10 Free & Cheap Outings for Mixed Ages in the East Bay


If you’re a parent to multiple children of varying ages, you know how difficult it is to find places to go that’ll suit everyone’s fancy. I have four kids (ages 2, 4, 7 and 9) and here are some of our favorite places to go in the East Bay that check at least some of the boxes for all of us.

2021 Covid-19 Note: Playgrounds and parks are open under the current health order, however please double check as things may change. Masks and social distancing are required. Bring hand sanitizer and plan on snack time being in the car. Try going during less busy times (before 10am).

Throwing rocks at Keller Beach at the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline is always a crowd pleaser, for everyone from toddlers to adults | Photo Credit: Julie Herson

Scoring for mixed age outings:

I put together a little scoring system to narrow it down to ten favorite outings, with only those places scoring 10+ making it on the list. Each of the features my family likes in a destination can score a certain number of points. Our favorite, tippy-top best places scored 15 points, but all of our top ten outings scored better than ten points.

what we care about at a park

Codornices Park, Berkeley | Score: 15

Codornices-Creek-Berkeley
Mucking around in the creek just past the tot play area | Photo: Julie Herson

Codornices Park is an oldie but goodie that never disappoints with either the little or big kids. The famed concrete slide, basketball court and creek provide hours of thrilling fun for the older kids while the younger little ones can play in the sand or wooden train in the fenced-in tot area. Visiting grandparents love to see the Berkeley Rose Garden, too. See our profile of Codornices Park in the Berkeley Hills >>

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Pro tip: Bring sand toys, a few balls, cardboard boxes and perhaps a change of clothes if playing in the creek gets crazy.

Dreamland Aquatic Park, Berkeley | Score: 15

Dreamland-Aquatic-Park-Tire-Swing
The tire swing at Dreamland Park in Berkeley will make you dizzy | Photo: Julie Herson

The aptly named Dreamland always inspires kids to invent fun new hide-and-seek games and exciting rounds of tag. The old-timey wooden play structure is fun for kids of all ages to play around in, though for the very little ones the smaller scale structure next to the baby swings is a bit easier to navigate. The tire swing is an appealing bonus, as is the possibility for an Amtrak train to speed by periodically. Playing out by the water and running up and down the hills is great fun, and the open field is perfect for a stomp rocket or soccer game. Parking isn’t always easy though. See our visit to Berkeley’s Dreamland here>>

Pro tips: Bring bikes or scooters for the bike path along the water. Plan ahead, the bathroom is often yucky.

Dracena Quarry Park, Piedmont | Score: 14

Dracena Quarry Park
Children and adults like the rock wall at Dracena Quarry Park | Photo: Julia Gidwani

Dracena Quarry Park is a beautiful little park tucked away in Piedmont with a bike/scooter loop in an enclosed area. The little kid area isn’t fenced-in, but the back-end of the park is enclosed, so it’s pretty easy to keep track of everyone. With plenty of shade and benches for parents to relax in and lots of grass for playing soccer or tag, this park is perfect for a long visit. The impressive climbing wall is a bonus for the big kids. See more about Dracena Quarry Park in Piedmont >>

Glendale La Loma Park, Berkeley Hills | Score: 13

Glendale-La-Loma-Park-Berkeley-Totlot
The upper tot lot is great for the under five set | Photo: Julie Herson

Glendale La Loma Park is a three level terraced park tucked away up in the Berkeley Hills with truly stunning views of the Bay. There is a parking lot — which is rare in the hills — a fenced tot lot, old-school bigger kid playground, bathrooms, green space, and did I mention the views? You can play with your little kids in the tot lot and still see your big kids playing on the big metal slide on the next level down. Very convenient. The bottom level is not viewable from the other levels though, so you’ll all need to head down there to play on the baseball field or basketball court. See our review of Glendale La Loma Park >>

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Heather Farms, Walnut Creek | Score: 13

Heather-Farms-Walnut-Creek
The bouncy animals in the tot area are my two year old’s favorite | Photo: Julie Herson

Find your way over to the Willy Wonka-esque Heather Farms Park in Walnut Creek for a colorful day of play. Little kids will love the just-their-sized play area. Big kids will slide down the grass hills and play tag among the intricate play structures. Plenty of tables and shade for snack and lunch. It’s not fenced in so you’ll need to be diligent with younger kids. Bonus if you go in the summer, there’s a pool right next door that has fun inflatables and a baby pool. Minus points for lots of goose poop in the surrounding grassy fields. More about Heather Farm Park & Playground in Walnut Creek >>

Pro tip: It can be tough to keep track of everyone. Consider dressing everyone in bright colors (including you!) so spotting each other is easier.

