East Bay Bliss: Cheese Board Collective, Shattuck Avenue and Tilden Park

Ever have one of those days when you leave the house with no plan and your day just magically falls into place one perfect piece after another? We had one of those, East Bay-style this week. It’s only a short BART ride or drive from home, but Berkeley feels like a world away. Almost like a mini vacation especially when our neighborhood is encased in fog and I know that somewhere out there summer is happening. Swimming, ice cream, shorts? When you put up with foggy, gray summers you can sometimes forget that for most families, that’s just a typical summer day.

You too can experience some summery East Bay bliss:

Pack up your family and throw an ice chest and a few ice packs in your trunk. Grab some swimming gear, some towels, lettuce, celery and maybe a few snacks. Throw a jacket in too, because you just never know!

Head straight for Berkeley’s Cheese Board Collective (Shattuck and Vine). We hit it on a weekday and there was ample 2 hour parking in the neighborhood. The Cheese Board has a truly impressive array of cheese and the cheese mongers are very friendly, knowledgeable and can guide you through any of your cheese-related conundrums. Luca, grandma and I focused on cheddars ultimately selecting a fantastic Iowa cheddar with the excellent name Prairie Breeze. (The ice chest in your trunk is mandatory because you can’t come here without picking up at least a little something). The bakery items are worth trying too. We sampled a Parmesan breadstick and a (not at all dry) cornmeal, sour cherry scone. One of the bakers called over to Luca while we were browsing and he got to go in the kitchen and play with a gob of baguette dough. Now that’s kid-friendly!

We only had to stumble next door to find our next adventure at the Cheese Board Pizzeria. They make only one flavor each day and you can get it by the slice, half or whole pie. The crust is just the way we like it — thin and crisp — and we detected a note of sourdough. Yum! On the day of our visit the pizza featured roasted cauliflower, red bell peppers, capers, Mantalban and Mozzarella cheeses. You can check out their website to see the weekly line up and plan your visit accordingly. We grabbed a slice to share and basked in the sun out front listening to a jazz group and doing some quality people watching. They randomly throw in an extra mini piece for some reason, which is just plain cool.

This section of Shattuck Avenue has lots of top notch amenities: Philz Coffee (everyone I know will tell you I live for Philz coffee!), Chez Panisse, a roast chicken place called Poulet, Virginia Bakery, Baubles and Beads (a well stocked bead store that has classes too). Across the street from the Cheese Board you’ll find a small food mall with a patio and mini Japanese-style garden that kids will love. Here you can find hand-pulled noodles and traditional tea tastings at the Imperial Tea Court, Sushi, Mexican fare or a scoop (or two) at Lush Gelato.

Feeling fat and happy, we took the short drive into the hills to Tilden Park to continue our summer fun. There so many activities to choose from, especially in summer when most attractions are open daily (check the websites for hours and entrance fee info). You can ride the 100-year old carousel; take a ride on the Redwood Valley Railway (a scale replica of a narrow gauge steam train of the 1800′s), stroll the Botanical Gardens; hit the playground; feed  Little Farm’s sheep, goats and rabbits the lettuce and celery you brought from home; or take a dip in Lake Anza. The day was so delicious we couldn’t resist a turn on the merry go round, some log rolling on the big lawns and a little splashing in the lake for good measure.

This day was about as perfect as they come and we were truly sad to see it end. Three generations spending a lazy day together and enjoying some of our very favorite things. Three cheers for summer!

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