Guide To Having Fun On The Bay
Grab an oar or a water sock or a speedo, and get out there and enjoy our region’s most defining feature. Whether you want to soak up a cool cruise at sunset, hunt for tiny creatures hiding in tidepools, or fly through the waves on a kite board, we’ve got the skinny. From A to Z, Aircraft Carriers to Zalophus, Diablo takes you on an alphabetical tour of wet and wild things to do at our very own backyard pool party: San Francisco Bay.
Aircraft Carrier: the USS Hornet
This real-live aircraft carrier, berthed at Alameda Point, served in three wars: World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. It also offered a warm welcome-home-from-the-moon for Apollo 11 and 12 astronauts. Now she’s taking it easy as a museum, where you can do fun things such as walk in Neil Armstrong’s first footsteps back on Earth and tool around the flight deck. Pier 3, Alameda Point, Alameda, (510) 521-8448, www.uss-hornet.org. Adults $14; kids $6; under four free.
Only in San Francisco do people pay sky-high rents for views of a former maximum-security state penitentiary—not to mention making like tourists to visit the history-riddled Rock. Both the guide-led nighttime exploration and the eerie inmate- and correctional officer–narrated audio tour are worthy of their consistent sell-outs. For advance tickets, call Blue & Gold Fleet at (415) 705-5555, or visit www.blueandgoldfleet.com or the ticket booth at Pier 41 (Fisherman’s Wharf), San Francisco. Adults $16.50 with audio tour, $11.50 without; kids $10.75 and $8.25, respectively; evening tour $23.50 for adults, $20.75 for teens, $14.25 for kids.
Hordes of folks and field-tripping kids don’t ferry daily to this lump in the middle of the Bay for nothing. In addition to the islandwide hiking-trail system, pretty camping spots, and crazy panoramic views you just can’t get from the mainland, Angel Island has an interesting past. It has been home to everyone from Miwok Indians to military troops to immigrants, not to mention serving as a quarantine station for smallpox. www.angelisland.org. Alameda/Oakland Ferry is $13.50 for adults, $10.50 for teenagers and 62 and up, $8 for kids five–12, and free for kids under five; ferry service includes a free transfer at Pier 41 on departure but the ferry returns directly from Angel Island. www.eastbayferry.com
The thousands of birds flapping, pecking, and prancing around this 50-acre restored wetland in San Leandro Bay’s Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline don’t seem too bothered by the really big birds lifting off at nearby Oakland International Airport. Neither do the ardent birders who descend upon this urban oasis to catch a glimpse of the endangered California clapper rail. From Interstate 880 in Oakland, exit Hegenberger Road. Drive west on Hegenberger about 1 mile, then turn right onto Doolittle. Drive north on Doolittle about 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Swan Way. (510) 562-7275, www.ebparks.org/parks/mlk.htm
Grab your rod and six pack, and stake your territory along this 3,000-foot, circa-1927 plank that stretches far into the Bay. A regular crew of anglers comes for kingfish, starry flounder, and the occasional 45-pound striped bass (visit www.oehha.ca.gov for rules about eating fish from the Bay; fish link is on the left). Couples, too, like to stroll on the seemingly infinite pier. Toast the sunset afterward with cocktails by the big-view windows at Skates on the Bay. Take I-80 to University Avenue in Berkeley, turn west, and follow the road to the pier. Skates on the Bay, 100 Seawall Dr., (510) 549-1900, www.skatesonthebay.com
Bike If you want to go for a bike ride and feel the cool, salty air of the Bay on your face but don’t want to go all the way out to the Golden Gate Bridge or Sausalito, try the East Bay Trail. Starting at Emery Point in Emeryville, you can ride on an off-the-road (except for one small stretch near Golden Gate Fields) bike trail right along the Bay past the Berkeley Marina, the Albany Bulb, and Point Isabel all the way to Lucretia Edwards Park in Richmond. Or head south from the San Leandro Marina to the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center for great views of the Bay and wetland areas featuring many bird-watching opportunities. (510) 464-7900, www.baytrail.org
This is the life of the sailor, except (mostly) G-rated. No liquor or smokes or naked-lady magazines, just four hours of good clean—free—fun for the whole family aboard the 120-year-old Balclutha, a national historic landmark vessel at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. About a hundred or so regulars gather on the three-masted square-rigger to sing along to traditional songs (“Hey don’t yer see that black cloud a-risin’? Way haul away, we’ll haul away Joe!”) while sipping mugs of hot cider and cocoa. The lyrics start to get humorously dirty around 11 p.m., and families with young kids can disembark early (the ship does not leave the dock). 8 p.m. to midnight. No charge. Hyde Street Pier, San Francisco, reservations required: Call (415) 556-6435, or email email@example.com , www.nps.gov/safr.
