Parents’ Guide to East Bay Gardens


I’m always looking to spend more time outside with my kids. Visiting East Bay gardens makes that goal simple. Kids can search for colors, specific blooms, or animals in a garden. Parents can find inspiration for their backyards. With stairs and winding paths, there’s plenty of movement involved for kids and parents. I’ve traveled to dozens of gardens and am here to share tips for your next garden visit.

Ticketed East Bay Gardens

UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley

Description: Nestled in Strawberry Canyon, the garden’s terrain keeps things interesting for kids. It features over 10,000 plants from six continents so there’s always something in bloom. Come in the late winter / early spring to see California newts migrate to the Japanese garden pond. School-aged kids may enjoy the carnivorous plant greenhouse. Don’t miss the Redwood Grove for a shaded hike and banana slug search. A true living museum!

Kids at Garden in Berkeley
Step in to a natural adventure at UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley | Photo: Maureen Burke

Best ages: Preschoolers to tweens and beyond. The paths can be steep at times and some stairs are made from uneven stone. Moving around the garden is difficult for strollers, little ones, or anyone with limited mobility.
Prices: $15 for adults; $15 for seniors and non-UCB students; $7 for juniors (7-17); Free for kids 6 and younger and UCB students. Advance tickets require.
Hours: 10 am – 5 pm daily; closed first and third Tuesdays of each month
Location: 200 Centennial Drive, Berkeley, CA 94720

Read our review of UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley >

Ruth Bancroft Garden (Walnut Creek)

Description: Small but mighty, this garden is filled with cacti, succulents, and other drought-tolerant flora. Ask for a children’s Bingo card at the ticket booth. The card is a mix of Bingo and scavenger hunt—find three of the pictured plants in a row and win a small prize. Search for fish in the koi pond or join a kid-friendly event (story times, craft workshops, etc.). Visit in winter for cooler temperatures. Home of Garden D’Lights, a holiday light show. My favorite garden in the 925.

Scavenger Hunt at Ruth Bancroft Garden
Search for cacti, flowers, and more with the garden’s scavenger hunt | Photo: Maureen Burke

Best ages: Toddlers to grade-schoolers. Be sure to remind kids to not touch the cactus spines.
Prices: Adults $10, Seniors (65+)/Students/Active Military with ID $8; Children under 12 are Free
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 9 am – 4 pm (last garden admission at 3:15 pm); closed Mondays
Location: 1552 Bancroft Road, Walnut Creek, CA 94598

Read our review of Ruth Bancroft Garden >

Learn about how to get into Bay Area gardens, museums, and attractions for FREE >

Free East Bay Gardens

Berkeley Rose Garden

Description: Just across the street from Codornices Park, Berkeley Rose Garden is an idyllic spot in the Berkeley Hills. Families can meander down the rows and rows of roses before park time. There are also a few paths, a water feature, and a bridge to explore within the garden fence. Enjoy breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Mixed-age appropriate and easy destination with visitors. Bonus points for clean restrooms on site (near tennis courts and tunnel to Codornices Park).

Rose Garden
Start at Berkeley Rose Garden then move to Codornices Park. | Photo: Anna Azimi

Best ages: Toddler and older. Stroller friendly but some areas, such as water feature and bridge, aren’t accessible.
Prices: FREE
Hours: Daily from dawn to dusk (unless noted otherwise)
Location: 1200 Euclid Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94708
Website >

Tilden Park Botanical Garden (Berkeley)

Description: A magical space in Tilden Park that shouldn’t be overlooked by families. The garden is filled with California native flowers, trees, and cacti. Wind down the paths or travel over stone bridges for an enchanting walk. Cool off under the redwoods. A small creek and gently flowing waterfalls add some extra magic to the garden. Basic restrooms near the parking lot.

Regional Parks Botanic Garden at Tilden
Regional Parks Botanic Garden at Tilden | Photo by Ed U via yelp

Best ages: Toddler to grade-schoolers. Some handholding may be needed along bridges or some paths. Partially accessible by strollers.
Prices: FREE
Hours: Open daily with seasonal hours: October through May, 8:30 am – 5 pm, June through September, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm; closed on select holidays
Location: Intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive within Tilden Regional Park

Read our review of Tilden Park Botanical Garden > 

Blake Garden (Kensington)

Description: Blake Garden is the teaching and research garden of the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape
Architecture and Environmental Planning, but is open to the public on weekdays. My kids like the Reflection Pool and Vegetable & Flower Garden. There were also opportunities to hike into the Redwood Canyon or build in the Create-with-Nature Zone. No tree climbing or fruit/flower picking, which can be challenging for littles. Restrooms near the greenhouse.

blake garden in kensington
Children are welcome at Blake Garden | Photo: Anna Azimi

Best ages: Preschool to grade-schoolers. There are steep slopes in the garden; strollers should be used with caution.
Prices: FREE
Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 am – 4:30 pm; closed weekends and select holidays
Location: 70 Rincon Road, Kensington, CA 94707
Website > 

Learn more about a visit to Blake Garden > 

Morcom Rose Garden (Oakland)

Description: Morcom Rose Garden is a great choice for a low-key, flower-based destination. The park is home to thousands of rose bushes, plus some urban turkeys. It’s not far from shops and cafes on Piedmont Avenue or Linda Park Tot Lot. Restrooms are on-site, but cleanliness is hit or miss.

