Thanks to local blogger, Audrey Hall, for contributing this guide to things to do in the Elmwood district of Berkeley with kids.
As a mom to two young kids, I have gained a HUGE appreciation for small shopping districts that can be conquered by foot and with kids in tow. While there are a number of really great neighborhoods in the East Bay, one of my favorites is the Elmwood in South Berkeley. Despite being only two blocks long, the shopping district is packed with a great assortment of boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Whether you are looking to spend the better part of the day here, or just making a pit-stop, the Elmwood is well worth a visit. Below is a list of spots that my family visits time and time again. In the interest of not wanting to leave out some really exceptional dining options I have also included my favorite spots in the adjacent Claremont neighborhood. Enjoy!
Where to get coffee/pastries
Elmwood Cafe: For almost a century, this corner shop in Elmwood has been a neighborhood gathering spot. Originally opened in 1921 as Ozzie's Soda Fountain, this beloved corner store closed it's doors in 2007 and opened 3 years later as the Elmwood Cafe. Much of the interior was preserved, including the vintage lunch counter and bar stools. The cafe has a very warm and inviting atmosphere and the outdoor seating is perfect for enjoying a coffee/pastry with kids. The menu features organic coffee/teas and food prepared with organic and locally sourced ingredients.
Semifreddi's: A short walk from the main strip of shops in Elmwood is Semifreddi's bakery. Nestled among a charming strip of neighborhood shops on Claremont Avenue (near the intersection with The Uplands), this bakery is a favorite for our kids. There are a couple of tables outdoors on the sidewalk as well as indoor seating. This is your best bet if you want to avoid the lines in Elmwood during weekend mornings. An added bonus is John Muir Elementary, which is just up the block and has a nice playground if the kids need to let loose. Also, if your kids are into comic books, be sure to stop by The Escapist Comic Bookstore just a couple doors down from the bakery.
Here, my youngest is offering me a VERY generous bite of her Fournee scone 🙂 Fournee Bakery: Opened in 2013 by an award-winning pastry chef, this bakery has quickly become a neighborhood favorite. Fournee has a wide offering of decadent pastries and breads in addition to pizza and baguette sandwiches. Grab some pastries and a coffee from Peet's and settle down on one of the many benches that line the nearby courtyard. This is one of the most peaceful spots to people watch in Berkeley and there is plenty of room for kids to run around.
Where to eat
Rick and Ann's: If you didn't fill up on pastries at Fournee, then be sure to stop at Rick and Ann's for brunch. This is one of my favorite places to eat breakfast in the area. They have a reasonably priced kids menu and some delicious and creative brunch offerings. My favorite is the Northeast which features a hash made of fresh red beets, sweet potatoes, new potatoes, red onion and bacon. If you are visiting on the weekend, try to arrive before 9am for the shortest wait times. In my experience, wait times have typically been 30 minutes to an hour, but our kids seem to enjoy the people watching and dog watching in the adjacent courtyard. Insider tip: Bags of day old pastries can be found in the waiting area of the restaurant at deeply discounted prices (but you have to get there early to take advantage).
Summer Kitchen: This is our go-to spot in Elmwood for a casual lunch or dinner. The food is fresh and delicious and there is something on the menu for everyone. While everything we have had has been really tasty, we typically get the burger (which my husband and I split) in addition to chicken tenders as an appetizer for the kids and a margherita pizza that we all have a taste of. Although the indoor dining space is limited, we usually don't have a problem finding a table, and weather permitting, you can order take-out and enjoy a picnic in the park at Willard.
La Mediterranee Cafe: Another great casual dining option is La Med. Our favorite thing on the menu is the middle eastern plate that comes with a delicious side of lemon chicken soup, fresh fruit, hummus and pita (there is a vegetarian version of this plate that is also excellent). The combination plates have more than enough to satisfy a healthy appetite and we can typically get away with ordering two of them for our family of four (our kids are young, so this might not be enough if you have older children).
Gordo Taqueria: We probably have eaten here once a week for the past 8 years! Enough said, right? It's nothing fancy, but it's delicious and satisfying and one of the first things I crave if I've been out of town. If you can't find a seat indoors, try walking down to the corner of College and Webster, where the bench outside the post office on Webster street is often vacant.
Star Meats: Served daily from 11-2, this is one of the best places to get a sandwich in Berkeley! The butcher shop is located at the back of Star Market on Claremont Avenue and has a dozen sandwich options to choose from. Raging Bull is one of our favorites, but they are all delicious and made with quality ingredients. An added bonus is that you can pick up additional goodies in the grocery portion of the store. Star Market has been in the neighborhood for almost a century and is much beloved by the neighborhood patrons. Read a great history of the market here. Insider tip: If you are visiting in the morning hours, there is fresh brewed coffee at the front of the store for $1/cup.
Where to get a sweet treat
There is no shortage of artisan ice cream and chocolate shops in Berkeley, but it just so happens that some of the VERY best of what Berkeley has to offer is in the Elmwood.
