Saturday, August 12, 2017

Tilden Regional Park

     Running along the Berkeley Hills, Tilden Regional Park is a Bay Area gem that spans parts of Berkeley, Oakland, and unincorporated Contra Costa County. The park offers visitors not only an escape from the city but any and every summer activity they could hope for. So many activities, in fact, that you can't do them all in a day or even two days.
     Our visit started at Little Farm, located on the west end of the park not far from Jewel Lake. Free parking is available a short walk from the farm, or you can take AC Transit #67 from Berkeley BART on the weekends. Little Farm is open every day of the year, 8:30 to 4, and is free. You can bring celery and lettuce to feed to the Shorthorn cows, French Alpine goats, Black Welsh mountain sheep, pig, and ducks and chickens (who prefer lettuce). You can also visit but not feed Dutch rabbits. Turkeys roam the farm as well, though we didn't see any this time. We took one bag of celery, which was soon gone, and the animals' attention quickly turned to new arrivals, hands full of fresh produce.
     After Little Farm, we decided to take advantage of Tilden Nature Area's 10+ miles of hiking trails. We chose the Jewel Lake Nature Trail to Jewel Lake, traveling much of the way on a magical boardwalk. Trees and brush enclosed us, forming a green roof over our heads. When we arrived at the lake, a tree that had fallen into the water was covered with turtles sunning themselves. As we were walking away from the turtles, my sister noticed a crawfish in the brush at the side of the trail. This remains the coolest creature I've seen in the wild in California. If you enjoy hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding, there are nearly 40 miles of trails in Tilden Park proper. Nimitz Way is wheelchair accessible and paved.
     Our next stop was the Botanic Garden, open year round, 8:30 to 5:30 during the summer. The garden is 10 acres and is divided into 10 geographic regions, and the paths wind down into Wildcat Canyon. It felt like wandering into a secret world, and as the gate disappeared from site, my sister and I joked that we might possibly get lost, which didn't bother either of us much. According to the East Bay Park's website, the garden "contains the world's most complete collection of California native plants," including a large collection of manzanitas. We walked along a creek, and as my sister crossed a bridge, I noticed a tiny creature zip under her. It stopped on the side of one of the bridge's boards, and I noticed it was a lizard. We blinked at each other as I leaned close for a better look. As we made our way through the garden, we could hear other creatures zipping off among the plants, and I assume they were more gorgeous lizards.
     We called it a day after the Botanic Garden, but there is so much more to explore. At Lake Anza, you can swim for a small fee, and there are lifeguards on duty during the summer. There's also a carousel (small fee), steam trains (small fee), camping, horse camping, picnicking areas with barbecues, and even a golf course.
     Tilden Regional Park is hands down one of the most enjoyable, affordable places in the Bay Area. Perfect for families, for individuals wanting to get away from the crowd, for birdwatchers, plant enthusiasts, animal lovers, photographers...there's something for everyone. This park is definitely at the top of my Bay Area Miss-Me-Nots.




Jewel Lake Natural Trail

The Crawfish 


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Alameda 4th of July Parade

     For me, the 4th of July isn't complete without a parade, and one of the longest parades in the US takes place right here in the Bay Area on the island of Alameda. Starting at 10 am, the parade moves down Park Street from Lincoln (Alameda's East End), turns right onto Otis Drive (where the judging stand is located), turns right onto Grand, left onto Encinal to Central, and from Central, turns right onto Webster (Alameda's West End) and continues down to Lincoln. The route is over three miles long, and this year, there were over 160 floats.
     The parade itself includes all the classic elements you'd expect to see: marching bands, dance troupes, city leaders on classic cars, horses...and more horses, emergency response vehicles, military vehicles and personnel, and floats representing local clubs, schools, businesses, and organizations. But there's always something unique or new or exciting: a zebra this year, for example, or men riding steers. The Sikh Riders have an impressive array of motorcycles. There's always an Alameda Gay Pride float. This year, there was a float dedicated simply to donuts, with a lady yelling "Celebrate the sprinkle!" Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter or FAAS always has a contingent of sweet pups wagging their tales at the crowds. And if you're hoping for a Coast Guard helicopter flyover, you probably won't be disappointed.
     Kenny the Clown, a local celebrity, can usually be found on Webster before the parade, making balloon creations for kids (donations welcome). His bubble machine is quite the sensation. There are also ice cream, fruit, and snack vendors making frequent circuits of the parade route. A little candy is dispersed by passing floats, and you may collect a strand of beads or two by the end. Most of the local shops are also open so you can stop in for a drink or even breakfast or lunch.
     If you're looking for a free, family-friendly event to celebrate the 4th, Alameda's parade is definitely a Bay-Area-Miss-Me-Not. If you arrive early enough to avoid traffic and find a parking spot, the event is pretty low-stress. The parade route is so long that it's usually easy to find a seat, even if you arrive late. If you are planning to drive, keep in mind that traffic on and off the island is usually a headache during events, but driving may be easiest (all bus routes are diverted for the parade, and though you can take BART to downtown Oakland, you have to take a bus onto the island). There is more parking on the West End (near Webster), and the parade arrives on Webster around 11:15. Make sure to wear a hat and sunglasses. Below are pictures from this year's parade (as you can see, I favor the horses). Enjoy!

Bubbles from Kenny the Clown
Coast Guard flyover
Mini AC Transit Bus

Bowzer's Pizza (Pug Power)

Sikh Riders

Hi from FAAS

Photos from previous parades: