Other Resources for Car-Free Outdoor Adventures

March 21, 2010 1 comment

I’ve been meaning for some time to post some other resources beyond my own website, for those interested in getting outdoors without a car. However, this month’s issue of Sunset magazine was what finally inspired this post. In the March 2010 issue of this magazine with a circulation is 800,000 in Western states, is an article about planning a day trip in Union City that starts and ends at Union City BART! This looks like a fun trip for families, with a 20 mile bike route on the Alameda Creek Regional Trail, butterflies and flowers, and many good eating options along the route. Please write to Sunset and let them know you would like to see more car-free outings like this one!

A friend forwarded a website to me that documents a walk around San Francisco Bay (and to Bay Area summits) in increments over three years. As I started looking through site to get some ideas for future walks, I realized that this person had done many of his walks using public transit! If you are interested in doing some walking around the Bay, this site has some good notes about which routes are good and which are not so ideal for pedestrians, transit routes he used, and other valuable tips.

Several of the trips posted here at Car-Free Outdoors include good bird watching opportunities. If you would like more car-free birding opportunities and a chance to get out in a group setting, the Golden Gate Audubon Society often has birding-by-bike trips in its selection of outings, many of which conveniently start at transit stops. Check the calendar for upcoming trips.

Many of the car-free hikes I have posted so far do not start directly at a trailhead, but instead use paths and neighborhood routes to show how you can connect transit to trailhead. A number of trailheads in the Bay Area are actually quite near transit, however, allowing you to take a hike with a minimum of time off the trail. The Transit & Trails website allows you to plan your trip to those trailheads using public transit. Find the trailhead you would like to visit, and get transit directions using 511 or Google Maps.  I recommend checking the directions given for both 511 and Google Maps, as I’ve found that it really varies which one of the two will give you the best directions. Transit & Trails saves a ton of time and headache trying to find an address near the trailhead you wish to visit, which you would need in order to use 511 or Google Maps. Additionally, Transit & Trails includes campgrounds near transit stops! There are plans for community and sharing features in the future; register at the site to get email updates.

If you live in or have plans to visit British Columbia, check out Car-Free BC. The websites and print book include and variety of outdoor trips accessible without a car, for hiking, backpacking, bicycle touring, kayaking, river rafting, birding, and other outdoor activities. It’s an amazingly exhaustive book that includes over 90 trips, along with maps, photos, and illustrations.

Know of any other resources for car-free outdoor trips? Post a comment or send me a note if you do.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Around and Above Lake Merritt

March 7, 2010 1 comment

This urban hike in Oakland takes you around Lake Merritt, up stairways (including the historic Cleveland Cascade) and around the Morcom Rose Garden. Lake Merritt is a National Wildlife Refuge (the first in the U.S.) with a variety of migratory birds and a nature center. This hike uses paved paths and stairways and is enjoyable any time of the year.

Places visited: Lake Merritt, Oakland paths and stairways, Oakland Rose Garden
Approximate Length: 6.5 miles (see notes for shorter version)
Hiking Time: 4 hours
Map: See Google map of route, below
Terrain: Paved paths and stairways; flat around the lake, steep paths and stairways.
Transit Schedule: BART
Start and end point: 19th Street Oakland BART

Getting to the start point:

  • From San Francisco, take a Richmond or Pittsburg/Bay Point BART train to 19th Street/Oakland station.
  • From the Peninsula and South Bay, take Caltrain to the Millbrae station. Transfer to BART and board the SF/Bay Point train (on weekdays, you will take the SF/Richmond train). Exit BART at 19th/Street Oakland station.
  • From the East Bay, take BART to 19th Street/Oakland station. If traveling from Dublin/Pleasanton or Castro Valley, you’ll need to transfer to a Richmond train at Bay Fair.
  • From the North Bay, take Golden Gate Transit Route 42 (from the San Rafael Transit Center) to El Cerrito Del Norte BART. Take a Fremont or San Francisco BART train to 19th Street/Oakland station.

