Dive right into summer with fun and games in your East Bay backyard.
Miles away from homework and parents, summer camp was our kingdom. We ruled the woods as champion archers and expert horsemen, we frightened the young(est) with ghost stories, we earned star status as melodramatic skit performers, and we traded friendship bracelets with the most loyal of the lot. Heck, even the camp chores were fun. And as we tucked into bed each night, lathered with repellent on a mosquito net–covered cot, we could barely keep our eyes closed in anticipation of another day of adventure.
In this spirit, we offer a guide to camplike summer fun, from craft classes to astronomy hikes, plus our favorite mess hall meals and places to sneak away, to help you feel like a kid all over again.
1/ The Great Outdoors
by Serena Renner
I could barely make out calls from my campmates as I trembled atop the “power pole.” All I could hear was my thundering heartbeat, as I stared at the ball suspended before me and the ground, seemingly hundreds of feet down. Finally, I leapt and was weightless for a split second, until the rope caught me and lowered me back to Mother Earth, my shakes fading into feelings of accomplishment. Whether your camp counselor made you flip your kayak into freezing water or complete obstacle courses like this one, summer camp forced us to try new things, test our limits, and connect with the outdoors.
The List / Test Course
Taking risks and conquering fears is a summer camp tradition that stays with us long after the car ride home. This summer, check out an East Bay adventure that suits your adrenaline threshold.
Rediscover your regional parks by completing five trails, or 26.2 miles, to earn a commemorative pin. Extra Brownie points go to those who hike, then swim, then jump off a hidden rope swing into Lake Del Valle. regionalparksfoundation.org.
All you need is an introductory course and a running start to soar with the eagles over Mount Diablo, as you take in views from the Sierras to the Golden Gate Bridge. advancedparagliding.com.
Coworkers and team players will learn to trust each other at this network of rope ladders, cargo nets, suspension bridges, and a 30-foot-high “leap of faith” in UC Berkeley’s Strawberry Canyon. recsports.berkeley.edu/caladventures.
Daredevil kids will love the Berkeley Marina’s do-it-yourself creativity park, where they can traverse bouncy bridges, sail on a rope swing, or fly down a 60-foot zip line. ci.berkeley.ca.us.
Thrill seekers, it’s time to jump—13,000 feet out of a plane—to experience the most thrilling minute of your life. Free fall at 120 miles per hour until your parachute snaps open and you float weightlessly back to safety. bayareaskydiving.com.
How to: Orient your map using a compass
The East Bay Regional Parks’ Trails Challenge guidebook helps us avoid getting lost in the woods.
step one/ Unfurl your map on a smooth, flat surface. step two/ Hold your compass out to find due North. step three/ Place your compass on the map and rotate your map (keeping your compass pointed in the same direction), until the northern arrow on the map is pointed in the same direction as the magnetic needle on your compass; your map is now oriented to the north, and the reference points around you should match what’s on the map.
The List / Splash Camp
Nothing says summer like time on the water. California outdoor website Weekend Sherpa—known for scouring the state for unique activities to get people out on weekends—has the goods on the best ways to get wet in the East Bay.
Canoe Lake Chabot
No motorboat? No problem. Explore the serene waters of this 318-acre lake, taking time to check out the hidden coves and central island—nice spots for a picnic lunch. ebparks.org/parks/lake_chabot.
Swim in Temescal
Beat the heat with a dip into this lively lake, surrounded by white-sand beaches, willow-shaded picnic grounds, and Frisbee-throwing beachgoers. Prove you’re “king of the dock” by hooking a catfish off one of the fishing piers. ebparks.org/parks/temescal.
Hike to Little Yosemite
Not only does the Canyon View Trail in Sunol Regional Wilderness look out over Alameda Creek Valley, it also descends to a rock-lined gorge, with a tumbling green water display most active after heavy rains. ebparks.org/parks/sunol.