Hayward might not be the prettiest town in the Bay Area, but the Hayward Regional Shoreline is something else. And the crown jewel along the 3-mile San Lorenzo trail that winds through sloughs, wetlands, mudflats, and marshes is the 250-acre Cogswell Marsh, which boasts San Francisco skyline views and, as a major migratory respite, some of the best birding in the Bay Area. Come winter, look for the endangered California clapper rail. From I-880 in Hayward, take the West Winton Avenue exit, and drive west. The staging area is at the end of West Winton. www.ebparks.org
Crown Memorial State Beach
Just south of Crab Cove in Alameda is this lovely, 2.5-mile white-sand beach, with—get this—warm water, or at least warmer water than you’ll find most everywhere else in the Bay. It’s a big windsurfing spot, too; plus, you can rent a sunfish and tootle around all afternoon. $5 entrance fee, $2 for dogs, unless the kiosk is unattended—then it’s free. Eighth Street and Otis Drive, Alameda. www.ebparks.org. For group picnic reservations, call (510) 636-1684.
Founded by a bunch of German brothers back in 1877, this club of 900 or so warm-blooded loonies who call themselves “dolphins” get their ya-yas out swimming in 50-degree water, participating in 100-mile swims, and rowing and kayaking. Anyone who can survive 40-mile swims between December and March gets to dub herself a “polar bear.” Sound fun? Show up at 6:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month (with your checkbook; $326 for the first six months of membership, $432 per year after). Day passes are available to the public for $6.50. 502 Jefferson St. (Aquatic Park), San Francisco, (415) 441-9329, www.dolphinclub.org
Environmental Adventures With Save the Bay
If you’re planning on going out for a morning paddle anyway (or even if you weren’t), it might be nice to add some purpose to the excursion and meet some cool people while you’re at it. For 45 years, nonprofit Save the Bay has sponsored such do-gooder fun in the sun as its restoration outings to often otherwise-off-limits spots like the Marin Islands or Bair Island. And if kayaking isn’t your thing, the organization also has wildflower hikes on Ring Mountain and birding by canoe in the Palo Alto Baylands. Trips cost $25 for members and $55 for nonmembers. Visit www.savesfbay.org, and click Bay Events for the calendar.
Whether you need a ferry to get to work or play, these companies provide service from the East Bay.
Alameda/Oakland: These ferries leave from Alameda and Oakland for points West: the Ferry Building, Fisherman’s Wharf, AT&T Park, as well as Angel Island. 2990 Main St., Alameda, and Clay Street at Jack London Square, Oakland, $11 roundtrip, $5.50 roundtrip for kids; to Angel Island, $13.50 roundtrip, $10.50 for kids, www.eastbayferry.com
Blue & Gold Fleet: These ferries go just about everywhere: San Francisco, Alameda/Oakland, Sausalito, Tiburon, Vallejo, and AT&T Park. 2991 Main St., Alameda, and Clay Street at Jack London Square, Oakland, most routes $15 roundtrip, $8 kids; Angel Island to Fisherman’s Wharf, $14.50, $8.50 kids, www.blueandgoldfleet.com
From Fisherman’s Wharf to San Pablo, Sausalito to Loch Lomond, the Bay is swimming with king salmon, sturgeon, striped bass, halibut, and albacore. And there are plenty of pros with deep-sea boats to help you hook a few.
