Ahh summer! Long days and no school make it the perfect time for exploring the natural world. When I was growing up in West Virginia and Minnesota that meant tramping around in the woods and playing in the creek, going on family vacations to a favorite swimming hole, paddling the canoe in the lake with my siblings or fishing with my grandfather in his aluminum motorboat. Since moving to the Bay Area, I’ve found new favorite places to play, many of which are accessible by public transit or bicycle.
Northern California may not have the same beach culture as Southern California, but a trip to the beach never fails to delight. Alameda’s Crown Beach seems to stretch out for miles, has soft sand, and is also quite shallow, making it perfect for families. If you’re taking public transit, the AC transit bus 20 stops just a block from the Visitor’s Center at Crab Cove and can be boarded from either the Fruitvale or 12th St. Oakland Bart stations. The island is also very bike friendly.
If you have a little more time and a few more layers of clothing, consider a trek to Rodeo Beach in Sausalito. The sight and sound of the Pacific Ocean is awe inspiring, hiking opportunities abound, and the Marine Mammal Center is right around the corner. This animal rescue operation relies on volunteers to help rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals found along the coast. It is free and has educational exhibits and a gift shop. If you don’t have a car, you can get to the beach by BART (Montgomery Station in San Francisco) and SF MUNI bus 76X.
The Sutro Baths at Land’s End is a great place to take out-of-town visitors for a look at the ocean and some of San Francisco’s history. The ruins of this bygone resort are both fun to explore (uneven footing alert) and alarming–the effects of sea level rise in the past 100 years are quite evident. Finish the day with a meal at the Cliff House and check out the old photographs of the Sutro Baths in their heyday. A trip to the Baths used to be possible by cable car, but today you can get there on SF MUNI bus 38.
If you’d rather experience the water by boat, the San Pablo Reservoir in El Sobrante offers both boat launch and rental facilities. The reservoir is regularly stocked with fish, has picnic facilities, and miles of hiking and biking trails. AC Transit line 74 gets close to the San Pablo Reservoir and can be boarded at the Richmond Bart Station.
Another great choice for families is Tilden Park’s Nature Area, Jewel Lake, and Little Farm. The Jewel Lake hike offers views of turtles sunning themselves on rocks, paddling ducks and egrets hunting for fish, and wild turkeys. If you like feeding animals, bring lettuce and celery for the hungry goats, sheep and chickens at the Little Farm. On weekends you can get there by AC Transit bus #67.
Butterfly species abound in Leona Canyon, especially now while the California Buckeye trees are blooming. The creekside trail is beloved by birders and native plant enthusiasts alike. From the main trail, two side trails climb rather steeply through riparian forest that progresses through chaparral and serpentine prairie habitats. Bring plenty of water before attempting this climb! The Leona Heights Regional Open Space is accessible via AC transit bus 54, which stops at the Merritt College Campus and can be boarded from Fruitvale BART. The trailhead is on the southeast end of the campus.