Kayak in Berkeley
Ease into sea kayaking with a daytime shore excursion led by the friendly guides at Cal Adventures. Or admire lights bouncing off the silvery water on a full moon kayak, offered once a month. recsports.berkeley.edu/caladventures.
Windsurf in Alameda
Catching the wind while death gripping a sail can seem intimidating, but Boardsports School will get you rigged and riding in no time, thanks in part to the gentle winds, sandy takeoff zone, and mellow vibes of Crown Beach. boardsportsschool.com.
For more details about these activities and other California outings, visit weekendsherpa.com.
How to: Skip rocks like a pro
Follow these tips from Boys’ Life magazine to impress your crush, or at least some loitering eight-year-olds.
step one/ Find a smooth, flat stone about the size of your palm, and grip it with your thumb and middle finger (thumb on top), and your index finger hooked along the edge. step two/ Stand sideways with your nondominant leg toward the water, and squat so your rock is nearer (and parallel) to the water’s surface when you throw. step three/ Flick your rock with a sharp snap of the wrist, ideally at a 20-degree angle, as hard as possible without losing form.
2/ Mess Hall
by Ethan Fletcher
What was it about camp food that tasted so good? I mean, it’s not like they had Alice Waters in the kitchen, cooking free-range chicken (with a side of locally sourced greens), as we waited impatiently in line with our plastic trays. More often than not, it was basic food, prepared en masse in a cafeteria or crudely over an open flame: spaghetti, hot dogs, burgers, mac and cheese. But even though it wasn’t gourmet grub, for a growing kid so hungry after running around all day, it sure tasted like it was. Here’s a guide for re-creating some of that mess hall magic. (We’re not condoning food fights.)
The List / Meal Calendar
In honor of summer, here’s a weekly menu of East Bay spots where you can get souped-up versions of all those oddly comforting camp food classics.
Ribs, Baked Beans, and S’mores
Eddie Papa’s is all about comfort food, but it’s their Kansas City pork ribs (and that side of Boston baked beans) that give us campfire flashbacks. Dessert: The Pleasanton restaurant supplies all the fixings (including a table-side hibachi grill) so you can cook your own s’mores. eddiepapas.com.
Mac ’n’ Cheese and Oreos
Oakland’s popular new Homeroom restaurant specializes in the cheesy staple, and it doesn’t get campier than the trailer mac: cheddar mac with chopped Prather Ranch hot dogs and crushed potato chips. Dessert: $2.50 will get you a giant house-made Oreo topped with sea salt. homeroom510.com.
Meat Loaf and Vanilla Sundaes
Meat loaf was never a welcome sight on the menu, but Lark Creek Walnut Creek’s version is a treat—wrapped with bacon and served with horseradish mashed potatoes. Dessert: End with a vanilla sundae drizzled with hot fudge, caramel, peanuts, and whipped cream. larkcreek.com/walnut_creek.
Grilled Cheese and Hot Chocolate
The grilled cheese at Danville’s Sideboard is an open-faced ham and cheese melt on an English muffin (also try the gourmet Tater Tots). Dessert: If it’s cold, grab a blanket and a s’mores hot chocolate, rimmed with cinnamon graham cracker crumbs and topped with a house-charred marshmallow. (925) 984-2713.
Sloppy Joes and Strawberry Shortcake
Get in line (just like camp) for Bakesale Betty’s take on this mess hall favorite, made with Prather Ranch beef and jalapeños.
Dessert: Betty’s strawberry shortcake is made with just-baked cake, fresh-cut strawberries, and house-made whipped cream. bakesalebetty.com.
