Best of the Bay Area: Hidden Gems



Cheap Carnival - One of the East Bay’s best amusement parks for little ones isn’t really an amusement park at all. Read more.

 

Tilden for Tots - Known as the jewel of the East Bay, Tilden Regional Park is off the beaten path, but a perfect day trip for all ages, filled with 2,079 acres of preserved wilderness for hiking and exploring. Read more.

 

Heart’s Desire Beach - Finding calm waters along the Marin coast can be a challenge. But if you head to Tamales Bay State Park, there’s a sheltered cove called Heart’s Desire Beach that is perfect for families looking for a kinder and gentler beach experience. Read more.

 

Redwood City’s Courthouse Square - A town square brings a sense of community for its residents. Redwood City does this so well with its Courthouse Square. Read more.

 

Tilden Regional Park - Clearly, this is not a hidden gem. But we just had to pause for a moment to consider what has been called the “jewel” of the East Bay Regional Park District. Read more.

 

Green Gulch Farm Zen Center - If you find yourself on the way to Muir Woods, consider paying a visit to this working organic farm and Buddhist community. Read more.

 

Adventure Playground - Kids – and their imaginations – can run wild at this unique Berkeley playground that has been under construction for more than 30 years. Read more.

 

Niles Canyon Railway - Train enthusiasts and anyone who enjoys a scenic weekend ride can take a trip back in time on the historic Niles Canyon Railway, operated by the Pacific Locomotive Association. Read more.

 

The Village Well - This indoor play space fills two floors with toys, arts and crafts projects, and resources for San Francisco families. Read more.

 

Yerba Buena Gardens - Deep in the heart of San Francisco’s downtown area is a virtual paradise for kids. Read more.

 

Celebrate on the Peninsula With Ponies and Trains - Want to throw a party with enough attractions to entertain hundreds of kids? Lemos Farm and Pastorino Farms in Half Moon Bay may just be the ticket. Read more.

&pagebreaking&Cheap Carnival

One of the East Bay’s best amusement parks for little ones isn’t really an amusement park at all. The Oakland Zoo’s ride area is the ticket for mild thrills, with cars, planes and a carousel prices at only $1.25 each. The most expensive rides, a small rollercoaster and a train that meanders through zoo grounds, are just $2.50 a ride. You don’t even have to pay zoo admission to enter the ride area, though you’ll probably want to visit the animals and great children’s zoo, too. 977 Golf Links Road, Oakland 510-632-9525. oaklandzoo.org

 

- Janine De-Fao

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Tilden for Tots

Known as the jewel of the East Bay, Tilden Regional Park is off the beaten path, but a perfect day trip for all ages, filled with 2,079 acres of preserved wilderness for hiking and exploring. And the additional attractions – like the Little Farms – make it worth the drive, wherever you live in the Bay Area.

 

A family favorite destination is the Tilden Park Nature Area with its Environmental Education Center, which offers regular tours of the butterfly gardens and an introduction to birding. There are indoor exhibits that show the natural history of the area.

 

In summer, Lake Anza offers a sunny swimming area and sandy beach with lifeguards on duty May through September. Splash around in the shallow waters with the little kids or swim laps in the deeper parts with the older crowd.

 

For those occasions when you want to get our of the sun, head to Tilden Park’s merry-go-round. With hand-carved carousel animals to ride and old-time music playing, your kids will feel like they are at the carnival, not in a wilderness preserve. There is also a snack stand and a bathroom on site.

 

For a full description of park offering (including hours and admission charges), go to www.ebparks.org/parks/tilden.

 

- Gwen Hubner

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Heart’s Desire Beach

 

Finding calm waters along the Marin coast can be a challenge. But if you head to Tamales Bay State Park, there’s a sheltered cove called Heart’s Desire Beach that is perfect for families looking for a kinder and gentler beach experience.

 

With its calm water that tends to be a bit warmer than other Marin beaches, this is a great place for families with small children. You don’t have to be as concerned about big waves and rip currents, and the water is also shallower than other beaches.


For picnic lovers, the beach offers tables and barbeques. Even if you don’t want a big meal, you should pack some food and drink because there are no snack bars.

 

Dressing rooms and flush toilets are conveniently located, and there are no long hikes to get from the parking lot to the beach.

 

If you want to hike and learn about the area’s history, head to the trail for Indian Beach, where you can find Miwok tribe bark shelters. Many of the beaches in this area are connected with hiking trails.

 

Beach hours are 8 a.m. to sunset. Parking is $8. More information is available at www.parks.ca.gov

 

- Teresa Mills-Faraudo

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Redwood City’s Courthouse Square

 

A town square brings a sense of community for its residents. Redwood City does this so well with its Courthouse Square.

 

The city and the San Mateo County Historical Association partnered to restore the historic 1910 courthouse and create a plaza for residents to enjoy a variety of community events.

 

During the summer, the square is a happening hub with lots of outdoor entertainment for families. You can bring chairs or a blanket to watch movies or concerts. Art on the Square showcases paintings, photography, jewelry, glass, ceramics and more. And throughout the year, there is a variety of festivals at the square and in the downtown area.

 

Don’t miss the San Mateo Country History Museum inside the old courthouse. It features exhibits about the history of people, places and events in San Mateo County.


Museum house are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, go to redwoodcity.org/events or histroysmc.org.

 

- Teresa Mills-Faraudo

 

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Tilden Regional Park

Clearly, this is not a hidden gem. But we just had to pause for a moment to consider what has been called the “jewel” of the East Bay Regional Park District. 

