The Gardens At Lake Merritt
San Francisco may have the Bay Area’s most famous park, but visitors will be pleased to discover a vast collection of open spaces and outdoor activities on the other side of the Bay. In fact, the East Bay has the country’s largest urban regional park district and is home to a number of sites with historical interest, as well as home to one of just two major amusement parks in the Bay Area. While visitors might want to visit Jack London Square, an Oakland As baseball game or the Cal Berkeley campus, there are other attractions worth touring while in the East Bay. Here are five of the best parks in the East Bay, all within an hour’s drive of Oakland or Berkeley.
568 Bellevue Ave.
Oakland, CA 94610
Described as the “Jewel of Oakland,” Lake Merritt is one of the city’s most popular attractions and just minutes from City Center. Featuring a 3.4-mile pathway around the saltwater tidal lake, 140 acres of parkland, a wildlife sanctuary, boating center and a children’s amusement park, Lake Merritt is a hub of daily activity for people of all ages. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Lake Merritt is home to the country’s first official wildlife refuge, in addition to the nation’s first “themed” amusement park – Children’s Fairyland, first opened in 1950. Visitors can rent a variety of boats, including pedal boats, rowboats, kayaks, canoes and sailboats, in addition to taking a cruise on the lake in an authentic Venetian gondola.
7867 Redwood Road
Oakland, CA 94619
East Bay visitors won’t have to travel great lengths to see the famous coastal redwoods because one special park is 10 miles away from either Berkeley or Oakland. Once the site of 19th century logging mills, the 1,830-acre Redwood Regional Park is the largest remaining stand of coastal redwoods in the East Bay. Of particular interest are the Blossom Rock Navigation Trees, used as early landmarks for navigators that helped ships avoid Blossom Rock – dangerous submerged rocks in the San Francisco Bay near Alcatraz Island. Redwood Regional Park is also noted for being the site where scientists first identified the native rainbow trout as a distinct species.
1414 Harbour Way S.
Richmond, CA 94804
Established in 2000, the Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front National Historic Park is intended to preserve and interpret stories and important sites used as part of America’s home front effort during World War II. Among the highlights of the sprawling park 12 miles north of Oakland are the Rosie Memorial (the first national monument to honor the millions of American women who contributed to the war effort), the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards, Ford Richmond Plant and the Victory ship Red Oak Victory. During the Second World War, more ships were built at Kaiser Richmond Shipyards than any other spot in the country and the Ford Assembly Plant produced nearly 150,000 jeeps and other military vehicles. At the height of the war, nearly a third of the 93,000 workers in Richmond were women, known as Rosie the Riveters, based upon a popular 1942 song. Open year round, the Rosie the Riveter historic park is noted for employing the country’s oldest ranger – 92-year-old Betty Reid-Soskin.
1001 Fairgrounds Drive
Vallejo, CA 94589
Northern California’s only combined marine life, wildlife and wild rides theme park, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is also the only major amusement park in the East Bay. Situated on 135 acres 25 miles south of Oakland, the park features more than 40 rides and attractions, live entertainment and a large collection of animals, including Bengal and Siberian tigers, lions, elephants, sharks, penguins and sea lions. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has seven world-class roller coasters such as the Medusa and the Vertical Velocity (V2), but there are also plenty of family rides like the Thunder Road Speedway Go-Karts and new for 2014, the interactive ride Tsunami Soaker. The park is currently open on weekends, before operating daily beginning Memorial Day weekend. During the summer months and on weekends, crowds can be quite large so the best time to visit, if time permits, is during the weekdays.
2501 Grizzly Peak Blvd.
Orinda, CA 94563
One of the East Bay’s oldest parks, Tilden Park is a 2,079-acre park just a few miles above the UC Berkeley campus within the Berkeley Hills. Described as the “jewel” of the East Bay Regional Park District, Tilden is a very popular spot known for its botanic garden, fishing and swimming at Lake Anza, hiking and popular children’s attractions – the little farm, the steam train and the historic merry-go-round. Built in 1991, the Tilden merry-go-round is one of the last antique carousels remaining in the country and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the East Bay’s best trails is the 3.6-mile Seaview Trail loop, offering spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay and 3,864-foot Mount Diablo to the east.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.