Emeryville Sportfishing: Begin your sportfishing adventure at 6 a.m. on one of Emeryville Sportfishing’s eight vessels. Both shared and private charters are available. Rates are $80 for shared charters, except for albacore, which is $275; children 12 and under are half price. Rod rentals, tackle kits, and fishing licenses are available. 3310 Powell St., Emeryville, (510) 654-6040, www.emeryvillesportfishing.com
Berkeley Marina Sport Fishing Center: This firm offers both private and shared charters (reservations required for weekend shared charters; boats leave at 6 a.m.). It also has a tackle shop, live bait fishing, and a snack shop with hot food and—wait for it—beer! $80 per person, 225 University Ave., Berkeley, (510) 849-3333, www.berkeleymarinasportfishingcenter.com
Jim Cox Sportfishing: Captain Jim Cox will take you trolling, drifting, or live or anchored baiting on his 30-foot boat and personally show you “how to catch a trophy.” $100 per person, three-person minimum, six person maximum. (650) 369-3807, www.jimcoxsportfishing.com
Executive Fishing Charters: These guys know where to find the fish and offer a variety of half- and full-day safari packages for everyone from fly fishermen to post-work business types to baseball fans (fish for five hours then dock at AT&T and hit the game.) Prices start at $399 for four hours. (415) 460-9773, www.executivecharters.com
The U.S. Army built this fortress around the entrance to San Francisco Bay between 1853 and 1861. The self-guided or docent-led tours, canon demonstration, building-of-the-bridge video, and seasonal candlelight tours are all free of charge. Call (415) 556-1693 for reservations. www.nps.gov/fopo
Tequila is the name of the game at this popular sunny-day spot with arguably the most majestic Bay views of any open-air eatery around. This sprawling seafood-specialized Mexican restaurant becomes a bit of a zoo on weekends, when everyone seems to have the same idea: margaritas on the deck. If you’ve got a reservation, though, you’re golden. 5 Main St., Tiburon, (415) 435-6300, www.guaymas.com
Herb Caen Way
If you’d chronicled San Francisco for 58 years and won a Pulitzer Prize, maybe the city would have named the 3.2-mile stretch of waterfront from Pier 1 to 42 after you. Historical tidbits and the wittily written words of the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist have been immortalized along the Embarcadero, which, in addition to the magnificent views and fun stops along the way, make taking time out for an afternoon walk worthwhile.
Bad name but fun champagne brunch and dinner cruises on the Bay. A three-hour tour (cue the Gilligan’s Island theme) takes you under the Golden Gate Bridge. You can gaze at the city skyline, lose money at the blackjack table, or dance the night away to a live band after feasting on grilled prawns and prosciutto-stuffed chicken breast. Cruise prices range from $59 to $103. 200 Marina Blvd., Berkeley, (888) 467-6256, www.hornblower.com
Point Isabel is a 21-acre, free-for-all, doggie-dream-come-true, leash-free bit of shoreline in the East Bay Regional Park District. Not only are there picturesque views but also a cute shop/café called Mudpuppy’s, which offers a perfect snack break for canines and their companions, in addition to providing self- and full-service dog washing stations. From I-80 in Richmond, take Central Avenue west to Point Isabel, which is adjacent to the U.S. Postal Service Bulk Mail Center. www.ebparks.org; www.mudpuppys.com
Java House, Red’s
The surrounding SOMA area might be getting increasingly upscale, but this bare-bones diner hasn’t changed much since 1923—and it won’t, ever, if its loyal following of waterfront workers, ballgame-goers, and down-to-earth urban professionals have anything to say about it. Enjoy a great view of the Bay Bridge while you chow down on burgers, dogs, fries—and cold beers, of course—all for mere pennies compared to any of the other eateries you’ll find down here. Pier 30, San Francisco, (415) 777-5626
Here’s a spot for the non-hard-core hiker looking for a lovely lagoon and a leisurely stroll rather than an all-day affair or mountain climb. Located in the industrial town of Richmond, residents feel lucky to have Keller Beach as part of the 295 acres of grassy hillside and shoreline that make up Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline. And for anyone who has a thing for train facsimiles, the Golden State Model Railroad Museum is right there, too, with 10,000 square feet of choos-choos and tracks to scale. From I-580 in Richmond, exit at Canal Boulevard, turn right on West Cutting Boulevard, then left on Garrard Road. Proceed through the auto tunnel. The park entrance is on the right less than 0.5 mile south of the tunnel. The museum is across from the park entrance. Beach: www.ebparks.org; museum: www.gsmrm.org
Windsurfing is still cool, but kite boarding is the latest adrenaline craze to hit the waters from San Francisco Bay to Sydney Harbour. It takes the requisite mix of arm strength, guts, and lessons, but after a bit of instruction from these certified schools, you’ll feel like you’re flying.
