San Francisco

Winter Hiking in the East Bay

GUEST WRITER: AMANDA MCDOWELL

Of course, it’s impossible to not yearn for the sunny patios and sandy beaches of summer, but one of the beautiful things about Northern California’s winter months is how well they lend themselves to hiking. A trek might start off a bit chilly, but considering other climates are concerned with heat rashes or frozen eyebrows, this small corner of the world is damn near perfect.

Though the East Bay’s food scene was the first attraction to capture my heart, the quest for free fun has sent me to the hills and valleys of Oakland’s finest parks. I’ve compiled three of my favorites, ranging from near-urban to near-wilderness, but the highlight is that none of these are more than a 30-minute drive from the central part of town. For both the newbies to dirt and the seasoned mountain voyagers, East Bay parks offer up a little something for everyone to enjoy.

Crown Memorial State Beach — Alameda Island

This is a loose definition of a “hike”, but if you’re looking for some mild Sunday afternoon activity, this hidden gem on Alameda Island is a great option. Crown Memorial State Beach features over 2 miles of waterfront, plus a paved greenway if all-terrain isn’t your thing. The crowd mostly comes from nearby neighborhoods so parking is ample, and you’ll be treated to beautiful views of the Bay and San Francisco skyline from any spot.

Crown Memorial State Beach, Alameda. Photo by Amanda McDowell

Crown Memorial State Beach, Alameda. Photo by Amanda McDowell

The grounds hosts a free visitor’s center and museum with information about various native species, open picnic areas and a designated dog park welcoming to pups of all sizes. The water is shallow here year-round, but especially low in the winter — meaning you’ll have plenty of space to spread out, bask in the sun and dream of warmer weather as you stroll down the beach.

Tilden Regional Park — Orinda

I’ve heard this referred to as “the gateway drug of East Bay parks” and after visiting, I can see why. You can do everything here — see stunning views of San Francisco and both bridges, check out a botanical garden, or even ride a steam train if that sparks your fancy. Tilden is ambling, vast, and beautiful, with everything from eucalyptus groves to fields of rolling hills.

Tilden Regional Park. Photo by Amanda McDowell.

Bikes, dogs and horses are allowed in the central part of the park, with the outskirts being a bit more desolate. Hot spots such as Inspiration Point and the Seaview Trail are nearly always populated, but once you see the views they offer, you can hardly blame the crowds. This park’s trail system is pretty vast, so if seeing everything is your objective, pack a lunch or plan for multiple trips. It’s worth it.

Redwood Regional Park — Oakland Hills

This park showcases the natural beauty only found in the Pacific Northwest, and is personally one of my favorite spots. Made possible by our pal Karl, this is one of the largest collection of native Redwoods in California. The weekends tend to draw a crowd and make the parking situation a bit hairy, but there’s a decent amount of street parking and pullouts surrounding the various trailheads.

Redwood Regional Park. Photo by Amanda McDowell

Redwood Regional Park. Photo by Amanda McDowell

This isn’t a hike you do for the vistas (though there are a few); rather, the beauty in this place lies in the valley, where you can weave through the trunks of redwoods that grow to surpass the height of the ridge above. Climbing out of the valley will be your cardio for the month no matter which route you take, but hiking among the base of the trees before ascending to their canopy is what provides the awestruck feeling redwood groves are famous for. Maritime travelers are said to have used the towering trees as landmarks from as far away as the Golden Gate Bridge. Pretty incredible for less than a 20-minute drive.

The Bay Area has a lot to offer, and it’s not just limited to speakeasies and shows. Taking to the hills is a great way to get you outside while your cash stays safely tucked away — an added bonus is that if you hike long enough, you won’t feel like going out anyway!

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