It couldnt be a better day for a walk near Oakland’s waterfront. The farmer’s market at Jack London Square is in full swing, and though most of the Earth Day service projects were yesterday, you still have a chance to plant seeds and get gardening tips.
Follow Powell Street west, to the end of the Emeryville peninsula, and you’ll find a lovely cove and fishing pier with a view of San Francisco and Marin County so outstanding, it will feel as if you could reach out and touch Mount Tamalpais. The shoreline of this beckoning finger of land is part of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, which stretches from the Bay Bridge to Point Isabel in Richmond.
A flat, well-maintained paved path makes a 1.5-mile loop from the Emery Go-Round bus shelter at Commodore Drive. On one side are the iconic cranes of the Port of Oakland, looking like a herd of feeding giraffes. On the other, the marina, with its romantic flotilla of sailboats, some of them decorated with holiday lights.
At the tip of the peninsula are benches, picnic tables, small grassy areas being used by toddlers as tumbling mats and a kayak-scale launch ramp with shower facilities, being used this morning by a boxer and its owner, who is hurling a tennis ball into the water for the dog to fetch. (If you do bring a dog, please be aware that some parts of the park are marked as bird sanctuaries.) Next to the ramp is a long fishing pier. Heading out it, I disturb a brown pelican, which takes off ponderously and sails a few feet over my head.
Don’t forget to look down into the water itself — I have spotted the occasional manhole-cover-sized skate flapping its fins lazily beneath the surface in the shallow area near the docks.
Getting there: Powell Street is served by the Emery Go-Round bus. There is timed parking along part of the street, and a public lot at the end of the peninsula.
Cool stuff in the neighborhood: Hong Kong East Ocean, at the end of Powell Street, has an unobstructed bay view and delicious dim sum, served all day. The legendary Trader Vic’s chain still maintains an outpost with a view of the marina if you need a Mai Tai after your walk.
More information: Is available from the East Bay Regional Parks District, which maintains the park for the state.
Starting at the ferry terminal at the end of Clay Street is a well-maintained one-mile stretch of the Bay Trail, using boardwalks, sidewalks and decomposed granite paths to reach Estuary Park and the Jack London Aquatic Center. The sound of boat horns and the occasional rumble of a passenger train pulling into the Amtrak station nearby give this walk an exhilarating feel, as if at any moment you could step off for the Yukon or the South Seas.
Before you head north, take a moment to gawk at the Potomac, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s yacht, which is docked near the ferry berth and the Lightship Relief, another historical vessel. Then continue along the waterfront, following the boardwalk around the Waterfront Hotel, Miss Pearl’s cajun restaurant and Scott’s seafood restaurant. All the restaurants were doing good business on this sunny holiday weekend. In fact, there were so many people in the square, it was hard to understand why so many retail spaces were empty.
At the north end of the square, the new Harvest Home market building dwarfs Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, the bar where Jack London met the model for his Sea Wolf. The log cabin in front of Heinold’s was reconstructed from half of one that London stayed in while prospecting in the frozen north. (The other half went to build a similar monument in Dawson.) A public viewing platform shaped like a lighthouse gives you an opportunity to get above it all for a moment.
Past the platform, the Bay Trail becomes a decomposed granite path and curves between condos and marinas. There is a pleasant picnic spot at the end of Alice Street, and fishermen are keeping a cursory watch on their rods. As the trail nears Estuary Park, it becomes rougher and the scenery, a bit grittier. An unmarked abstract sculpture of tectonic steel plates has been turned into an open-air bed.
If you want a slightly different return path, take First Street back from the Aquatic Center to Oak Street, cross the railroad tracks on Oak and follow Second Street back through the Produce District.
Getting There: The Oakland Ferry Terminal is at the west end of Clay Street.
Cool stuff in the area: Besides everything mentioned above, Yoshi’s jazz club and Japanese restaurant is just a few steps away.
More information: On the Estuary Park from Waterfront Action.
Geographically, Bay Farm Island should be part of Oakland: Unlike the rest of Alameda, which sits across the estuary, Bay Farm is attached to the mainland near the Oakland Airport and is no longer an island at all. Shoreline Park is a narrow, three-mile long strip that runs from the fence that marks the end of the airport to the bridge across the estuary to the main island. For most of its length, you will have a choice between a paved bike path and a wide trail of crushed gravel.
