The Great Aquatic Outdoors
Where to paddle, fish, motorboat, sail and enjoy the water and beaches in the Bay Area.
Photo courtesy of Oakland Athletic Watersports
Fly High Over the Bay
To the novice, kiteboarding appears to be an intimidating sport. Clad in a wetsuit, a rider glides across San Francisco Bay on a small board, jumping and occasionally flipping over waves. This mix of aerial and aquatic acrobatics is powered by a parachute-sized kite connected by several strings to a harness on the surfers’ waist. Daunting as it may seem, the wind does most of the hard work, and with proper training, almost anyone can master the sport. Shallow, long sandy shores make Alameda’s Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach an excellent place to learn with Boardsports California, which offers introductory ($50) and beginner ($400) lessons April through September. 415-385-1224, BoardsportsCalifornia.com.
Paddle the Estuary
Earn your weekend brunch by kayaking in the Oakland Estuary. Start at Jack London Square (California Canoe & Kayak offers rentals and lessons) and navigate southeast to Brotzeit Lokal Boathaus & Biergarten. Keep watch for sea life, including curious seals and diving cormorants. On the northern, shallower shore of Coast Guard Island, look out for leopard sharks (don’t worry; they’re harmless to humans). Stow your kayak on the dock at Brotzeit and enjoy a German-inspired brunch on the patio 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekends. If it’s windy, don’t linger too long before the return paddle to Jack London Square.
Tool About on Lake Del Valle
Ten miles south of Livermore, wilderness abounds at Del Valle Regional Park. Crowds can gather on Lake Del Valle’s southeastern shores during the summer, so rent a motorboat at the marina and navigate northwest. With 16 miles of shoreline, the lake affords boat captains the opportunity to seek out secluded beaches and coves. Pack a picnic and cooler and prepare for a day of sun-drenched cruising. The marina offers boating options (starting at $35 per hour) for three, six, and up to 10 people, and dogs are welcome in the park and onboard boats.
Go Tide Pooling ... in Alameda?
Can’t make it to the coast to spy diminutive hermit crabs and slimy echinoderms? No worries. Check out the Crab Cove Visitor Center at Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda. Not only can you view a world of minuscule marine life along the rocky shore and mudflats, but the center offers deeper exploration of tiny sea critters in aquarium tanks and interactive exhibits. Kids can “build” a crab from the inside out, or get a lugworm’s view of the mudflats. Docent-led tours of the tide pools are available four days a week. EBParks.org/parks/vc/crab_cove.
Float in a Cardboard Boat
Ever wondered why the characters on Gilligan’s Island didn’t just build a raft? It turns out that making stuff float is pretty hard. Grab a couple of buoyant pieces of cardboard and some water-tight duct tape and try it out for yourself at the annual Cardboard Boat Regatta at the Silliman aquatic center in Newark. Each boat must have at least two people in them to compete, and no other materials are allowed. There are three age categories (ages 6-11, 12-16, and 16 plus), with special prizes. Fri., July 27, 10:30 a.m.-noon, free (but preregistration required; email email@example.com), George M. Silliman Family Activity Center & Family Aquatic Center, 6800 Mowry Ave., Newark, 510-578-4620.
Take a Guided Tour
Brooks Island is the one island in the bay that even most locals have never heard of. Before being acquired by the East Bay Regional Park District in 1968, it went by many names: Isla de Carmen, Rocky Island, Sheep Island, and, most fittingly for this now-bird sanctuary, Bird Island. You can get motored out to this 373-acre wilderness preserve by a park ranger, or by the BYOB method (sorry, the last “b” is for boat). Either way, you’re only allowed to actually be there on a guided tour. Call
888-327-2757, option 2, to make a reservation. Trips are $80 and meet at the Berkeley Marina. Trips book up months in advance, so book early.
What’s SUP? Downward Dog on the Water
Once dismissed by surfers as “sweepers,” standup paddling has caught on with the masses because it’s great exercise (think core strength) that’s (relatively) easy to learn. The sheltered waters at Ballena Bay are the perfect place to start, giving you quick access to San Francisco Bay as your confidence grows. But wait — you want more? How about SUPASANA. Yes, that’s yoga on a paddleboard. Mike’s Paddle offers weekly SUP yoga classes, specialty SUP yoga classes, and half-day intro to SUP yoga retreats. Once you’re hooked, you can get a membership that gives you unlimited access to boards. 1150 Ballena Blvd., Suite 121, Alameda, 415-295-2925, MikesPaddle.com.
