The kids and I absolutely love San Francisco and enjoy spending time there but sometimes it's nice to stay a little closer to home. This got me thinking about all of the fun things that we can do right here in Berkeley. Our little city is full to the brim with a wide variety of fun activities and adventures for the kids.
So instead of hopping on BART and heading across (or rather, under) the bay to San Francisco, let's spend a little time here exploring our own backyard with a Berkeley staycation.
To make it feel more like a vacation, I've come up with a five day itinerary for the kids and I. Each day is filled with fun activities in one particular area of Berkeley. As we don't have a car I've tried to keep the activities relatively close to each other. Most things are within fairly easy walking distance (or bus distance) of Downtown Berkeley.
From Live Oak Park continue north on Shattuck Ave to Indian Rock Park. I'm not going to lie, it does get hilly. There is a bus that will take you most of the way there but no matter what you're going to have to walk in an upwards direction at some point! But that's half the fun of walking around in Berkeley!
Indian Rock Park is one of our most favourite places in Berkeley. This large rocky outcrop is pretty easy to climb and has amazing views over Berkeley, the bay and San Francisco from the top. My girls love to scramble up and down the rocks but there are also steps carved in for those of us less adventurous - or those of us carrying young babies!
Stop by Cheeseboard again and join the incredibly long queue for one of the most delicious pizzas imaginable. The queue may be long (sometimes stretching down the street and around the corner!) but it moves quite fast as there is only one variety of pizza on offer each day. The only decision you need to make when you get the counter is if you want a slice, a half pizza or a full pizza. Easy! It can be tricky to get a table at Cheeseboard so many people sit on the grassy island in the middle of the road. It's actually illegal but it's somewhat of a Berkeley tradition to sit there and you'll see plenty of people enjoying their pizza in the middle of the road.
Finish the day with a frosty treat from either (my favourite) Lush Gelato directly across the road or, (Ava and Lola's favourite) Caravaggio a little further down the road towards Downtown.
From Little Farm drive to the carousel. That's right, I said drive. Now that I think of it, you'll definitely want a car for this day. Getting to Tilden Park by bus is possible but getting between destinations in Tilden Park by bus is almost impossible.
Anyway, the carousel is of the lovely vintage variety and, like all carousels, is hugely popular with the kids. There is a kiosk here where you can purchase lunch or bring a picnic with you to enjoy on the grass. You've got a car with you today after all so carrying picnic supplies is a cinch!
As Tilden Park sits high up in the hills there are some pretty spectacular views over the bay on offer. Or sometimes it may be a view of low lying cloud or fog. Sometimes your kid might insist on holding a jagged piece of wood in your photo of that spectacular view. Or maybe that's just my kid playing vampire slayer in butterfly face paint!
Once your kids have tired of feeding the squirrels - which may take some time - head to the Valley Life Sciences building which houses a paleontology museum. The main museum is for research purposes only and not open the public. However there are quite a few dinosaur skeletons and fossils on display for the public. These include a full tyrannosaurus-rex skeleton, a pteranodon skeleton suspended from the ceiling and a triceratops skull. If your kids are dinosaur buffs (and whose kids aren't?) they'll be pretty excited to check these out.
From the Valley Life Sciences building head further into the university toward Sather Tower (commonly known as the Campanile). You can't miss it. It can be spotted from pretty much all over Berkeley. In fact, at 307 feet it's the third tallest bell and clock tower in the world. As you can imagine, being that tall there's a pretty spectacular view from the top. For just $3.00 ($2.00 for kids aged 3 - 17) you can take the elevator to the top of the Campanile and take in the views over Berkeley, Oakland, the bay and San Francisco. If you're lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it!) the bells may just ring their tune while you're at the top of the Campanile. It's extremely noisy being next to the bells when they ring but it is very interesting to see how they work.
From the Campanile head through Sather Gate to Sproul Plaza. There always seems to be something happening here. If you're lucky you might just catch the Cal Marching Band or maybe even Cal mascot Oski Bear.
