College Avenue, stretching through north Oakland and south Berkeley, connects Broadway and Temescal to the UC-Berkeley campus. The colorful Craftsman bungalows and multi-unit buildings on the surrounding streets are known as white-hot East Bay real estate, and frequent neighborhood block parties contribute to the homey vibe (not to be missed is Rockridge Out and About, a blocks-long party that usually is the second weekend in October). The main drag that anchors these ‘hoods houses some stalwart old favorites, along with a slew of upstarts vying for a spot on savvy visitors’ lists.
Just a couple of blocks west of College Avenue, towards the Temescal neighborhood, lies Rockridge’s crown jewel. Known to the locals as Frog Park, this community-built playground has a smaller area with tot swings as well as a large wooden play structure, sandbox, pond, and adjacent dog park. The playground lies at the northern end of a three-block greenbelt that stretches down into Temescal…a perfect path to explore for little legs.
5500 Claremont Ave.
A sweet little park built into a widening on 61st Street, this park features a grassy field, picnic tables, a sandy area for play, and a smaller play structure perfect for toddlers—plus a slew of communal toys.
61st St. between Colby and Canning Sts.
Bateman Mall Park
This fenced-in playground is tucked behind the Alta Bates hospital complex, and has a play structure, swings, some ride-on toys, and a stretch of grass perfect for picnics and play groups.
3027 Colby St.
Willard is a go-to for new parents in Berkeley and the surrounding neighborhoods: the fenced-in tot lot is a perfect first playground for infants and toddlers. Wee babies can lounge with parents on a small circle of grass and watch the happenings, or take their first spin in the infant swings. Unsteady new walkers can wobble on the rubbery play surface or cruise on a ride-along toy down the long ramp. More assured kids can climb small ladders and steps and cruise down the big yellow slide. The adjacent field is used by dog owners as well as after-school programs, so there’s always action to take in. Willard’s one drawback is its bathroom, so plan in advance.
2730 Hillegass Ave.
Locals shed a tear when beloved institution Rockridge Kids closed its doors, but rejoiced when another beloved local shop, Bella Vita, moved into part of the sprawling space left behind. Now a block north of its old location, Bella Vita makes a perfect mommy-and-me girly shopping date. There well-edited selection of vintage clothing and jewelry is worth a peek, and the new designs carried in the store are chic and unique. The larger space has allowed the store to carry more children’s clothing as well.
5511 College Ave.
Sleep Play Love
An upscale children’s clothing consignment boutique, Sleep Play Love’s spacious boutique holds just about everything you need to get ready for baby, including maternity clothes and books on pregnancy.
5377 College Ave.
Snips for Kids
Don’t you just love it when you’re out running around with the kids, and they stop, look in a window, and say, “Mom! I think I need a haircut!” If the mood strikes, and there’s a walk-in appointment available at Snips, we say go for it! The pros at this kid-focused salon are schooled in the art of distraction and trimming wiggly little domes.
5335 College Ave., Ste. 4
Bookish little ones will be rewarded up and down College Avenue, as independent bookstores thrive on this stretch. Pegasus has been in the neighborhood since 1969, and the collection of new and used children’s book is a great place to let time slip by. The extremely thorough magazine section has something for all interests, so pick something fun for yourself, too!
5560 College Ave.
Diesel, a bookstore
Rockridge locals in the know will tip you off to ultra-indie Diesel: they swear by the staff picks, the readings and live music are real neighborhood happenings, and the collection of books is smart. Diesel has used books, and a jewel of a children’s books section, too.
5433 College Ave.
This consignment boutique and toy store has been the ‘hood’s go-to for rain coats, Crocs, baby bouncers—you name it—for many years. Need a new toy for a birthday party gift? The staff are knowledgeable and can make great recommendations.
588 College Ave.
Berkeley Kids Room
This furniture store specializing in children’s pieces should be a stop for anyone looking to maximize space in their kids’ room. Bunk beds, lofts (including the hard-to-find and awesome Maxtrix brand), as well as cozy bedding and stuffies are all here!
