A Day Out in Berkeley, California

by Melanie Haiken
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When people mention Berkeley, thoughts of hippies and peace marches may more often come to mind than what is truly there today, which is, a fantastically family-friendly, funky town just minutes from San Francisco. If you're in the area, go ahead and satisfy your curiousity, and experience the place just like the locals do. With a prestigious university at its center, you'll find the diverse mix of cultures, cafes, and cool activities hard to resist.


Melanie and her teenage daughters, Linnea and Melia

Why families love it:

Artful amusement park rides, colorful playgrounds, and a great swimming lake, plus more museums, science exhibits, and cultural activities inside its 10 square miles than you'd find in most cities three times its size.

How to get there:

From San Francisco, you can drive by heading east over the Bay Bridge on the I-80, or take the BART train heading east toward Richmond. Driving lets you more easily explore, but the BART is super-convenient — and fast — and you won't need to worry about parking.

Melanie's Berkeley picks:

1.Tilden Park

Accessible via four access points off Grizzly Peak Blvd.
Berkeley, CA 94708

Hidden in the hillside folds of Tilden Park are a lavish, historic merry-go-round with hand-carved and hand-painted animals; a miniature ride-along steam train; a pony ride; and the beloved "Little Farm," a petting zoo featuring horses, cows, chickens, rabbits, pigs, and more that seems designed for an "Old McDonald's" sing-along. But that's not all, not by a long shot. Read more ...

2. Habitot Children's Museum

2065 Kittredge Street 
Berkeley, CA 94704

Take "Pee-Wee's Playhouse," "Sesame Street," and your local Gymboree class and roll them into one and you've got some idea what Habitot, an award-winning hands on play museum for young children, is like. It's nonstop crazy, goofy fun.

3. Adventure Playground and Berkeley Marina

160 University Avenue 
Berkeley, CA 94710

The philosophy at Adventure Playground, run by the City of Berkeley's parks department, is "to provide elements that are not normally found in a play environment." So yes, it's an "only in Berkeley" sort of place, with an ever-changing collection of kid-built shacks and club houses. 

4. East Bay Vivarium

1827-C 5th Street
Berkeley, CA 94710

Want to know what tortoises eat, which chameleons change color, or simply what a blue-tongue skink is? This is the place. Although technically a store, the East Bay Vivarium rivals the best nature museums for its collection of snakes, lizards, and other reptiles. Their educational materials and "care sheets" for the various animals are first-rate. 

5. Zachary's Chicago Pizza

1853 Solano Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94710

Ask a kid in Berkeley who has the best pizza and Zachary's will be the name you hear, no matter what age, gender, neighborhood or school defines the speaker. Unless you're a thin pizza fanatic, go for the "stuffed," which is Zachary's lingo for deep dish Chicago style. 

6. Ici Ice Cream

2948 College Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94710

Not so much an ice cream shop as a dessert destination, Ici makes all organic, handmade ice cream, candy, and ice cream-and-pastry concoctions so flavorful and unique, a visit reminds you of finding that amazing patisserie in Paris.

Melanie Haiken lives in San Rafael, Calif., with her two daughters, Linnea, 13, and Melia, 16, but travels whenever she gets the chance. She has written about many destinations for Family Travel in the U.S. and abroad, including San Francisco, New Orleans, Nashville, Costa Rica, the Bahamas, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

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