Part I: The Most Scenic Trails
California features some of the greatest running destinations in the world. Fitness tourists flock to the striking clash of land and ocean in the Marin Headlands above San Francisco. Trail runners in the Sierras can climb transcendent single track above Yosemite Valley and Lake Tahoe. Olympic hopefuls spend time at Mammoth Lake. And the tony elite of the Peninsula coalesce around the Sawyer Camp Trail for tempo runs and workouts.
But what about regular folks, those of us just trying to make rent and get in a few runs? Well, that's why there's the East Bay. That's right, the overlooked areas around Oakland, Berkeley, and beyond are rife with a unique set of park trails, paved paths, and urban running routes. And while these areas don't get the attention of more famous venues, they are worth a visit. So, where to run in the East Bay?
This four-part guide features the best trails, paths, and running destinations in the nebulous metropolitan area that runs roughly from the city of Richmond, to Oakland, down to Fremont. Organized by theme, the Blue-Collar Guide is intended for both locals and visitors… the greatest hits, if you will, of East Bay running. These lists are not exhaustive, but they've been extensively vetted by local running authorities. Each run also features a nearby (affordable) eatery for refueling. These spots won't break the bank... or leave you squatting in the bushes the next day.
Starting us off in the series are the best scenic trails in the East Bay. These are the gorgeous forests, the epic views, and the buttery footpaths of the area. If you live here, consider this the “you’ve got to run these at least once” part of the Guide. And if you're visiting the Oakland/Berkeley area, these are the must-do scenic routes.
1) French Trail
Redwood Park, Oakland, CA
|French Trail. Photo: Redwood Hikes|
Interestingly, the redwood trees are sustained by a belt of oceanic moisture that flows through the Golden Gate, churns across the San Francisco Bay, and washes up against the Oakland hills. This being the case, the trail can be damp, even in summer, and temperatures are generally cooler than elsewhere in the park.
Many trails connect to French in Redwood Park. Perhaps the most accessible is West Ridge Trail, which runs from the Skyline Gate Staging Area. Parking here is crowded on weekends and weekday afternoons during pleasant weather. However other trails intersect with French, and it’s easy to make a loop—like this gorgeous route incorporating French and Stream Trails. French is a challenging trail, but the slopes tend to scare off the bigger crowds of day hikers.
|Stream Trail is also pretty nice. Photo: Redwood Hikes|
How to Get There.
Redwood Regional Park Website. (includes trail maps)
Post-run Brunch: Montclair Eggshop. Located just below Redwood Park in the nearby shopping area, Montclair Village, this is the neighborhood's main brunch spot. With hobby-shop decor, the restaurant gestures at the Village’s suburban origins as a train-line stop. On the menu, I’m a big fan of the "Ed’s Welsh Scramble," which features potatoes, spinach, and other veggies scrambled into eggs. It’s one of the more filling options. There is bottomless coffee but, like anywhere in the Bay, brunch is very crowded on the weekends. $11
2) Inspiration Point
Tilden Park, Orinda, CA
|Photo: Simon W.|
Tilden Park is located just east of Berkeley, and features an eclectic mix of hiking, golfing, and even a 106-year-old carousel. But if you're interested in scenic views, head for eastern side of the park to Inspiration Point. There are multiple route options, but perhaps the most intuitive is to head north on the paved Nimitz Way toward Richmond. On a clear day, you can get 3-bridge views of the San Francisco Bay: the Golden Gate, Bay, and Richmond bridges. But the surrounding hills, reservoirs and mountains to the east also make for striking vistas. While Nimitz Way is paved, the path eventually gives way to fire road and there are numerous side trails that descend west down into Wildcat Canyon. This being the case, it is easy to make a loop from Nimitz Way.
During the rainy season, when moisture turns many Tilden trails to sticky muck, the pavement of Nimitz is a nice out-and-back alternative to the hurly-burly on city streets. But keep in mind that Nimitz Way is very exposed, and is thus warm on clear days. Water is very limited on this side of the park. Off-street parking is available.
|Photo: Tiffany H.|
How to Get There.
Tilden Regional Park Website.
Post-run Sandwich: Stuffed Inn. This neat little sandwichery features delicious rolls, hearty meats, and perhaps the best split-pea soup in the East Bay. Cheerful and family-owned, Stuffed Inn features cozy booth seating and large photos from the Sierra Nevadas. Step inside and its like the 2000s never happened. My recommendation: the Farrah sandwich (turkey-avocado) on a soft sour french roll, with a bowl of soup and a half pickle. Located on Euclid Avenue just north of UC Berkeley, this spot gets crowded during the weekday lunch hour. ~$6-8
3) Brandon Trail to Columbine Trail
Anthony Chabot Park, Oakland/San Leandro, CA
|Columbine Trail. Photo: Redwood Hikes|
In terms of routes, I recommend a favorite of Richie Boulet, a former professional runner in Oakland. Starting at the Anthony Chabot Equestrian Center off Skyline Boulevard, descend down Goldenrod to Brandon trail, hanging a right on Brandon. A mile later, at the intersection over the creek, take the middle trail to Columbine Trail. You can continue for an out-and-back along the lakeside or turn left up Honker Bay Trail to create a loop through the park campground.
|View from Columbine. Photo: Redwood Hikes|
How to Get There.
Lake Chabot Regional Park Website.
