Author Archives: Kelly O'Mara

Kelly O'Mara is a writer and reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes about food, health, sports, travel, business and California news. Her work has appeared on KQED, online for Outside Magazine and in Competitor Magazine, among others.

A Guide to Public Space in the Bay Area

One of the special things about the Bay Area is the amount of land set aside as public parks and open space. About a quarter of the total area of the nine-county Bay Area enjoys permanent protection from development. That’s more than a million acres of protected landscape, including seashore and parklands managed by the National Park Service, state parks and beaches, regional and county parks, state and federal wildlife refuges, watershed lands, city parks and privately managed trust lands. There’s even open space owned and managed by inner-city neighbors. That’s a lot of territory to explore and understand. Here’s a guide to the different kinds of public parks and open lands in the Bay Area, and some of the recreational opportunities available there.

Jump to these sections to learn more about different parks in the Bay Area:

National Park Service and federal recreational properties
State parks and other state-managed or -owned recreational properties
Regional and county parks
City parks
Utility district watershed lands
Locally owned and managed open space
Nonprofit- or trust-owned open spaces

KQED’s full coverage of public places and open spaces.

National Park Service and other federal recreational properties

The lighthouse at Pt. Reyes is a popular destination. Photo: brewbooks/Flickr.com

The lighthouse at Pt. Reyes is a popular destination. Photo: brewbooks/Flickr

Point Reyes National Seashore: Situated on the Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County, between the ocean and Tomales Bay, the Point Reyes National Seashore is the only national seashore in the Bay Area. Since there were already a number of homes and ranches at the time of its creation, most still operate within the seashore today through leases with the National Park Service. Hiking and recreation is encouraged at the seashore. Bikes and horses are permitted on designated trails, as are leashed animals. Camping is only allowed, via permit and reservation, at designated campsites – some of which, on Tomales Bay beaches, must be reached by boat. Non-motorized boating, such as kayaking, is allowed throughout the seashore, as well as swimming (though, with the cold waters, not many people try). The Point Reyes Lighthouse – one of the country’s oldest lighthouses and one of the windiest, foggiest spot on the West Coast – is a popular destination and can be reached via a long set of stairs.

For more information:
National Park Service/Point Reyes National Seashore

KQED’s Quest: Bay Area Geo Attractions: Point Reyes National Seashore

Lake Berryessa in Napa. Photo: Matthew Fern/Flickr

Lake Berryessa in Napa. Photo: Matthew Fern/Flickr

Lake Berryessa: The lake covers about 25 square miles in eastern Napa County and includes recreation facilities administered by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation with assistance from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The bureau contracts with seven concessionaires to provide services. Those contracts began expiring several years ago, leading the bureau to re-evaluate its visitor services plan. Improvements to the visitors center are underway and changes to the overnight lodging, marinas and RV sites are being considered.

For more information:
Bureau of Reclamation/Lake Berryessa

KQED Science: Another Try for California’s Second National Conservation Area

Lake Sonoma was created by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Photo: Rana Kim/Flickr

Lake Sonoma was created by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Photo: Rana Kim/Flickr

Lake Sonoma: The 4-square-mile lake was created in 1983 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the Warm Springs Dam on Dry Creek, west of Healdsburg in northern Sonoma County. The Corps jointly manages the lake and surrounding recreational lands with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Visitors can enjoy boating, camping, hiking, swimming and fishing. A hatchery and visitors center at the dam offer tours during steelhead spawning season.

For more information:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Lake Sonoma

California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife/Lake Sonoma Wildlife Area

 

State parks and other state-managed or -owned recreational properties

China Camp State Park is on land that used to be a Chinese fishing village. Photo: Bill Couch/Flickr

China Camp State Park is on land that used to be a Chinese fishing village. Photo: Bill Couch/Flickr

China Camp State Park: On San Pedro Bay, in Marin County, China Camp was slated for closure because of state budget cuts. The park is now operated for California Department of Parks and Recreation by the Friends of China Camp, a committee of the Marin State Parks Association. Fees are now charged for day use and trail use, as well as parking, camping and events, like weddings or picnics. In the 1880s, the site was home to a Chinese fishing village, some of which still stands as a museum and historical site near the beach entrance. The rest of the park is a popular hiking, mountain biking and camping destination

