Best Family Friendly East Bay Activities

With an abundance of vibrant and diverse cities, towns, and natural attractions, the San Francisco Bay Area is justifiably one of the most desirable places to live in the world. It’s also one of the easiest places to take family day or overnight trips that deliver the satisfaction of long-distance travel without the hassle — especially if you head to the East Bay.

The sunnier and warmer East Bay sister to San Francisco dazzles with opportunities to lounge, explore, indulge, learn, and play — all flanked by breathtaking rolling hills and San Francisco bay views.

Whether your calendar frees up for a day or a week, these activities give you plenty of reasons to pack up the family and head to the East Bay.

For the Weary: A Luxury Day for the Whole Family

Worries melt away the minute you head up the winding driveway of the historic . Perched on 22 acres straddling the Berkeley and Oakland hills, the impeccably maintained 1915 Tudor-revival style “white castle” is a journey back to the grand, refined living of the Gold Rush-enriched era — if that era included expansive, luxurious pool facilities, endless fun things for kids to do, and state-of-the-art adults-only spa facilities and treatments. Book a room for yourself or your extended family at 50 percent off on certain days  then make the pools your basecamp. Kids can frolic along the sandy shore of the shallow, invigorating Splash Pool, or enjoy private swim lessons, supervised Kids Club activities, or trusted one-on-one childcare. You can linger on a lounge chair, take advantage of the steam, sauna, and Jacuzzi, and treat yourself to spa treatments that meld advanced and natural healing practices. To complete a perfect East Bay day, enjoy dinner or drinks with jaw-dropping views of the Bay and San Francisco skyline from the resort’s Limewood Bar & Restaurant. Find additional information on Claremont family travel here.

a group of kids hugging at the pool

For Animal Lovers: The Oakland Zoo

It seems counterintuitive for PETA and Jane Goodall to endorse a zoo, but the Oakland Zoo is a worthy exception and an East Bay treasure. A nationally recognized leader in animal welfare, rescue, conservation, and good times had by all, the beloved animal sanctuary established in 1922 takes full advantage of its lush hillside surroundings, providing spacious, naturalistic habitats for its more than 750 animal inhabitants and recovering local wildlife. Stroll the hilly grounds to see a sun bear chimp chilling in a hammock, watch river otters play above and below the water, hang with fruit bats, and get up close and personal with the animals of the African savanna, Australia, and the rainforest. Take a scenic gondola ride to the California Trail and discover local wildlife, or head straight for the classic old-fashioned amusement park catered towards younger adventurers and featuring a carousel, train and rollercoaster. Advance ticket reservations are required.

For the Young and the Nostalgic: Childrens Fairyland

If you want to experience one of the inspirations for Walt Disney’s magic kingdom, you’ll find it here, along the shore of downtown Oakland’s beautiful Lake Merritt. Fairyland was designed in 1950 as a 10-acre storybook-themed amusement park that allows little ones to step into classic fairy tales and their own imaginations. Today it’s a throwback to simpler times and the same good, old fashioned amusement that’s delighted more than seven decades of visitors. Follow the wandering pathways to Jack and Jill’s Hill, Alice in Wonderland’s tunnel, the mouth of a whale, play areas, farm animals, gardens, the oldest continually operating puppet theater in the U.S., and vintage amusement park rides designed for the littlest of riders. Make sure to purchase and use a “Magic Key” — they’re as much time-honored mementos as they are tools to unlock the property’s many storybook boxes that share recorded stories.

For the Energetic: Lake Merritt
The heart of Oakland pulses along the three-mile perimeter of this glistening lagoon in the middle of downtown. Idyllic, shaded picnic spots can be found along the grassy expanses of the Lakeside Park and Garden Center or Fairyland Hill, and the paved pathways rimming the urban lake welcome bikes, scooters, joggers, and walkers. Spread out a blanket and a bountiful lunch, which on Saturdays can be procured from the nearby Grand Lake Farmers’ Market, or enjoy fresh seafood plus a menu of classic kid-friendly fare on the dock patio of Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill. Or rent a pedalboat, rowboat, kayak, canoe, or sailboat from the Lake Merritt Boating Center (check their open hours), meander the Bonsai Garden, or just lay back in the grass and count how many of the area’s 70 species of native birds you can spot. There are endless outdoor adventures to be had around this special urban oasis. If you still have energy after taking in the fun, you can dine in any of the myriad nearby restaurants and catch a movie at the historic Grand Lake Theatre; it’s just a few blocks away.

close up of two Giraffes

For curious minds: Chabot Space and Science Center

The winding, wooded drive up Skyline Drive to the top of majestic Redwood Regional Park alone is worth the drive. But once you’ve parked at the nonprofit science center, you’ll find that its observatory, planetarium, immersive exhibits, and hands-on STEM activities achieve more than their goal of making science and space concepts accessible to all; they provide hours of mind-expanding fun and wonder. Take aspiring astronauts and the Universe-curious straight to the NASA Ames Visitor Center, where spacecraft models, including an eight-foot replica of NASA’s Artemis rover, are joined by real spacesuits and other NASA artifacts plus hands-on activities that put you in the role of a space scientist. Watch one of the awesome planetarium shows, which run every hour between 11am and 4pm. Come on a Friday or Saturday night between 7:30 to 10:30pm to peer into the unknown through one of the observatory’s large-scale refracting and reflecting telescopes. While you’re here, admire the area’s towering coastal redwoods; they’re the largest stand in the East Bay.

 For Nature Lovers: Claremont Canyon Hiking from the Claremont

 The ultimate combination of nature and nurture is literally at your feet at the Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel. Once you’ve checked into the grand, historic property, you can don your walking shoes and disappear into the glorious 209-acre Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, which features a short, steep hike along the hillside border of Berkeley and Oakland to reveal one of the most spectacular panoramic vistas of Berkeley and its university campus, Oakland, and San Francisco Bay. Finish the day with a relaxing massage at the Fairmont Spa while the professional childcare leads the kids to on-property fun, then order room service for en-suite movie night.

aerial of museum

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