Boardsports: This acclaimed outfitter runs classes out of very chill Crown Beach Park in Alameda. The beginning-rider lesson package includes six hours of group land and water lessons, followed by a two-hour private lesson. $510. (415) 385-1224, www.boardsportsschool.com
Kite Wind Surf: These guys promote a happy “hydrosapien lifestyle.” Three-hour land lesson, $150; three hours on the water, $300. 430 Westline Dr.,Alameda, (510) 522-9463, www.kitewindsurf.com
Ki’topia: Lessons are held at Sherman Island, which is an intermediate/advanced area due to onshore wind conditions. The most popular package, the “big kahuna,” is $350 for four hours of land and water time. All lessons are private. 4800 W. Sherman Island Rd., Rio Vista, (209) 480-2067, www.kitopia.biz
Bring your own rainbow-colored, featherlight toy to a wide-open space near you, and let ’er ripple wildly in the wind. Spend an afternoon at the Berkeley Marina, and you’ll see all sorts of flying things, including the Berkeley guy who has zoomed around the green on his skateboard, powered only by a kite, since long before the water-sport version became trendy. Take I-80 and exit at University Avenue in Berkeley. Turn left onto University toward the Bay. When you come to an intersection, stop and veer left. Continue down University. The road will straighten out, and you will see a parking lot on the left. Berkeley Marina, www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/marina
Lightship LV 605
That’s code for a floating lighthouse, and Lightship LV 605 is now berthed at Jack London Square. Back in the day, such ships were used as navigation aids for mariners; now bay and harbor entrances tend to be marked by buoys instead. LV 605 is open for tours Thursdays and Fridays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Jack London Square, Oakland, (510) 272-0544, www.uslhs.org/about_lightship.php
Marine Science Institute
Our blue bay sure is beautiful to look at, but if you want to take it a little deeper and learn what on earth is really going on in there, the Marine Science Institute is the place. It runs all sorts of science and environmental educational programs, including weeklong kids camps for all ages, from the Plankton Pioneers (K–1) to Project Discovery for high schoolers. And how about skipping Pin the Tail on the Donkey and throwing a supercool Fish & Sharks birthday bash, which will let your junior scientist get her hands into something a little more exciting than cake and ice cream. 500 Discovery Pkwy., Redwood City, (650) 364-2760, www.sfbaymsi.org
Marketplace, Ferry Building
It’s difficult to imagine the Embarcadero without this still-sparkling-like-new showcase of the good San Francisco life: open-air organic farmers market; Charles Phan’s Slanted Door and Taylor’s Refresher’s milkshakes; Scharffen Berger chocolate and Hog Island Oysters; Acme Bread and artisan cheese. Hop on a ferry in Oakland, Alameda, or Vallejo, (see Ferries, page 54) and head across the Bay to find all of these within steps of each other—if you can find room to walk on a Saturday morning. Oh, did we mention the best-in-the-world Blue Bottle coffee? www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com
Nike Missile Sites
When fear of attack involved planes and missiles with big red stars on their sides, the Nike Missile System was created to shield big cities. The system’s motto was “If it flies, it dies,” and more than 12 launch sites for these missiles ringed the Bay. Remains of them can still be found in the East Bay Hills, on Angel Island, and in the Marin Headlands. The only one with a museum is the latter: Nike site SF-88 has been restored to look just as it did back in the 1960s. It is open Wednesdays through Fridays from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Or you can come to one of the open houses on the first Sunday of each month, when Nike veterans explain all areas of the site (including the building with the “fire” button) from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. To get to SF-88 from San Francisco, take Highway 101 to the Alexander Avenue exit north of the Golden Gate Bridge (it’s the first exit from the bridge), head through the tunnel, and continue west on Bunker Road for approximately 2.5 miles. You will reach a fork in the road; veer left onto Field Road. About 150 yards after the fork, you’ll see the Marin Headlands Visitor Center on your right. Site SF-88 will be the first right you come to beyond the visitor center parking lot. (415) 331-1453, www.nps.gov/goga/nike/index.htm
Outrigger Canoe Clubs
What was once a vital part of everyday survival for ancient Hawaiians has become a hot sport—and a healthy way to promote Polynesian culture. And what a rush: The strength of six people, in sync, propelling a massive 400-plus-pound, 40-foot-long canoe as it slices across the smooth water! Get out there!