Post-run Dinner: Old Weang Ping. Oh man, Old Weang Ping. Featuring authentic Thai with unpretentious prices, this menu is a really good deal. Foodies get scared off by the location near neighborhoods of endemic violence. But this place is a hidden gem. Walk in and you will forget all your worries in the floral atmosphere. Order off the chalk board. It doesn’t matter what, just pair it with an order of sticky rice and a Singha. ~$15-20
4) Huckleberry and Sibley Preserves
|Huckleberry Trail. Photo: BAHiker|
Whenever I reach a clearing on the paths of Huckleberry, I usually think, “Ah. OK. This is why I live in this crowded, expensive place.” Huckleberry Botanical Regional Preserve features a singletrack loop that winds up and down the hills rolling away from Oakland. The top trails feature manzanita shrubs, huckleberry bushes, a variety of ferns, and stunning easterly views of open-space canyons and Mount Diablo. The trail is a botanical preserve, and the single track is narrow and visibility down the trail is limited. So be mindful of other trail users.
I recommend running through Huckleberry early in the morning at sunrise, as it provides a few wide open views of Mt. Diablo to the east. If you start on the top trail and head south, the rising sun reflects off the land, turning the hills into a glowing tapestry of purples, reds, and golds. On certain days, you can see rivers of fog, that have rolled over the ridge, flowing through the canyons. It's unlike anything I've seen elsewhere in the world.
Just nearby is Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, an old rock quarry now converted into parkland. This park is an entirely different animal, featuring striking man-made excavations of the hillside. All this extractive industry, however, exposed the ancient volcanic activity that shaped this section of the East Bay hills. So there’s a bit of geology to explore in the park. Additionally, there are a number of stone labyrinths that have been arranged amid the larger quarry formations.
For the best scenery, I recommend a route starting from Huckleberry's staging area. Head down the upper path a mile before turning left to the downward half of the loop. Follow the switchbacks until you reach the Bay Area Trail, which heads toward Sibley. You'll do some steep climbing before you reach the Round Top Loop trail. Bear right and you'll eventually be spilled on an old fire roadway with quarry excavations on your right. You can explore around here for the various labyrinths. Eventually you will reach a paved road which will wind down to the base of the park. Then hang a left back on the Bay Area Ridge trail to slog back up to the Sibley parking entrance. Run downhill from the entrance on Skyline Boulevard. If you want to take in a view of the Bay, veer left off the road to a clearing that's just a few yards north of the Huckleberry staging area. You can follow this path back to parking lot.
|A labyrinth in Sibley. Photo: Kevin Hikes|
Bathrooms: There are toilet facilities (and parking) at the main entrances of both parks.
How to Get There.
Huckleyberry Botanical Regional Preserve website.
Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve website.
Post-run Burritos: Cactus Taqueria - Oakland has dozens of taqueria and trucks that foodies drool over. But I’ll be frank: most "authentic" taquerias give me mudbutt. (Blame it on my Anglo-Saxon constitution and high mileage.) So if you've got a workout in the morning, I highly recommend the burritos from Cactus. Spring for the “mejor” large-size burrito as it’s a better value. They make a delicious cilantro rice which you can swap into the burrito. Try the pineapple salsa. Cactus is just down the hill from Sibley Park, and off Highway 24 in Rockridge. ~$8
5) Sequoia-Bayview Trail
Joaquin Miller Park, Oakland, CA
|Sequoia-Bayview Trail. Photo: Redwood Hikes|
In terms of routes, many folks run out-and-backs from the trailhead on Skyline Boulevard, often connecting into Redwood Park. But I highly recommend the climb up Palos Colorados trail, further below off Mountain Boulevard near Montclair Village. Although a stout climb, the trail winds up a beautiful canyon along Palo Seco Creek, before spilling out at a meadow beneath Sequoia-Bayview. The park has multiple trails so it’s easy to get turned around, but keep heading up the hill, following Palos Colorados or Sunset Trail, and you will eventually reach Sequoia-Bayview, which runs the length of the park. See the Strava route below.
|Woodminster Amphitheater. Photo: Ingrid Taylor|
Strava Route, short out-and-back starting on Bayview-Sequoia.
Strava Route, loop starting at Palos Colorados.
Post-run Grub: Park Burger. Just down the road on Park Boulevard, you can refuel at this burger shop. While it gets loud on the weekends (family crowds), the burgers are solid. I once met a friend there for lunch, and he asked about my academic research. The burger ruined my response because I kept interrupting my explanations of arcane seventeenth-century theology by moaning after each bite. The menu features the now standard hipster-variety of baroque burger options, but you really can’t go wrong. ~$10-13
Honorable Mentions:The Ohlone Wilderness Trail. When’s the last time you were in a “wilderness” within a few miles of a major city? The Ohlone wilderness stretches eastward from the foothills southeast of Fremont into the rugged, but beautifully sparse landscape south of Interstate 680. Bring water and you’ll need a trail permit. The parking situation near Mission Peak is a disaster.
Wildcat Canyon, Richmond, CA. Wildcat Canyon Regional Park lays on the north side of Tilden Regional Park. The park is generally more exposed, though there are some tree groves at the base of the canyon. The park’s main trail follows a rolling path alongside Wildcat Creek. It makes for a nice out-and-back. Interestingly, the remnants of a early twentieth-century sanitarium are still visible in the park. You’ll notice some out-of-place palms and other exotic trees near the Belgum Trail (named after the sanitarium’s founder). There was a large house on the estate, the foundation of which is still evident.
Forgot to pack Running Socks?For shoes, gear, and info on local events and races, check out Transports, the local running store with locations in both Berkeley and Oakland. The store also hosts weekly events around the area, so it is worth signing up for their social media and emails.
Special ThanksA special thank you to Dave Baselt at Redwood Hikes, for allowing use of his photography. Check out his extensive and detailed list of trails and hikes across California.
Disagree with this list?Throw some shade toward @SFRobinson
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