Recently, I've started to explore the hiking trails and nature areas in my backyard. Well, not literally in my backyard, but within the city limits of Oakland. When I lived in San Francisco, I'd often drive several miles north or south of SF to get my mother nature fix, but these days, I've found several beautiful getaways 15 minutes or less away from home. Here are my four favorites:
I'll start my list off easy, with a place that nature lovers can enjoy without getting muddy or wearing sneakers. The Mountain View Cemetery, located at 5000 Piedmont Ave. in Oakland, is one of the most stunning cemeteries I've ever visited. It's HUGE, with rolling hills of grass, beautiful trees, wild turkeys, and panty-dropping vistas. Yeah, there are also a lot of dead people here, but it doesn't feel creepy. In fact, it seems like plenty of locals treat the cemetery like a neighborhood park. And at the risk of sounding too romantical or goth, I dub the vista point at Mountain View as the spot in Oakland to watch the sunset with your dude or lady.
I studied English lit in college, so I'm a little embarrassed that I'd never heard of poet Joaquin Miller before visiting his namesake park. This 500-acre wonder is a great place for all kinds of people: dog people (there are separate dog run areas for big and little guys), horse people (clomping around is allowed here), theater people (Woodminster Amphitheater hosts plays, music performances, etc.), engaged people (there's a cute wedding site in the woods), people who chase waterfalls (albeit, a manmade cascade, still very pretty), and fitness people (lots of trails to walk and stairs to run). I enjoyed discovering the random monuments that Joaquin Miller erected within the trees, including a stone tribute to his friends Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, his own funeral pyre (that never got used), and that sick pyramid you see below.
Whenever I visit Redwood Regional Park, I have to pinch myself. Being amongst those dense groves of redwoods and sequioas, it really doesn't feel like you're in Oakland, but somewhere in Mendocino. In the 1800s, the area was the site of the city's logging industry, but luckily, these days it's part of the East Bay Regional Park District, which means all those trees and the critters who live amongst them are protected. If you're lucky, you'll see an assortment of mushroom and fungi, deer, raccoon, and rabbits in the park and on nearby trails; if you're unlucky, you may encounter a mountain lion or a rattlesnake.
Last weekend, I visited Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve, a gorgeous 241-acre nature zone. If you need a quick hiking fix, I recommend the 1.7 mile, self-guided loop trail. It takes you into, above, and amongst the forest. Huckleberry is home to some plants that don't exist anywhere else in the East Bay, as well as live oaks and bay laurels. I spotted these bright orange cup fungi, the only thing I decided to photograph that day. I guess you'll just have to go for yourself and see what else you're missing in the East Bay.
As reader Bianca Pardini pointed out in the comments section, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve was missing from my list. Since writing this blog post last November, I've been to Sibley (along with a few more beautiful East Bay nature spots just outside of Oakland). I definitely wholeheartedly recommend checking out this Oakland wonderland. Tucked up in the Oakland hills, this park has many environs to explore. First you enter a woodsy area, and then you're suddenly in rolling fields surrounded by cows, gorgeous views, and hippie rock formations. And yes, this was once an active volcanic area... 10 million years ago. Although now inactive, Round Top is still a sight to see; it's one of the highest peaks in the East Bay, towering 1763 feet above sea level. Oh, and if you're a dog owner, it's a great place to walk your pooch off-leash (just beware that your dog might love rubbing in cow shit, like mine did).
All photos by Sarah Han