Kaimanu: These folks have a few championships under their buff arms and practice sprints in an enclosed lagoon area at the San Leandro Marina before venturing out for long-distance runs across the San Francisco Bay. New members, even novices, are welcome. Annual membership $30–$60. Contact Dina Kakalia, (510) 533-6841, www.kaimanu.com.
O Kalani: This 26-year-old club participates in races and offers paddling fun for all ages. First-timers are encouraged to just show up to practice. Annual membership $150. Contact John McWilliams, Jack London Aquatic Center, Oakland, (510) 693-0910, www.dnagent.net/okalani
For more clubs: There are 14 in Northern California (who knew?). Check out the Northern California Outrigger Canoe Association website: www.ncoca.com.
Some people think about sea kayaking and get scared off, fearing they’ll be strapped into a skirt and forced to do ocean rolls like a human seal, thereby inviting a great white to cruise by and munch them. While that is possible, it’s really not what paddling the Bay is all about. It’s more like leisurely, meditative exercise—and a fun way to explore the water and wildlife.
California Canoe & Kayak: Runs beginner courses to tide-rips workshops to kayak surfing clinics all over, from the Oakland Estuary to Half Moon Bay. On-site rentals in Oakland are $15 per hour for a single, $25 for a double. Take-away rentals are $50 for the first day, $25 for the second day, and $15 for each additional day. 409 Water St., Jack London Square, Oakland, (510) 893-7833, www.calkayak.com
Pier 23 Café
On any warm, sunny San Francisco day, take your place in line at this go-to happy hour and weekend brunch place—then exit out the back to the patio, where live jazz, funk, or rock ’n’ roll never fails to get people going. The stiff drinks help, too. Pier 23 is on the Embarcadero near Battery Street in San Francisco; (415) 362-5125
Quinn’s Lighthouse Restaurant & Pub
Situated in a historic landmark lighthouse built in 1890, Quinn’s is a little funky, and a great place to sit by the water and enjoy a beer—they’ve got a choice of 60. The lightly fried fish and chips are worth a try. On the Oakland Estuary, the Upper Deck Pub’s 80-seat outdoor deck overlooks the marina. 1951 Embarcadero, Oakland, (510) 536-2050, www.quinnslighthouse.com
Not only does this slightly rundown eatery make the perfect spot for enjoying the most perfect Bloody Marys with a Denver omelet, but it hosts a kickin’ Saturday afternoon salsa party on the sprawling patio that attracts some pretty impressive dancers from all over the Bay Area, who are fun to watch even if you don’t have the moves. 855 China Basin, San Francisco, (415) 621-2378
For those moments when you find yourself staring at the Bay, dotted with billowing white sails, on a cloudless blue-sky day, and you say aloud to no one in particular, “All I ask is a tall ship and a star to sail her by …”
J World Performance Sailing School and Sailing Club: With a cool name like J World, it’s gotta be good. The basic five-day keelboat lesson (the standard handling and seamanship class for sailboats) costs $995. 1070 Marina Village Pkwy., Ste. 203, Alameda, (800) 910-1101, www.jworldsf.com
OCSC: This Berkeley-based school has been teaching wanna-be sailors for 27 years. The basic keelboat class runs $890 for nonmembers. 1 Spinnaker Way, Berkeley, (800) 223-2984, www.ocscsailing.com
Tradewinds Sailing School and Club: Tradewinds has more than 40 years of experience making sailing easy and enjoyable to learn. In addition to a professional training program, it offers several specialty classes, including a women-with-women program that allows women to take classes from female instructors and to go on social sails with other women. Classes from $495. 1230 Brickyard Cove Rd., Ste. 100, Point Richmond, (510) 232-7999, www.tradewindssailing.com
