(Photo credit: Thinkstock)

(Photo credit: Thinkstock)

Anyone can enjoy the best things that money can buy, but when funds are limited, travelers need to get smart. Finding low-cost opportunities for fun and entertainment may not be as challenging as you think when you are in the East Bay. Check out these free and low-cost suggestions for fun activities without spending a fortune.

John Muir National Historic Site

4202 Alhambra Ave.
Martinez, CA 94553
(925) 228-8860

This beautiful nine-acre park is the perfect locale to learn more about America’s most famous naturalist and conservationist. Known as the Father of the National Park, John Muir became an advocate for Nature, in all of its wild beauty, its vulnerability and sacred will to survive. The John Muir National Historic Site is located in the Alhambra Valley, two miles south of Martinez, and about 30 miles east of San Francisco. When you arrive, it is best to begin at the Visitor Center to view an orientation video to learn more about John Muir’s life and legacy, and to help acquaint you with the park grounds. You can then join a ranger or docent-led tour, Wednesday through Saturday, if you want. You can also take a self-guided cell phone tour of the grounds. Visitors here are free to wander the park grounds on their own. Explore the hills where Muir hiked, enjoy the historic orchards and visit the historic Martinez Adobe. Bring a lunch and enjoy relaxing under the redwood and pecan trees in the orchards.

Redwood Regional Park

7867 Redwood Road
Oakland, CA 94619
(888) 327-2757

Sometimes you need a break from the big city hustle without going too far. It is possible to withdraw to the mighty redwoods, yet still be just a few miles from downtown Oakland. A hidden forest of coastal redwoods sits just off Redwood Road, though it may feel many more miles away. In addition to the park’s namesake trees, Redwood Regional Park is a gorgeous green paradise with evergreens, grasslands and more, plus a myriad of wildlife that includes rare species such as the golden eagle, along with more commonly seen critters like deer, raccoons, rabbits and squirrels within its 1,830 acres. Hiking, jogging and horseback riding are popular activities along the almost 40 miles of trails here. Day-trippers can also reserve one of four picnic sites for groups of 50 to 150, or come with a few trekkers and backpack lunches to enjoy in a grassy area along the way. Download the Redwood Regional Park map (PDF) and brochure (PDF) to help you become familiar with the park.

All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting

1250 Pine St., Suite 103
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
(925) 932-8993

Forget that same old camping trip, it’s time for a change. All-Outdoors offers the absolute best rafting trips. Whether you take a day trip or make a weekend out of it, you will have the time of your life. All-Outdoors is one of California’s few outfitters with well over 50 years of experience guiding adventure-seeking folks down 10 of Northern and Central California’s best rivers for rafting enjoyment. Past guests cannot say enough good things about their experiences, and often book return trips along with family and friends. All-Outdoors offers one-, two-, three- or four-day river trips near the San Francisco Bay Area, and are led by its crew of professional guides “devoted to making your trip safe, fun, and memorable.” For any size group, family, friends, special occasion, corporate or if you prefer a private trip, All-Outdoors is there to deliver a memorable adventure. The company also reminds people not to worry due to the California drought, adding, “We have plenty of water for great rafting trips this year because of upstream reservoirs.” There are so many price breaks from deals, discounts and promotions that it is impossible to give prices, but the cost is pretty reasonable, from low $100s for one day to price breaks for two or more days.

Free Sailboat Ride Day

Cal Sailing Club
124 University Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94710

Enjoy free almost-monthly sailboat rides with the Cal Sailing Club, a non-profit and volunteer-run sailing club right on the Berkeley Marina. Come to an Open House at this membership club and get a free introductory sail and first-hand experience on a sailboat in San Francisco Bay. What’s it all about? The Cal Sailing Club explains, “At our Introductory Sails you can put on a personal flotation device and learn first hand how to enjoy safe, non-polluting fun on a sailboat. Sign up in front of the clubhouse between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Children must be five or over and accompanied by parent or guardian.” Bring a strap for eyeglasses or sunglasses, and a change of clothes in case you get soaked. The Cal Sailing Club is located in the Berkeley Marina between Cal Adventures and Adventure Playground.

Free Oakland Summer Walking Tours

821 Washington St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 238-3234

Sign on for free 90-minute walking tours through Oakland’s downtown streets, offered every Wednesday and Saturday from May through October. These guided tours showcase Oakland’s changing skyline, its landmarks, high-rises, churches and other points of interest. Choose one or more of eight tour itineraries, each with a different starting location. View dates and details of Oakland Walking Tours from the City of Oakland. Reservations are not necessary, though highly recommended. One popular tour is The Old Oakland Tour, which explores the 1870s business district. The meticulously restored brick commercial buildings now house offices, galleries and eateries. This historic district reminds onlookers of Oakland’s 1869 designation as the Western Terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. The tour begins at 10 a.m. in front of G.B. Ratto & Co, 821 Washington Street.


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Melanie Graysmith is a writer, artist and educator based in San Francisco. She writes on adult education, art and lifestyle topics, and enjoys writing short stories and poetry. She is also a member of an independent filmmaking group. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.