Okay. We admit it. It’s impossible to list all the great recreational and outdoor activities in the East Bay in a single story. From hiking and biking to swimming and windsurfing, there are just too many fun things to do here. So after you read this, we strongly recommend that you put down your newspaper, turn off your computer, put away your iPad, and then get outside!
One of the best hikes in the East Bay also happens to be a butt-kicker. At times, you’ll feel like you’re hiking straight uphill. But don’t worry, it’s worth it, because once you get to the top, you’ll be rewarded — with breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay. The hike we’re talking about is the Stonewall-Panoramic Trail in Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve (EBParks.org/parks/Claremont_Canyon). The trailhead is on Stonewall Road, behind the Claremont Hotel, but be forewarned: This hike gets vertical very quickly, as you immediately ascend through a forest of eucalyptus before reaching a series of outlooks and switchbacks. Kudos if you can make it up the steepest part of the trail near Panoramic Way, and double-kudos if you keep trekking uphill toward Grizzly Peak Boulevard. Pro tips: Bring water on sunny days and wear hiking boots or shoes with good tread, because the steep hill can be quite slippery on your way down — rain or shine.
Other hikes we like include the French Trail in Redwood Regional Park (EBParks.org/parks/Redwood), which wends through a gorgeous redwood forest; the Wildcat Gorge and Meadow Canyon trails in Tilden Regional Park (EBParks.org/parks/Tilden); and the Sunset and Sequoia Bayview trails in Oakland’s Joaquin Miller Park (Oaklandnet.com/JoaquinMillerPark). And if you need a pair of hiking boots or shoes, head to REI in Berkeley (1338 San Pablo Ave., 510-527-4140, REI.com/stores/Berkeley.html). The store not only has a great selection, but you can return your purchase any time if the shoes don’t fit right.
Is there a better walk or short run in the East Bay than the path around Lake Merritt in Oakland? It has great views of sparkling water, and interesting people to boot. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, your troubles will melt away as you head around the lake (it’s actually a tidal lagoon), past Children’s Fairyland, the Lake Chalet, and the Grand Lake Farmers’ Market. The path is about three miles long, which works out to about a fifty-minute walk or a fifteen- to thirty-minute jog. The only question is: Will you go clockwise or counterclockwise?
Other favorites include the Bay Trail from Emeryville to Albany, through the Berkeley Marina (BayTrail.org); Inspiration Trail and Nimitz Way in Tilden Regional Park (EBParks.org/parks/Tilden); and the East Ridge and West Ridge trails in Redwood Regional Park (EBParks.org/parks/Redwood). If you need good walking shoes, check out La Foot Plus in Berkeley (2917 College Ave., 644-3668, LaFoot.com). The super-helpful staff will take their time and make sure you get shoes that fit not only your feet, but also your gait. For running shoes, there are lots of good choices, and one of the best is TranSports (6014 College Ave., Oakland, 655-4809, TranSportsrunswim.com).
We also would be remiss if we didn’t mention the incredible stairway walks in the East Bay. Connecting the zigzagging streets of the Oakland, Berkeley, Kensington, and El Cerrito hills, these walkways were initially built to connect residents to trolley stops. These days, they still act as pedestrian paths, but also as a unique workout — providing stunning bay views, up-close glimpses of some amazing homes and gardens, and even encounters with nature (deer sightings aren’t uncommon). To find them, pick up a copy of the book Secret Stairs: East Bay, join the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association (BerkeleyPaths.org), or just head up to the hills and start exploring.
For road biking, get thee to Skyline and Grizzly Peak boulevards in the hills above Oakland and Berkeley right away. The trip along the ridge of the East Bay hills is full of amazing views of San Francisco Bay and beyond. It’s also a great jumping-off point for longer rides through the backroads of Contra Costa County, past Briones Regional Park to the Martinez Shoreline. From the flats of Oakland, one of the best ways to get up to Skyline is Joaquin Miller Road; it’s steep but doable if you’re in decent shape. The Bay Trail from Richmond to Hayward is also a fabulous ride, as it snakes along San Francisco Bay, past wetlands, regional shorelines, and pretty beaches (BayTrail.org). If you want to bring the kids, check out the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail, a mostly flat ride that eventually heads uphill to Moraga Commons Park (EBParks.org/parks/trails/Lafayette_Moraga).
For mountain biking, Redwood Regional Park is a must. If you’ve never been there, try circumnavigating the park first, along both the West Ridge and East Ridge trails, and then check out the steeper bike trails that descend to the valley floor (EBParks.org/parks/Redwood). Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland (Oaklandnet.com/JoaquinMillerPark) is another good choice for some steep, hair-raising terrain. And if you need a bike — road or mountain — you can’t go wrong at Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative (1988 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-7471, MissingLink.org).
Yes, we know there are no ski slopes in the East Bay, but there’s still plenty of stuff to do when it’s cold outside. For an afternoon of fun, especially for families with kids, head over to the Oakland Ice Center in the city’s Uptown district (519 18th St., 510-268-9000, OaklandIce.com). For those who grew up on the East Coast or in the Midwest, we guarantee that the center will bring back memories of when you were a kid.
But if skating isn’t your thing (or even if it is), then why not spend a couple of hours of family time at Albany Bowl (540 San Pablo Ave., 526-8818, TheAlbanyBowl.com)? Hint for parents: It’s got a bar! That way, you can relax and knock back a few drinks in-between gutter balls, er … strikes.
For water fun in winter, we recommend joining the Downtown Berkeley (2001 Allston Way, 510-848-9622, YMCA-CBA.org/downtown-berkeley) or Downtown Oakland (2350 Broadway, 510-451-9622, Oakland.YMCAEastBay.org) YMCAs. The Berkeley Y, in particular, is a swimming mecca: It has three pools. And if you live in Richmond, you have to check out the warm, relaxing waters of the Richmond Plunge (1 East Richmond Ave., 510-620-6820).
When the weather gets better, however, we’d rather be outside at two of the most picturesque swimming holes anywhere: Lake Temescal in Oakland (EBParks.org/parks/Temescal) and Lake Anza in Tilden Regional Park in the hills above Berkeley (EBParks.org/parks/Tilden). Both have sandy beaches and are kid-friendly, and both also have adult swimming areas for getting a good workout. When it’s foggy on this side of the hills, we also recommend the lake at Cull Canyon Recreational Area in Castro Valley (EBParks.org/parks/Cull_Canyon). It’s often at least ten degrees warmer there, and sunny even when it’s overcast on the west side of the hills.
It should come as no surprise that there are plenty of great water-recreation activities in a region located along the largest estuary in the West. If you’re into windsurfing, then you must check out the Berkeley Marina. For kayaking, try the Oakland-Alameda Estuary off Jack London Square. And if you like fishing, one of the best spots in the East Bay is Lake Chabot, a 315-arce reservoir in the hills behind San Leandro and Castro Valley that’s stocked with trout and catfish (EBParks.org/parks/Lake_Chabot).
Golf and Tennis
The East Bay also is blessed with several majestic golf courses, but none is better than Tilden Park Golf Course in Berkeley (10 Golf Course Dr., 848-7373, AmericanGolf.com/Tilden-Park-Golf-Course). And for tennis, we think the best public courts have to got to be at San Pablo Park (2800 Park St., Berkeley).