Parks and Gardens
Berkeley Rose Garden
1200 Euclid Ave./Bayview Pl. Free.
Built and planted as a Works Progress Administration roject in 1937, this terraced garden was originally conceived as a classical Green arboretum. It is a particular delight in late spring and summer, when the 250 varieties of rose are in full bloom. Benches sheltered by arbors covered with climbing roses make for pleasant picnicking and provide gorgeous views of the bay and San Francisco. Tennis courts adjoin. The garden is a popular spot for weddings, and a knot of people is found at the top most evenings watching the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge.
●Across the street, Codornices Park is equipped with a playground, a basketball court, and a long, exciting, and potentially dangerous (be careful!) concrete slide. Trails follow the creek and pass the oldest grove of dawn redwoods found outside of China. Free.
70 Rincon Rd./Arlington Ave.; in Kensington. Free.
Surrounding the residence of the president of the University of California, the enormously varied, 10½-acre hillside Blake Garden was designed in the 1920s by Anita Blake–one of the first students in the landscape architecture department at U.C. Berkeley–and her sister Mabel Symmes. The garden is used by both U.C. and other area educational institutions as an outdoor laboratory and educational facility.
The garden divides more than 1,000 plant species into several areas: a formal Italianate garden with reflecting pool; a redwood canyon with under plantings of ferns, gingers, and other woodland exotic species; a drought-tolerant garden; a flower cutting garden; a vegetable garden; and an undeveloped Australian Hollow. enches positioned throughout invite quiet reflection, and picnic tables are available.
●A Carmelite Monastery is located adjacent on what was once part of the garden’s original lot. Established in 1949 in a 60-room 1925 Spanish revival mansion, it is said to be the most secluded monastery in the U.S. Nuns live there mostly in silence and without heat, and they leave only for medical appointments. A small chapel is sometimes open to the public.
Cragmont Rock Park
960 Regal Rd./Easter Way (E of Euclid Ave.). Free.
Neighborhood residents originally bought this land, then sold it to the City of Berkeley at purchase price. It became an official park in 1920. Facilities include a popular rock outcrop for rock climbing, a half-basketball court, and a picnic area with barbecue, and it also has a spectacular bay view.
Eastshore State Park
This new park runs along the shoreline for 8.5 miles from Emeryville to Richmond. Free.
Indian Rock Park
950 Indian Rock Ave./Marin Ave., Northbrae. Free.
Located in a residential area in the hills, this small park was founded in 1917 by Dick Leonard, “the father of modern rock climbing.” It rocks with a small rock-climbing area featuring a craggy peak that is used for practice by both beginning and veteran climbers (star names include the late Galen Rowell and current wonder Hans Florine). Additionally, the rock has steps up to the top, where step-climbers are rewarded with a grand view of the bay and beyond. Wheelchair-accessible Indian Rock Path stretches for 3 blocks, and a small picnic area and playground are also available.
John Hinkel Park
41 Somerset Place, between Southampton Ave. and San Diego Rd. Free.
Located in a beautiful hillside oak grove, this rustic park offers a range of recreational opportunities as well as a stone amphitheater for outdoor performances. A play area featuring swings, slides, and teeter-totters, and a picnic area is equipped with large fireplace and barbecue pit. Blueberry and Blackberry Creeks cross the park site, and hiking trails originate here. The Berkeley Shakespeare Festival was held here from 1971 through 1991.
Live Oak Park
1301 Shattuck Ave./Berryman St. Free.
This popular park opened to the public in 1916. Always inviting to visit, it features mature shade trees (including redwoods), rolling lawns, and Codornices Creek winding through. Additional facilities include lighted basketball and tennis courts, a volleyball court, a recreation center, and two children’s play areas. Picnic tables also available but are often pre-booked for parties.
●Live Oak Theatre presents plays.
●A Himalayan Fair is held annually in May.
Hearst Ave., from Milvia St. to Bonita Ave. & from Martin Luther King Jr. Way to Sacramento St. Free.
This five-block-long stretch of green space includes a softball field, basketball court, lawn volleyball area, two tot and two school-age play areas, a community garden, picnic areas, and an off-leash dog area. A mural painted by artist Jean Lamarr depicts Ohlone history on a concrete BART vent.