Experience a Bit of Venice
When is a boat more than a boat? Authentic Venetian gondolas have been plying Lake Merritt for almost 20 years thanks to the dedication of Angelino Sandrini and his wife, April Quinn, and Gondola Servizio. The boat ride can be so relaxing that some say it is like going to a spa. It is also a floating museum as you learn about Oakland history and Lake Merritt natural science along the way. And talk about romantic: One of the gondoliers says that in his two years with the company, he has witnessed 19 engagements. His serenades in Italian and English help that along. Gondolas depart from the lovely Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Bring your own bottle of wine, and the gondolier will happily provide glasses. Boats are available with advance reservations seven days a week, year-round, weather permitting. The best way to reserve is to book online. 1520 Lakeside Drive, Oakland, GondolaServizio.com.
Pedal Lake Merritt
Get a duck’s-eye view of Oakland’s skyline — and work your quads — when you rent a pedal boat on Lake Merritt. You’ll bob and weave with the gentle waves, navigating through clusters of Canada geese and tufted ducks. At the Lake Merritt Boating Center, off Belvedere on the Grand Avenue side of the lake, you can rent everything from canoes and kayaks to rowboats and sailboats. But for the less nautically skilled among us, the three-person pedal boat is ideal for a fun outing. It requires no skill, just some leg power. The pedal boats rent for $15 an hour plus a $20 deposit (cash only); lifejackets are provided. 510-238-2196, OaklandNet.com, search for “Lake Merritt Boating.”
Walk Barefoot on Beaches
Barefoot beaches in the East Bay? Yes, as a matter of fact, you don’t need to drive to the Pacific to stroll barefoot along a sandy beach, feel waves wash over your toes, and watch gulls dive in the surf. The East Bay is home to a few lovely sand beaches that are great for walking, picnicking, or even swimming — if weather or a daring spirit permits. A few gems include: Albany Beach at McLaughlin Eastshore State Park and at the bottom (west end) of Buchanan Street off Interstate-80; Keller Beach at the Miller Knox Regional Shoreline Park in Richmond; and, of course, the well-known, Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda. Albany and Keller still feel a little like secrets known mostly to locals. But it’s easy to get hooked, with Albany’s sand dunes and location smack across from the Golden Gate and Keller’s protected cove that’s especially great for swimming. Keller and Crown have bathrooms, picnic areas, and walking paths. Albany is still wild and woolly, with improvements in the works. Beaches are managed by the East Bay Regional Park District,
Sample a Sport With Spirit
Venturing out to the open waters of the bay on an outrigger canoe can induce a trancelike state. On a standard six-person boat, paddlers sit single file and paddle in unison, the rhythm punctuated every 16 strokes by the chanting call “Hut!” then “Ho!” as all switch paddles to their opposite side without missing a beat. The outrigger canoe, with its distinctive support float extending from the hull to increase stability, dates back to ancient Polynesia as means of transportation in rough seas. Now popular for recreation and competition, outrigger canoeing remains infused with Hawaiian culture and spirit: a workout with a welcoming community. And who couldn’t use a little more aloha in their life? Check out the Northern California Outrigger Canoe Association for all area clubs: NCOCA.com. Or try one of Oakland’s neighbors: Alameda, O Kalani Outrigger Canoe Center, OKalaniOutrigger.org, San Leandro, Kaimanu Outrigger Canoe Club, Kaimanu.com.
Seek Out an Underwater Adventure
Founded by renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle, nonprofit Blue Endeavors opened its first dive facility dedicated to ocean conservation, citizen science, ocean exploration, and community action in Alameda at South Shore Shopping Center. Monthly membership includes recreational and scientific scuba training, with class and pool tutorials in Alameda and ocean dives in Monterey. Tired of bulky tanks? Starting in the comfort of Encinal Yacht Club’s heated swimming pool, Blue Endeavors’ modern freediving and spearfishing techniques class teaches breathing techniques, conservation of movement, streamlining, and the physics of free diving, as well as safety procedures, correct weighting, equipment, and hunting methods. 2219-A South Shore Center, Unit 215, Alameda, 510-871-0172, Blue-Endeavors.org.
