Does your backyard consist of a concrete slab and a patch of weeds? Is your idea of being "one with nature" looking at the succulent on your windowsill? Perhaps it's time to get out of the house. Luckily, you won't have to go far to find greenery in the East Bay, and while there are plenty of hiking trails and wide-open parkland in our backyard, there are just as many neighborhood parks worth exploring — and some of our favorites are tucked up in the East Bay hills. So grab a blanket, some snacks, and a good book, and head to these hillside hideaways.
Dracena Quarry Park
130 Dracena Ave., Piedmont, 510-420-3050
Most of us will never be able to afford to live in Piedmont, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the wealthy town's public spaces. Sprawling Piedmont Park, with its lush landscape and bizarre history, gets most of the attention, but not to be overlooked is Dracena Quarry Park: eight acres of land in an abandoned rock quarry. There's a little bit of something for everyone in this two-part park, nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood: a mini redwood grove, a children's playground and climbing wall, a dog park, and a nice expanse of grass surrounded by bedrock cliffs. The path leading through the redwoods is closed temporarily as workers construct a wooden bridge over it, but you can still walk through the park on a different route.
Amenities: Picnic table, playground, benches, climbing wall, cement slide, off-leash dog park, real bathrooms, water fountain.
Notable for: Hobbit-worthy picnic table surrounded by redwoods.
Cragmont Rock Park
960 Regal Rd., Berkeley
Known for its rock-climbing opportunities (see "Rock Out" on page 6), Cragmont Rock Park is also a lovely destination for those who are more risk-averse. Among its highlights: a nice sloping patch of lawn (with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge) on which to picnic, read a book, and/or watch the sunset — and the fact that it's much less crowded than Indian Rock. It's also got a basketball hoop, two picnic tables with a barbecue, a stone gazebo (with an even better bay view), redwoods, oak trees, and a lovely sense of solitude — the quintessential North Berkeley park.
Amenities: Gazebo, half a basketball court, picnic tables, barbecue, bay views.
Notable for: A lawn with a view.
Glendale La Loma Park
1310 La Loma, Berkeley
North Berkeley has all the great parks. I mean, where else do kids' playgrounds have multimillion-dollar views? Glendale La Loma Park, nestled high up in the hills, has two playgrounds — a newish wood-and-plastic one for toddlers and an old-school metal one for bigger kids — plus a huge softball field (i.e., lots of grass) with a backdrop of wildflower-studded cliffs and eucalyptus and redwood trees. It's a three-tiered park, and every level has a sweeping view of the bay.
Amenities: Softball field, two playgrounds, basketball hoop, picnic tables, real bathrooms, water fountain.
Notable for: Kick-ass views — even from the playground.
John Hinkel Park
41 Somerset Ave., Berkeley
The first time you stumble upon the wilderness of John Hinkel Park, you may ask yourself, "Where the hell am I?" The park is located in an oak grove and also features a sizable outdoor amphitheatre with stone seating; pathways, staircases, and bridges through an ivy-covered, tree-shrouded canyon, complete with two creeks and some waterfall action; and an old, boarded-up, graffiti-tagged, creepy-looking clubhouse. Also creepy: The sad little play area, with lone metal slide and tiny teeter-totters. On a sunny afternoon with the light filtering through the redwoods, this park feels magical.
Amenities: Picnic area with fireplace and barbecue pit.
Notable for: Steep staircases through a forested, creek area.
1120 Arlington Blvd., El Cerrito
Dang, El Cerrito kids have it good. Arlington Park is an impressive five-plus-acre park nestled in the El Cerrito hills with a diverse array of amenities. Your kids will be amply engaged by the pond (complete with fake ducks and real fish), stream, and playground, while you can toss the Frisbee on the lawn or hit some balls on the tennis courts. Plan to stay awhile because there are also barbecue pits, picnic tables, and, thankfully, real bathrooms.
Amenities: Barbecue pits, basketball court, creek, pond, playground, picnic tables, tennis courts, clubhouse.
Notable for: Sheer array of amenities.