 

One of the district’s oldest parks, there’s 2,079 acres of family fun to be found between the Berkeley Hills and San Pablo Ridge. It’s got it all. For starters, there’s the incredible array of wildlife, which can be explored through numerous hiking, horseback riding and bicycle trails. Then there’s the Little Farm, the golf course, miniature railway, carousel, botanical garden, swimming at Anza Lake and environmental educational facility. 

 

Voters in this year’s Best of the Best survey were especially impressed with the hiking trail that begins at Inspiration Point, located on the eastern edge of the park. This gold-medal-winning hike spans four miles.

Entrances off Wildcat Canyon Road and Grizzly Peak Boulevard, Berkeley.

888-327-2757. ebparks.org.

– Janine DeFao

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Green Gulch Farm Zen Center

If you find yourself on the way to Muir Woods, consider paying a visit to this working organic farm and Buddhist community. 

 

Nestled in a valley along the twisting path of Highway 1, Green Gulch (also known as Green Dragon Temple) is serene and inviting to families wanting to explore its vegetable gardens, enjoy a picnic or stumble upon it during a hike from Muir Beach.

 

The farm’s 115 acres is home to approximately 60 working residents, a Buddhist monastery, guest house and conference center. Produce from the farm supplies the center, Fort Mason’s vegetarian Greens Restaurant and the San Francisco Zen Center, which operates the facility. Food grown here is also sold at the Ferry Plaza farmers’ market on Saturdays.

 

The center was originally a dairy farm that was sold in 1972 to the Zen Center. A provision required it to remain a working farm that was open to the public.

 

1601 Shoreline Hwy., Muir Beach. 415-383-3134. sfzc.org/ggf.

– Millicent Skiles

&pagebreaking&Adventure Playground

Kids – and their imaginations – can run wild at this unique Berkeley playground that has been under construction for more than 30 years. 

 

That’s because the children who visit Adventure Playground are invited to hammer, saw, build and paint their own creations, as well as climb, ride a zip line and more. 

 

The park is designed for children ages 7 and older; younger children must stay within arms reach of an adult. 

 

Admission is free for individuals, though groups of five or more children (including gatherings of two or more families) need a paid reservation. Children 7 and older can be dropped off for three hours for $10. 

 

Berkeley Marina. 510-981-6720. ci.berkeley.ca.us.

– Janine DeFao

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Niles Canyon Railway

 

Train enthusiasts and anyone who enjoys a scenic weekend ride can take a trip back in time on the historic Niles Canyon Railway, operated by the Pacific Locomotive Association. 

 

Construction on the line started in 1866 and continued for three years. For 80 years, steam locomotives pulled trains through Niles Canyon, until diesel engines took over in the 1950s. In 1984, the Southern Pacific railroad system stopped running trains, pulled up tracks and the land was deeded to the county of Alameda.

 

But it wasn’t long before train enthusiasts began work to rebuild the line, and in 1988, cars were once again chugging along Niles Canyon, delighting passengers of all ages.

 

Today, trains run both ways between the 1880s depot in Sunol and Niles Station in Fremont, which is home to a historic railroad museum open on Sundays. The trains operate year-round on Sunday mornings and afternoons, except for November and December when a special holiday Train of Lights makes evening runs. A roundtrip lasts about 90 minutes.

 

Trains are also running from Niles on select Saturdays in July and August. The suggested donation is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 3-12; children under 3 are free. 

 

Sunol Depot, 6 Kilkare Road, Sunol. 925-862-9063. ncry.org.

– Janine DeFao

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The Village Well

 

This indoor play space fills two floors with toys, arts and crafts projects, and resources for San Francisco families. In addition to morning and afternoon playgroups, the nonprofit group also hosts Blue Bear Music and Lango language classes, as well as guest speakers and a weekly visit from local pediatricians to answer questions from parents.

 

Kids too young to enter preschool will appreciate the structure of circle time, with songs, games and storytelling. The serene space is also a favorite among parents and caretakers, with comfy rocking chairs for nursing moms, snacks and tea. 

 

The Village Well was founded by Jean Alice Rowcliffe (“Miss Jean” to the kids), who brings 27 years experience of working with families in both the U.S. and United Kingdom. 

 

2325 Union St., San Francisco. 415-921-1850. tvwsf.org.

– Millicent Skiles


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Yerba Buena Gardens

Deep in the heart of San Francisco’s downtown area is a virtual paradise for kids. Packed in one square block, the Yerba Buena Gardens is home to a historic carousel, Zeum: San Francisco’s Children’s Museum, ice skating and bowling, a playground with a water feature, an outdoor amphitheater, gardens and a hedge labyrinth.

 

If you’re ever in the downtown area, this is the place to let kids blow of some steam. It’s the least you can do after dragging them around shopping!

 

Bounded by Fourth, Mission, Third and Folsom streets, San Francisco. 415-820-3550. yerbabuenagardens.com.

– Millicent Skiles

 

&pagebreaking&Celebrate on the Peninsula With Ponies and Trains

Want to throw a party with enough attractions to entertain hundreds of kids? Lemos Farm and Pastorino Farms in Half Moon Bay may just be the ticket. Both include pony and train rides, petting zoos, picnic areas and plenty of places to play.

 

Lemos Farm, 12320 San Mateo Road (Highway 92), 650-726-2342, lemosfarm.com. Pastorino Farms, 12391 San Mateo Road (Highway 92), 650-726-6440, pastorinofarms.com.

– Millicent Skiles

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