Do Some Dinghy Sailing
It’s been said that there is an inverse relationship between the size of the boat and the amount of fun to be had. Alameda Community Sailing Center has expanded its popular youth dinghy sailing programs with adult learn-to-sail classes. After 12 hours of training over two weekends, you’ll know your port from your starboard and be able to shout “Gybe Ho!” with gusto. On family sail days, parents can learn from their kids — or salty sea dog grandparents can pass on race tips to the next generation. Encinal Boat Ramp, Alameda, 510-629-9282, SailAlameda.org.
See the Beauty of the Bay
Bicyclists and runners have the Bay Trail. Now boaters have the Bay Water Trail, a network of small-craft launches around San Francisco Bay for kayakers, windsurfers, and other non-motorized boaters to explore the shoreline. Birdwatch at Big Break Regional Shoreline in Oakley, spend the night at Angel Island State Park, catch a Giants game at Mission Creek in San Francisco, or discover a pocket of the Bay shoreline you’ve never visited. Dozens of free, public launches as well as boat rental facilities line the bay and its rivers and sloughs, allowing for Bay Water Trail users to experience the natural beauty of the bay in a whole new way. SFBayWaterTrail.org.
Tame a Dragon
Paddle to the beat of Chinese drums and conquer the waves on the back of a fire-breathing dragon. You can’t miss colorful dragon boats that slide along the Oakland Estuary or the Berkeley Marina. The traditional boats hold teams of 20 paddlers, a drummer, and a steers person. Various teams in the East Bay welcome the public — of all ages and fitness levels — to join practice sessions, with no experience or equipment required. Introductory lessons are free. Find the Oakland Renegades at the Jack London Aquatic Center, OaklandRenegades.org; the DragonMax club meets at Berth M at the Berkeley Marina, DragonMax.org.
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Oakland is a center of the rowing world, both for its challenging shoreline conditions and the breadth of options. For more ambitious rowers, the estuary and San Francisco Bay — with their tides, winds, and choppy waters — can provide a great workout and a chance to compete with some of the nation’s top rowers. For more recreational rowers, Lake Merritt is a perfect place to learn, make friends, watch the egrets, and maybe stop at Lake Chalet for a Bloody Mary. Opportunities abound for experienced and novice rowers alike, of all ages. EastBayRowingClub.org, OaklandStrokes.org, LakeMerrittRowingClub.org, OarSociety.org, ArtemisRowingClub.org, Oakland Women’s Rowing Club (LocalWiki.org/oakland/Oakland_Women%27s_Rowing_Club
Try Fresh-Water Fishing
Craving a lazy afternoon on a rowboat, fishing for bass as the hours while by? The East Bay Regional Park District operates 10 freshwater lakes in the East Bay that are stocked with rainbow trout, catfish, crappie, sunfish, bluefin, and three kinds of bass. Shadow Cliffs in Pleasanton, Lake Chabot in Castro Valley, and Del Valle in Livermore all have boats available for rent as well. Other lakes — Contra Loma, Don Castro, Jordan Pond, Lake Anza, Lake Temescal, Quarry Lakes and Shinn Pond — offer fishing piers or launches for those who have their own boats. Check the park district’s website for information about fees, fishing licenses, and fish stocks. EBParks.org/activities/fishing.
Motor (or Sail Away) on the Bay
Picturing yourself in a captain’s hat? Prevent those crashing sounds when you get back to the dock with some professional instruction. Club Nautique in Alameda is known for taking landlubbers and training them to be ocean navigators, generally on sailboats but the outfit also offers a series of US Powerboat certification courses that give participants the paperwork they need for chartering boats in the bay or on exotic foreign vacations. The two-weekend basic powerboat course is designed for people with little or no experience on boats, while inshore powerboat cruising preps sailors for taking out larger boats for longer periods. Both include a three-hour bay cruising workshop. 1150 Ballena Blvd. Suite 161, Alameda, 510-865-4700, ClubNautique.net.