Ten East Bay Outings for Antisocial Parents
Guest post by Jordan Latham
A lot of us who were nonconformist kids, the kind who gravitated toward the weirdos, are no less antisocial as adults. We learn to carve out spaces we’re comfortable with and pointedly avoid loud, crowded, neon, intrusive social situations. We find the safe, dark, gothy holes that make us feel normal, and we stay there.
Then we become parents. And you’re not supposed to keep small children in dark, gothy holes.
The Bay Area is chocked full of outings and events designed for littles. You’ve got theme parks, play gyms and playgrounds, all teaming with tiny humans partying. But there are equally as many parents lurking in these places, eagerly ready to discuss sugar content, rashes, the color and consistency of Number Two and “Why is he doing that? Has he always done that? Is that normal?”.
I am not down. I’m just not.
So I offer up 10 alternative outings where small children can be wildebeests and parents can remain recessive, disinclined and unscathed by intrusion.
1. Alameda Beach at Shoreline Drive
Alameda Beach is beautiful. The weather is generally pretty mild, it’s clean and you get your fill of birds and sea shells. Crown Memorial State Park can be fairly crowded, but if you approach Shoreline Drive from Park Street you’ll get the benefit of several miles of beach walk spotted with random joggers, but largely open, private space.
2. Oyster Bay Regional Shoreline
Oyster Bay is a spot you really have to look for. Hidden behind an industrial area in San Leandro, it’s not something you’d notice just passing by. The coolest thing about this park is watching the airplanes come and go from Oakland International Airport just across the water. Trust me, kids go batshit for airplanes. You can have a picnic at one of the several tables or throw a ball around on the open fields. Local folks walk their dogs there after work, but the big park with the cool view is almost always fairly empty. Perfect.
3. Albany Bulb
The Bulb has been cleaned up quite a bit over the past couple years, but it’s still strange enough to be really cool! The sculptures are definitely something to see and the amazing San Francisco skyline view isn’t too shabby either, on clear day that is. There’s water access and sand to play in, making it a trippy little paradise for the kids and parents.
Caution: People do bring a lot of dogs to this park and not always leashed, so it’s something to be aware of if you’re out with toddlers.
4. Mountain View Cemetery
This is my favorite spot in Oakland. Located on the hill at the end of Piedmont Street, the 24,000 graves sprawl over 226 acres. It’s full of several beautifully tiled fountains, grandiose crypts…and big, beautiful, old trees. Spend an afternoon skipping along all sorts of winding paths, talking about things like Halloween zombies and less like “Where do we go when we die?”.
5. Middle Harbor Shoreline Park
You drive through a corridor of shipping containers to get to this park in the Port of Oakland. The geese come to greet you, and your kids will likely feel an immediate need to chase them. Naturally, there’s a lot of goose poop around – I highly suggest closed-toed shoes. Follow a path along the water to the observation tower that looks out over the Bay. Kick it for a while at the large, covered area with picnic tables and barbecues. The shipping container barges are massive on their own, but pale in comparison to the enormous cranes that look a lot like the “Star Wars” AT-AT Walkers.
The park doesn’t allow dogs and is very remote. It’s quiet and can feel peaceful, but can also give off a slightly sketchy vibe. Be aware of your surroundings, but it’s totally worth it.
6. Tilden Regional Park
Tilden has plenty of playgrounds, the Little Farm where you can feed a goat, an old-school merry-go-round and a steam train that will only you put you back $3 per ride. But these spots tend to be crowded with the aforementioned parental offenders (a.k.a. Poop talkers). Luckily, it’s a 2,079-acre park spanning between the Berkeley Hills and the San Pablo Ridge, so there’s plenty of gorgeous open space to be explored. Tilden is safe and well maintained by the East Bay Regional Park District – the hiking paths are well defined and the signage is clear to places like the horse stables and Botanical Gardens. Several of the most popular hiking trails provide amazing canyon and reservoir views. You could honestly go back to this park for weeks and keep seeing new things.
What? Yeah buddy. IKEA. The Swedish super store in Emeryville is a great place to run your toddlers when it’s raining out. Don’t go on the weekend – it’s a guaranteed nightmare. But weekdays, your kids can play house in all the weird prefab rooms full of furniture, check out the toys in the kid’s section and get a fair amount of the wiggles out in an enclosed and dry location. Do the staff love it? Probably not. But if they’re pissed off, they don’t mention it. The cafe is great too. It’s a very kid-friendly, cheap way to eat with big picture window views facing out over the water. Watch the rain and have a cup of coffee while the kids mess around with built-in toys in the seating area. Almost free fun.
8. Subpar Miniature Golf
The mini golf course on Park Street in Alameda is another great spot for kids when it’s nasty outside. It’s a little old and funky with some peeling paint and pieces broken off the course structures. The upside to that is your kids can climb all over everything and you won’t hear a word about it. The hesher teenager behind the counter does not give a rat’s ass. Aside from the putt-putt, you can shoot some pool upstairs or challenge the kiddos to a “Jurassic Park” video game, Dance Dance Revolution, air hockey or take it all the way back with some honest-to-goodness PAC-MAN.
Advice: The vending machines are broken — don’t even try to use them. It can get bum-rushed by high school kids in the afternoon, but it’s a ghost town if you go during school hours. Word is they’re moving Alameda locations and opening a second one in Ghiradelli Square this year, so get in while it’s still kind of trashy and fun until May.
9. Redwood Regional Park
Redwood Regional Park is 1,830 acres of genuine Northern California forest. The trees and the smell alone are worth going for. There’s so much wildlife to be seen! Deer, rabbits, chipmunk, hawks! We recently went to see the lady bugs at mating season. They gather along an old wooden gate and all the plants that grow alongside it. The streams have trout, there are over 40 miles of trails and they offer overnight camping areas. As if mating ladybugs weren’t enough.
10. Mount Diablo State Park
This place has a fantastic summit overlook. At 3,849, feet you can see out about 200 miles on a clear day! To get a closer view, check out the telescopes on the observation deck. Tons of hiking trails provide all sorts of different ways to saunter through the beautiful hills and valleys, some of which are for more advanced, athletic-type people and aren’t very kid-friendly so be sure to check out a trail map before you head out. You’ll see mountain bikers and horse back riders on trails that allow it, and horses make most kids happy. If your mini me is the adventurous type, they’ll love the fossils, lizards, and the occasional snake. Wind caves and a bunch of cool rock formations near the South Gate entrance are definitely worth checking out.
Warning: Located in Walnut Creek, it can get really damn hot in the summertime. Bring water and check the weather! Spring or Fall is on hit.
The point is we live in this magical place with lots of awesome things to see and explore, with all kinds of opportunities to teach the kids while exercising them simultaneously! Hiding from other parents while taking your children out to play couldn’t be easier than it is here in the Greater Bay Area.
So never fear weirdo parents! And in case nobody else is telling you this: You’re doing great job. Yes, they’re gonna be okay. You got this. I feel you!
And I don’t want to talk to you about it either.