Notes:

  • For a shorter route (about 4 miles), you could skip the trip up the stairways and to the Morcom Rose Garden, and just walk around Lake Merritt. I recommend the full route, but the shorter route is great if you have limited time or would like a flat route.
  • If you have more time to spend, there are several places to visit around the lake’s perimeter, including a boating center (rents pedal boats, canoes, kayaks, sailboats, and rowboats), Lakeside Demonstration Gardens (including a Japanese garden and a bonsai garden), a nature center, and Children’s Fairyland. The Friends of the Cleveland Cascade website has history, videos, and information about restoration of the stairway. You may also want spend additional time at the lake relaxing in one of the grassy areas with a picnic or a book.
  • Many food options are available at different points along this route, particularly along Grand Ave. and Lakeshore Ave. On Saturdays, the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market operates at Splash Pad Park along Grand Ave. soon after you head away from Lake Merritt toward the Oakland Garden.

Read more…

Categories: BART, East Bay, Hike

Bayside Marin: Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds and McInnis County Park

February 19, 2010 2 comments

This bayside Marin hike is a nice option for winter, with plenty of birds and little mud, and also a great summer outing when the temperatures rise at inland parks. A variety of land uses can be observed on this tour, which passes wildlife ponds, sanitary district facilities, remnants of a Nike missile site, an old Air Force base, hunting blinds, an air strip, a skate park, golf course, and other recreational facilities.

Places visited: Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District Wildlife Ponds, McInnis County Park
Approximate Length: 9.5 miles
Hiking time: 5 hours
Map: None online; see Google Map below
Terrain: Mostly flat with a couple of easy climbs, dirt and gravel paths
Transit schedule: Golden Gate Transit 70/80
Start and end point: Lucas Valley Bus Pad

Getting to the start point:

  • From San Francisco, take Golden Gate Transit Route 70 or 80 bus from Mission Street and 1st Street (stop is right in front of the Walgreens on Mission). You can also pick up Route 70/80 at different points along its route along Mission, up Van Ness, and west on Lombard to the Golden Gate Bridge. Check the current San Francisco System map to see if there is a stop closer to you. Take the Route 70/80 to the Lucas Valley Bus Pad.
  • From the Peninsula and South Bay, take Caltrain to the final San Francisco stop. Walk on 3rd Street towards Market, turn right on Mission, to the Golden Gate Transit stop at Mission and 1st. Or, from BART, take a San Francisco BART train to Montgomery Street station. Exit the station, walk Market Street towards the water/ferry building, turn right on 1st Street, and walk one block to the corner of Mission and 1st. Take the Golden Gate Transit Route 70 or 80 bus from here (stop is right in front of the Walgreens on Mission) to the Lucas Valley Bus Pad.
  • From the East Bay, take a San Francisco BART train to Embarcadero station. Walk on Market Street away from the water/ferry building to 1st Street, turn left on 1st Street and walk one block to the corner of Mission and 1st. Take the Golden Gate Transit Route 70 or 80 bus from here (stop is right in front of the Walgreens on Mission) to the Lucas Valley Bus Pad.
  • From the North Bay: Take Golden Gate Transit Route 70, 71 or 80 from any of the stops along its route. If you are coming from Petaluma/Cotati/Rohnert Park/Santa Rosa, you will be taking Route 80. From locations in Novato, San Rafael, and Marin City, you can take any of the three buses. Get off at the Lucas Valley Bus Pad.

Notes:

  • This trip includes a full tour of Las Gallinas and McInnis Park. If you enjoy bird watching, you a may want to return and try different routes around the ponds. If you end up spending a lot of time at the ponds, you may with to skip the loop through McInnis Park. To do this after exiting McInnis across the stone bridge, just reverse the beginning of the directions and head back the way you came instead of turning in at the Bay Trail.
  • This hike can be done year-round, with winter being especially good for bird watching. There is one short section at the start of the Bay Trail around McInnis that can be muddy after heavy rains. However, the rest of the route is on graveled and/or raised levee paths that stay relatively dry.
  • This is a good hike for a picnic lunch; there are plenty of benches and picnic tables at different points in this route. There are a couple of restaurants on Smith Ranch Road, but otherwise not too many food options along the route.
  • Getting to the southbound Lucas Valley Bus Pad is a bit confusing due to poor signage. Be sure to read the end of the directions for this route so that you do not make any dangerous crossing of freeway on-ramps.