For more information:
California Dept. of Parks and Recreation/China Camp

Robert Crown Beach in Alameda is popular for swimming, sand castles and kite-boarding. Photo: Deborah Svoboda/KQED

Robert Crown Beach in Alameda is popular for swimming, sand castles and kite-boarding. Photo: Deborah Svoboda/KQED

Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach: Operated in part by the East Bay Regional Park District under an agreement with the state and the city of Alameda, Crown Beach was known as Alameda Beach before it was renamed for State Assemblyman Robert Crown. In later years, though, the beach actually became highly eroded and had to be restored in 1982 by pumping in sand from the bay (a process park managers are getting ready to repeat in the fall of 2013). Today it features dunes and a bicycle trail and is considered one of the few places in the Bay Area where it’s actually more or less comfortable to swim. It is bordered on one side by a bird sanctuary and on the other by the Crab Cove Visitor’s Center. The annual sand castle contest is also a highlight.

For more information:
East Bay Regional Park District/Crown Memorial State Beach

California Department of Parks and Recreation/Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach

Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area: In the hills of eastern Alameda and western San Joaquin counties, Carnegie is the only state vehicular recreation area in the nine-county Bay Area. The 1,300-acre park features a motocross track, an ATV/motorcycle track, a kids’ track and a beginner track. Officials with the state parks’ Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division want to expand the park, a plan that has run into resistance from conservationists who say the area deserves protection from off-road vehicles

Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area is the only park for off-road vehicles in the Bay Area. Photo: California Department of Parks and Recreation, Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division

Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area is the only park for off-road vehicles in the Bay Area. Photo: California Department of Parks and Recreation, Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division

For more information:
California State Parks/Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area

KQED: Off-Roaders, Nature Lovers Tussle Over State Park’s Future

Lake Del Valle is a hybrid property, run by a number of agencies. Photo: Dmitry Sumin/Flickr

Lake Del Valle is a hybrid property, run by a number of agencies. Photo: Dmitry Sumin/Flickr

Lake Del Valle State Recreation Area/Del Valle Regional Park: Lake Del Valle, in eastern Alameda County south of Livermore, is a hybrid property. The lake was created as part of the State Water Project (state Department of Water Resources), is counted a state recreation area (Department of Parks and Recreation), and is managed as part of the East Bay Regional Park District. Del Valle is a popular destination for camping, swimming, fishing, hiking and cycling.

For more information:
East Bay Regional Parks/Del Valle Regional Park

Suisun Marsh is one of the largest marshes in the state. Photo: Mary Mactavish/Flickr

Suisun Marsh is one of the largest marshes in the state. Photo: Mary Mactavish/Flickr

Suisun Marsh/Grizzly Island Wildlife Area: Here’s what the state Department of Water Resources says about Suisun Marsh, south of the Solano County city of Fairfield: “… The largest contiguous brackish water marsh remaining on the west coast of North America… Suisun Marsh includes 52,000 acres of managed wetlands, 27,700 acres of upland grasses, 6,300 acres of tidal wetlands, and 30,000 acres of bays and sloughs. It is home to public waterfowl hunting areas and 158 private duck clubs. The marsh encompasses more than 10 percent of California’s remaining natural wetlands and serves as the resting and feeding ground for thousands of waterfowl migrating on the Pacific Flyway.” DWR manages the marsh jointly with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Suisun Resource Conservation District. DFW runs several wildlife areas that provide public access to the marsh, the biggest of which is the Grizzly Island Wildlife area. It’s an amazing land- and waterscape and popular with hunters who are permitted to take (in season) everything from rabbits to waterfowl to tule elk.

For more information:
Department of Water Resources/Suisun Marsh

Department of Fish and Wildlife/Grizzly Island Wildlife Area

 

Regional and county parks

Redwood Regional Park: Redwood Regional Park, which runs along the rugged crest of the Oakland Hills, is part of the sprawling East Bay Regional Park District, which includes 65 parks on 113,000 acres in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Redwood is a major destination for hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and dog walkers. The park includes an attraction for trout lovers: a beautifully crafted fish ladder used (we’ve heard) by spawning rainbow trout.

