Tuesday, July 3, 2012

10 (almost) free things to do in Berkeley and Oakland

Just in case you happen to be in the Bay Area this summer...

1. Fun Fly Kites

OK, so this isn't exactly in Berkeley or Oakland, but on Sundays you can go to Marina Green in San Francisco and fly kites. For free! San Francisco Kite Company supplies the kites, and if you enjoy it, you can always heads over to their store at Pier 41 to buy one of your own. Kite flying is also popular  in Berkeley during the Berkeley Kite Festival July 28-29, although I can't guarantee someone is there to let you borrow theirs:)

You have to pay to enter the center itself (there is a discovery rooms for little kids, a planetarium, science-y IMAX movies and exhibits all included in the price of a ticket), but for free you can look through the giant telescope. Come up on a clear summer evening (fingers crossed for no fog!) and check out the stars.

3. The Whale at Lawrence Hall of Science

The whale itself is a life-size climbable sculpture of a blue whale. The climbing is free (you can also climb through a string of DNA), the view over the bay is spectacular, and if you are in the mood, you can purchase tickets and check out the amazing museum. It's geared to kids 3-10, with amazing science experiments and rotating exhibits. My favorite was when they had life-size animatronic dinosaurs:)


4. Fairyland & Walking Lake Merritt

One of my kids favorite places, Fairyland was the inspiration behind Disneyland. The children's park has miniature houses, a puppet show, live shows, a train ride, ferris wheel, petting zoo... Everything is themed, so there is an Alice in Wonderland part where you go down a slide into the Rabbit Hole, then end up in a life-size maze made out of playing cards. Purchase a key for $1 so you can hear songs, stories and instructions at locations throughout the park.

Fairyland is located on the banks of Lake Merritt, which is a surprisingly nice lake in the middle of downtown Oakland. You can take a flat 3 mile stroll around the lake, have a drink at the recently restored Boathouse Restaurant, or rent a kayak or paddleboat for the afternoon.

5. Slides in Codornices Park

Giant concrete slides in a beautiful park. Totally free and very fun. The park also has normal park-stuff: slides, sand, grass...Bring a piece of cardboard or wax paper to sit on if you want to go really fast. Watch a YouTube video here.


Busy summer weekends mean the park service will charge you $5 for parking, but you can always park on a side street and walk in to enjoy this secluded lake. Their are two playgrounds (one at each end), plenty of lawn, bbq's (some reserved-ahead some first come first serve), picnic tables, blackberry bushes for picking, a small dock for fishing, and in warm weather, a beach with swimming! If it's a hot summer weekend they might charge you $1-$3 per person for the beach access, but it comes with a lifeguard.


There are many who will argue about the best farmer's market in the bar area, but I'm partial to this one. Temescal is a true hipster area, with families and young children playing and eating amazing food. Pizza Neapolitana is one of my favorite stalls, making fresh pizza with local organic ingredients. You can also get thai food, oysters, crepes, chocolate, artisanal bread, coffee... Tone of produce stands, live music, artists, and local creamery Cowgirl Creamery sells their famous Mt. Tam cheese, and grass-fed farm Prather Ranch, lets you buy better meat than you've ever had.

Just a short meander along the creek (a creek!) is Frog Park, with a huge climbing structure, sandbox, swings, a small water feature in summer, and a dog park. This was our neighborhood park for years, and I can't tell you how many people drive here just to come to this park.

A foodie's paradise. When I took my mother in law here for the first time she couldn't believe how many different types of bell pepper and tomatos there were. You will find every kind of produce you can imagine, plenty of bulk bins with grains, gluten-free items and more. Their new West Berkeley location is less crowded if you can't find a parking spot.

2nd sunday in September. Outdoor festivals are par for the course in summer months and this is my favorite. This one is very artist-heavy, and the street it's on is on an incline, so you can get a workout while you browse!


10. Oakland Zoo (and rides)

You'll have to pay, but this is a gem of a zoo. Small enough that you can see everything in a couple of hours, the zoo also has a rides area just outside the main entrance, where you can pay-per-ride. A train takes you to an emu and wallaroo enclosure (think ostrich and kangaroo), the carousel is our favorite (I was pregnant in the below pic, just fyi), followed by airplanes (like Dumbo but without the elephants), roller coaster, car rides...

This post was originally published on C.R.A.F.T. go check out the rest of the series with cities from across the country!


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Jessi @ Practically Functional said...

OMG how did I never realize you lived in the Bay Area?! I was born and raised in a house in Oakland, just south of Montclair off Park Blvd and lived there all my life until two years ago. So I am SUPER familiar with all of these lovely places you've listed! The whale is my favorite, or maybe the slides! And I love Joaquin Miller Park too, and the USS Hornet Museum (though that's in Alameda...) And Pier 39! (Again, not quite East Bay...) And the trains up in the hills in Tilden Park! Those are great for little kids, or big kids :-) I love the East Bay!

The Clay Trowel said...

makes me wish I did live there! happy 4th Jessica!

Krystle @ Color Transformed Family said...

Wow! I want to go play on those slides. They look like so much fun. I love finding affordable activities for the whole family to do together. Looks like y'all have a lot of great ones in your area.

Ashley@AttemptsAtDomestication said...

I don't know if I'll ever be in that area, but it looks so fun! I'll have to check it out if I'm ever out there!

Kelli said...

Love Berkeley! My husband works in the bay area a few days a week and there is so much to do there.

Mary Ann Pickett said...

Great ideas...thanks for the tour!

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