The Morcom Rose Garden with two kids
Frolic the pathways and play near the cascading fountains at the Morcom Rose Garden | Photo: Julia Gidwani

Best ages: Babies to grade-schoolers. Stroller-friendly ramps make this an easy place to walk with a baby.
Prices: FREE
Hours: Daily, dawn to dusk
Location: 700 Jean St, Oakland, CA, 94610 

Read our review of Morcom Rose Garden > 

Gardens at Lake Merritt (Oakland)

Description: My family spends a lot of time in the Gardens at Lake Merritt. It’s not necessarily a showstopper but is uber kid-friendly and easy-going. There’s a nice mix of specialty garden areas, community garden plots, and kid-friendly elements like ponds and water features. My kids enjoy the turtle ponds, Japanese garden, Bonsai garden, and seeing the Air Bee-N-Bee native bee house. Enjoy a picnic in the shaded, grassy areas or use it as a jumping-off spot to other Lake Merritt destinations—Children’s Fairyland, Lakeside Park wildlife refuge, or Rotary Nature Center. Avoid the restrooms; we use one at Whole Foods on Bay Place.

Garden in Oakland
Running through the Japanese garden at Gardens of Lake Merritt | Photo: Maureen Burke

Best ages: Babies to grade-schoolers; flat, paved paths make this garden very stroller friendly.
Prices: FREE; parking $2/hr
Hours: Weekdays 7:30 am – 3 pm; Weekends 8 am – 4 pm; closed select holidays
Location: 666 Bellevue Ave, Oakland, CA 94610 

Read our review of Gardens at Lake Merritt > 

Hayward Japanese Garden

Description: This garden is tucked away, but definitely worth a visit if you enjoy Japanese-style gardens. It was so peaceful and not crowded when we visited in the fall. My toddler spent nearly an hour playing I Spy at the koi ponds. There were also rocks for little kid-friendly scrambling and pagodas for serene breaks. It’s not far from Sulphur Creek Nature Center.

Hayward Japanese Garden
This garden is a hidden gem in Hayward! | Photo: Maureen Burke

Best ages: Toddler to young grade-schoolers. Flat, paved paths make it easy to walk with a stroller.
Prices: FREE
Hours: Daily, 8:30 am – 4 pm; closed on Christmas Day
Location: 22373 N 3rd St, Hayward, CA 94541
Website >

Gardens at Heather Farm (Walnut Creek)

Description: Next to the wildly popular Heather Farm Park playground is the Gardens at Heather Farm. These sweet gardens are great for a calm break from the park. My kids enjoyed the sculptures, Children’s Garden, Rose Garden, and Waterfall Garden areas. The garden also puts on youth educations programs. Garden hosts private events, so be prepared for closures some weekends during peak season (April through November).

heather farm park childrens garden
Can’t wait until all the flowers will bloom at the Children’s Garden at Heather Farm Park | Photo: Kat Choi

Best ages: Toddler to young grade-schoolers.
Prices: FREE
Hours: Daily, dawn to dusk; closed for private events and weddings most weekend afternoons April – November.
Location: 1540 Marchbanks Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94598 
Website >

Gardens We Love Beyond the East Bay

The following gardens aren’t in the East Bay, but definitely worth a visit!

mudkitchen 1
Play at the mud kitchen in the children’s garden at San Francisco Botanic Garden. | Photo: Maureen Burke

East Bay destinations that have kid-friendly gardens or stunning grounds:

Spring Flowers at Temple Hill
Spring Flowers at Temple Hill | Photo: Maureen Burke

What to bring on a garden visit with kids:

  • Most destinations do not have food available for purchase. However, there are often picnic tables or benches to use for snacks or meals from home.
  • Pack a hat and use sunscreen; gardens often have limited shade.
  • Consider bringing bug spray if visiting a garden with redwood trees. These areas can attract mosquitos.
  • Gardens can get muddy in the winter and spring, so think about wearing rain boots or waterproof pants. Or embrace the mess!
  • Enjoy low-key fun like color search, follow the leader, nature journaling, I Spy, and scavenger hunts.
Gardenfollow the leader 1
Follow the Leader: old-fashioned games are great for garden play | Photo: Maureen Burke

Which East Bay gardens has your family visited? Which is your favorite?

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