Mom of two, Cara enjoys making crafts, photography and simple scrapbooking. We asked Cara to tell us about El Cerrito and she sent us this list of tips for families. ~ Heather
We live in the flats of El Cerrito not far from El Cerrito Plaza, and while we spend a lot of time in other parts of the (510), there are some great things to do in the EC.
Places to play
Ohlone Tot Park. My four year old and I often make an afternoon of a walk to El Cerrito Plaza. If you walk along the Ohlone Greenway north of the Plaza, a little tot lot sits right underneath the BART tracks, perfect for a little stop to stretch the legs. There are a bunch of toys and climbing structures that people have left; we spent a lot of time there when my daughter was around 2 years old. It wouldn't interest her so much now, but it is great for the younger mobile set.
Huntington Park is located on the corner of Huntington and Carlson. We walk past the Annex first to grab lunch or an amazing pudding filled cream puff first. The park has a small toddler area fenced off from the big kids' area, but they touch each other so it works out great if you have a little one and a big kid as both kids can be in sight at all times.
Another favorite park is Mendocino Park just past the corner of Burlingame and Mendocino. If you're coming from San Pablo, you'll have to hike up a couple of hills, but the view at the top is so worth it! The park has swings and a play structure and best of all lots of discarded vehicles and push toys with plenty of flat concrete to use them on. There are also some benches and a couple of picnic tables.
Barnes and Noble at El Cerrito Plaza. They've long since removed our favorite train table, but we still visit the store at least once a week to sit on the stage and read books. There is also a weekly Storytime. I like that the toy section is separate from the books as well, so if you choose, you can avoid all the toys and just focus on books.
Another favorite activity for my two year old is trying to spot all the Sesame Street characters in stuffed form — there are usually some in the book section and a few in the toy section.
Huge insider tip: When they start to mark toys down in October just keep waiting for them to mark them down further and ask employees for inside tips of when they'll go down to $2. Yes, $2! We have gotten huge Playmobil sets; Plan Toys and Hape wooden toys; Madame Alexander dolls…all for $2 each. Perfect for Christmas shopping!
Insider tip: Barnes and Noble also has a spacious restroom good for diaper changes and potty training.
El Cerrito Martial Arts (corner of Stockton and San Pablo). My 6.5 year old just started taking jiu jitsu here and absolutely loves it. As a parent I appreciate the classes and all that she's learning and that she's having fun but even more, I appreciate their flexibility! If you miss a class, you just go on a different day, no questions asked. They also allow you to try out a class for free before you commit.
They have an after school program as well, and they offer transportation from some El Cerrito schools (be sure to confirm whether yours is included — Fairmont and Harding are for sure). The kids do homework, play with Legos, color, etc until class starts at 4 pm. We have several friends whose kids go to the after school program 2 or 3 days a week, and the kids love it. And after pickup, pop over to the Annex or Natural Grocery for dinner!
El Cerrito swim center. Just up from that shopping center on Moeser is the El Cerrito swim center. The pool itself has a water slide (which we have never used) and a very shallow end with zero entry for the little little ones.
There is also a great splash park which is only $2 a person when the pool isn't open for rec swim.
The hours of the pool and splash park are unfortunately unpredictable, so definitely check the website and/or call before you go as the hours sometimes change based on the weather, particularly for the splash park.
Playland-Not-At-the-Beach. We love a trip to Playland-Not-At-the-Beach (not recommended if your child is scared of clowns and the like). The pinball machines are all set on free play, and there are stools floating around for kids to stand on.
My daughter's favorite part is the small carnival room where you play games for tickets and trade them in for prizes. That area is also free; you pay admission to get into Playland-Not-At-the-Beach, and then the games inside are free.
Places to eat and shop
The Annex (right next to the Natural Grocery) is one of our favorite spots for lunch. From vegetarian options, sandwiches, pizza, rotisserie chicken, salmon croquettes, or stuffed peppers and a salad bar, the Annex has something for everyone. They also have delicious coffee drinks and smoothies as well as ice cream from various local creameries like Three Twins. Don't miss the case of baked goods and other treats — the caramel pudding filled cream puffs are amazing.
You can carry out, but there are also plenty of tables — sitting along the front windows is our favorite spot to people watch and get excited when buses and trucks pass by.
Jenny K on Stockton — This local store is packed with kids' toys and books along with jewelry and scarves and candles and local tshirts and many many other items. Due to its crowded nature, it's not always the most relaxing experience to have children along for the ride, but it really is a gem where you can find a gift for any occasion. And the Chinook Book holds a coupon for Jenny K!
Fat Apple's on Fairmount and Colusa. This location is far bigger than the Berkeley location- on weekends, you'll still have a short wait for a table, but it's well worth it. They bring a kids menu and crayons immediately when you sit with kids, and the menu choices appeal to kids very nicely. This is one of our favorite breakfast places when we go out as a family.
At EC Plaza, we also like to go to Rubio's for lunch; the kids' meal has lots of options for a main dish and side (like chips, beans, rice or applesauce) and comes with a drink and churro. And I like the grown up selections a lot too!
Need groceries? Trader Joe's and Lucky's are both located in El Cerrito Plaza. Jamba Juice! A smoothie is a great occupier for a child on your way to do some other shopping like Trader Joe's or Lucky.
Ifshin violins on Fairmount just up from San Pablo– Ifshin Violins is a true hidden gem of El Cerrito. You can rent a student violin for less than $20 a month. They also rent cellos, and if you stand outside on the sidewalk and look in the windows (along Fairmount) you may see them carving violins right before your eyes!
My two year old's favorite thing is to turn in towards Ifshin (right next to the gate that opens for cars to pass through) and find all the violins that are drawn in the cement of the sidewalk. We travel that path from Fairmount to the front doors of Ifshin over and over as he points out all the violins. It's a fun little diversion if you're walking to the Plaza for more boring errands.
Thanks so much Cara. We miss you already.