Much has been written about the poetry of a star-studded sky and evening’s enchantment. So why not make the most of our gorgeous twilight hours? When the sun sets and the moon takes its shift as night’s guardian, awesome nocturnal adventures can unfold, especially here in the bay area. From sunset sails to exploring an old civil war fort by lantern light, we’ve compiled a list of our region’s best after-dark adventures—some spooky and all certifiably fun.
BIOLUMINESCENT KAYAKING ON TOMALES BAY
WEST MARIN COUNTY
If you love to paddle, not much can compare with a Blue Waters Kayaking adventure on one of the wild “fingers” of Tomales Bay. This fertile marine sanctuary off of Point Reyes National Seashore gets so dark on moonless nights (the area is applying for the distinction of being a dark-sky reserve) that it creates a phenomenon called bioluminescence, where sparks fly off your paddle when you dip it in the nutrient-rich waters. The flickers of light, which look like fairy dust, are generated by dinoflagellates, living organisms in the water. Think the northern lights—just as elusive—only underneath you.
The entry point is Miller Boat Launch, next to the iconic Nick’s Cove restaurant and cottages in Marshall. High-end double kayaks are provided, along with expert instruction from your guide. The half-hour paddle to “secret” dark coves is just part of the evening’s show. As you glide stealthily toward the setting sun, the sky fills with cormorants descending on treetops on Hog Island. You may even be escorted by a harbor seal or a heron in search of an evening meal. The one thing you won’t find is noise. There’s a serene, zen quality to the journey, where paddlers are surrounded by nature’s magnificence. The adventure costs $174 per person Monday through Thursday and $198 per person Friday through Sunday. For a calendar of three-hour bioluminescent kayaking trips, go to bluewaterskayaking.com.
MOONLIGHT SAIL ON THE SCHOONER FREDA B
Let’s face it: Few of us can afford a gleaming 80-foot yacht built from mahogany, teak, and white pine. With its gorgeous billowing sails and spit-shined wood railings and deck, the Freda B schooner makes its guests feel like millionaires.
The captain and professional crew handle everything, even offering drinks to adults who want a libation during their sail. Once the yacht leaves its slip in historic downtown Sausalito, it motors quietly across the bay waters to a specific point where the engine is turned off and the boat bobs blissfully in a sea of tranquility.
To the west is the sunset, gorgeously illuminating the Golden Gate Bridge. Each minute a new vista appears—it’s as if Mother Nature and Monet have married their talents to paint the night sky. To the south, there’s the twinkling San Francisco waterfront. The view to the east features the pearls of lights outlining the Bay Bridge, and to the north looms the island of Alcatraz.
The Freda B can carry 49 guests and is co-owned by Marina O’Neill, who named the coastal schooner after her adventurous grandmother, Freda Marie Been. Sunset sails are regularly held on Friday and Saturday evenings; full moon sails take place monthly. The Freda B is also available for private hire. For more information, visit schoonerfredab.com.
FORT POINT CANDLELIGHT TOUR
Tucked under the south anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge, where the sound of crashing waves is punctuated by moaning metal from cars overhead, Fort Point seems haunted. The dark, dank bricks that make up the old Civil War building, once heavily fortified with 102 cannons, now hold tales of the men who were stationed there to watch for an enemy who never came.
The guided tour of this National Historic Site—the only fort of its kind on the West Coast—is done by lantern light, engaging all your senses. On your walk through all four stories of this engineering marvel, you’ll see where the gunpowder was kept and where the enlisted men marched, ate, and slept. You’ll climb the granite spiral staircase to the roof, and look down on the shadowy archways and across to the old lighthouse and the lights of San Francisco.
The fort eventually fell out of use and troops were withdrawn in 1886. It might have been destroyed to build the Golden Gate Bridge in 1933 were it not for chief engineer Joseph Strauss, who argued to save it. All this and more is explained by a park ranger in this 90-minute tour (which is often sold out, so watch the website for booking information). A fairly steep 76-step climb up the staircase may discourage some from taking part in this tour. The recommended age is 10 and up. Admission is $20 for adults and $12 for youth. For more information, visit nps.gov/fopo.
FIRST FRIDAYS AT CHABOT SPACE AND SCIENCE CENTER
It’s a planetarium. It’s a science lab. It’s a dark-sky destination in Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland hills. Chabot Space and Science Center opens its doors on the first Friday evening of each month to celebrate the cosmos. Indoors, there are shows every hour in the planetarium, ranging from a tour of the galaxy narrated by a Chabot astronomer to a laser-art sky show set to Beatles music.
Other activities include mind-blowing experiences like a recent virtual reality installation, where high-tech goggles let visitors “fly” through space, zooming past planets and ice formations. Children will enjoy a wide range of hands-on activities, and adults 21 and older can visit a beer and wine bar set up across from the gift shop.
Once darkness falls, there are three impressive telescopes on the observatory deck, trained toward specific celestial bodies. Nellie is the most powerful instrument, a 36-inch reflector telescope that draws you amazingly close to the moon, Mars, or anywhere else in its 180-degree scope of the sky. Rachel is the largest refractor in the western United States, and her smaller companion, Leah, is the original 1883 telescope donated by founder Anthony Chabot.
First Fridays take place monthly from 6–10 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for kids and seniors, and $5 for members. For more, visit chabotspace.org.
LIVERMORE WINE TROLLEY SUNSET TOURS
Nothing says fun like a brightly colored trolley bopping merrily along the rural roads of one of the Bay Area’s oldest and most scenic wine regions. The Livermore Wine Trolley has dozens of daytime theme tours, but the evening excursions are a fan favorite. Passengers get wine country discounts and share bottles with friends as they motor past rolling hills, vineyards, tasting rooms, and maybe even horses and sheep—all under the setting sun of the Livermore Valley.
The Sunset Wine Cruise runs every Friday evening in the summer and picks you up in historic downtown Livermore. Once you’ve grabbed a cushioned seat, the music from the vehicle’s high-end sound system sets the mood for smiles and even the occasional sing-along to old favorites (who doesn’t know Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”?).
The first stop on the two-hour cruise is one of the area’s newest wineries, Del Valle Winery, where a full flight of wines tickles your palate.
The Livermore Valley started producing wine in the 1840s and is especially known for its chardonnay. The vineyards are framed by Mount Diablo and its foothills and, to the east, the Altamont Pass. Passengers will take in the pastoral views and enjoy the fruits of this delightfully relaxing wine region.
For a schedule and prices of sunset tours, go to livermorewinetrolley.com.