As Karen’s loyal zombie who picks her brain out of this blog, I feel indebted every time I get satisfaction on her footsteps. Here is a little something that I can contribute: A lesser known but beloved place to spend a good afternoon. (Or morning.)
A year ago, my daughter went to Berkeley’s Adventure Playground with her Girl Scouts troop and couldn’t stop bragging about the tepee they built. So this year, when her troop needed a volunteer, I didn’t need her puppy face to take it up.
The Adventure Playground is right by the Bay. From the Peninsula, it took less than an hour’s drive. From the outside, you can see this is not your usual playground. Sure enough, there are slides, swings, and climb structures. Oh, did I mention their zipline, too? The difference is, all the equipment are full of colors - I mean, not colorful, but full of all kind of colors. Bold colors, next-to-indistinguishable colors, incoherent colors, colors of no theme. No, of course I don’t mean that colorful and professionally painted Peter Pan mural you see outside.
Another difference is, all these equipment look like they were hand-made from scrap wood by amateurs. I don’t know about the amateur part, but they are hand-made, from scrapped materials.
So, the place’s got a few play structures that look different. OK. Really different. Different different - oh, it is also fenced up, unlike most public playgrounds. A six-years-old may happily trot along for a couple hours. How does this hold the interest of four vanfuls of six-graders for the afternoon?
We arrived about an hour earlier than our appointed time, so we went on a short stroll by the marina after picnic lunch. (Do not worry, you do not need an appointment if you are just a family.) The playground’s immediate neighbor is Shorebird Park. Within walking distance are McLaughlin East Shore State Park and Cézar Chàvez Park.
Of course, we did not have time to explore. We came here for tangible fun. Tangible, as in “perceptible by touch”. After Jeremy our tour guide explained safety rules with hand tools and how to earn those tools (and/or paint), the girls were all set up to work. As the sign says, you go find 10 nails, or 5 wood splinters, 5 pieces of trash, or 1 “Mr. Dangerous”, in exchange for a hand tool or a pail of paint.
How could you find these safety hazards in a playground? Easy. Because more than just play structures, Adventure Playground has a woodwork workshop where children can build whatever they want to, using scrap wood pieces and, yes, nails. It is inevitable that some wood will become splinters and some nails will find their way to where they should not.
Before you lose your mind and call CPS, know that this place is operated by Berkeley Park and Recreation. You do not sign a formal waiver like in Maker Faire, but you are encouraged to supervise your children by charging each unaccompanied child $7 admission. That’s right, you bring your children for free if you stay with them.
Whereas using hand tools can be exciting for children, younger ones may not be able to handle all the labor. In addition to saw and hammer, children can also trade safety hazards they remove from the ground for paint, then unleash their inner Van Gogh on whatever they like, wherever they like. That’s right, within the boundary of the fence, they can paint or color anywhere that does not have a sign explicitly forbidding painting. This means that children can paint on any piece of furniture and equipment, finished and unfinished. Now, can you see why this place is so full of colors?
For those children whose higher call is Gershwin, they can try music. Do not expect Eine Kleiner Nachtmusik to come from this open-shell, half broken piano. But more than half of its keys are still functional. (No painting on the piano.) And I have heard a few trained hands banging some recognizable tunes out of it.
And the zipline? You’ll have to come and see. It is nothing like what you get on Fremont Street in Las Vegas. But this is a unique experience, especially the part about pulling up your own harness. For young ones who are not allowed on professional equipment, this might be their first ride. It was my daughter’s last year.
Adventure Playground is free, conveniently located, and close to several parks. If your children are itching for action, you can’t go wrong with this place.
Opening Hours: Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am-4pm. only; Closed on City Holidays and Rainy Days