxacan dishes from Mexico and is one of Berkeley’s leading kid-friendly restaurants. Send your kids to the tortilla station to watch Picante’s famous corn discs being created and get a free sample (remember to say “por favor” and “gracias”!). Additional options include Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers, Zachary’s Pizza, and Phil's Sliders.
A good breakfast is the start to a great day, and Bette’s Oceanview Diner on Fourth Street will satisfy kids and adults alike. After perusing the local shops and galleries near Fourth Street, we recommend venturing east toward campus. Teens and pre-teens will especially appreciate a walk through the UC Berkeley campus. In addition to tree-lined paths and broad grass expanses perfect for playing catch or tag, the campus also is an architectural showcase. Be sure to take the ride to the top of Sather Tower (also known as the Campanile) for a bird’s eye view of the bay.
In North Berkeley, Indian Rock Park offers rock outcroppings to carefully climb, grass fields, and a small barbecue and picnic area. The top of the main outcropping, Indian Rock, commands a spectacular San Francisco Bay view. And a block from Indian Rock Park is Mortar Rock Park, where the remains of acorn-grinding pits carved into solid rock by the local indigenous people, the Huichin band of the Ohlones, can be found.
Toddlers for whom rock climbing may not be the right speed will be thoroughly entertained at Habitot Children’s Museum, downtown Berkeley’s popular and award-winning children’s hands-on discovery museum. It’s a hands-on play and learning center for exploring the arts and culture. Adventure Playground at the Berkeley Marina is an innovative and good-natured place for kids of all ages. Many unusual kid-designed and built forts, boats, and towers are the main attractions here. Kids can check out basic tools and make their own wood toys and designs. Riding the “zipline” is another crowd pleaser.
The Berkeley Skate Park, located at Harrison Park, is an 18,000 square foot mecca that contains a large oval bow, fun box and areas for beginners. The park is free and open 7 days a week.
As the day comes to a close, head west to Berkeley Marina’s San Francisco Bay Trail for a sunset family stroll or bike ride along the waterfront.