How to: Grill a perfect burger
Green Leaf BBQ's grill master Tim Bryan shares secrets for cooking up the classic summer staple.
step one/ Request freshly ground sirloin with at least 10 percent fat content. step two/ Loosely form a burger of desired size by hand; don’t compress the meat more than what’s necessary to hold it together. Press a thumb-sized dimple in the center to prevent swelling. step three/ Cook at high temperatures to melt down fats and firm the patty. Cook until juices run clear or desired doneness is achieved.
by LeeAnne Jones
After those first awkward minutes of meeting tent mates and selecting a nickname (me: “Dusty,” scribbled onto a slice of tree branch and hung around my neck), summer camp was nonstop go, go, go. From competing in tetherball and capture the flag to making papier-mâché tribal masks, and taking hundreds of silly photographs, it was all fun all the time. These days, you probably don’t have a game of steal the bacon scheduled in your planner, but we think you’ll still get that same sense of endless summer fun with these East Bay activities.
The List / Summer Fling
No five irons or collared shirts are required for disc golf, a camp-style game that is red-hot right now in the East Bay. Just grab a disc and a few friends, and check out the action at these five courses.
Perched on a hillside overlooking San Ramon, this 10-hole course at Old Ranch Park has long, straight fairways, not many trees, and bright orange baskets, making it great for beginners.
This hilly nine-hole course at Moraga Commons Park is spacious and great for families and beginner to intermediate players. Shaded benches, picnic tables, and water fountains are welcoming, but watch out for poison oak.
At Chabot Park, this woodsy course offers nine holes that range from easy baskets to challenging “tunnel shots” through the trees. But the biggest challenge is not hitting crowds of park users.
The 18-hole course at the Aquatic Park is known for its water hazards and unpredictable wind. But expert disc throwers appreciate the challenge, and everyone enjoys the killer view of the Bay.
The popular and well-maintained 18-hole course at Golden Gate Park is set among tall eucalyptus trees. Three starting placements per hole and changes in elevation appeal to recreational and advanced players alike.
Test Your Toss
The East Bay Disc Golf Club hosts a weekly disc golf tournament in Berkeley. It’s $5 to register, and winners take home cash prizes. ebdgc.org.
How to: Perfect your backhand throw
Neil Bondy, president of the East Bay Disc Golf Club, breaks down the perfect backhand drive.
step one/ Grip the disc with your thumb on top and fingers curled under the rim. step two/ Stand at the back of the box, shoulders in line with the basket, and take three steps, starting with your dominant leg. On the first, turn your hips away from the hole, then take a second step, crossing your other leg behind while reaching across your chest with the disc. step three/ Take the third step, pulling the disc back across your chest in a straight line toward the hole, and release.
The List / Crafty Days
While you won’t make a mess of glitter and Elmer’s, you’ll have just as much fun at these grown-up workshops.
Create your own candle at Danville’s Stella Luna, choosing from a variety of shapes and scents—including “freshly washed man.” stellalunacandles.com.
Go beyond tie-dye with new fabric workshops at Walnut Creek’s Civic Arts Education, where you can make bucket-dyed ombré skirts and woven felt scarves. walnut-creek.org/cae.
Make lavender-scented soap, using organic olive oil at Sunol’s Hillcrest Ranch. Take home a bar—and instructions for making more at home. hillcrestrancholiveoil.com.
Graduate from friendship bracelets to fashion jewelry, with classes in beading, chainmaille, and resin pendants. justbeaditconcord.com.
Party with the Oakland arts community at a themed Local Social gathering. Its June 25–26 event includes photography and ceramic exhibits, workshops, dinner, and live music. local-social.net.
How to: Make a flea market birdhouse
Orinda craft queens Jennifer and Kitty O’Neil give the 411 on decorating birdhouses with found objects.
step one/ Water down acrylic paint by mixing one part paint to 10 parts water. Paint an unfinished wooden birdhouse (available in craft stores), using a foam brush.step two/ Bend a license plate in half, and shape over roof. Glue it in place with flexible permanent glue, such as Beacon Adhesives’ Quick Grip. step three/ Replace the perching post with the end of a pencil, and embellish the front with flea market finds, such as chain, vintage keys, bike gears, or a keyhole.
