Berkeley Family Weekend Mixes Culture and Nature
UC Berkeley is my alma mater and when I was in college doing college things, the last thing on my mind was planning a Berkeley family weekend with kids, or what they might enjoy in this town. Now back for a visit with my family, it was like rediscovering Berkeley with a new set of childlike eyes. I have to say, it was just as fun (without the late night cramming for tests and the graduation stress).
Still colorful but far from the hippie hangout of days gone by, Berkeley is a beautiful and historic college town nestled in the hills overlooking San Francisco Bay. Here are a few suggestions for a fun weekend itinerary.
6 Fun things to do in Berkeley, CA with Kids
HIPSTER DINING IN ROCKRIDGE
The Rockridge area has become a hot destination for foodies and hipsters seeking a cool neighborhood vibe. Turn-of-the-century Victorians have been converted into fun shops and restaurants and are intermixed with new storefronts that have transformed this area into chic central.
For dinner, we opted for upscale Italian food at Oliveto Restaurant, and our whole family was pleased with our foodie-oriented choices. This is definitely not your typical spaghetti and meatballs fare. If you are looking for something even more kid-friendly, try Claremont Diner for great burgers and shakes in a 1950s throwback setting. Or for pure foodie nirvana, munch your way through samples of cheese, charcuterie and other deliciousness at Rockridge Market Hall* while the kids gnaw on some designer salami.
*Note: If you are picnic-oriented, this is a good place to gather provisions for an adventure in Tilden Park the next day.
Perched in the Berkeley hilltops is the surprisingly expansive Tilden Regional Park, which is more than 2,000 acres of green grass, rolling hills, babbling brooks, redwoods and oak trees among miles of hiking trails and picnic areas.
We started out with a visit to Tilden Little Farm, where families are encouraged to bring lettuce and celery to feed the animals. For an urban farm, this place is extraordinarily well stocked with a collection of kid-friendly farm animals ready for the petting. Get up close and personal with cows, chickens, geese, rabbits, the most enormous pig I have ever seen and a bevy of ever-hungry goats. While the chickens and geese were mildly interested in eating the veggies we brought, the goats were ravenous. Our kids howled with laughter as sticks of celery were grabbed from their hands.
Nearby, an easy trail hike leads to a small lake where we spied ducks and turtles basking in the sun. The 20-minute nature walk did us good, traipsing down wooded trails among the blackberry bushes and towering redwoods. Picnic areas abound, many with tables and benches and all with fresh air, gorgeous vistas and peaceful, outdoor solitude.
A short five-minute drive up the street, there is an epic play area for the littler ones, complete with a carousel, kids’ steam train ride and more.
FOURTH STREET SHOPPING
After all that outdoor fun, we needed a little shopping therapy. We drove down towards the Bay to Fourth Street, known for its mix of shops, restaurants and galleries that represent the quirky mix of character Berkeley is best known for.
Hungry from our hike, we wandered into Tacubaya for Mexican food and were so pleased we did. Way above the average, this kitchen served up tasty tacos, veggie and cheese-stuffed chile rellenos, enchiladas, cheese quesadillas and more, all topped off with delicious aguas frescas in flavors like Limonata (limeade), Fresas (strawberry) and Horchata (a sweet rice milk concoction with cinnamon that is to die for). I don’t know about you, but if there is a quesadilla on the menu my kids are happy no matter what.
DREYER’S ICE CREAM
After all that exertion and walking about, we thought we’d better seek out some sustenance at the Bay Area’s most famous ice creamery, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Parlor & Café. Known as Edy’s on the East Coast, Dreyer’s is ever popular here, and the parlor in nearby Oakland is an experience wholly unlike anything else.
Yes there is a line, which always means something is worth waiting for. Don’t worry — it moves fast, and the opportunity to sample flavors not available anywhere else is the payoff. Grab a table and have a sticky sundae with a cherry on top or get a massive cone to go, either is a true treat.
BREAKFAST AND TOYS
When I lived in Berkeley on a college student’s budget, we would gather to celebrate the end of finals and splurge with a delicious breakfast at Fat Apple’s Bakery. Visiting now with an improved budget, I was pleased they still have some of my favorites from those (very few!) years ago, especially the cheese danish pastry that comes with every breakfast order. On our recent visit, we loved the breakfast frittata, and the kids loved the apple pancakes and blueberry waffles. Hey, life’s too short so try one of everything!
Just across the street is one of the most magical toy stores in the world, Mr. Mopps. An old-school toy store overstocked with favorites all the way to the ceiling, this store is a sweet collection of toys I remember from childhood mixed with popular toys from today. This not a big box retailer, but one of those special places that brings smile to kids of any age (and their parents) with toys you cannot find elsewhere.
OH, AND THERE’S A CAMPUS HERE
If you want to make an impact on your future college students, take a quick walking tour of the Cal Berkeley campus. The grounds are impressive, from ivy-covered collegiate buildings to Sproul Plaza, gathering place of 1960s Vietnam War protests and now a bustling square of students rushing to and from classes.
Not to be missed, a trip up into the Campanile Tower allows spectacular views of the San Francisco city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and more. It’s a nice way to end your weekend on a high note while maybe giving the kids a little something to look towards.
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- Cross the Golden Gate Bridge for a Great San Francisco Day Trip
- Find Hilton hotels near Berkeley
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