Where to Play Outside with Kids During Shelter in Place - 510 Families
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Where to Play Outside with Kids During Shelter in Place

Shelter in place is back in effect. When the weather is good and air quality is healthy, there’s no better place than outside. It improves mental health, enhances creativity, makes it easier for kids to run freely and let’s be honest- is somewhere different than home, where we’re all spending a lot of time lately.

Wear your masks, stay six feet apart, and be grateful we have such a glorious climate for year-round outside play.

Wondering where to get outside, locally? We gotcha covered! Read on for specific locations and general ways to make your quick walk around the block a little more interesting.

Flying kites at Cesar Chavez park in Berkeley

Favorite Outdoor Activities that are Not Hikes (FREE!)

  1. Bike around. You can get a little further than on foot, and your kid will have their hands too full to touch stuff. Pick a part of the Bay Trail or Ohlone Greenway nearest your house, then ride there. If your little one is still learning to ride a bike, here are a few more paths and places to build skills on two wheels.
  2. Splash in the creeks. Bring a change of clothes and a positive attitude and the rest will take care of itself. Here are five East Bay creeks to stomp in.
  3. Spend time at Lake Temescal. No waterplay, swimming, or boating but big yes to fishing, hiking, and lunching on blankets in the grass. You will also see many dogs and young kids biking/scootering, kicking a soccer ball, and playing at the beach area (keeping 6 feet apart!) It was not crowded on the paths when we were there. Double check for parking lot closures.
  4. Fly a kite (especially this super easy-to-fly kind of kite) on the Berkeley Marina or one of our other favorite windy spots with room to run.
  5. Go fishing. The East Bay has lots of great spots for anglers just learning how to fish.
  6. Play in the rain. No need to stay indoors on a rainy day when you can hunt for salamanders and splash in the puddles! [5 great spots to play in the rain with kids]
  7. Smell the roses in Oakland. The Morcom Municipal Rose Garden is a hidden gem with walkways and water features. Roses bloom from Mother’s Day through Halloween. Aim your GPS to 700 Jean St. Oakland. (website)
  8. Play tennis. Most, if not all, municipal tennis courts are open for tennis and pickleball. Where to play tennis with kids >
  9. Bike up and over. Check out the Richmond’s Dirt World or the epic bike park, Stafford Lake.
  10. Go for a fairy village walk. Take your pick in Alameda or Point Richmond. Make your own fairy door and covertly hang it up in your own neighborhood.
  11. Hunt for small gnomes in Oakland. Paint a few gnomes with your kiddo and get in on the act.
  12. Frolic at Cal. The campus is still pretty empty. Run around the lawns, check out the creek, then scooter around the paths or run around the lawns at Cal.

Favorite Outdoor Museums & Activities (not free!)

Outdoor distanced activities reopened this summer. Outdoor museums and outdoor spaces at indoor/outdoor museums are reopening in our part of California as of August. You might have a wonderful time or just feel like the magic isn’t quite there yet. Here’s a list of the usually awesome spaces that are partially reopening and doing the best they can!

  1. Stand-up Paddle Board. There are some pretty lovely places to learn the socially distant art of balancing on a board on your knees or feet. What’s SUP and where in the Bay Area >
  2. Farms, orchards, and patches (various). Families have been loving the proximity to fresh fruit picking: cherriespeachesapplesstrawberries, and pumpkins.
  3. Oakland Zoo. The outside spaces have lots of animals and room to run. Find out more about our visit to the Oakland Zoo. Reservations required.
  4. Mini golf (various). Tee times are requested but patient walk-ins are welcome, too at Scandia and GoldenTee.
  5. Kayak in the Bay. The East Bay is the perfect place for kayaking with all ages of kid.  Kayaking in the Bay Area >
  6. Big golf (various). Par 3 courses are wonderful for kids getting started with golf.
  7. San Francisco Zoo. Get your appointment and wander the San Francisco Zoo in a mask with your kids.
  8. Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito. The outdoor spaces are set up for socially distanced art activities with frequent cleanings, by appointment only. Find out more about visiting BADM now >
  9. Oakland Aviation Museum. Outdoor areas open for dreaming about planes.
  10. Drive-in Movie (various). I’m not totally sure staying in the car for a movie counts as “playing outside” but at least you left the house! Where to see an outdoor movie (note: because of distancing, permits, and municipal hassles, these sell out almost immediately!)
  11. Niles Canyon Railway (Sunol). Limited train trips are available, get tickets soon.
  12. USS Hornet, Alameda. Outdoor areas like the flight deck are open for exploring. Advanced tickets required.
  13. Safari West, Santa Rosa. Spend the morning on a safari vehicle tour through a wildlife nature preserve.
Take kids all the way outside in the Bay Area