Today, the sky is Delft blue, but the wind is chilly. Walkers and joggers are wearing everything from shorts and T-shirts to sweaters, scarves and gloves. Starting at the south end of the trail, you walk past a landscape of been-heres and came-heres: ceanothus covered with thumb-sized clusters of blue flowers and purple tower-of-jewels as long as your forearm; manzanita, pampas grass and ice plant. The shoreline is broken rock, but fishermen find places to wedge their rods.
About a mile from the southern end of the park is the Harbor Bay ferry terminal and a large grassy strip perfect for kite flying. At this point, you leave the Harbor Bay Business Park behind and enter a neighborhood of neat, if cookie-cutter, houses whose back yards and balconies have an enviable view of the bay. In a mini-park a little north of the ferry terminal, two dozen teenagers in prom wear are having their pictures taken against the stunning backdrop.
The wind drops as you come around the head of the island and the view changes from San Francisco to downtown Oakland. Another mini-park is designed to look like the bridge of a Coast Guard cutter, with the cement “prow” giving a number of places to sit and enjoy the sights. Alameda parks are distinguished by their spotless maintenance, and this one is no exception: The fountain not only works, it dispenses cool, good-tasting water.
Getting there: One end of the park is off Harbor Bay Parkway, which runs off of Ron Cowan Drive. Parking is prohibited along much of the parkway, but is permitted on the water side near the south end of the park and near the ferry terminal and mini-parks. There is bus service to the business park.
Cool stuff nearby: Two benches on the rocky spit at the south end of the park allow you to sit and watch planes take off overhead.
This short walk requires you pay selective attention, as not all parts are equally beautiful. It takes you from the public marina at Embarcadero Cove past a row of seriously quaint Victorian commercial buildings, including Quinn’s Lighthouse Restaurant, which has a spectacular view of the estuary from its peanut-shell-strewn bar and deck.
Ignore the functional, blocky-’70s offices on the landward side of the street, and the vacant lot you pass as you cross Dennison Street, the road to Coast Guard Island military base. (The base, by the way, is off-limits unless you are part of an official tour.) As you enter Union Point Park and Marina, the path becomes broad and paved, ideal for bikes. You pass the old boatworks and skirt the nautical-themed playground.
Out in the estuary, a half-dozen eight-oared shells are taking direction from a coach. Laughter echoes across the glassy water as the Kelpies rowing club brings their whaleboat into dock. Spotting the photographer on the shore, they immediately begin a recruiting pitch for the Bay Area Whaleboat Rowing Association.
Near Scott Donohue’s monumental statue “Sagame/Follow Me,” which pays tribute to distinguished women from Oakland, a spiral path takes you to the top of the landscaped hill at the south end of the park. The benches at the top, however, are sadly covered with graffiti.
If you continue along the Embarcadero through several heavily industrial blocks, you could, in theory connect with the Park Street Bridge to Alameda. North from the Embarcadero Marina, a disconnected series of waterfront paths and sidewalks would take you to Jack London Square. It would be nice to see this section of the Bay Trail get some love and realize its full pedestrian potential.
Getting there: Interstate 880 cuts up the neighborhood so that not all streets go through.Truthfully, I got lost three times, so I’m going to say use your GPS. But roughly speaking, you’re looking for 16th Avenue and the Embarcadero.
Cool stuff in the neighborhood: Besides Quinn’s, the Just Dance Ballroom is near Union Point Park, as is the Pump it Up party center. The Institute of Mosaic Art is a little farther south, in the Jingletown Arts District.
More information: The Waterfront Action website.
Perhaps the mild, sunny weather biases my report, but I think this may be the prettiest stretch of trail in this park. Hardly out of the staging area, you pass the whimsical “Fluid Dynamics” installation by Portland, Ore., artists Fernanda D’Agostino and Valerie Otani. A soaring metal canopy represents the Pacific Flow, while carved granite “Ecology Stones” depict various inhabitants of San Leandro Bay.
From there, a paved bicycle path follows the shoreline past a shallow tidal flat teeming with sandpipers and their cousins. The air has a wild tang, part herbal, part brackish water. Farther out on the flats, three derelict boats are esthetically decomposing. On the east is a typical mix of California natives and interlopers — ceanothus, French broom, vetch, pampas grass and eucalyptus. You pass Curt Flood Fields, named for the McClymonds High School graduate who brought free agency to baseball.