Ici Ice Cream: For years I tried to avoid this place. I was convinced that the line going halfway down the block was absurd and without warrant and happily scoffed at the people waiting 30 minutes for a scoop of ice cream. Well… it turns out I was wrong. The ice cream is delicious and if you avoid the after dinner rush, then the wait is usually reasonable. The flavors rotate daily and are made from scratch with organic ingredients. During the longer wait times, the staff is very efficient at bringing out samples to those in line so everyone knows what they are going to order when they arrive at the counter. If you’re looking for more than a sugar rush, the affogato with blue bottle coffee is excellent! Insider tip: If you have younger kids that are willing to share, the price per scoop goes drastically down if you order a double or triple scoop in one cup. Thankfully our kids are still at an age where this doesn't bother them 🙂 Another option is getting a hand-packed pint to enjoy at Willard park.
Casa de Chocolates: This artisan chocolate shop offers hand-made chocolate infused with a Latin-American flavor. In addition to really excellent chocolate, they make one of my favorite sweet treats of all time, the Frozen Mexican Hot Chocolate. It's a combination of organic milk and cream with cacao, cinnamon, sugar and cocoa powder (and a steal at $4!).
Tara's Organic Ice Cream: Another great option for artisan ice cream is Tara's, which is located just a couple blocks south of the Elmwood shopping district, just a stone's throw from the Berkeley/Oakland border and the vibrant Rockridge shopping district. Tara's has a more adventurous selection of flavors such as cardamom, lavendar and lemon verbena, but also tends to have a handful of flavors that are a bit more familiar like chocolate and burnt caramel.
Where to shop
Even though I regularly shop in the Elmwood, it wasn't until I started putting together this blog post that I realized I really don't have to stray far from home to do ALL of my holiday shopping this year! If you are looking to shop local this holiday season then Elmwood is a great place to start. For a relatively small commercial district, there is a surprisingly good selection of stores to choose from. My suggestions below are based on shops that I frequent the most and that I feel are relatively kid friendly. There are a lot of great merchants that I have not included simply because they are better suited for a visit without kids.**Shops are open late on the third-Thursday of the month, a great time to shop local for the holidays**
The Treehouse: This is a wonderful store if you are looking for a unique gift. They feature organic, recycled, handmade, and fairly-traded gifts that include among other things, children's items, home decor and jewelry. The owners do a great job of refining their assortment and rarely do I leave without coming across a handful of items I would like to take home with me.
Sweet Dreams: Sweet Dreams has been in the neighborhood since 1971 and has two storefronts on College Avenue. One is a toy store with just about any toy or game you could ask for, and the other is a candy shop that carries novelty gifts and has a small clothing boutique at the back.
Elements: I really enjoy shopping in this boutique. The ladies that work there are really helpful and friendly and I love that most of their clothing items are at a more affordable price point (compared to other boutiques on College Ave). There is also a toy basket by the register which my kids are strangely enthusiastic about. I almost have to drag them out of the store when it's time to leave!
100% Pure: This lovely little store has an amazing selection of organic beauty products and some of my favorite skincare items. For years I only ventured in for their body lotions, which smell so good and feel even better on the skin (ask for a sample!). The lotions last forever and feel like a luxurious treat every time I use them. More recently I have started sampling and using some of their other products and with each product I find myself more and more impressed. Some of my favorites so far are the Coffee Bean Eye Cream (which smells so good you will be tempted to eat it), the lip butters, eye shadows and eye liners. They also have a great selection of non-toxic nail polish, perfect if you have kids that want their nails painted!
Mrs. Dalloways: If you love books, then you can't visit the Elmwood without a stop at Mrs. Dalloway's. The store exudes charm and warmth and has an impressive selection of books as well as regularin-store author events, often featuring local authors. I love that there are interior windows that open up into the Elmwood Cafe next door, bringing in the chatter and energy of the coffee shop and creating a unique liveliness to the store.
Where to play
Elmwood is a great jumping off point for all types of adventures in Berkeley/Oakland. Here are some of my favorite places to play in the area.
Willard Park: At first glance, this park has a nice gated play area and a huge open field of grass. The real attraction, however, is the people watching. It's just the right amount of quirky to be entertaining! Whether it's someone practicing acrobats from one of the tree branches, the lady who walks her large tortoise at the park, college students playing a variety of sports, or someone strumming a guitar, the park never fails to entertain. It's only a few blocks from the shops in Elmwood, which also makes it the ideal place for a picnic.
Tilden Park: Start your morning off with a stop in Elmwood and then head up to Tilden Park for a day in nature. Tilden is one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon and most of the activities are free or have a minimal cost. Read more about my 5 favorite places to explore in Tilden.
Redwood Regional Park: Just a short drive away in the Oakland Hills, this is one of my absolute favorite places to take a family hike. Just minutes into the hike and you will feel like you are worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area. Read about our recent hike here.
UC Berkeley Campus: The UC Berkeley campus is just down the street and is perfect for exploring with kids. With limited car traffic and acres of open space to run free, it's a great place to spend the afternoon with the family. Read more about my favorite things to do on campus with kids.