6022 College Ave.
This neighborhood treasure is the gold standard for East Bay parents with kids who long to dance. Offering youth classes for boys and girls in ballet, jazz, hip-hop, and modern dance, the pricing is reasonable, there are lots of class times and options to choose from, and best of all, both genders are made to feel comfortable in the dance world setting.
2704 Alcatraz Ave.
Elmwood Rialto Cinema
Step back in time to the pre-multiplex era at the Elmwood Rialto Cinema. Although this art-house cinema doesn’t always have kid-friendly films, check the schedule and plan to get in when you see one—and definitely keep it on your radar for date night!
2966 College Ave.
Photo: Alyna Waters
Stuffed to the rafters, this toy store is packed with fun, as well as toys for every developmental stage and level of seriousness or silliness. Berkeley parents are often waiting outside the doors before opening on weekends, ready to run in and snap up a great gift on their way to a birthday party. For an added treat, check out the sock shop and candy store a few doors down.
Toy store: 2921 College Ave.
Candy store: 2901 College Ave.
This airy independent bookstore holding down the Berkeley end of College Avenue has an entire separate room for children’s books, and hosts some very special children’s book events throughout the year.
2904 College Ave.
Claremont Branch of Berkeley Public Library
This newly remodeled beauty of a book haven features story times for tots on Tuesdays with the incredibly popular Mr. Michael. there are also preschool story time on Wednesday afternoon, as well as live music and movie screenings, just check the calendar!
2940 Benvenue Ave.
You can barely walk a foot without passing a gourmet eatery on College Avenue. Some of our personal favorites (Ramen Shop, À Côté, SoiFour, Oliveto, Wood Tavern, and Marica) would be better suited to a date night, but below are some of the best spots to stop when you’re on a daytime adventure with the kids.
Your first stop on a day trip to College Avenue must be Market Hall. Line up for a cup of Highwire coffee while your littles ooh and ahh while deciding on a treat from the Market Hall Bakery’s pastry case. Then, guide then through this gourmet market to check out the various shops within: a fish counter, Marin Sun Farms butcher, Market Hall Produce, the Pasta Shop…you may opt to have dinner at home after all you’ve acquired!
5655 College Ave.
Adventurous little eaters will find options galore up and down both sides of College Avenue. And not-so-adventurous eaters won’t want for options, either—this ‘hood is home to a slew of family-friendly diners, and among them, the Rockridge Cafe stands out. Ricotta pancakes, corn beef hash, and the Rockridge Scramble are some of the popular brunch picks. Got an early riser? You’re in luck, since this popular spot opens at 7 and fills up on weekends as the morning wears on.
Online: rockridgecafe.com Cactus Kid-friendly Mexican fare for even the pickiest eaters can be found here—along with some relieved-looking parents tucking into a plate of crispy tacos and a Negra Modelo. 5642 College Ave.
Your kid will try to climb out of his stroller the moment he smells Zachary’s. The tempting aroma lures in the crowds, and deep-dish takes awhile to bake, but if you’re a patient bunch, you’ll be rewarded with some of the East Bay’s best-beloved pizza.
5801 College Ave.
Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers
Burritos, pizza…we didn’t forget about you, burgers! Another kid fave gets the gourmet treatment at the Oakland outpost of this burger chain. The kid’s menu covers the basics, including a hot dog or chicken tender options, while the grown-up specialty burger menu caters to those adventurous enough to try the VooDoo burger or the Maui Wowie—as well as some interesting beers on tap to pair.
5819 College Ave.
For a more leisurely brunch that hearkens back to your kid-free days but still caters to the kiddos, Toast is Rockridge’s sunny patio see-and-be-seen weekend hotspot. Laid-back parents sip signature cocktails or mimosas while sharing bits of their dutch baby pancakes with seasonal fruit compote and BATs (bacon, arugula, and tomato) with their smaller dining companions, schooling them in the good life.
