Nature-Based Playgroups and Classes in the East Bay


Our guest writer today is Clara Hogan, a writer based in the East Bay, and a mom to two young daughters. She enjoys strong coffee, braving restaurants with a baby and toddler, discovering new parks, and weekend trips around California with the family.

If you’re like me, you find taking your kids outside much easier than being at home with them. A wide open space for them to run free, get tired out, and make a mess that’s not in my living room? Yes, please.

That’s why access to nature (and year-round temperate weather) is one of the biggest perks of parenting in the East Bay. Not to mention research has shown spending time outdoors can make kids happier, more focused, and less anxious. It also gets them physically moving and provides an unstructured space to use their imaginations.

little girl playing in dirt gathering items from nature
Toddlers and preschoolers enjoy stories, snacks, crafts, swings, as well as nature play, and exploration alongside their caregivers. | Photo: Live Oak Kids

Heading outside with my kids into a vast park, a hike through the Redwoods, or playing along the beach top are some of my favorite moments. But I often find myself going back to the same spots and doing the same activities when I know there is so much more to explore in our neck of the woods. So recently, I went on a quest to find ways to take even more advantage of living where we live to find groups and activities that can mix up and inspire our time playing outdoors.

Turns out, there are plenty of options. We’ve compiled a list of East Bay nature playgroups and classes for kids throughout Oakland, Berkeley, and the greater {510} area for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Nature-Based Classes and Drop-in Activities

Many of these little kid drop-in classes and activities are free or pretty cheap. Find a new place to explore each week guided by a facilitator with lessons to share.

Crab Cove Visitor Center & Aquarium (Alameda)

Crab Cove’s naturalist programs at Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda offer hands-on educational programs throughout the week that teach kids (and parents!) about marine life. Activities include fish feeding, storytime, and family nature fun, which involves games, crafts, and making discoveries. Many classes involve visiting McKay Avenue, a mud flat and rocky shore area designated the first California estuarine marine reserve. There are also themed drop-in activities ranging from using a microscope to learning about birds.
Ages: All welcome.
Cost: Parking is $5 per vehicle when the lot is attended. Activities are free, though some require preregistration.
Website >

three children walking by beach
Crab Cove Beach in Alameda has so much to explore | Photo: Julie Herson

Tilden Nature Area (Oakland, Berkeley)

The Environmental Education Center at Tilden offers programming for children (with caregivers present) throughout this 740-preserve that change with the seasons. Take a short hike and learn about flora and fauna, do an arts and crafts project, or get hands-on with activities like apple cider pressing or homemade ice cream making. A local favorite program is Farm Chores for Littles, where kids get a chance to take care of the animals at Tilden Little Farm. Another great one to look for is Tilden Tots.
Ages: All welcome.
Cost: Free
Website >

15 hikes to try with toddlers >>

Hikes for Tykes (Oakland, Berkeley)

Organized by the East Bay Parks Department, head out on a hike with your little one in various parks around the region, including Anthony Chabot, Lake Temescal, and Sibley. Have fun looking for and learning about trees, rocks, birds, and flowers. This is a perfect option to tire them out before naptime. Hikes for tykes take place Tuesdays from 10:30-11:45 am. Hikes average about half a mile.
Cost: Free
Ages: Ideal for toddlers and preschoolers.

hikes for tykes group
About a dozen children and caregivers joined Hikes for Tykes when we went last | Photo: Maureen Burke

Point Pinole Little Peeps (Richmond)

Organized by the East Bay Regional Parks Department, bring the little ones to explore the shoreline, create a craft and listen to a story. Meet at the Atlas Road Staging Area. Events are approximately monthly and take about an hour.
Cost: Free
Ages: Ideal for toddlers and preschoolers.

Hikes in the Regional Parks (Oakland, Berkeley)

If you have school-aged kids, consider these longer hikes also organized by East Bay Parks that take place one weekend day a month. Enjoy nature while learning more about the flora and fauna around you. Locations include Redwood Regional Park, Lake Chabot, and other parks in the area.
Ages: Older kids and families.
Cost: Free

Story Strolls (Richmond)

Once a month the Richmond Public Library hosts a nature-themed walk with storytime in a partnership with East Bay Regional Parks Naturalists and Richmond children’s librarians. The location varies and you can find current details on their Facebook page.
Ages: infant through elementary school.
Cost: Free

Kids for the Bay Nature Clean-ups (Multiple locations)

Teach your kid about the importance of taking care of Planet Earth. Kids for the Bay is a non-profit that encourages budding conservationists by cleaning up nature, providing school programs, and holding summer camps. One easy way to get involved is to join them on a clean-up day, which they hold periodically at parks and beaches. Follow them on Instagram to learn about upcoming clean-ups.
Ages: Better for kids old enough to contribute to clean-ups
Cost: Free
Website >

Find more area farms that welcome children >>

Ardenwood Historic Farm (Fremont)

Kids love running around this historic farm, which features a variety of animals, a large hay barn, an outdoor kitchen, and a working blacksmith shop. While it’s fun enough to explore any day, the farm also offers engaging programming that lets kids get more hands-on, including a chance to feed the animals, ride the on-property train, hear storytime, and witness hay hoisting (trust me, this is oddly mesmerizing to them.)
Ages: All welcome.
Cost: Entry is $4 for adults, $2 for children (4-17 years), and free for under 4. Programming is free.
Website >

Ardenwood Farm
Visit with goats, chickens, and other farm animals at Ardenwood Farm in Fremont | Photo: Maureen Burke

