Big thanks to Sarah's Science for sponsoring today's guide to wonderful spots to play outside with toddlers and children under age five. Sarah's Science is now registering for summer camp in Berkeley and Oakland, where curious kids play and explore outside all day starting at age four.
So many fun outdoor adventures await for 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 and Playgrounds for smaller kids
- Explore Tilden Park. Bring a sweater up to ride Tilden Park's steam trains or hop on the carousel. Feed those greedy goats at Little Farm; ride your balance bike or scooter along the paths afterward or just enjoy the playground and a snack.
- Hug a redwood tree at Roberts Regional Park in Oakland. You can also find a fantastic “barrier-free” children's play area.
- Swing, slide, and climb at Totland, Doyle Street Park, Memorial Park, Frog Park, Dreamland, Always Dream Play Park, or ANY East Bay playground that needs to be conquered.
- Meet your buddies at Codornices Park for the cement slides or wandering along the creek. Make sure to visit the Berkeley Rose Garden, too!
- Climb up and around on Indian Rock in North Berkeley. See if you can find John Hinkel Park if you're really feeling curious.
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.
- 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.
- Have fun with small animals at Sulphur Creek Nature Center (FYI, they have a guinea pig lending library!)
- Schedule a mid-week visit to the Oakland Zoo for rides, sky-high gondola, petting zoo, and all the animals with fewer big kids to peer around.
- 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 East Bay play-outside outings trips for kids under five
There are many more places to play in the wild with little ones. Sarah Shaffer, founder of Sarah's Science, especially loves the Oakland Rose Garden. How did such a tranquil spot end up so close to Grand Ave?
- 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)
- Ride scooters around Harbor Bay Island (Alameda) or enjoy the Bay Trail bike path near the Costco gas station in Richmond.
- 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.
- Visit Cal. Take the elevator to top of the Campanile at UC Berkeley then scooter around the paths or run around the lawns at Cal.
- Fly a kite (especially this super easy-to-fly kind of kite) on the Berkeley Marina or favorite windy spot.
- Bust out your sand toys at Richmond’s Keller Beach or any new-to-you Bay Area beach. Did you know baby powder keeps sand from sticking to your body? Totally weird but true!
Best Bay Area outdoor day trips for kids under five
- Honor nature. Join a guided nature walk and look for fawns, banana slugs, and so many birds at Audubon Canyon Ranch at Stinson Beach.
- Spend some quality time at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito with lots of room to run around and climb the ship play structure or dig with a hard hat. It’s different every time as kids age into new exhibits.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
I hope you're enjoying the warm and wonderful weather with your younger child and are inspired to take them a new place to play. We also have a list of the best indoor places to play with little kids.
Tell me about your favorite outdoor spots to enjoy with your toddlers and preschoolers!
Thanks again to Sarah's Science for sponsoring today's guide to places to play outside with toddlers and kids under age five-ish.