4/ After Dark
by Serena Renner
As fun as the daytime was, nothing beat camp after dark. As soon as the sun went down, the campfire flared up to comfort us while we sang songs, told ghost stories, watched skits, and debated marshmallow-roasting techniques. (I strove for golden perfection.) We recounted events of the day and hatched plans for the night (a prank on the boys’ cabin, for sure). And we watched obsessively as the stars came out, one by one, trying to connect the dots into patterns across the obsidian sky. Fortunately, the East Bay has many opportunities to create your own star-studded memories.
The List / Star Tours
The best thing about astronomy events is their location, away from the bustle, where the night sky is crystal clear. Lucky for us, the East Bay is full of opportunities to travel to far-off galaxies.
Walk in John Muir’s footsteps on a guided full moon hike up Mount Wanda, just outside the environmentalist’s former estate. Learn moon facts, hear poetic Muir quotes, and peer through a 10-inch telescope on June 15, July 15, Aug. 15, and Sept. 12. nps.gov/jomu.
Talks and Telescopes
Learn about space rocks on June 4, peek inside historic telescopes on July 9, then search for another Earth on August 20, all paired with telescope viewings with the Mount Diablo Astronomical Society. mdas.net.
The East Bay Regional Parks District offers evening astronomy hikes throughout the year, such as a stargazing walk at Brushy Peak in Livermore, June 19. ebparks.org.
On top of free telescope viewings every Friday and Saturday night (weather permitting), Chabot Space and Science Center presents Slumber With the Stars, July 15–16, a museum overnight, including games, hiking, exhibits, and planetarium shows, as well as access to the giant telescopes. chabotspace.org.
Music of the Spheres
On top of Mount Hamilton, Lick Observatory houses the largest telescopes and most melodic astronomy events around. On select Saturdays, visitors can see a concert, hear a lecture, and handle a 36- and 40-inch telescope. ucolick.org.
How to: Find the Little Dipper
Astronomers at Chabot Space and Science Center reveal the hiding spot of the elusive Little Dipper.
step one/ Locate the seven bright stars of the Big Dipper in the northern night sky. step two/ Follow the line from the two outer stars of the Big Dipper’s ladle to Polaris, the North Star. step three/ Once at Polaris, you’ve found the Little Dipper! Polaris is the tip of the Little Dipper’s handle, and the ladle is above, positioned upside down. Polaris doesn’t move much throughout the night because it’s almost directly above the Earth’s North Pole.
The List / Pick Your Cabin
We all know that sneaking out was the best part of summer camp, so don’t forget to plan a summer getaway to one of these unique cabin retreats.
Pick from log cabins, tent bungalows, homey lodge rooms, or campsites within a whiff of the ocean, and enjoy the on-site restaurant, massage center, and programs ranging from Native American storytelling to stargazing with a NASA researcher. costanoa.com.
Witness exotic animals in their natural habitat on a wildlife safari that feels worlds away from Wine Country. Enjoy evening s’mores before hunkering down in your African tent cabin, and wake up to the sounds of lemurs, sarus cranes, and “laughing” kookaburras. safariwest.com.
Nestled amid aspens and pines, these charming cabins are a perfect home base for hiking, biking, fishing, soaking at the nearby Grover Hot Springs (which projects outdoor movies in summer), or relaxing on a hammock with a good book. sorensensresort.com.
Sequoia High Sierra Camp
Giant Sequoia National Monument
Hike either three-quarters of a mile or 12 miles to plush tent cabins 8,282 feet up in the mountains. Luxury digs and freshly prepared food are taken care of, leaving you free to hike, fish, enjoy the evening campfire, and stargaze through an Orion telescope. sequoiahighsierracamp.com.
The Central Coast’s best-kept secret lies high on the ocean-view cliffs of south Big Sur. Sixteen beautiful yurts, many with expansive ocean views, as well as nice campsites, a cozy lodge, a farm-to-table restaurant, an outdoor sushi bar, and a “human nest” make up this eco-resort. treebonesresort.com.