San Francisco Bay Natural Wildlife Refuge Center
Thirty thousand acres of open Bay, salt ponds, marshes, and mudflats; millions of birds from 280 species in migratory flight; and resident endangered species, such as the salt marsh harvest mouse, make this protected area amid urban sprawl a one-stop shop for outdoorsy types to canoe, hike, fish off the pier, and waterfowl-hunt (from mid-October to mid-January) to their heart’s content. The visitor center is off Highway 84 in Fremont. (510) 792-0222, www.fws.gov/desfbay
Scuba for Shark Sightings
These crazy guys say they’ve got a perfect safety record, so go ahead and give it a go: Take a one-day excursion to the Farallon Islands to spy on great whites feasting on elephant seals as they fuel up for their trans-Pacific tour. Cage-diving equipment, two meals, and beer costs $775 per person; topside observers pay $375. Departs from Emeryville Marina. Great White Adventures, (510) 814-8256, www.greatwhiteadventures.com
There’s not much to do on Treasure Island besides look at the city, battle the wind—and enjoy a culinary-school-student-cooked meal at Job Corps Fine Dining Restaurant. At-risk teens ready themselves for careers in the restaurant biz by preparing satisfying three-course meals served on white linen tablecloths. All adventurous eaters with at least 12 bucks in their pockets invited. Reservations required; call (415) 277-2301
Kids go nuts at the Robert W. Crown State Marine Conservation Area—hopping around the tide pools, poking sea anemones until they squirt, and pointing at all the cool little live creatures on display at the recently revamped visitors center, which serves to educate whomever is curious about ecosystems and the environmental value of the Bay. Bring a change of shoes or some water socks, because it’s a goopy sort of fun. The visitor center is at 1252 McKay Ave., Alameda, (510) 521-6887, www.ebparks.org.
Vegetarian With a View
Even hard-core carnivores have no complaints after a divine meal at Greens Restaurant, perched by the water in Fort Mason. Wide, wall-length windows offer vistas as glorious as the world-renowned gourmet veggie food on your plate. Sunset reservations are in high demand. (415) 771-6222, www.greensrestaurant.com
New and with Bay views, the latest luxury hotel from Joie de Vivre opened a year ago, satisfying San Francisco visitors looking for waterfront rooms not on Fisherman’s Wharf. It has great proximity to East Bay ferries and the Ferry Building Marketplace, and offers rooftop soaking tubs and penthouse yoga, too. Room rates start at $289. 8 Mission St., San Francisco, (415) 278-3700, www.hotelvitale.com
Board a boat with 40 folks—or charter your own with friends—and head for the Farallon Islands, a favorite pit stop for humpbacks, blues, and California grays. Sightings aren’t guaranteed, of course, but seabirds, seals, and the big blue will make you happy, too. Expeditions depart near Fort Mason, (415) 331-6267, www.sfbaywhalewatching.com
Uh, bring your xylophone to the beach and party your head off.
Pile up to 2,000 of your closest friends onto one of a fleet of more than 30 deluxe motor or sailing vessels. After a few hours gliding on the water—with stunning views of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge—the boat pulls into Angel Island for a catered BBQ of tri-tip, salmon burgers, sausages, and ribs. From $200 to $14,000, depending on the vessel. (415) 762-0554, www.yachtsf.com
That’s Latin for those lazy mounds of blubber you see lolling around the Fisherman’s Wharf docks, crooning nonsense to the crowds. The sea lions left Seal Rock down by Ocean Beach years ago and now entertain the tourists swarming Pier 39 free of charge.