Top Bay Area Outdoor Areas



East Bay

Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center. Exhibits, programs and activities provide an introduction to the ecology of the San Francisco Bay estuary. Learn about seabirds, see a leopard shark feeding or check out special programs geared to toddlers or 3- to 5-year-olds. 4901 Breakwater Ave., Hayward. 510-670-7270. www.haywardrec.org/150/hayward-shoreline-interpretive-center.

 

Mount Diablo State Park. Head to the Summit Visitor Center for one of the best views in the Bay Area and learn about the geological forces that shaped the mountain, its ecosystems and its cultural history. The Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center has displays about geology, wildlife, plants and more. Rock City, with sandstone caves and formations, and Sentinel Rock are terrific spots for hiking and climbing with kids. 96 Mitchell Canyon Road, Clayton. 925-837-2525. www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=517.

 

Marin

Muir Woods National Monument. One of the nation’s most famous places to visit ancient redwoods is right in our own backyard. Programs include ranger talks and guided tours, as well as self-guided walks. Admission is $7, but free for children 15 and under. 1 Muir Woods Road, Mill Valley. 415-388-2595. www.nps.gov/muwo.

 

Las Gallinas. The ponds at this water treatment facility double as a wildlife refuge and are home to hundreds of bird species, making it a great place to bird-watch, hike or just sit and enjoy views of San Pablo Bay and Mount Tam. Special programming includes bird walks for kids. 300 Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael. 415-472-1734. www.lgvsd.org.

 

San Francisco

Angel Island State Park. The largest island in San Francisco Bay is accessed by ferry and offers beautiful views, fantastic hiking and beachcombing, and diverse animal and bird life. The island, which was once home to both Coast Miwok and a U.S. Immigration Station, can also be explored by bicycle or limited tram service during summer months. 415-435-5390. www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=468.

 

Crissy Field. This restored former military airfield is now home to 110 species of plants, 135 bird species and more than 17 fish species. There are also terrific views of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge and a Warming Hut for a snack or break from the wind. The Crissy Field Center aims to engage youth with their environment through programming for schools and the community, including summer camps and youth leadership programs. 1199 East Beach, Presidio. 415-561-7752. www.parksconservancy.org/visit/park-sites/crissy-field.html.

 

Peninsula

Baylands Nature Preserve. One of the largest tracts of undisturbed marshland in San Francisco Bay, the 1,940-acre preserve includes 15 miles of multiuse trails through tidal and freshwater habitats. The City of Palo Alto offers various nature walks and programs on ecology and natural history. 2500 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto. 650-617-3156. www.cityofpaloalto.org/gov/depts/csd/parks/preserves/baylands.asp.

 

Marine Science Institute. A pioneer in environmental education, the Marine Science Institute offers classes, camps and field trips, as well as public events – from low-tide walks and marsh explorations to “eco-voyages” on its 90-foot research vessel.  500 Discovery Parkway, Redwood City. 650-364-2760. sfbaymsi.org.

 

Silicon Valley

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The 30,000-acre refuge includes 15 different habitat types and is home to several threatened and endangered species. The Environmental Education Center in Alviso, open to the public on weekends, is surrounded by uplands, marshes, salt ponds and a freshwater tidal slough. Trails and a boardwalk through the seasonal wetland habitat are open daily. A separate Visitor Center (2 Marshlands Road, Fremont) is open Tue.-Sun. Refuge naturalists and volunteers offer a variety of free guided programs and walks in both locations. Downloadable activities for kids are available on the website. 1751 Grand Blvd., Alviso. 408-262-5513. www.fws.gov/refuge/don_edwards_san_francisco_bay.

 

Hidden Villa. This nonprofit educational organization, with an emphasis on sustainability, includes both an organic farm and wilderness area covering 1,600 acres of open space in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Public programs range from farm tours to wildlife talks to a preschool farm series. 26870 Moody Road, Los Altos Hills. 650-949-8650. www.hiddenvilla.org.

 

Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.

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