Nature Programs at Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center

Learn about animal adaptations, use a microscope, and run along the shore. Hayward Shoreline Center has age-appropriate programming that will engage and educate curious young ones.
Ages: Toddler Ramble is for ages 1 to 4. Nature Detectives is for ages 4 to 8.
Cost: Class fee is $12-$18 with some discounts for multiple children or bundles of classes.
Website >

Outdoor Nature Lab at the Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley)

The Hall has always been a great place for kids to discover, but the Outdoor Nature Lab is a recent addition! The completely outdoor experience allows kids to explore nature in a contained area, taking part in everything from natural journaling to grabbing their binoculars or taking photos. The lab has easy-to-follow, self-guided activities as well as occasional facilitated activities.
Ages: All welcome
Cost: Entry is $20 for adults and children ages 3+ and free for kids under 2; programming is free
Website >

Berkeley UC Botanical Garden

Family programs are back at Berkeley’s botanical garden, with monthly events that teach kids and parents alike about local flora and fauna. Topics include Bay Area bats, making botanical wreaths, and more.
Ages: All welcome
Cost: Entry is $15 for adults, $7 for kids 7-17, and free for kids under 7; programming is free
Website >

Find more gardens around the East Bay to enjoy with kids >>

Ruth Bancroft Garden (Walnut Creek)

Ruth Bancroft Garden hosts outdoor crafting workshops for tot/preschoolers and storytime events. These happen almost every week and require registration.
Ages: All welcome, best for ages 2 to 5.
Cost: Wednesday craft fees depend on the materials needed; Thursday storytime is free with paid garden admission – Adults $12, Children 5-17 $5, Under 4 is free.
Website >

Session-based Nature Play Groups

If you want to commit to a group for building a nature-loving community outdoors, you can’t go wrong with any of these programs.

Live Oak Kids (Oakland)

In a class called “Acorn Adventures,” toddlers meet up for a four-Saturday series in Joaquin Miller Park from 10-noon. The toddlers and preschoolers enjoy stories, snacks, crafts, swings, as well as nature play, and exploration alongside their caregivers. The group is limited to 10 children. Groups meet seasonally. The current session (Sept/Oct) is sold out, but a spring session will be added soon, in addition to a new offering: “pop-up” playdates, such as for winter solstice or “messy maker” art playdates, so keep an eye out.
Ages: Generally 1-4 years old
Cost: $239 per 4-week session
Website >

Tinkergarden (Multiple Locations)

These outdoor, play-based classes take place throughout the Bay Area and are open to toddlers, preschoolers, and young kids. Each outdoor class is centered around an activity and a purposeful play curriculum designed by education experts and run by a trained facilitator. Tip: you can try out a class for free. If you enjoy it, you can sign up for a series of live classes, that will also get you access to resources with ideas onhow to keep the outdoor discovery going. Many classes are on weekdays, but you’ll find some on the weekends, too.
Ages: 1.5 to 8 years old
Cost: First class free; $207-$217 for 9 live classes
Website >

Family Forest Explorers at Berkeley Forest School

This forest-based preschool offers a two-hour toddler class, “Family Forest Explorers,” every Friday from 10 am-noon where kids can socialize with new friends, explore nature, enjoy wild foraged snacks, and listen to music. At the same time, facilitators teach caregivers about child development, local ecology, natural gross motor development, and anti-bias education among other topics. Each class has 12-15 families. Enrollment is per family, so you can have as many kids or caregivers as you’d like.
Ages: While there’s no upper limit to kids who can attend, most kids are 1.5 years-4 years old.
Cost: $250 for five-week session; $300 for six-week session. Sliding scale options available; no one is turned away for lack of funds.
Website >

toddler building with sticks in the dirt
Family Forest Explorers’ kiddos are between 1.5 years and 4 years old building community and deepening a love of nature | Photo: Berkeley Forest School via Instagram

Alameda Young Naturalist Club

This club provides elementary-aged kids a place to socialize and explore nature after school. It meets in the Calhoun and East End neighborhoods of Alameda, with after-school pick-up offered from Otis Elementary (but your kid doesn’t need to go there to attend). It also meets all day during school breaks and turns into a full-blown camp in the summer. Activities include animal handling on a micro-homestead, gardening, carpentry, crafts, foraging, nature games, and learning survival skills.
Ages: 6-12 years old
Cost: $385 for a seven-week session of one day a week; $345 for a week of half days during school break; $600 for full day, full week summer camp. Scholarships are available for all programs
Website >

Gaia Passages (Oakland, Berkeley)

Focused on serving girls and gender-expansive youth, Gaia Passages offers programs ranging from 7 to 16 years old. Exact meet-up timing and activities depend on age but involve a series of after-school and weekend meet-ups, as well as camping trips, that take place throughout East Bay parks.
They also offer parent support circles.
Ages: Growing Oaks, 7-11 years old; Coming of Age, 11-14 years old, Growing Sequoias, 13-16 years old
Cost: $1995-$2470 for seven months of once-a-week programs, depending on age
Website >

Nature Explorers at the Gardens at Heather Farm (Walnut Creek)

Curious preschoolers can join this weekly class at Heather Farm Garden featuring nature-themed stories, garden walks, hands-on activities, and fun projects. 90-minute classes are offered 10 – 11:30 am on multiple weekday mornings. It helps that these classes are adjacent to the amazing Heather Farm playground.
Ages: 2 to 5.
Cost: $85 per month for non-members for weekly Nature Explorers class or $80 per month for members.
Website >

Older Post Newer Post