Take kids all the way outside in the Bay Area | Photo: Annie Burke


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East Bay Regional Parks & Parking Lots

We are lucky to have some wonderful parks nearby. Please be ready to pack all your own items (water, snacks) and pack all your trash out. Here is the current list of open East Bay Regional Parks (or park entrances):

  • Joaquin Miller Park
  • Leona Canyon
  • Anthony Chabot Regional Park, including Redwood Canyon Golf Course
  • Coyote Hills – main parking lot
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline – Doolittle Drive entrance
  • Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park – Redwood Road entrance
  • Briones Regional Park – Bear Creek Road entrance
  • Briones archery range

Stay up-to-date with East Bay Regional Parks Closures on this website.

Some restrooms are now open again, too. Hand wash stations may not always be available so visitors should continue to bring their own. Restrooms supporting picnic areas and group activities remain closed as those activities are not permitted in accordance with state and local “Shelter in Place” orders. Swimming facilities are not open at this time.

Summer Pizza Picnic

Pack a dinner or lunch to eat at your favorite park. | Photo: Anna Azimi

Best activities in my backyard (and maybe yours!)

  1. Eat outside on a blanket in your backyard: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks!
  2. Set up a backyard festival with tunnels and outdoor toys (and a slow-running hose on warm days).
  3. Trampoline. I’m sure if you have one, it is already getting lots of use. Is this the time to buy one? Our brilliant friend, Karen, bought one last week! I love my SpringFree trampoline and Whitney loves her Skywalker trampoline.
  4. Pogo stick and helmet. Starting out is wobbly but determined kids can get hundreds of bounces with practice. Choose the right one based on your weight of jumpers.
  5. Plant your garden. My nearest nurseries are offering wonderful advice. In a pinch, Home Depot can sell you soil and seeds (or plant a little herb garden in your kitchen to spice up your pantry staples). What to know about gardening with kids.
  6. Obstacle course. Let the kids help you assemble backyard and house clutter into a course of items to avoid, dodge, hop over, toss, and balance on. Time their progress and challenge them to beat their times before setting it up a new way. [Caution: my youngest wants to set up a real ladder onto our shed roof and bounce into the neighbor’s yard, so don’t let him design your course!]
  7. Camp out at home. Pitch a tent in your backyard for a little thrill, sleep in it or just keep it set up for a while as a makeshift playhouse. Make s’mores on the stove to make it more special.
  8. Take all those messy art projects outside. Paint and glitter are way more fun when the cleanup is easier outside.
Inspiration Point Tilden Park
Ride or walk Inspiration Point at Tilden Park | Photo: Anna Azimi

Cool things to do around your neighborhood

  1. Take a Dice Walk. Bring two dice to roll at each intersection: If the dice roll adds up odd, turn left; if the dice roll is even, turn right. It is a fun way to exercise and keep the kids engaged. Sometimes we would end up walking in circles just playing!
  2. Take a Shape Walk. It is fun to have a mission, and this photo scavenger hunt can last a few days. Start out with a mission of circles. Walk around the neighborhood and photograph everything circular (tires of a car, flower pot, signs on houses, etc.) then make a book with all the images using Shutterfly. Next shape walk, let’s try squares!
  3. Ride scooters to get some speed around the block. We like to keep wheels in the car for scootering the terrific paved paths and kid-friendly closed parking lots.
  4. Find all the birds. Download the iBird app and count how many different birds you can see or hear.
  5. Scavenger hunt. Print a simple scavenger hunt and discover ordinary things in a new way.
  6. By day, hunt for rainbows on the East Bay Rainbow Trail.
  7. By night, look for houses with twinkling, colorful lights. A few of us are lighting them back up to spread cheer.
middle harbor trails and two girls on scooters
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park trails are perfect for playing tag, scooting, flying kites with plenty of open space | Photo: Julia Gidwani

