The secret paths and stairs of Berkeley are great fun to explore, whether you’re a new mom wandering by foot to soothe an infant strapped to her chest or a four-year-old who wants to count steps at the top of her lungs. John Hinkel Park in North Berkeley is a lovely nature-based playground immersed in a bevy of pathways and stairs to explore.
John Hinkel Park Features
Location: 41 Somerset Pl, Berkeley, CA 94707.
Unique Features: Nature-based play space that blends into the natural surroundings with lots of climbing opportunities for little kids.
Swings: Two big kid swings, one large saucer swing that’ll fit multiple small children.
Fenced in? Kind of. Fence extends around the playground in front of parking lot, but is not fully enclosed.
Surfaces: Fresh wood chips in play space; concrete in surrounding area.
Bathroom: Yes, there’s a portable toilet with a hand washing station in the parking lot.
Lunch tables & seating: Three lunch tables directly next to playground; plenty of other benches, places to sit around.
Parking: Small parking lot directly next to park on Somerset.
Shade: There are lovely big oaks and redwoods that provide shade all around.
Pros: Beautiful setting with lots of climbing and balancing for smaller children. Fresh and new.
Cons: Best for younger children, not as mixed-aged appropriate (unless you send the Bigs to wander, and then good luck!).
John Hinkel Park For Little Kids
Featuring swings, climbers, logs, and stumps for balancing, this playground offers lots of activity while blending into the natural environment. An enormous stone amphitheater also invites kids to climb around — or put on shows for their adoring fans. Behind the playground, a number of paths ascend up a steep hill, ideal for challenging young toddlers who just want to practice their walking skills. (I imagine everyone else would complain about walking up the hill!)
John Hinkel Park is best for younger children, so bigger kids may find the climbing and balancing a bit too easy. Still, the big theater, pathways, and swings may keep big brothers and sisters busy for a while. Per the City of Berkeley website: The theatre was used in the 1940s for community gatherings, music, and dance productions. It was the performance home for the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival from 1971-1991.
Plan your visit to John Hinkel Park
You can drive right up to a few parking spots on Southhampton. (Set your GPS to Somerset Drive in Berkeley if you are not familiar with the area.) This will give you flat access from the car to the playground.
If you approach by foot, note that the part of the park closest to Arlington Ave is not remodeled and some old, rusted playground equipment may still be there. Don’t be discouraged! Keep walking toward the back of the park to find the playground.
You can also access the park from San Diego Road in the Berkeley Hills and walk down the paths to the playground.
Looking for more secret parks and paths? Check out the Berkeley PATH Wanderer website. Parents may find more delight than children in discovering some of these hidden gems. We adults have a better sense of what’s predictable and what’s unexpected when it comes to where the sidewalk takes us. Following a set of mysterious stairs into a neighborhood that’s not your own offers a little sense of adventure that I found thrilling.