5900 College Ave.
Want to grab a sandwich on the go and head to a park for a picnic? We can think of no better pace to nab provisions than Southie. The younger brother to Wood tavern, this sandwich shop serves up hefty crab rolls, meatball, and steak and cheese sandwiches like they make back East, but with that wonderful gourmet East Bay twist.
6311 College Ave.
Little ones will love the train that zips around the dining room at this cute ’50s-style diner. Whether you’re looking for a no-frills brunch (french toast, omelettes) or a simple, yummy lunch (you can’t go wrong with the soups) the Claremont Diner delivers.
Oakland, Ca 510-655-5455
Another popular meeting spot (just blocks from Bateman and Willard park, making it perfect for playdates), this sweet café boasts gourmet day-starters both sweet (pastries, muffins) and savory (quiches and poached egg sandwiches), along with fresh-squeezed juice and expertly roasted coffee. You’ll feel like you’re having breakfast in some very pulled-together friend’s very cozy breakfast nook.
2900 College Ave.
Even the most die-hard chocolate fanatic will find satisfaction at Bittersweet chocolate café. Grown-ups can get a chocolate-laced coffee drink, and kids can choose their chocolate in drinkable form…or a pastry? Or a truffle? Or a bar?
5427 College Ave.
Gastronomy nerds will dig on the liquid-nitrogen chilled, mixed to order ultra-fresh ice cream servings at Smitten. After you pass a giant liquid nitro tank at the entrance, sidle up for a look at the always-changing flavor menu. Whether you pick a seasonal type or go with the decadent TCHO chocolate, your kids will have a blast watching the sweet treat get mixed together right before their eyes.
5800 College Ave.
Need a birthday cake that’ll really wow the crowd? Whether you go for a custom cake to fit your fancy, or pick up a cake on the go for a special occasion, this College Ave. standby is sure to provide a hit. There are also cookies and pastries on display if you can’t wait until the candles get blown out for your sweet fix!
5931 College Ave.
About as flawless a French bakery as one finds around these parts, La Farine’s loaves fly off the shelves each day—but the items to line up for are the morning buns. Flaky and buttery, with a cinnamon and sugar-crunch-coated top, they melt in the mouth and disappear from the shop by mid-morning on weekends.
6323 College Ave.
Powell’s Sweet Shoppe
If your kid is more of a candy fan that a pastry princess, skip the gourmet offerings and herd her right into the Wonka-like daydream that is Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Old-time and novelty candy are their specialty, but they really do have everything. Come prepared to help your kiddo narrow down her selections, or some strategies to help her through option paralysis!
Tara’s Organic Ice Cream
Duck into Tara’s flagship location to beat the heat. The ice cream here is made in small batches with all-natural and organic ingredients, and the flavors fall beautifully outside the box. We love the orange-cardamom, adzuki sesame, Golden Goddess (with turmeric, ginger, and cumin), but the chocolate and vanilla are beloved as well. We are also fans of Tara’s deep commitment to sustainability—everything is compostable or reusable, from the cups to the spoons.
3173 College Ave.
Dream Fluff Donuts
If that irresistible name doesn’t get you in the door, the doughnuts will! From apple fritters to buttermilk bars, the doughnuts here have a light crisp on the outside, with soft and fluffy insides.
2637 Ashby Ave.
We know, we know…more ice cream? But trust us, if you can brave the line, Ici’s ice cream gets our vote for the most scrumptious on College Ave. Once you’ve tried the candied Meyer lemon, you’ll be a convert. As one excited four-year-old exclaimed to every passerby, “This is the best ice cream in the world!”
2948 College Ave.
Support a collective bakery and enjoy the sweet taste of cooperation! Nabolom offers up seasonal delights (their hamantashen for Purim are a top seller) along with their famous brownies, cookies, muffins, and croissants. There are vegan and gluten-free options too, so you’ll be sure to find something for everyone.
2708 Russell St.
Did we miss your family’s favorite spot along College Avenue? Tell us in the comments below!