San Pablo Park is Berkeley's oldest park and one of its largest. It is nestled among the neighborhood homes near San Pablo and Ashby spanning several blocks. Many of my adult friends know it for the softball and baseball leagues that play throughout the warm months.
Totlot (little kid playground) profile:
The good: The totlot is at the south end of the park at Russell and Park streets. It is fully enclosed with a fence; has mixed surfaces of sand, rubbery bouncy ground, cement, and grass; includes two baby swings; and features fun play structures for toddlers. There is not usually an array of broken plastic toys like you find at Totland (I like that, but that may be a “bad” for you and your babe). Benches surround the play area.
The bad: There is no real shade (unless you want to hide under the slide structure or cling to the fenceline at certain times of day) and the bathrooms are far away in the brown building near the basketball hoops and not-so-nice (clean, but no doors or soap). No biggie if you wear hats and your child is still in diapers.
The ugly: The climb-on train has seen better days with peeling paint and chipped wood, but the kiddos still seem to love it.
More good: As of Summer 2013, the tired old train has been replaced. Toddler Sawyer explores below.
I recommend that you bring some sand toys to share and chalk for the playhouse and cement.
There is a big kids' playground immediately adjacent. It has more slides, monkey bars, swings, a special seesaw for four kids, and a strange mountain that looks like it used to be a water table.
The rest of the park features wide open spaces for pick-up soccer, 2 baseball diamonds, 3 basketball courts, and 6 tennis courts. Newly remodeled picnic tables have barbecue grills (or you can BYO). The tables are first-come-first-served, but you can contact the City of Berkeley to reserve baseball fields, tennis courts, and rooms in the recreation centers.The Francis Albrier community Center hosts after-school programs, special classes, neighborhood meetings, and a few large festivals each year.
When you visit, treat yourself to a mocha at Caffe Trieste (about a ten-minute walk) or some light shopping at the Nordic House (5 minutes away). You could also pick up a picnic dinner from Berkeley Bowl on Heinz (about a five-minute walk).