●The Ohlone Dog Park at Grant Street was established as an experiment in 1979, this was the first leash-free dog park in the nation. It has 4-foot-high fences that foil even the most gifted jumpers. A concrete walkway is equipped with seating areas alongside, and a lawn with wood chips is on either side of the walkway. Water taps are provided at both ends of the park. Because it is partially paved, the park is a particularly good choice in wet weather, and dogs like to run here. Owners must clean up after their dogs, and plastic bags are provided. Free.
Regional Parks Botanic Garden
Located across from the carousel, this garden is devoted to collecting, growing, displaying, and preserving native California plants.
80 Poppy Lane/Keeler Ave. Free.
Features here include Pinnacle Rock and several other rock outcroppings that are popular for rock climbing, a children’s play area, and a picnic area.
The story goes that in Europe after World War II a designer built a series of modern playgrounds. But the children continued, indeed preferred, to play in bombed-out buildings and to construct their own play equipment from the plentiful rubble and debris. Taking that cue, he designed the first adventure playground. This U.S. version offers a storage shed full of tools and recycled wood that children can use to build forts and clubhouses and other things, and then leave them up or tear them down when they are done. The playground also has a tire swing, climbing net, and fast-moving trolley hanging from a pulley. Note that a reservation is required for groups of 5 or more, and adult supervision is required. Staff is there to keep the playground safe, and parents are there to keep the kids safe. Check ahead regarding rules.
●A more traditional play area is just outside the fence. And sometimes an ice cream cart shows up.
●Next door, in the Strawbale visitors center at the Shorebird Nature Center you’ll find information about that style of alternative building and samples of materials in action–Photovoltaics, heat-radiant floors, and a wind mill. This building also holds a 50-gallon salt-water tank and a 30-gallon fresh-water tank, plus exhibits on marine mammals, local birds, and problems that plastics cause in the marine environment. A new classroom next door holds two 180-gallon tanks, one with local bay waters life and the other with local native freshwater fishes. Between the two buildings is a native plant garden designed to attract birds and butterflies. Free.
●Nearby, at the bay end of University Avenue where the Berkeley Pier begins, is a sculpture depicting a bow-and-arrow-wielding Native American astride his horse. Artist Fred Fierstein is said to have placed it here himself in 1985 when he got tired of waiting for Berkeley politicians to decide to do it for him. He had offered “The Guardian” to the city at no cost, but after long deliberation it was rejected as too aggressive–not to mention that the animal appears to urinate when it rains. Berkeley residents then voted to keep it here, but their decision might not be final. See it now.
●While you’re here, take a walk out on the Berkeley Municipal Pier. Originally it stretched out for 3½ miles; now you can walk about 3,000 feet. You’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree view that takes in the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, San Francisco, Treasure Island, and Angel Island. Currently closed.
Strawberry Creek Park
1260 Allston Way/Bonar St.
Built on the site of the former Santa Fe Railroad freight yard, this grassy park is stretches to almost 4 acres and is equipped with a soccer field, an expansive children’s play area, and a volleyball, basketball, and tennis court. Plenty of grass invites romping, and some picnic tables and benches are also provided. Strawberry Creek here is restored to its original course, and attractive California native plantings allow for low maintenance.
●The Phoenix Pastificio
#109. Cash only.
Located on the northern edge of the park, this unusual shop lacks signage. After a while, I found it with a hand-written sign over one door’s glass panes. Inside, there is no sales counter. Instead you’ll find menu print-outs on a refrigerator door, next to a bell with a sign requesting that you ring for service. The width of the fresh pasta here can be cut to your preference. Choices include bucatini, porcini, and Meyer lemon pasta. Also available is a rustic olive bread studded with salty olive chunks, and you can call ahead to order a half-baked pizza. And don’t overlook the delicious macaroons, cookies, and pastries–the rich Pecan Chewy is a winner. There is rarely a line, and though impromptu, customer service is excellent.
Next door, this tiny cafe features brick walls and excellent coffee as well as a large assortment of other drinks. A pasty case is filled with goodies from local bakers and food pop-ups. Seating is a choice of inside at a large communal table, or outside on a spacious park-side patio.
Tilden Regional Park
Off Grizzly Peak, along Wildcat Canyon Rd. Free.
This beautiful, well-developed 2,079-acre park has 35 miles of hiking trails as well as numerous picnic spots, many with tables and barbecues.
University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley
200 Centennial Dr. Fee.
Located behind the campus in lush Strawberry Canyon, this “library of living plants” covers 34 acres and contains more than 13,000 different types of plants organized by continent of origin.
(www.berkeleyandbeyond2.com; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)