Memorial Park, Albany | Score: 13

Albany Memorial Park tot park
Albany Memorial Park tot park | Photo: Kat Choi

Albany’s Memorial Park is a great mixed-age park with a fenced-in tot area with baby swings and sand. You can easily watch your bigger kids playing in the larger playground or grassy field while pushing your little one in the swing or enjoying snack in the shade of the redwoods. The bathrooms have recently been renovated and parking is generally a breeze. There are several sidewalk loops around the park, so bring along scooters for added exercise. See the many things to love about Memorial Park in Albany>>

Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline, Richmond | Score: 12

boy hiking miller knox
Miller Knox Hike Point Richmond | Photo: Anna Azimi

So much to love about this wide open space along the waterfront! There are plenty of paved trails to ride bikes; a big and little kid playground with decent play structures; Keller Beach; rustic-feeling hiking paths; and grassy fields for tossing a ball around. And if you have kids that love trains, swing on over to the Golden State Model Railroad Museum, which is just across the road. My kids love the diversity of things to do at Miller/Knox and I love the views and room to breath. [Pandemic Note: The Railroad Museum is closed, hoping to open in April 2021.] See more about Point Richmond>>

Jean Sweeney Open Space Park, Alameda | Score: 11

Jean Sweeney Park Alameda Swing
A swing for all ages at Jean Sweeney Open Space Park in Alameda | Photo Credit: Julie Herson

The shiny new Jean Sweeney Park is perfect for a wide range of ages. The extra long kid-friendly bike path is great for practicing biking and scooter skills or burning rubber with remote control cars. The fenced tot park has baby swings and a fun structure. There’s also an awesome metal slide that’s loads of fun and a killer zip line that always attracts the bigger kiddos. This part of Alameda can get windy, and shade isn’t plentiful. See lots more about Alameda’s Jean Sweeney Open Space Park >>

Pro tip: There’s a water feature in the sand area, so be prepared with a change of clothes.

Cesar Chavez/Adventure Playground/Shorebird Park/Bay Beach, Berkeley | Score: 11

Flying-Kites
Have an older child or other adult help launch the kite | Photo: Julie Herson

A visit to the Berkeley Marina includes so many possible activities. Flying kites is an activity for all ages, so an afternoon spent at Cesar Chavez Park is a must. Bring along bikes and scooters, remote control vehicles and windbreaker jackets for the many paths on the northern end of the marina. Once they tire of all that, hop in the car and drive a minute over to the Berkeley Marina where the big kids can play with sharp things at Adventure Playground. Finish the day at the beach next to the playground with some crab hunting and seaglass finding (if you have a little one under 3 this may not work unless you bring a partner who can play with them at Shorebird park while you supervise the older kids). [Pandemic Note: Adventure Playground is closed during the Pandemic.]

Oakland Zoo, Oakland | Score: 10

Visiting the giraffes at the Oakland Zoo | Photo: Julie Herson

Thinking of the Oakland Zoo as just another playground is a great way to get the most out of your membership. Pack a lunch, stroller and don’t forget your ride tickets from the last time you visited. The gondola ride is always a fun highlight and the new play area up top is ideal for mixed ages. The bigger kids will love the zip-line and creek while the tots climb all over the animal sculptures and dive into the sand. The ride area is also mixed-age friendly with little kid rides and a faster roller coaster to satisfy the bigs’ need for speed. [Pandemic Note: The Oakland Zoo has been closed again for now, when open, the play areas and rides are closed during the pandemic, hoping we can play again there soon!] See our guide here>>

What favorite places would make your list?? 

xxx

 

 




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