Few places boast small-town pride like Orinda. Recently named the second most-friendly city in America by Forbes, Orinda is home to amazing parks and hiking trails, an annual Film Festival, and massive Fourth of July celebration; and that’s only a sampling of what this sleepy little East Bay suburb has to offer. While people often buzz past Orinda on their way to shop in Walnut Creek, this scenic town is a definitely worth a pit stop on your next day trip out of the city. Below are some kid-friendly picks to keep you and your brood entertained during your visit.
When to go: Year-round. Temperatures vary pretty widely with the seasons, though. Mornings are chilly in winter, and afternoons can be very hot in summer.
How to get there: First town through the Caldecott Tunnel on Hwy 24 West. Exit at the Orinda exit. Or take BART to Orinda station.
What to bring: Sand toys, bikes, tennis rackets.
What to wear: Layers, sunscreen.
What to do: The local branch of the Contra Costa County library is a real gem, with the large artworks (the wind-powered, Charey-Harper-esque swirling peacock is a favorite) and gushing fountain out front. The library runs a story time and lapsit series, at 10:00am and 10:30am on most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings—check the calendar to make sure it’s on for the week you visit—as well as a popular story time for preschoolers called Saturday Morning Live! After you’ve had your fill of books, walk across the parking lot to the Orinda Community Park. There’s a large sand and water play area, structures for younger kids (including baby and older kid swings), and across a large, grassy expanse, a play structure for older kids, with a climbing wall, tall fireman’s pole, and more. Did we mention the paved path that loops around the park? Or the tennis courts perfect for first lessons? If you hit town on a drizzly day, see if there’s a kid-friendly flick at the old-fashioned Orinda Theater downtown.
Insider Tip: Although it doesn’t seem like the most pedestrian-friendly area, you can actually walk all the way from the Orinda Community Park down to the Orinda Theater/downtown area. Just follow Orinda Way to where it dead-ends, then take the walkway on the left side of the street over the highway on-ramps, then follow the sidewalk around under Highway 24, under the BART station, and it’ll dump you out on Camino Pablo, right next to the theater. It’s about a ten-minute walk.
Lunch or dinner spots: The area around the theater has seen a bevy of new dining establishments open in the past few years, and the perfect place to start your exploration is Bonfire Pizza. The Neopolitan-style pizza topped with organic and locally-sourced ingredients draws you in, but the kid-friendly atmosphere (courtyard out front for them to run around, Etch-a-Sketches to draw on while waiting for their pie) and the thoughtful wine list for grown-ups will make you a fan. If your family is pizza’d out, try Table 24’s “neighborhood comfort food.” With menus for “Littles” and “Middles” (the 10-16 set, with more adventurous palates), and serving up fresh homemade fare like fried chicken, steak frites, and fish tacos, it’s amassed a loyal local following. Or, skip all that and go straight for the sweet stuff at Republic of Cake—where options include a Samoa cupcake…need we say more?
What are your favorite must-do activities in this Bay Area gem?
— Sarah Bossenbroek