Read more…

Edgewood County Park From Cañada College

February 6, 2010 2 comments

This car-free trip takes you to Edgewood County Park, a favorite spot for wildflower viewing in the Spring and a pleasant hiking spot year-round. Starting at Cañada College, you will hike a portion of the Crystal Springs Trail to connect with Edgewood. After looping through Edgewood and stopping at a viewpoint, you’ll exit the park on a different trail to head back to Cañada College.

Places visited: Edgewood County Park, Crystal Springs Trail
Approximate Length: 9.75 miles
Hiking Time: 5 hours
Map: Edgewood County Park (PDF), Cañada College
Terrain: Mix of flat sections and moderate climbs on dirt trails
Transit schedule: SamTrans 274 (PDF)
Start and end point: SamTrans stop at Cañada College, Redwood City

Getting to the start point:

  • From San Francisco, take Caltrain south to Redwood City. Walk to the bus stop area adjacent to the train tracks to the waiting area for SamTrans 274. Take the bus to the end of its line at Cañada College.
  • From the Peninsula and South Bay, take Caltrain to Redwood City. Walk to the bus stop area adjacent to the train tracks to the waiting area for SamTrans 274. Take the bus to the end of its line at Cañada College.
  • From the East Bay, take a Millbrae BART train. Depending on the day and time, you may need to transfer to the Millbrae train. At Millbrae, go to the southbound Caltrain waiting area. Take Caltrain south to Redwood City. Walk to the bus stop area adjacent to the train tracks to the waiting area for SamTrans 274. Take the bus to the end of its line at Cañada College.
  • From the North Bay, take Golden Gate Transit Route 70/80 or 10 to San Francisco. Get off at Howard and Fourth Street, and walk south on Fourth Street to the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets. (Note that on the way back you will pick up the Golden Gate Transit bus on Folsom rather than Howard. Take Caltrain south to Redwood City. Walk to the bus stop area adjacent to the train tracks to the waiting area for SamTrans 274. Take the bus to the end of its line at Cañada College.

Notes:

  • Make sure to pack a lunch for this hike, as there are no food options near the start and end point on Saturdays and limited options at campus food vendors during the week. If you take the bus from the Redwood City Caltrain station, the adjacent shopping center has a Safeway and takeout food options. Across the street from the shopping center (on El Camino Real) is a Whole Foods market and deli.
  • The hike as described can be done on weekdays and Saturdays. The SamTrans 274 route does not run on Sundays. As of this writing the last bus leaves Cañada College at 5:05 pm on Saturdays.
  • You can use this basic route to get to Edgewood County Park, but vary your route through the park. The suggested route is ideal for wildflower viewing. The Sylvan Trail loop is a nice shady option during the summer months. It would also be possible to take trail along Cañada Road to or from Edgewood, but I don’t recommend this option. The trail runs right alongside Cañada, which is a very popular bike route on the weekends. Along portions of the Crystal Springs Trail you’ll have some freeway noise, but you may have the trail to yourself save for the occasional equestrian.

Read more…

Transit Tip: Eating and Drinking on Bay Area Transit Systems

January 31, 2010 4 comments

Until I started using public transit to get to hiking trails, I never thought too much about which systems allowed food consumption. If anything I preferred being on a bus or train that didn’t allow food; between the food odors, crumbs, and spills, it doesn’t make for a pleasant riding experience. But timing your food consumption is often critical when exercise comes into the picture. Awhile back, I had taken BART and then Golden Gate Transit to get to a hike in Marin. After a small breakfast at home and a long transit ride, I started getting hungry with a half hour or to go on the bus. What to do? Should I sneak a bite or two of an energy bar and hope the driver doesn’t notice? In the end I waited until the bus arrived at my destination and then got some food before embarking on the hike.

After a couple of instances of feeling hungry on the way to or (more often) on the way back from a hike, I started considering the options a bit more carefully before heading out the door. You’ll note that for most of the hike descriptions given here at Car-Free Outdoors, I mention food options along the route. Along with those ideas, you will want to note stores and restaurants on the way from your home to your local transit stops. I also recommend taking more snacks/food than you think you will need so that you will have something to eat while you are waiting at the bus stop.