Favorite Hikes with no playgrounds

  1. Short Loop Trails. There are still lots of parks and trails to explore throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties using the East Bay Regional Park District’s Short Loop Trails. These gentle trails are designed for novice hikers, parents with young children or strollers, or folks who are not looking for a physical challenge but want to get outside and experience nature. EBRPD has closed many parking lots, visitors centers, and staffed areas to limit overcrowding and promote public health. Check closures list here before you head out.
  2. Walk through Leona Canyon. Enter Leona Canyon off of Redwood Road. You may spot lots of wildflowers in this open space, we recommend it.
  3. Wander secret paths. Plot a path up and down the hill on some of the Berkeley Paths and Stairways {we like the guidebook Secret Stairs: East Bay: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Berkeley and Oakland}. Some of them can be quite narrow, so offer passersby a wide berth.
  4. Walk the Steam Trail at Reinhardt Redwood (formerly known as Redwood Regional Park); it is an easy out and back. Pro tip: Be extra diligent in covering ankles because the poison oak is getting unruly on some trails. [note: Redwood gate and stables are closed]
  5. Hike behind the Oakland Zoo. Did you know there are paths and fields around Knowland Park’s zoo area? Keep your eyes open and you’ll see the Zoo’s bears and other wonderful creatures on the other side of the fence.
  6. More Bay Area trails where you are unlikely to run into anyone else.

Parents: remember to breathe. This playtime is for you, too.


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[Photos used with permission, all rights reserved]

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6 thoughts on “Where to Play Outside with Kids During Shelter in Place”

  1. The section of the Bay Trail around Pinole & Hercules is STUNNINGLY beautiful and very deserted, compared to other parts. For Pinole, park at the end of Tennent Ave (don’t mind the brief smell of the sanitation building) and then take the bridge towards Berkeley. Gorgeous. For the Hercules section, park at the end of John Muir Parkway & Bayfront Blvd. Some of the best views of the Bay in the entire Bay Area, and the Hercules section is flat, so good for scooters/beginning bikers.

    1. Please don’t! There are soooo many people here now, and those of us who live here are stuck inside because there are too many people in our neighborhood. Most of the trails around here do not allow the 6 foot distance between people. In fact, this weekend they closed part of the parking area to reduce visitors from outside of the area. The best place is your own neighborhood. It will reduce the spread of viruses from community to community. Be wise, stay safe and remember your masks and gloves!

  2. I’m a big fan of 510families – and of the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) – which include many of the hikes referenced here. We are so fortunate to have these protected spaces in our community! For EBRPD outings, please remember to pack it in/ pack it out since trash collection has stopped and be sure to use the bathroom before you head out, bathroom facilities at EBRPD are closed.


    1. Thank you Heidi. I’m trying to keep special track of the guidelines from EBRPD at this time. We have to care for these trails and be more self-sufficient than usual.

  3. Please avoid heavily commuting to a “beach neighborhood”. It is not the spirit of Stay in Place to go far and the other weekend in Alameda so many people came for the beach from far away that I was stressed to walk my dogs with multi family groups everywhere not reapecting social diatancing. BTW it would be polite if you did unnecessarily drive in your car to someone elses community to be the one to keep your kids away from the locals walking dogs.

  4. Please don’t come to Oakland neighborhoods or coastal towns and facilities if this is not where you live. The point of shelter in place is to stay local. The Oakland Mayor has already made clear that Lake Merrit (and other similar locations) are stressed by increased traffic and in my observation at least a third of park goers 1) do not wear masks and 2) do not practice social distancing. Agree with others who encourage walks in the local neighborhood. This is not the time to travel with the numbers of illnesses and deaths being what they are.

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