Where to play outside with toddlers and children under age five.
So many fun outdoor adventures await you and your small child. Unplug, roll around, be together, get dirt under your fingernails! Preschoolers, toddlers in the fresh air? Bring it on! From the best parks and playgrounds in the East Bay to hidden hikes and animal visits, here’s a round-up of great outdoor adventures so you can play outside with your little kid (many are also great for bigger kids!).
Best East Bay Parks for Smaller Kids
- Explore Tilden Park. Bring a sweater up to ride Tilden Park’s steam trains (tiny trains on certain Sundays) or hop on the carousel.
- Hug a redwood tree at Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park in Oakland. You’ll forget you’re in a city. My boys prefer hiking to the playground.
- Meet your buddies at Codornices Park for the cement slides or wandering along the creek. Make sure to visit the Berkeley Rose Garden through the tunnel, too!
- Climb up and around on Indian Rock in North Berkeley. There are more rock parks in Berkeley for little kids who like to scramble.
- Swing, slide, and climb at Totland, Alameda Point Neighborhood Playground, Memorial Park, Krusi Park, Dorothy Bolte Tot Lot, Dreamland, Mia’s Dream Come True Park, or ANY East Bay playground that needs to be conquered.
- Stomp in the creeks. Little ones will love that you know about these five creeks to splash and explore. One is near a sweet playground with coffee and another is near a goofy rustic art hike.
- Mini hikes. There are lots of parks and trails to explore throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties using the East Bay Regional Park District’s Short-Loop Trails, designed for novice hikers, parents with young children or strollers, or folks who are not looking for a physical challenge but want to get outside and experience nature. Check out this Kengsington hike, or 15 of our favorite hikes for toddlers.
Best East Bay play-outside outings for kids under five
- Ride scooters around Harbor Bay Island (Alameda) or enjoy the Bay Trail bike path near the Costco gas station in Richmond. (20 more places to ride your scooter)
- Wander through the totally touchable gardens at Lake Merritt. If you’re up for it, Fairyland is a magical amusement park for kids under five.
- Smell the roses in Oakland. The Morcom Municipal Rose Garden is a hidden gem with walkways and water features. Roses bloom from Mother’s Day through Halloween. Aim your GPS to 700 Jean St. Oakland. (website)
- Oakland Aviation Museum. Outdoor areas open for dreaming about planes. Keep an eye out for open cockpit days.
- Splash Parks are open seasonally and many are free. Keep this list of East Bay splash parks handy.
- Go back in time at Ardenwood Farms. Since it is a working farm, the daily activities change from season to season so no two visits will be exactly alike.
- Visit Cal. Scooter around the paths or run around the lawns at Cal before or after dipping your toes in the creek.
- Throw pebbles in the water. San Leandro’s Marina Park features a flat, waterfront path with a rocky shoreline for walking, biking, scootering, and pushing a stroller with a view of the Bay that can’t be beaten on a sunny day.
- Fly a kite (especially this super easy-to-fly kind of kite) on the Berkeley Marina or your favorite windy spot for kites.
- Meet friends at Brooklyn Basin with room to run, scooter, fly a kite, listen to music, and share some french fries. More to do for families at Brooklyn Basin >
- Hunt for fairies or gnomes. Perfectly toddler-sized, the fairies in Alameda or Richmond will amuse you, and you’ll never find all the gnomes in Oakland!
- Little kids’ amusement parks like TrainTown, Pixieland, and Small World Park have ample summertime hours and limited weekend hours year-round. They are massive fun for the under-five set.
Entertaining more than just toddlers? 10 Mostly Free Mixed-Age Outings Around the East Bay >>
Best East Bay animal encounters that little kids love
Little ones can interact with animals of every size and type. Pet the softest creatures, stare at a giant bug, or wait for the elephants to poop.
- Feed the goats at Tilden’s Little Farm while you chase chickens and look at the piggies. Finish the visit with a short hike around Jewel Lake to guarantee a good nap.
- Meet little critters and learn about their habitats at Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek. Heather Farms’ epic playground could be used to sweeten the deal.
- Say “hi” to Magic Ben, the horse, and other farm animals, then pick organic produce to take home at Cloverfield Organic Farm.
- Schedule a mid-week visit to the Oakland Zoo for the sky-high gondola and the animals with fewer big kids to peer around.
- Visit the reptiles at East Bay Vivarium. Spot trains and drink a babyccino while you’re on Fourth Street.
- Rescue sea animals. Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito helps little kids feel like part of the action with tours and talks aimed at their age level.
- Honor nature. Join a guided nature walk and look for fawns, banana slugs, and so many birds at Audubon Canyon Ranch at Stinson Beach.
- Plant kids in nature. From Spring Fling to Harvest Festival, Slide Ranch at Muir Beach opens up for everyone to enjoy the changing seasons. Lots of family programs and the animals are the cutest!
- Have fun with small animals at Sulphur Creek Nature Center.
- Get your hands dirty at Alameda’s Crab Cove. Participate in fish feeding or a class. Phone ahead to make sure no field trips will get in your way.
Best Bay Area outdoor day trips for kids under five
- Angel Island. The ferry alone is quite an adventure, but you’ll want to stay until finish playing on all the family-friendly paths. See our visit to Angel Island.
- Spend some quality time at the outdoor spaces of the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito with lots of room to run around. It’s different every time as kids age into new exhibits.
- Bust out your sand toys at any new-to-you Bay Area beach. Did you know baby powder keeps sand from sticking to your body? Totally weird but true!
- Coyote Point features CuriOdyssey less than an hour away and has large outdoor areas and fun challenges for toddlers.
- Farms, orchards, and patches (various). Families have been loving the proximity to fresh fruit picking: cherries, peaches, apples, strawberries, pumpkins, and pomegranates.
- Mori Point, Pacifica. A special shout-out to our favorite picturesque beachy spot with family-friendly trails, beaches, and a giant swing that everybody loves.
I hope you’re enjoying the beautiful outside spaces in the East Bay with your younger child and are inspired to take them to a new place to play.
Tell me about your favorite outdoor spots to enjoy with your toddlers and preschoolers!