For more information
East Bay Regional Parks/Redwood Regional Park

KQED Quest: Rainy Hike at Redwood Regional Park

Redwood Regional Park is part of the sprawling East Bay Park District. Photo: Miguel Vieira/Flickr

Redwood Regional Park is part of the sprawling East Bay Park District. Photo: Miguel Vieira/Flickr

Joseph D. Grant County Park: Covering nearly 10,000 acres on the flanks of Mount Hamilton, the park is the largest in the Santa Clara County Parks system. The park is a draw for equestrian sports and for the usual palette of outdoor activities, including hiking and mountain biking.

For more information:
Santa Clara County Parks/ Joseph D. Frant County Park

 

City parks

The Conservatory of Flowers is one of many attractions in Golden Gate Park. Photo: Kwong Yee Cheng/Flickr

The Conservatory of Flowers is one of many attractions in Golden Gate Park. Photo: Kwong Yee Cheng/Flickr

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco: A 1,000-acre swath of former sand dunes running from the center of San Francisco to the beach, this is one of the most famous parks in the world and arguably the city’s greatest asset. Home to two of the West Coast’s greatest museums, the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young (fine arts), it’s also got the wonderful Conservatory of Flowers, playing fields, a bison paddock, the Japanese Tea Garden, playing fields, picnic grounds, lakes, and ample room for walking, running, cycling and roaming of all kinds.

For more information:
San Francisco Recreation and Park Department/Golden Gate Park Guide

Foothills Park, Palo Alto: Palo Alto has an extensive network of open spaces, including the 1,400-acre Foothills Park. The park features miles of hiking trails, great vistas of the Bay Area, and a host of wildlife-spotting opportunities.

For more information:
City of Palo Alto/Foothills Park

 

Utility district watershed lands

The San Leandro Reservoir has plenty of trails and plant life for visitors. Photo: SFBayWalk/Flickr

The San Leandro Reservoir has plenty of trails and plant life for visitors. Photo: SFBayWalk/Flickr

East Bay Municipal Utilities District/Lafayette and San Pablo reservoirs: EBMUD, which provides water to most residents of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, owns 27,000 acres of watershed lands in the East Bay. The district manages two popular recreational destinations there, the Lafayette and San Pablo reservoirs, along with 80 miles of trails for hiking and horseback-riding in adjacent open space.

For more information:
East Bay Municipal Utility District/East Bay trails

East Bay Municipal Utility District/San Pablo Reservoir

East Bay Municipal Utility District/Lafayette Reservoir

Marin Municipal Water District: The district owns about 21,000 acres of watershed lands. Mount Tamalpais Watershed is part of a huge complex of protected land that includes Mount Tamalpais State Park and the Golden Gate National Recreation area and offers great hiking and fishing.

More information:
Marin Municipal Water District/Visiting Watershed Lands

 

Locally owned and managed open space

The Starr King Open Space is owned by the neighborhood in Potrero Hill. Photo: Deborah Svoboda/KQED

The Starr King Open Space is owned by the neighborhood in Potrero Hill. Photo: Deborah Svoboda/KQED

Starr King Open Space, San Francisco: Perched on the south side of Potrero Hill, this 3.5-acre property runs from 23rd and Carolina streets to 24th and De Haro streets. It was saved from development and deeded to a neighborhood group in 1984. Through the work of volunteers has been reclaimed as a serpentine natural grassland. The group that oversees the property is careful to note it’s not a park: “An open space is an environmentally protected area which people may enjoy but which may not be developed with the usual park amenities.”

For more information:
Starr King Open Space

 

Nonprofit- or trust-owned open spaces

Rush Ranch Open Space, Solano County: Run by the Solano Land Trust, the Rush Ranch Open Space is a 2,000-acre operating cattle ranch on the edge of the Suisun Marsh. The marsh provides a unique spot for wildlife viewing and bird-watching, but the majority of Rush Ranch’s offerings are educational. The Rush Ranch Educational Council is a 501(c)3 that does things like provide free programs to elementary students. A visitors’ center and historical blacksmith shop provide exhibits and docent-led tours.

For more information:
Solano Land Trust/Rush Ranch Open Space

Rush Ranch is a 2,000-acre open space on the edge of Suisun Marsh. Photo: Neenabeena/Flickr

Rush Ranch is a 2,000-acre open space on the edge of Suisun Marsh. Photo: Neenabeena/Flickr

This project is made possible by a grant from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.