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Imagine the most dangerous thing you could do to a group of 7 year olds. Imagine the most dangerous things they could do to themselves. Now imagine giving them saws, hammers, and nails and letting them loose. Sound like a bad idea? Certainly. Sound like a whole lotta fun? Definitely.

Adventure Playground at the Berkeley Marina is the place to take hyperactive, aggressive 7 to 12 year olds. It’s a big sandy lot filled with forts, castles, boats, and towers designed, built, and decorated entirely by kids. At the entrance is a hut filled with fresh-faced college kids eager to give your children all manner of dangerous carpentry tools, as well as wood, nails, paint, and directions. But most kids don’t need any help. They know what to do.

If you think the brains of today’s youth are numbed by television and the Internet, you’re probably right. Adventure Playground does prove, however, that sharp-edged metal tools and splintery old boards have the capacity to awaken weird inner carpentry instincts in even the palest couch potato. The young visitors to Adventure Playground build some of the coolest, biggest, and prettiest structures you’ve ever seen, using only their spongy, underdeveloped grey tissue and anything that can be weaseled out of the child development majors at the hut.

And once you’ve seen enough, you can leave! That’s right, the beaming minimum wage workers of Adventure Playground will take your kid for up to three hours, as long as they’re over seven. Believe me, the brat won’t miss you. The hard part, actually, will be getting him or her to leave.

I think I must have had about 8 birthday parties at Adventure Playground. It’s a great place for a party, because right outside there are picnic tables and a lovely waterfront area. Plus, taking kids there will automatically win you Coolest Mom/Dad/Aunt/Uncle/Older Sibling/Crazy Friend honors. You do have to book ahead to bring a group, however. The summer group slots fill up fast, so call early.

I haven’t even gotten to the best part: It’s free. As long an adult is with them, kids can play to their hearts content for nothing. If you want to leave and come back, it’s five bucks per kid, which is probably the cheapest childcare around. Groups cost a little more - $20 for five to ten kids, $30 for eleven to twenty, $40 for twenty-one to forty. That’s right, you can bring forty kids to Adventure Playground for the cost of one general admission ticket to Great America! And there’s no stupid souvenirs.

Oh yeah – it’s got a zip line. How cool can one place get?

from the City of Berkeley website

From South 580 or 80: Take Interstate 80 to Powell St. Take a left under the freeway and right onto Frontage Rd. Follow Frontage Rd. to University Avenue. Seabreeze Market is on the corner. Take a left onto University and follow the directions from the * below.

From North 80: Take Interstate 80 and get off at the University Avenue exit in Berkeley. Take a left onto University. *Toward the Bay when you come to an intersection. Come to the stop and veer to the left. Continue down University. The road will straighten out and you will see a wide open parking lot on the left. At the west end of this lot is Adventure Playground. Parking is here.

From South 880: Take the University Ave. exit and the lower ramp that goes under the freeway. Take a right at the first intersection (Hearst). Go up Hearst to 6th St. Take a right onto 6th and the next right onto University. Go over the overpass and continue straight into the Marina. Follow the directions from the * above.

Public Transportation:
Take a Richmond-bound BART train to the Downtown Berkeley station. Get out and wander around until you find a bus stop on Shattuck Avenue at Center. You’re going to want to take Bus 51M all the way to its destination, the Berkeley Marina. Hopefully you can find Adventure Playground from there, since that’s all the website gives me.

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