Berkeley’s Adventure Playground opened in 1979 and still has that old ’70s feeling, where kids run free and let their creative impulses go wild.
Painted wooden shacks and other ramshackle structures are scattered all about, all built by children. A large rope net and odd discarded industrial pieces (old tires, giant pipes and the like) invite climbing and crawling and hiding. The always-popular zipline sends kids hurtling straight into a big pile of sand.
Adult supervision is minimal. The staff provides a bit of guidance if needed, and makes sure the park is basically safe, but children are given the freedom to experiment and take small risks. By helping with a bit of cleanup, kids may earn hammers, saws, or paint; scraps of wood are always accessible. It can be a little unnerving to see a small child wielding a saw, or happily rolling downhill inside a plastic barrel, but giving children the space to take these kinds of risks is the purpose of the park.
The adventure playground concept originated with Danish landscape architect C. Th. Sorensen in 1931 (his term was “Junk Playground”), and the first one opened in 1943 in Emdrup, Denmark, near Copenhagen. The idea spread slowly across Europe and beyond; today there are approximately 1,000 adventure playgrounds worldwide (mostly in Europe). The United States has just one other permanent adventure playground, in Huntington Beach, CA. Berkeley’s playground is located right next to the Berkeley Marina on San Francisco Bay, and has views of the bay and the surrounding metropolitan area.
Know Before You Go
Take Interstate 80 to Powell Street exit. Turn left under the freeway and right onto Frontage Road. Follow Frontage Road to University Avenue (Seabreeze Market is on the corner). Turn left onto University Avenue (toward the bay). When you come to an intersection, veer left. Continue down University Avenue; the road quickly straightens out and you will see a parking lot on your left; park in this lot (it’s free). The Adventure Playground is at the west end of this lot; you will need to follow the path around the south side to the find the entrance The Adventure Playground is accessible by bus; take the 51b Berkeley Marina-bound line.