There is a little creek running alongside Sather Gate that Ava and Lola love to explore. Bring a bug catcher with you again and see what you can find living near the creek. Or just play in the creek. The cool water is always nice on a hot day.
There are plenty of other interesting places to explore in the university campus. Maybe take a shuttle bus up into the hills to visit the UC Botanical Gardens or California Memorial Stadium. If shopping is more your thing head south out of the campus and onto Telegraph Ave where students shop for books, music and fashion. There are also plenty of cafes and restaurants on Telegraph Ave. Or, maybe walk further up the hill to Piedmont Ave and explore Frat Row! Coming from Australia where frat houses don't exist I always find it amusing to check out the Greek lettered houses. Until I moved here I honestly had no idea that frat houses actually existed outside of B-grade Hollywood films like Revenge of the Nerds!
No visit to the university campus is complete for us without a stop on the way home at Cinnaholic for fresh vegan cinnamon rolls. They are so, so good. Trust me, you've got to try them.
Also outside the museum kids can play on a life sized model of a whale, climb through a giant DNA sculpture and enjoy the fountain. And, of course, being high up in the hills there are fabulous views over the Bay Area. I'm sure you're not sick of that view by now!
After spending half a day or so at Lawrence Hall head part way back down the hill to Codornices Park. If you take the bus to Lawrence Hall it will pass right by Codornices Park. The highlight here is the concrete slide that winds its way down a hill. Cardboard is needed to slide in order to avoid scraping skin and ripping clothes. Plus it makes you slide faster! There is always plenty of cardboard around the base of the slide.
For kids who are a little less adventurous Codornices Park also features regular playground equipment, plus a basketball court, baseball field, lots of grass for running around (or relaxing), lots of big shady trees and another little creek.
A short walk through a tunnel under the road will pop you out into Berkeley Rose Garden. Even if your kids aren't super keen on checking out the flowers they will inevitably love running backwards and forwards between the rows as well as up and down the stairs.
And once again there's that spectacular view over Berkeley and the bay.
Seeing as it's downhill from here, walk to the Gourmet Ghetto and line up at Cheeseboard again for pizza. Or, you know, you could eat somewhere else but I'm quite partial to a Cheeseboard pizza.
Day 5: Down by the Marina
Time to stick to a flat part of Berkeley. Hooray!
Start the day by heading down to Fourth Street for a little shopping. Fourth Street is one of Berkeley's premiere shopping destinations with a large range of beauty, fashion, electronics, furniture, toys and home goods on offer. And food. Lots of good food.
For a shop of a different kind, head to Fifth Street for East Bay Vivarium. East Bay Vivarium is the largest vivarium store in the country and sells a huge number of reptiles and creepy crawlies. If you're not in the market for a snake, lizard or tarantula, never fear. For a charge of $5.00 per five minutes visitors can pat or hold some of the friendlier animals such as baby tortoises, ball pythons and blue tongue lizards. Not up for holding or patting the creatures? Then just take a walk through the store and check out the animals for sale which are safely locked up in their enclosures. We go there every week to buy crickets for Ava's pet gecko and the girls never tire of checking out the animals, especially the snakes.
From East Bay Vivarium, head down to the waterfront and the fun, wooden playground in Aquatic Park. This wooden "fort style" playground is a huge hit with local kids. Tyre swings, slides, zip lines, monkey bars and plenty of climbing equipment await playful kids. Ava and Lola just can't get enough of this playground.
When you're done playing, or maybe even on the way there, stop along the lagoon to feed the ducks and geese.
If your kids are feeling creative a great place to spend a few hours is Brushstrokes Studio in the nearby Ceramics District. Here kids (and adults) can paint ceramics and make mosaics etc.
Take a walk along the marina and maybe a paddle in the bay at Shorebird Park.
And one last time, take in the stunning views over the bay and San Francisco!
So there you have it, our five day Berkeley Staycation itinerary.
I'd love to hear if there are any other fun places in Berkeley you like to go with your kids.
For more information you can find detailed posts and lots more photos of many of the places featured here by clicking the links below.
Live Oak Park
Indian Rock Park
University of California (and again here)
Lawrence Hall of Science