Below you will find a list of Bay Area transit systems that do allow food and beverages on board. If your trip uses one of these systems, you will not have to worry as much about when to eat. Some of these have food available for purchase However, I recommend bringing your own food if you have dietary restrictions or preferences, as the selection is limited. If you are on a budget, you will also want to avoid purchasing too much food from the on-board vendors. If you enjoy relaxing with a cold beer after a long hike, you can do so as well on these systems. Don’t forget that you can only legally be drinking on the train, ferry, etc., though – you won’t want to open a drink in the waiting area or carry an open container when you off-board unless you feel like risking a ticket! You will notice that BART is not on this list, but if you want to have a drink after your hike and before catching BART, the Beer by BART listing has some good suggestions. Wet Your Whistles lists brewpubs along the Caltrain line.

Caltrain

Food: Allowed

Alcohol: Allowed. “However, consumption and open alcoholic beverage containers are prohibited on post-event and regular trains beginning at 9 p.m.”

Food and Drink Sold on Board: No. However, note that snacks and beer are available from the vendors in the San Francisco Caltrain station. San Carlos station has breakfast and lunch at its Depot Cafe (Mon.-Sat. 6 a.m.-2:30 p.m., closed Sunday). Caffe del Doge has coffee drinks and snacks available in the Palo Alto train station (Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., closed Sunday). Mountain View Caltrain has a snack cart.

Amtrak Capitol Corridor

Food: Allowed

Alcohol: Allowed

Food and Drink Sold on Board: Light meals, snacks, and alcoholic beverages

Golden Gate Ferries

Food: Allowed

Alcoholic: Allowed

Food and Drink Sold on Board: Snacks and alcoholic beverages.

Blue and Gold Fleet Ferries

Food: Allowed

Alcohol: Allowed

Food and Drink Sold on Board: Snacks and alcoholic beverages. For Angel Island, food is available from Angel Island vendors near the ferry dock.

East Bay Ferries: Alameda/Oakland Ferry and Alameda/Harbor Bay Ferry

Food: Allowed

Alcohol: Allowed

Food and Drink Sold on Board: Snacks and alcoholic beverages

Angel Island/Tiburon Ferry

Food: Allowed

Alcohol: Allowed

Food and Drink Sold on Board: No, but food and alcohol are available from Angel Island vendors near the ferry dock.

Additional Notes: This is a very short ferry ride, so you probably won’t have much time to eat or drink!

Baylink Vallejo Ferry

Food: Allowed

Alcohol: Allowed. “In accordance with California State Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) rules, only alcoholic beverages (liquor, wine, beer) purchased onboard may be consumed onboard. Opening or consuming alcoholic beverages purchased elsewhere is strictly forbidden. Vallejo Baylink will not serve passengers who appear to be intoxicated. Alcohol will not be served on trips that return to Vallejo from AT&T Park after Giants baseball games.”

Food and Drink Sold on Board: Snacks and alcoholic beverages.

This is part of a series of tips on using the San Francisco Bay Area public transportation system, with an emphasis on details that are useful for outdoor trips on transit.

Categories: Transit Tips

Western San Francisco Hike: Presidio, Lands End, and Sutro Baths

January 24, 2010 1 comment

Starting at the N Muni Metro stop in Cole Valley, this route takes you north to the Presidio via stairways, through the Presidio on the Presidio Promenade path, along the Coastal Trail to Lands End, and on through the Sutro Baths to end at the N-Judah’s final stop at Ocean Beach. You will have a chance to walk on the nicely constructed stairs of the Batteries to Bluffs Trail and will pass many of San Francisco’s beaches on this journey.

Places visited: Presidio, Lands End, Sutro Baths, San Francisco stairways
Approximate length:
11 miles
Hiking time:
5-6 hours
Map:
Presidio (PDF), Lands End and Sutro Baths (PDF)
Terrain:
Mix of flat stretches and moderate hills, with a few steep stairway sections.
Transit schedule:
Muni Metro N Judah
Start point: N Judah stop at Carl and Cole
End point: N Judah stop at Judah and La Playa

Getting to the start point:

  • From San Francisco, take the Muni Metro N Judah to the Carl and Cole stop.
  • From the Peninsula and South Bay, take Caltrain to the Millbrae station. Transfer to BART, taking a train to San Francisco. At the Civic Center BART/Muni station, transfer to Muni, taking Muni Metro N Judah to the Carl and Cole stop.
  • From the East Bay, take a San Francisco BART train to Embarcadero station. Transfer to Muni Metro inside the station, and take the N Judah (Outbound) to Carl and Cole.
    From the North Bay, take Golden Gate Transit Route 70/80 or 10 to San Francisco. Get off at Hyde and Grove streets (just before Market Street), and walk to the Civic Center BART/Muni station on Market Street. Enter the Muni Metro station, and take the N Judah (Outbound) to Carl and Cole.

