You’ve seen it in passing—driving along 80, the lagoon may have gotten your attention a couple of times, especially if you caught a glimpse of a water skier zooming by. But next time, exit at University and make some time to explore the “Dream Land for Kids” that awaits the squirming kids in your backseat.
What to do: It’s part of Aquatic Park in Berkeley, where you’ll find everything from green meadows for games, a trail that wraps around the lagoon, for both walking and biking, bird-watching opportunities in the wetland area, picnic areas, and a rowing center. But the best part for kids is a play structure that’s meant for make-believe and childish mayhem.
Designed by Robert Leather in collaboration with Berkeley school children, the wooden play area at Aquatic Park has castles and towers, walkways, as well as little crannies in which to hide from a mom playing ogre, and a couple of tire swings for twirling around.
How to get there: Find the park at 80 Bolivar Drive between Ashby and University.
When to go: Go on a weekday if you’re a local to avoid the crowds, especially on warm, sunny days.
How to dress: As we all know, Bay Area weather can be quite chilly, even in the summer. Definitely bring some layers for you and the kids, just in case.
What’s for lunch?: For nearby eats, check out the new Waterside Cafe, just a short stroll from the playground. With plenty of Adirondack chairs and picnic tables situated right on the lagoon, as well as coffee drinks and healthy treats, this cafe, run by local youth, is part of Waterside Workshops, an organization that provides job training to local youth. Or, if it’s a full meal you crave, head over to Vik’s Chaat Corner at its brand-new location at 2390 4th St (at Allston). Vik’s has been a local favorite for decades for serving fresh, authentic Indian “chaat,” or snacks, at affordable prices, in a casual dining atmosphere. Ask the cashier to hack open a coconut so your tot can get rehydrated on the juice, grab yourself a chai, then order up some samosas, dosas, and biryani for the whole fam and dig in!
Cost: There isn’t an entrance fee, but parking will probably be tight. Also, you will want to support the employees of Waterside Cafe, so dip into those piggy banks.
Bonus: Several times during any given park visit, your little ones will get a thrill from the sight and sounds of the train zooming by on the other side of a high chain-link fence. There’s also a small garden for children to explore blossoms and bugs.