Berkeley with Kids: Ride a Steam train in Tilden Park & other top picks


In routine traffic, it takes under an hour for us to drive into Berkeley. And yet every time we visit, I wonder why we don’t more often. There’s so much to do and see in this beautiful town, and a reason why so many UC Berekeley grads return to live there. (Many never leave.) When I was in college (at Davis), I would often go to visit friends, eat at Crepes-a-go-go on University, or have a slice of pizza in the Gourmet Ghetto, on the median in front of the Cheeseboard. Now, as a family, we’re likely to end up at the shops along Fourth street or in beautiful Tilden Park at Little Farm.

So the other day, after returning to Tilden Park and riding Tilden Park’s Redwood Valley Railway Steam Train, I asked my friend Amy (who lived in Berkeley when her daughter was Hudson’s age) to help me with a list of ways to spend the day in Berkeley—with kids.



Ride the rails at Tilden Park. You’ll find this very cool Steam Train (pictured), an antique carousel , and Little Farm—where, if you show up at the right time, kids can help milk the cows, and everyone can bring lettuce and celery to feed the animals. There are also lots of trails (this looks like a great resource), and some gorgeous views of San Francisco, across the bay.

Play at Aquatic Park. This large, all-wooden playground called “Dream Land” sits right next to a pretty inland waterway, so it’s a great spot to play and then have a picnic.

Tour the Lawrence Hall of Science.  Hands-on science fun, with live demonstrations, a planetarium, and truly spectacular views (so it’s another place to plan a picnic after a visit).

Fly a kite at Berkeley Marina. — Head to Cesar E. Chavez Park at the north end of the Berkeley Marina; on a windy day there can be 20 kites in the air. Highline Kites often comes with its kite-store-on-wheels.

Role-play at Habitot Children’s Museum. Though perhaps more geared toward Berkeley residents, this creative indoor play space is a great resource for rainy days in the East Bay. (They also have some Parents’ night out services!)

Discover the Adventure Playground. The philosophy at Adventure Playground is “to provide elements that are not normally found in a play environment.” There are piles of things to construct and play with, and kids can check out hammers and nails, saws, buckets of paint and brushes… all the things you might be tempted to say no to. It’s a unique Berkeley institution, opened in the ’70s, that seems especially ideal for older kids (it’s designed for those over 7). 

Roam UC Berkeley. See the view from atop the Campanile, admire the Botanical Garden, look for bears, and check out the TRex cast in the Valley Life Science Building.  They’ve even made a campus tour guide, just for the wee prospective student. Here are some parking suggestions.

Eat at La Farine bakery. Or Berkeley Bowl. Or Acme. Amy suggests combining a visit to La Farine (morning buns!) with Bay Area favorite Peet’s Coffee, on the benches outside. Her husband fondly recalled sampling all the varieties of fruit at Berkeley Bowl and doing taste tests with the kids, and noted that they also have a kid-friendly cafe attached. Wherever you go in Berkeley, you’re likely to find good food. (Also recommended: The Berkeley Farmers Market.)

Add your suggestions in the comments!



Gymboree has launched a play date guide on Pinterest that features favorite play date spots in a number of major cities around the country. 

Thank you to Gymboree for sponsoring this post and for dressing the kids! All of their clothes—Hudson’s shirt, vest, and jeans, and Skyler’s dress, sweater, and cable-knit tights—are by Gymboree.

P.S. Riding a Cable Car in San Francisco.

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