Notes:

  • This route offers many chances to pick up lunch or a snack: the Carl and Cole area at the start of the walk, Haight Street (one block north of Waller), Geary Street, and near the N Judah line at the end of the route. This is a nice route to pack a lunch for a stop in the Presidio or along the beach areas of the Coastal Trail.
  • I provide a suggested route through Lands End and Sutro Baths, but both of these areas  have additional trails and areas to explore. They are contained enough that you can wander a bit and easily get back to the main route. Be extremely careful in the Sutro Baths area along the crumbling walls and always keep your eye on the water for changing surf conditions. You will also pass Baker Beach and China Beach on this route, where you may wish to stop for awhile (an extended stop at the beach is not included in the time estimate).
  • As of this writing (January 2010), construction has begun on the Doyle Drive replacement in the Presidio. Because this route goes near the construction area, it is possible that you could encounter a detour from 2010 to early 2013; print the current map to bring with you, and check the project website for any updates.

Read more…

Categories: Hike, Muni, San Francisco

Bayside Berkeley: A Stroll Around the Berkeley Marina and Cesar Chavez Park

January 15, 2010 1 comment

This mostly flat hike takes you over the Berkeley bicycle-pedestrian bridge and around the western-most land of Berkeley to visit the Berkeley Marina, Cesar Chavez Park, and part of Eastshore State Park. Much of the route is on paved paths, making it a good rainy season destination. It’s also an ideal hike for summer days when you want to escape the heat further inland. This route includes views across the Bay, boat watching opportunities, and birds and other wildlife.

Places visited: Berkeley Marina, Cesar Chavez Park, Eastshore State Park (portion)
Approximate Length: 8 miles (9 miles total with optional side trip; also see notes for shorter version starting from Berkeley Amtrak station)
Hiking Time: 4-5 hours
Map: Berkeley Marina, Cesar Chavez Park
Terrain: Mostly flat
Transit Schedule: BART
Start and end point: North Berkeley BART

Getting to the start point:

  • From San Francisco, take a Richmond BART train to North Berkeley station.
  • From the Peninsula and South Bay, take Caltrain to the Millbrae station. Transfer to BART and board the SF/SFO/Bay Point train (on weekends). Transfer to a Richmond train at 12th Street/Oakland City Center, and take the train to North Berkeley station. (On weekdays, you do not need to transfer BART trains; a direct Richmond train leaves from Millbrae.)
  • From the East Bay, take a Richmond BART train to North Berkeley station. (If you are on the Pittsburg/Bay Point or Dublin/Pleasanton lines, you will need to transfer to a Richmond train.)
  • From the North Bay, take Golden Gate Transit (GGT) Route 42 (from the San Rafael Transit Center) to El Cerrito Del Norte BART. Take a Fremont or San Francisco BART train two stops south to North Berkeley station.

Notes:

  • If you would like to pick up some lunch for a picnic, Sea Breeze Market and Deli is a convenient option along this route. You will pass the market when you cross over the pedestrian/bicycle bridge on your way to the Marina. On 4th Street between University and Addison is Grocery Outlet, a discount grocery store. Several restaurants can be found along 4th Street in West Berkeley. You will pass some of them on your route; continue north of Delaware for one block for more options.
  • This route starts from BART, which is convenient for people coming from most parts of the Bay Area. If you are near an Amtrak Capitol Corridor station, you could take the train to the Berkeley station and start the hike from this point in the directions instead. The hike will be a couple of miles shorter, but just as pleasant.
  • The Berkeley Kite Festival is a popular annual event held at Cesar Chavez Park in the summer. If you would like to watch some kite-flying and don’t mind crowds, you may wish to do this hike on the weekend of the event.

Read more…

Categories: BART, East Bay, Hike