If you live in the Bay Area, you have a very big backyard. Sometimes, it is easy to forget this. The usual home-work-gym-grocery store route does not often include a stop in your big backyard, but maybe it should. National recreation areas, regional and state parks, and open space preserves help explain why rents are high, traffic is prevalent, and real estate coveted. These big backyards make our Bay Area beautiful.
Beautiful places are why we live where we do. Of course there are the well-known and well-touristed spots—Muir Woods, Mt. Tamalpais, Stinson Beach—but the lesser known and visited are a locals’ real reward. The many parks that constitute the East Bay Regional Park District are one of these lesser known spots. With 96,000 acres of green space and over 1,100 miles of hiking trails, the East Bay Regional Parks are accessible to most and frequented by few.
I first discovered the grandeur of the East Bay Regional Parks when I was a student at UC Berkeley. Less than a ten-minute drive from downtown, Tilden Park provides endless running and hiking trails, picnic benches to study on, and a lake to cool off in. I knew I could always find solitude, a sunset, and a great workout not far from my house.
No matter where I live in the East Bay, the parks are a highlight to daily life. Redwood Regional is a great place for morning walks among tall trees. There is no better way to spend a Sunday than biking the Three Bears, a hilly loop through the bucolic rolling hills of Briones Park and surrounding environs. Or hiking around Lake Chabot, a huge fisher-friendly lake not far off Highway 580. You’re not supposed to swim there, but the water sure is nice after a long, hot walk.
These backyard parks remind me why it’s fun to break up the normal routine: red belly newts making their slow, calculated road crossings, cotton tail rabbits darting in front of your running path, a sunset view from Inspiration Point.
What amazes me most about the Regional Parks is that many residents don’t ever explore them.
I recently asked a friend of mine, who has been living in Berkeley for three years, why he has never been for a run in Tilden.
“I’m afraid I’ll get lost on the trails.”
Huh? That’s the point: to lose the traffic, the rent, the stress. Getting lost in your big backyard means finding the reasons why it is you live there.
Note: Spanning Alameda and Contra Costa counties, the East Bay Regional Park District offers backpacking, fishing, swimming, and kayaking. This park district is also a great place for kids, with Ferris wheels, nature centers, and educational programs. There are over 233 family campsites and 17 backpacking sites. Many of the trails are dog friendly. Go out and explore!