Directly north of the Golden Gate Race Fields lies an untamed collection of art fit for Burning Man – all outside. Welcome to the Albany Bulb! Organically created as ephemeral urban art by a group called “Sniff” in the 1990s, this wild collection evolves through time and what you see today might not be what you see a year from now. That’s the beauty of it. Part decaying slum, part ode to the bohemian soul, the bulb is anything but conventional and attracts a mixed population of dog walkers, families, art students as well as “residents” who sleep in tents. Where else would you find a free treehouse library? For kids, the real kick lies in the winning combo of a small beach steps from the parking lot with a short hike to outdoors art that you can sit on, touch or run around without restrictions.
How to get there: The Albany Bulb is roughly 30 minutes east of San Francisco off I-80 beyond Berkeley. From I-80 northbound in Berkeley or southbound from Richmond, take the Buchanan Street exit and go west toward the waterfront. From I-580 east, exit at Albany and turn right onto Buchanan Street under the overpass. Continue to the parking lot in front of the Eastshore State Park sign. Park and get ready.
What to bring: A camera! The place is quite unique and you’ll want to immortalize some sculptures with your junior explorer. Since this dog-friendly trail is short (0.65 miles), basic walking shoes are good enough. To wheel your child to the end of the peninsula, a jogging stroller will be necessary to face the uneven dirt trail. People frequently bring a picnic lunch to enjoy by the art works but we’re all for snacks in the sunshine.
What to wear: Layered clothing. The area is known to kite-surfers for a good reason – it can be windy!
What to do: Explore the art. From the parking lot, simply head towards the waterfront and follow the wide trail along the beach. It’ll curve right and take you over a planted hill where a line of palm trees by the water lends a slightly exotic look. Turn right to find the artworks on the northern shore. Some kids just like to run around. Others look for any piece of wood that can be used as a seesaw. Just dive into your art exploration at your own pace. On the way back, look for a small side-trail on the left leading to the “library.” This small wooden house hosts a collection of used books that you can add to and is surrounded by crazy random art and hanging mirrors.
The Berkeley Marina and its Adventure Playground is only a skip away from the Albany Bulb and in the same vein. This playground is an opportunity for kids to build and play creatively as in “here’s a hammer, nails and paint – now have fun!” or “see this zip line? that’s for free riding.” Featuring climbing walls and makeshift forts, the Adventure Playground is a great place that kids should experience at least once. Plan on getting there early as once inside, kids may not want to leave.
On the Berkeley Marina, young children can also wade by the sandy beach, walk to the fishing pier, look at the boats in the harbor, fly kites or simply play at the Cesar Chavez Park. On the 4th of July, it is a favorite spot to watch the fireworks.
Where to eat: Close to the Berkeley Marina, Picante Restaurant offers great casual Mexican food that you can even order online to take out and enjoy at the marina – or enjoy at home if you follow the simple Mexican food recipes of their online kids corner. If you want to explore North Berkeley, then Solano Avenue is an amazing child-friendly option with fun and easy food stops such as cheese pizza at Zacchary’s Chicago Pizza, ice cream in home-made waffle cones at iSCREAM or take-out soups at Andronico’s.
For a lunch and stroll day, head to the up-and-coming Fourth Street in Berkeley where every other shop or food place is an open invitation to walk in. From the perfect pancake at Bette’s Oceanview Diner, to the Mexican taqueria Tacuyaba, or the ice-creams and gourmet chocolates of Chocolatier Blue, Fourth Street is a place to discover with an open attitude – and hearty appetite.
— Laure Latham