Tilden Park is one of our under-appreciated East Bay treasures. While it may not be prime barbeque weather, there is still plenty of fun to be had at Tilden. And quite a bit of it is family-friendly fun for all ages! To start with, they have a miniature ridge-top steam train. Nowhere else in the Bay Area lets you take an afternoon and ride a tiny train that goes, well, effectively nowhere. Steam trains, of course, are what our country was built on. BART, Caltrain, and Amtrak are all electric, but steam trains are where the real history is. The train runs on weekends and holidays.
If you prefer something more natural and picturesque, the Botanic Garden is the place for you. Home to a variety of endangered plants, the garden also boasts the largest collection of native California plants in the world. Some deciduous trees are still dropping leaves, and the cacti are greener than ever. The garden has few public visitors in the winter, which makes it a perfect spot for viewing the iconic little yellow finches of California. The birds, to put it simply, are everywhere in the garden right now. And in just a few short months, the wildflowers will begin to bloom. This is a must-see at any point during the winter! Rangers also offer free tours to all visitors.
Steam trains and plants are great for some, but if you’re still reading this thinking, “Where’s the good stuff? I’ve got plenty of plants in my yard,” then this next Tilden Park attraction is for you! The Little Farm and the Nature Area are far and away my favorite part of Tilden. Inside, the Environmental Education Center has exhibits on the local flora and fauna of the East Bay hills.
Outside is where the real fun is, though. On the Little Farm (which must be a park ranger’s dream job), the cows are huge, the chickens are clucking, the ducks are splashing, and the geese are–well, they are a rambunctious crowd. Even better–you can feed them! Bringing celery or lettuce on your visit to the Little Farm is a must-do. The upper terrace regions are undergoing renovations, which should be complete in the spring. Unfortunately, the sheep have been temporarily relocated and the goat house is inaccessible to visitors, but the Little Farm is still well worth the visit right now!
So don’t let the Bay Area winter gloom and chilly rain get you down. Head to the hills of Tilden Park, walk the quiet trails, ride the train, look at the plants, and feed those poor “hungry” farm animals some celery!