Outdoor Adventures in the Hills and on the Bay

By Marta Yamamoto
Tuesday August 21, 2007

Sometimes you feel like a walk in the woods, sometimes you feel like a stroll near the coast. Whatever your pleasure, Tilden Regional Park and the Berkeley Marina form the eastern and western boundaries of the city of Berkeley. Each offers a broad range of outdoor attractions to fill an hour, an afternoon or an entire day. 

Tilden Park is an ideal playground—2,077-acres preserved for natural beauty and recreation. It’s been an integral part of Berkeley life since it opened to the public in 1936.  

On offer are miles of trails for hiking and biking, a fresh water lake for swimming and fishing, picnic sites galore for groups large and small, a Nature Area and Little Farm, a Botanic Garden rich with California natives, and for the child in all of us, a merry-go-round and steam train. More than enough fun for multiple visits. 

The Tilden Nature Area is ideal for getting acquainted with the park. Walk through the model exhibit of Wildcat Creek Watershed inside the Environmental Education Center to learn how the movement of water carved and shaped the geologic features, plants and animals that make up this park. Then head outside and visit the animals at the Little Farm, build in the 1950s by a Berkeley High School Woodshop class. 

Seven trails wind through the 70-acre Nature Study Area. Don’t miss the Jewel Lake Trail loop along the never-ending bridge, built through a marshy, lush green jungle of trees and resident wildlife to a small lake where ducks, turtles and a resident Great Blue Heron make their home. Park maps and the posted schedule of ranger-led activities will help you plan for future events. 

Lake Anza is a special place in any season. When warm weather calls, enjoy its sandy beach and crisp water surrounded by a forest of conifers and eucalyptus. Visit in the early morning or when mist drips from the leaves. Explore the entire lake and its creek by walking the perimeter trail, along or with a water-loving canine friend. 

Well-marked hiking trails lead you through a variety of habitats: Big Springs Canyon’s colorful wildflower display, the lost waterfall of Laurel Canyon, riparian forests of alder and bay, cool and alive with the sound of water over creek cobbles. 

The ten acres of the Botanic Garden are divided into ten floral areas, representing California’s 160,000 square miles. Within the garden’s boundaries is the world’s most complete collection of California native trees, shrubs and flowers, landscaped for exploring, study and relaxation. Pick up a map of the garden and a list of scheduled events at the Visitor Center. 

Picnic areas are abundant throughout the park, many available for reservation. Big Leaf, Meadows, Buckeye, Lake View—all equipped with tables, grills and water. 

Leave enough time to celebrate the kid in all of us. At the Herschel-Spillman antique merry-go-round wonderful, hand carved and painted carousel animals and the music of the calliope will have you smiling. On the scaled-down Steam Train you can sit inside boxcars or out in the elements for a scenic ridge ride, complete with appropriately attired engineer, billows of steam and a piercing whistle. 

Down the hill and five miles across town is the Berkeley Marina, on the shores of San Francisco Bay. Here resources abound for a variety of interests and levels of activity. Enjoy walking, cycling, boating, fishing and bird watching or just sitting and soaking up the scenery. 

Wide, paved paths circumnavigate the entire marina, making a walk or bike ride ideal methods to check out the marina’s hot spots. Follow them past landscaped grounds of lawns studded with pines; the 52-acre marina where boats of all sizes with bright marine-blue sail coverings fill 975 berths; all the way to a kite-flying and dog-romping paradise. 

At Shorebird Park, the sound of hammering and the zing of a zip-line signal Adventure Playground, popular with both children and their parents. Here kids can build using recycled materials, nails and paint to construct forts, boats or towers, letting imaginations soar and developing skills not often called upon. 

At the Nature Center, the goals are to put out the word about the ecology of the bay, watershed and estuary, using salt-water aquariums, touch-tables and outdoor activities. Children can visit with their schools or sign up for afternoon classes. 

The Straw Bale building is an attraction in itself, drawing in everyone interested in sustainable architecture. This handsome building of gray stucco, trimmed in teal, is a showcase for recycled and salvaged materials. Interpretive panels describe the building process and a brochures list the products used and their suppliers. 

Reaching out 3000-feet into the bay is the Berkeley Pier. At the entrance, try a tasty dog or link from Eat and Run, then take a photo of Frederick Fierstein’s Guardian, a mysterious sculpture that appeared in 1985. Walk out and join hopeful anglers dropping lines for perch or traps for crab. Enjoy views of Alcatraz and Marin County across the bay. 

If you’re interested in with sailing or windsurfing, visit the Cal Sailing Club, a non-profit cooperative. It’s been around for 60-years, offering lessons, equipment rentals, cruises and races. Free rides are offered at open houses twice a month. 

The Marina Deli stocks more than hot dogs, chips and soda. Fishing lures, line, weights and live bait are ready for purchase. Home to the Berkeley Marine Sport Center, you can sign up here to cruise the bay or out to the Farallon Islands, fishing for salmon, cod and tuna. 

Cesar Chavez Park attracts kite-flyers and dog-walkers, as well as everyone else who’s ready for some outdoor fun. Once landfill, 96-acres now offer multi-use turf, wetland and shoreline areas. Fido can run off-leash in the 17-acre center section or join you on-leash along the 1.25-mile Dorothy Stegman perimeter trail past picnic areas and an undeveloped wildlife sanctuary frequented by bird watchers.  


Tilden Regional Park: entrances off Wildcat Canyon Road and Grizzly Peak Blvd., 510-843-2137, www.ebparks.org/parks/tilden. No entrance fee for the park. Fees required for swimming at Lake Anza, the merry-go-round and steam train. Picnic Reservations:1-888-EBPARKS. 

Berkeley Marina: 201 University Ave., 981-6740, www.cityofberkeley.info/marina. No entrance or parking fees.  



Photograph by Marta Yamamoto. 

Everyone is anxious to see Peaches’ litter of 11 piglets at Tilden Park’s Little Farm.