San Francisco may have Fort Funston, Crissy Field, and Golden Gate Park for dog walking pleasure, but the East Bay can’t be matched for the breadth of parkland that humans and hounds can enjoy. In minutes, you can travel with your best friend from twenty-first-century urban sprawl to a beautiful beach, a rough hillside, or a quiet copse of towering redwoods. Below you’ll find a list of personal favorites for hikes with your pooch, but when you’re dealing with such natural bounty no short list can be complete. Consider this merely the beginning of a conversation, and please add suggestions in the comments section. The Oakland Dog Owner’s Group has created an excellent Google Map of East Bay parks and dog-friendly businesses that I also highly recommend.
A word of caution
Bay Area trails are often covered in poison oak and you should always check your pooch for ticks after a hike. But there’s one more danger you should know about:At this time of year the East Bay hills and meadows are covered with foxtails. As most Bay Area dog owners know, the plant’s barbed awns attach to passing animals (and humans), burrowing deeper with each movement. They can enter into the soft tissue around your dog’s paws, ears, snout, and other sensitive parts when they romp off-leash through a field, causing serious irritation and infection if not removed quickly. Foxtails grow in sunshine; so the shadier trails listed below might be a safer bet this time of year.
Photo of Point Isabel by Nick Fullerton via Flickr
Point Isabel Regional Shoreline
2701 Isabel Street, Richmond
Many consider Point Isabel to be East Bay dog heaven. It’s one of the largest such parks in the country, but I don't actually like to bring my 48-pound terrier mix here; I think it’s too busy with dog walkers holding on to multiple unruly, and seemingly untrained, pooches. Still it’s well known for a reason. It offers 23 acres of off-leash fun, with fields, shorelines, and great views of the bay. There’s also Mudpuppy’s Tub & Scrub, a café, dog shop, and washing station where you can drink a cappuccino and rinse your dog after she’s encrusted in mud and grime. Owners must still have voice-control over their animals and a six-foot maximum-length leash on hand, as is true for any East Bay Regional Park.
Alameda Small Dog Park
8th Street, Alameda
Alameda’s Small Dog Park is actually half a park; it’s separated by fencing from a section for larger pooches. The park is reserved for dogs 30 pounds or lighter and an online favorite among the tinier pooch-owning set. A warning: Come prepared with towels as the park is entirely covered in sand and dogs can get pretty dirty during a romp. It’s also connected to Crown Memorial State Beach. Full amenities include park-provided poop bags, water, garbage cans, and restrooms.
Photo of César Chávez Park by Sarah Han
César Chávez Park
11 Spinnaker Way, Berkeley
This 90-acre city park was built on top of a dump, but has been thoroughly transformed with sloping grassy hills, dips, and 360-degree bay views. César Chávez is a favorite spot for those looking for more peace and quiet than what’s on offer at Point Isabel. There’s a designated off-leash area that is irregularly enforced in the center of the park, although the city has installed new red and green stakes to make sure dog owners get the hint. A stone monument dedicated to famed labor leader César Chávez and pagan solar calendar on the highest crest are technically off-limits, but you’ll often see pooches sniffing around the rocks and earthen works here.
Photo of Joaquin Miller Park by Mike Fox via Flickr
Joaquin Miller Park
3590 Sanborn Drive, Oakland
Oakland has a funny relationship with its dogs. Until recently, the city fiercely debated whether to create a dedicated dog park near Lake Merritt. Most other city parks were entirely off-limits to four-leggeds. After years and many dollars spent, the city scrapped the plan leaving only a handful of poorly maintained dog parks. The exception is 500-acre Joaquin Miller, which features incredible ridge views, redwood groves, and a trail that leads down to a dedicated and fenced off-leash dog area that’s 1.25 acres. An April city hall vote now allows dogs on- and off-leash in many city parks, including near Lake Merritt. See this page for more details.
Estuary Channel Park
5 Embarcadero, Oakland
Seven-acres of green sandwiched between the southeast corner of Jack London Square and the nearby Jack London Aquatic Center. The city is planning to renovate this park at some point and possibly connect it to Lake Merritt. It has pretty waterfront views and ample parking. Off-leash dogs are welcome here as well.
Photo of Sibley Volcanic Regional Park by Sarah Han
Sibley Volcanic Regional Park
Skyline Blvd., east of Grizzly Peak Blvd., Oakland
The site of a 10-million-year-old volcano that exploded and collapsed on its side, 660-acre Sibley Volcanic Regional Park provides incredible views as far as Mt. Diablo and interesting rock formations and grassy hills to explore with your dog. A roughly two-and-a-half mile circuit offers an easy tour of the park with only slight increases in elevation. The park can sometimes get overrun with dogs, which has caused some griping online. Make sure to check out the mysterious stone labyrinths in pits that were excavated when the park was a stone quarry.
Photo of Redwood Regional Park by Sarah Han
Redwood Regional Park
7867 Redwood Road, Oakland, $2 per dog on weekends, April-Oct. Fee collected only at Redwood Gate entrance
A gargantuan 1,830-acre regional park, Redwood offers a variety of shady and sunny paths for you to enjoy with an off-leash dog. A recommended hike starts at Skyline Gate Staging Area near the center of the park and quickly enters a forest of 100-foot second-growth coast redwoods. The trail provides shade on the sunniest of days, and is free of foxtails. It reminds me of Muir Woods more than the East Bay. Near Redwood Creek, dogs must be on leash to protect the native rainbow trout.
End of Cameron Avenue, Oakland
An undeveloped 525-acre section of East Oakland offers visitors a glimpse of what the hills might have looked like a hundred years ago. The city’s largest park is under threat from the Oakland Zoo, which occupies the eastern corner and has been trying to appropriate 70 or so acres to expand. A lively protest movement has coalesced to save this section of wild Oakland. The park has no specific parking area or entrance and there’s no water or other modern conveniences, so expect to bring everything in and out (including your filled poop bags!). Otherwise, it’s a lovely place to view the bay, hike, and run on fire trails through undulating hills with few people in sight.
Photo of Mountain View Cemetery by Sarah Han
Mountain View Cemetery
5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, gates close at sunset
Mountain View Cemetery was built for both the living and the dead. The 226-acre park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central Park fame, and built in 1863. It has tree-lined boulevards, fabulous bay views, and allows visitors to tour nineteenth-century California’s richest and most storied dead – one section is called Millionaires’ Row. Dogs must be on-leash at all times in the park.
Even more paradise for your dog in the East Bay:
Parks with fenced-in dog areas
Ohlone Dog Park, Berkeley (east and west locations)
Bruce King Memorial Dog Park, El Cerrito
Temescal Creek Dog Play Area, Emeryville
Hardy Dog Play Area, Oakland
Jefferson Dog Play Area, Oakland
Mosswood Dog Play Area, Oakland
Grove-Shafter Dog Play Area, Oakland
More off-leash parks and trails
Albany Bulb, Albany
Black Diamond Mines Regional Park, Antioch ($2 per dog)
Contra Loma Regional Park, Antioch ($2 per dog)
Berkeley fire trails, Berkeley
Buchanan Beach, Berkeley
Tilden Regional Park, Berkeley
Anthony Chabot Regional Park, Castro Valley ($2 per dog)
Briones Regional Park, Martinez ($2 per dog)
South Prescott Park, Oakland
Glen Daniel/King Estates Park, Oakland
Park Boulevard Plaza, Oakland
Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, Pinole ($2 per dog when kiosk is open)
Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, Richmond (dogs must be on leash on Nimitz Way path)
Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, San Ramon
Top image and homepage images by Sarah Han