Thursday, April 16, 2015

Family Adventure: Little Farm at Tilden Park (Berkeley)


Last month, Toddler X and I visited Tilden Nature Area (which adjoins Tilden Regional Park) in Berkeley for the first time with my sister-in-law, who lives nearby and had visited before. Given that she was nine months pregnant at the time, we skipped out on Tilden Park's miles and miles of hiking trails, and instead focused on two areas that are particularly toddler-friendly: Little Farm and the Herschell-Spillman Merry-Go-Round.

We had a WONDERFUL time, and will absolutely be back to explore the trails, check out the Redwood Valley Railroad miniature train and visit Lake Anza. But for now, here's my review of the Little Farm, which I wholeheartedly recommend for a family day trip to the East Bay:

View from the foot of the farm, looking up
Location: Little Farm is located within the Tilden Nature Area, which adjoins the larger Tilden Regional Park. We actually got somewhat lost trying to get there via a back route from Oakland, so I definitely recommend following the directions on the website.

Hours and admission: Tilden Little Farm is open daily from 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Admission to the farm and the Environmental Education Center next door is free.

Parking: Parking is free in the large lot next to the farm.

The view from the top of the farm, looking down the hill
The Main Attraction:

Any of my readers knows that Toddler X and I love visiting farms -- it's such simple, inexpensive, natural fun -- and I have to put Little Farm up there with our favorites. The setting is fantastic -- it's laid out on a sunny hill, surrounded by groves of eucalyptus trees and other flora, and bordered at the bottom by a quiet creek. It is bucolic and peaceful.

The space is small, and from any given point you can see the whole farm, but its hillside location makes it seem larger than it is, and the variety of animals you can see is as great as any farm we've visited. This is the closest you can get to cows -- a whole bunch of different varieties, too -- and the goats and sheep are plentiful as well.



By far the best part of Little Farm, though -- and what differentiates it from other farm/petting zoo options -- is the interaction: you can actually feed the animals, and not just little pellets from a vending machine! The Little Farm animals like celery and lettuce a LOT, and you are encouraged to bring some from home to make them happy. (Note: They are ONLY allowed to eat celery and lettuce -- don't bring any other foods, including carrots.) 



The animals -- including the big old cows -- will happily come up to the fence and eat straight out of your hands. It is so. much. fun. Adults were laughing as loud as the kids as the massively long cow tongues reached through the fence slats to corral a delicious stalk of celery.


Check out this cow's tongue!
A couple of thoughts: The farm, as I mentioned, is located on a hill, and you do have to climb a path to reach the top level, where some of the cows can be found. While there are plenty of animals available for viewing/feeding at the bottom, someone who has mobility challenges may not be able to make it to the top. We chose to just park our stroller at the base of the farm and walk up; you could also take a stroller up the lefthand side path, where there are no steps.

Righthand path, with steps
Also, the up-close encounters with the huge cows will almost certainly be more than your toddler has experienced at any other farm. Maybe let mom or dad feed them some celery before giving your toddler a try -- those crazy long tongues really can be a bit overwhelming!

Finally, there are sinks on site, but I'd also bring some hand sanitizer along. And don't forget the celery and lettuce!


The Merry-Go-Round

As we followed the road out of Tilden Nature Area, we crossed into Tilden Park and saw a sign for the merry-go-round. Never a family to ignore a cool carousel, we pulled into the parking lot and enjoyed a fun, musical ride on a very old-school contraption.


The wooden animals are beautiful and unique (the horses even have tails made of hair, not molded plastic!), and there are cool little "tubs" that you can ride in, which apparently used to spin around while the ride did the same.



You purchase your tickets at the adjoining snack shack, which seemed pretty thorough for a merry-go-round snack counter and actually had a few (gasp!) healthy options.


Weather permitting, the merry-go-round is open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. during the spring; beginning on May 20th, it will be open daily for the summer. Prices are $2.00 for a ride, or $10.00 for seven. It was a fun ride in a beautiful setting, and definitely worth a stop.

Other Attractions and Information:

Right next to Little Farm is an Environmental Education Center, open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. This may be interesting for an older child, but there were only a few things that would capture a toddler's attention -- particularly the dark cave/tunnel that you can walk through, which has a few fun "peeping" areas to see inside the rocks. I wouldn't plan on spending too much time in here.


There is also a small creek down below Little Farm that has some exploration potential -- if it has water, of course. From the Little Farm area, you can actually follow that creek via a boardwalk down to a Jewell Lake, which is a peaceful place to watch wildlife.

Right alongside the Little Farm parking lot, there is also a random play structure -- a mini playground of sorts. It was packed with kids when we visited, and lacked any semblance of shade. I wouldn't plan a day around a visit to the structure, but Toddler X enjoyed a few minutes of climbing before we got in the car for the long drive home.


Food is not sold in the farm area, but there are tons of picnic tables and a large lawn, so definitely bring some along! If you're hungry, there is a snack shack at the merry-go-round (which is a short, but driveable distance away) that looked pretty good.

Once you move into Tilden Regional Park (from Tilden Nature Area), there is also the Redwood Valley Railway, which seems similar to the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad at Oak Meadow in Los Gatos. We haven't tried it yet, but certainly will on our next visit. The trains operate on weekends year-round, from 11:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m., on Memorial Day from 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., and on weekdays during summer break (beginning June 15th) from 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Tickets are $3.00 each -- kids under two are free.

Finally, located right near the Redwood Valley Railway, you can find the Golden Gate Live Steamers large-scale miniature railroad -- if I'm reading the website right, these are trains that are really small, but big enough to ride! They're open to the public on Sundays from 12:00 - 3:00 p.m. Check out their site to learn more.

One final note: dogs are not allowed in Tilden Nature Area, so please leave Fido at home.

I'll write a more significant post about the rest of Tilden Park once I've had a chance to hike there and visit the lakes and trains, but if you're interested in getting started at Little Farm, this is all you need to know.

Happy toddling!

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