As the trail crosses East Creek, it skirts a PG&E yard and a scrap yard full of big rig parts — row upon row of axles and cargo trailers, some pieces looking completely roadworthy were it not for the weeds overgrowing them. There is a gritty beauty in the neat repetition of parts, like Ginsberg’s “boxcars boxcars boxcars.” The contrast between this and the comfortable-looking homes on the Alameda side of the channel is almost comical.
Finally, you reach the neat blue Tidewater Aquatic Center, with its accessible dock and picnic areas.
Getting there: Take 66th Avenue west to Oakport and the Damon Slough staging area, or go to the very end of Edgewater Drive and start at Garretson Point.
Cool stuff in the area: Cool mostly for being unexpected is the shopping center at Hegenberger and Edgewater, which has a Starbucks and a Jamba Juice.
More information: East Bay Regional Parks website.
From the Arrowhead Marsh parking lot, you have several options. You can make a loop around the fenced-in “New Marsh,” or you can walk down one bank of San Leandro Creek to a staging area at Hegenberger Road, then back along the other bank. The third option is to cross San Leandro Creek and head north, along the edge of San Leandro Bay.
As you turn north, the view opens up. Across the wide expanse of the bay, you see the city of Alameda, and, through the gap between it and the airport, Sutro Tower in San Francisco and Mt. Tamalpais in Marin. The paved trail that runs between some big-box office buildings and the shoreline is perfectly flat with gentle curves, and several children are using it to practice their bicycling skills. A 20-minute walk brings you to Garretson Point, named for an Oakland Tribune reporter who was one of the first to write about the need for wetlands restoration. Next to it are Damon Marsh, the Edgewater Wetland and the Zhone Wetland; if you keep following the trail past the Oakland Sports Complex, you will eventually hook up with the Bay Trail near the foot of High Street.
A half-dozen seagulls squabble with a turkey vulture for the same draft of air. Although a stand of ceanothus covered with blue blossoms promises an early spring, sharp winds and scudding clouds make the day too cold to walk all the way to Alameda, or to stand for long watching shorebirds. Back at Arrowhead Marsh, the trail is more protected, and a couple of birders stake out their position at the end of the viewing pier.
Getting There: Take Hegenberger Road east from Interstate 880; turn right on Doolittle Drive and right on Swan Way. The entrance to the park is immediately on your left. Go past the first two parking lots to the end of the access road; you’ll see the wooden view platform on the left.
Cool stuff in the neighborhood: When you leave the park, turn left on Swan Way and right on Pardee Drive. On your right, at the corner of Hegenberger Road, is the ILWU Hall, a mid-century building topped with a soaring, space-age arch. The corner of the building is covered with a colorful mosaic that looks like the work of local artist Bennie Bufano.
More information: East Bay Regional Parks website.
The first part of this walk probably qualifies as “pleasant” and “interesting” rather than beautiful. From the small parking lot next to the memorial grove, a level, paved path takes you along a broad estuary with views of North Field, the general aviation section of Oakland International Airport. You’ll share the path with bicyclists and the view with anglers; there is an actual fishing pier on the Doolittle Drive side of the estuary. The Shoreline Center nearby is also home to the Oakland Strokes nonprofit junior rowing club, and this morning three quad shells were running laps in the channel.
A 15-minute walk brings you to Arrowhead Marsh, a stopover on the Pacific Flyway. Besides the ubiquitous coots and grebes, winter brings goldeneyes, northern shovelers, ruddy ducks and buffleheads. Two dozen or more members of the Ohlone Audubon Society were trying to get a glimpse of a Nelson’s sparrow that was somewhat out of its range.
To get a better look at the birds, you can stroll out a boardwalk into the marsh, or climb a swooping, wheelchair-accessible observation tower. The large, saucerlike sculpture next to it is designed to mark the solstices.
Getting There: Take Hegenberger Road east from Interstate 880; turn right on Doolittle Drive and right on Swan Way. The entrance to the park is immediately on your left.
Cool stuff in the neighborhood: The Oakland Aviation Museum. (Part of its collection is visible from your walk.)
More information: East Bay Regional Parks website.