Dream Land in the Aquatic Park area of Berkeley is a whimsical and adventurous playground that will inspire and excite your little ones’ senses. There are castles and slides, swings and bridges, and a lovely natural vibe that’ll encourage spirited and creative play.
Dream Land feels both wild and natural with its wooden towers and forested landscape. The Aquatic Park was created in the 1930s to accommodate model yacht racing, but in 1999 Berkeley’s school children banded together with Robert Leathers and Associates (who also designed FROG Park in Oakland) to create the fantasy structure.
Why We Love Aquatic Park’s Dream Land
As Dream Land frequenters, I’ve noticed that the style of play tends to be adventurous and imaginative as kids weave in and out tunnels, beams, slides and various castle lookout towers. The bouncy bridge is always a favorite of ours, as is the tire swing and many exciting slides. It’s also an epic stage for the ultimate game of tag. Train enthusiasts will get an authentic experience here, as freight AND passenger trains hoot by around several times each hour, depending on the day.
It is difficult to summarize all the features of this park since there are so many! (There is even an open window for a puppet theater with some audience benches!) There is a little butterfly garden path. If you don’t mind that a freeway buzzing with cars is nearby, you will see San Francisco’s skyline across the water on a clear day. There are also many friendly waterfowl and the occasional rower in the wetlands that’ll excite your little naturalist. There’s room to run, climb, play soccer, toss a frisbee, ride bikes, fly a kite, you name it. A great place to get all the wiggles out after a day stuck inside! More places to play outside with your little kid >>
Notes on 2020 Covid-19 Reopening
With the reopening of the Berkeley Playgrounds on October 16, there are signs posted at the entrance and throughout the park indicating health and safety practices. This includes a 36 person limit to allow for proper social distancing, masks required, no eating, and limit your stay to 30 minutes. When we were there at 9 am on a Friday morning, we had the entire playground to ourselves. It was truly like a dreamland (ha!) for my two- and four-year olds who hadn’t been to a playground since the beginning of the pandemic.
What To Know about Berkeley’s Dream Land at Aquatic Park:
This park can be hard to find the first time. The main thing to remember is that the playground, Dream Land, is where Bolivar Dr. hooks up with the San Francisco Bay Trail. And also keep in mind that most roads going west in Berkeley will dead-end before reaching the Aquatic Park, so your best bet is taking Bancroft Way. (GPS users – enter the intersection of of Bancroft Way and Bolivar Drive)
This park is most ideal for ages three and up since the structures are mostly for bigger kids and because there is a definite escape route from the main playground for any on-the-run tots. With that said, I see toddlers here all the time and there is a baby swing and smaller play structure with a wood-chip box perfect for early walkers. My 2 year old loves it, but I do need to help her out sometimes.
The San Francisco Bay Trail is often bustling with cycling families and kids on scooters. It’s a great idea to pack your wheels of choice once you’ve had your fill of the playground. More places to scoot or ride bikes >>
You can’t currently eat at the park, but you can plan on enticing your kids to leave after the 30 minute limit with a visit to a nearby cafe offering outdoor seating (Tomate Cafe is a favorite, or Catahoula Coffee).
It Can’t All Be Perfect. What to Watch For
The public bathroom, which is planted outside of the playground across the walk, is not the cleanest and often has no soap. (Bring your own!)
The park is not fully enclosed with a gate. Since this is a waterfront park, you’ll need to keep a watchful eye on your toddler, especially if she loves running toward ducks and water!
If your child is easily frightened or overstimulated by loud sounds, the trains whizzing by may create a stressful situation. It does pass quickly, but if you think this could ruin the day (or even just the morning), you may want to wait on this one.
And finally, this park has a reputation of attracting illicit activity during the night hours as well as homeless wanderers. I do not think this should scare away daytime park goers (it is a “reputation” after all), but to be sure, head home before sunset.
[All photos by Julie Herson, all rights reserved]