Out leafy urban jungle offers no shortage of tree lined thoroughfares and mini parks, but if want to truly immerse yourself in nature that’s nearby, Berkeley’s Tilden Park will soothe your concrete cares away. With over 2,000 acres, it’s the jewel in the East Bay Regional Park District’s crown. But it’s got a lot more than simply gorgeous wooded and ridgetop hiking trails: Pack a picnic (there are 13 picnic sites you can reserve for larger gatherings, or just snag an empty table at one) and head on out for a day in the great green!

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Photo by Jeanne Chan of Shopsweetthings.com

Play and Explore

Little Farm
Stock up on celery and lettuce scraps for a morning at Tilden’s Little Farm. This working farm and petting zoo is home to cows, goats, sheep, chickens, geese, rabbits, pigs, and more—and it’s totally free to visit! There are newly remodeled restrooms onsite,and a playground adjacent to the parking lot. It’s the only playground in Tilden Park, so if your kid’s got to climb and slide, make sure to stop!

Central Park Dr.
Berkeley, Ca.
510-544-2233
Online: ebparks.org

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Tilden Nature Center
Right next to Little Farm is a small but charming free museum that also serves as the meeting point for the park’s many interpretive programs. Your child can wander a tunnel with exhibits telling the story of the Wildcat Creek watershed, including models of the indigenous people and animals native to the area. Check out the schedule for the Tilden Tots events, which are just for kids between the ages of 3 and 5. These mini-adventures require pre-registration and a nominal fee. The Nature Center is closed on Mondays.

Central Park Dr.
Berkeley, Ca.
510-544-2233
Online: ebparks.org

Jewel Lake
Burn off some post-picnic energy with a short, sweet, easy hike to nearby Jewel Lake. It’s just under a mile from the nature center if you take the trail (part of which is on an elevated boardwalk), or a quarter mile on the fire road, meaning that even the tiniest legs can manage the hike. Just be sure to keep an eye out for poison oak. It’s everywhere in the park, but you’ll definitely see it along this trail.

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Tilden Regional Park Merry-Go-Round
After visiting all the real animals, take a ride on a pretend one (or the highly coveted dragon) at this turn-of-the-century carousel, featuring hand-carved wooden horses. The old-timely vibe extends to the calliope music playing as the animals whirl around. And weatherproof shield encloses the carousel, ensuring that it’s never too chilly for a ride! Rides are $2, or $10 for a book of 7 ride tickets.

Entrance on Central Park Dr., south of Little Farm
Berkeley, Ca
510-524-6733
Online: ebparks.org

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Lake Anza
Just north of the carousel lies Tilden’s other body of water. Considerably larger than Jewel Lake, Anza’s got a beach that’s open in the spring and summer, with lifeguards and a concession stand. It’s the East Bay’s little secret for beating the heat. Kids can swim for $2.50 and adults are just a dollar more.

There’s a short hike that winds around the lake that’s easy and fun for beginning hikers. It can be quite slippery after a rain, but wear good shoes and hold onto little hands and you should be fine. Dogs are welcome on this loop,and Anza is a favorite swimming hole for fetching friends.

Lake Anza Rd. (off of Central Park Dr., north of Little Farm and the Merry-Go-Round)
Berkeley, Ca
510-562-7275
Online: ebparks.org

Redwood Valley Railway
All aboard! Known to train lovers of all ages as the Tilden steam trains, these real miniature steam trains carry passengers on a loop through the park that includes some gorgeous bay vistas. The train runs on weekends year-round, and it can be chilly in parts, so bring an extra layer of clothing. The trains are operated by volunteers who know their stuff when it comes to steam locomotives, and will patiently answer questions from any train-obsessed toddler. Ride tickets are $3 each, but we do encourage you go buy the book of five rides for $12—there’s no way you won’t use them all!

2501 Grizzly Peak Blvd.
Orinda, Ca
510-548-6100
Online: redwoodvalleyrailway.com

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Tilden Golf Course
Ready to introduce your child to the incredible game of golf? Besides teaching honesty, discipline, and focus, this sport is one that fosters a love of the outdoors. And Tilden’s golf course is simply one of the prettiest in the Bay Area. Kids can practice their swing with an adult on the driving range, or putt around on the practice green. The course hosts Nike Youth Sports Camps in the summer for full immersion in all things golf. Fore!

10 Golf Course Dr.
Berkeley, Ca
510-848-7373
Online: tildenparkgc.com

Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden
Not to be confused with the nearby UC Botanical Garden, this hidden delight offers free admission and is home to a large collection of California native plants. Keep an eye out for rare and endangered ones, and don’t miss the fairy ring of redwood trees. Just be sure to keep little ones on paths and to remind them that flowers are for looking and smelling only.

2950 Peralta Oaks Ct.,
Berkeley, Ca
888-327-2757
Online: ebparks.org

Inspiration Point and Nimitz Trail
The park’s most popular trailhead for family hikes, the Nimitz Trail winds around the tops of the East Bay hills, offering panoramic views of the Bay, Berkeley, San Francisco, and, on the other side, of Orinda and the Briones and San Pablo Dam Reservoirs. The trail is paved and relatively flat, and wide enough to successfully avoid poison oak. Be sure to bring water, as there’s none at the Inspiration Point parking area.

1000 Wildcat Canyon Rd.
Berkeley, Ca
Online: ebparks.org

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Photo: Andy Carter via flickr 

Eat and Treat

Lake Anza Beach House
Almost all food needs to be brought into the park, but if you need to fill in with a snack, the Lake Anza Beach house concession stand has ice cream cones, slushes, hot dogs, and even gourmet sandwiches and coffee.

Lake Anza Rd. (off of Central Park Dr., north of Little Farm and the Merry-Go-Round)
Berkeley, Ca
510-562-7275

Grizzly Bar & Grill
Whether you want to fuel up for your day in Tilden with a breakfast scramble or burrito, or need a mid-day burger and fries pick-me-up (plus a Bloody Mary for mom), this full bar and grill boasts some of the best scenery around–looking out over the 18th green.

10 Golf Course Dr.,
Berkeley, Ca
510-848-7373
Online: tildenparkgc.com

—Sarah Bossenbroek

Do you have a favorite spot or tips for families visiting Tilden? Let us know in the comments below!