Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Urban Hiking: The Berkeley Paths

"Many of Berkeley’s hill areas were subdivided in the early 20th Century, before dominance of the automobile. Streets were generally laid out to follow curving contours, while 10-foot-wide city-owned rights of way were provided to make it easy for people to walk directly up and down hills." - Berkeleypath.org 
If you live in Berkeley, then you have probably heard about the Berkeley Paths, or stumbled upon one while walking around town. My mom grew up in North Berkeley and as a kid I spent a lot of time visiting with my grandma and Aunts (my youngest Aunt is only 6 years older than me!), so I have fond memories of exploring the hills and using the paths to cut through neighborhoods. Even as an adult, I get giddy when we are out for a walk and come across a staircase that cuts through a neighborhood. They are just SO CHARMING!

I have wanted to tackle the paths for a while now, but the idea of carrying my kids up the steep hills of Berkeley quickly put a damper on any future plans. If only I could find a way to just walk the downhill portion with the kids. And that's when the idea struck me! It's far from genius, but I felt like I had uncovered something magical when I realized that we could ride a bus to the top of the hill and then walk down using the paths. My kids LOVE riding the bus, so this made the adventure all the more exciting for them.

We started our urban hike at the intersection of Grizzly Peak and Stevenson Ave (We took the 65 bus from downtown Berkeley BART). There are a number of bus stops along Grizzly Peak that will put you in close proximity to one of the Berkeley Paths. You can use Google Pedometer to view the paths and map out your route ahead of time (which you can then save and pin for future reference or email to yourself). Here is the route we took if you're interested. (side-note: If you load the map onto your smartphone, then every time you refresh during the hike, it will track where you are in relation to the map, which was pretty handy!)

Our first path of the day! The Anne Brower Path.
My previous experiences with the Berkeley Paths had been much lower in the hills, where the pathways tend to be very formal and made of cement. As you go higher into the hills, the pathways are a bit wilder and constructed with large railwood ties along otherwise dirt or gravel paths. I loved this surprise and so did the kids! There was something much more exciting and adventurous about tromping along these dirt paths (in our case muddy paths since we went while it was raining).

Path #2, Betty Old's Path
Our third path, Whitaker Path. The kids loved the "tree tunnels".

The perfect stones for jumping!
Planning an urban hike along the paths was pretty easy. When viewing google maps, you can see the dashed lines cutting between the neighborhoods that represent the paths, and if you zoom in you can see the name of the path. As far as spotting the paths when you are up in the hills, they are all clearly marked with signs, just as you would expect at the intersection of two streets.

Two of our favorite paths along our hike were the Upper and Lower Covert path. It almost felt as though we were trespassing into a secret forest (the feeling of trespassing may also be because you are passing through people's side yards!). The lower Covert path had us crossing a small creek and ended with a water fall running down the hillside!

Upper Covert Path
On a clear day, there would be views of the bay from here.
Lower Covert Path, on our descent to the creek!
Crossing the creek

For the most part, as soon as we got to the bottom of one path, we could look down the street and quickly spot a sign for the next path. At the bottom of the Covert Paths, we had our longest stretch of walking along the road. It was only a couple of blocks and gave us a chance to admire the beautiful homes. 

Perhaps the cutest carport in Berkeley!

After our short detour, we arrived at the Tamalpais Path, by far the steepest path of them all.

The Tamalpais path runs along the northern most edge of Codornices Park and weather permitting, is a stop worth making. Aside from a lovely grass area for picnicking, it has THE BEST cement slide in the Bay Area (The. Best.). The park also has a short tunnel that passes below the road and provides access to the Berkeley Rose Garden, which has stunning views of the bay on a clear day, and of course hundreds of roses in the Spring and Summer.
If you have never been on a cement slide, they are amazing. You sit on a piece of cardboard (the park has tons, so you don't have to bring your own) and you FLY down the slide. It can be a little dangerous if you are going down with a kid in hand, be sure to tuck the little arms in and use your feet for brakes if needed (the added weight of an adult adds some serious speed!).

Once you reach Codornices Park, you are just a short distance to Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto, where you will find countless temptations for delicious ways to fill your belly. This portion of the walk also gives you a little insight into what locals refer to as "quirky Berkeley". Keep an eye out for interesting art installations and creative decor.

My youngest had a lot of fun with this home on Summer street, and insisted on taking a photo with the props. This home also had one of the more creative mailboxes I have seen in town.

Our last path of the day was the Berryman Path, which leads you to Live Oak Park where you will find lots of great picnic spots as well as an easily accessible creek for the kids to stomp around in.

While the hike in itself is a wonderful way to spend the day, it also happens to lead you to some of the best food in the East Bay. There are lots of fantastic options in the Gourmet Ghetto, and I would venture to say that you really can't go wrong with anything you choose. One of our favorite spots is the Cheeseboard Collective. Yes, it's insanely popular and there will be a line 50 people deep during the lunch hour, but the line moves quickly and it's well worth the wait. They serve one vegetarian pizza option each day with a small assortment of side salads and drinks. There is typically live music and some of the best people watching in town. So settle in at an outdoor table and reward yourself with some tasty pizza and wonderful music.

Any suggestions for future hikes along the Berkeley Paths?

Details: For information on all the Berkeley Paths, check out BerkeleyPaths.org. AC transit is free for kids under 5 (half off for youth), and adults can get a day pass for $5 that allows for unlimited rides for any given calendar day. You can either purchase the pass when boarding the bus, or by using your clipper card (which automatically stop charging you after you reach the $5 threshold for a day). We took the 65 bus from downtown Berkeley Bart and got off at the Stevenson stop along Grizzly Peak. Slices at Cheeseboard are $2.50, half a pizza is $10, whole is $20. This is the most budget friendly option in the neighborhood, but Gregoire is another casual option and if you just want dessert, then be sure to grab a mini cake from Masse's Pastries.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Santa Cruz - beyond the Boardwalk

About 3 years ago, we took our first trip down to Santa Cruz to visit with some friends. Having done no research on the area, but wanting to take a quick visit to the beach, we headed down to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Let's just say that crowds of teenagers, corn dogs and arcade games aren't really my thing and I left with a sort of glum outlook on Santa Cruz beaches. Thankfully, we have made several trips down to the area since then and I have gained a HUGE appreciation for the breathtaking beauty of this charming beach town. Our most recent visit brought us to the Wilder Ranch State Park. The park is located a short distance from downtown and spans over 7,000 acres with 35 miles of trails.

We opted for an easy 2.5 mile loop along the Old Cove Landing Trail. From the restrooms near the main parking lot you will see signs for the trailhead which takes you across some railroad tracks and towards the coastline.

The trail is wide and level, and aside from some large puddles from recent rains, is stroller friendly. Our 2 year old made the wise decision to wear rain boots, so she eagerly trekked through dozens of large puddles while her older sister cheered her on!

Once you reach the water, the views of the coast line are pretty spectacular. I was originally drawn to the Cove Landing trail by this amazing picture, captured by a very talented photographer/writer (if you aren't following him, then you should be!). While we weren't so lucky with our seal spotting, we did manage to find a couple of seals playing in one of the coves (no amazing pictures of them, however!).

We took a short detour down to the beach where the kids explored the fern grotto (see map for location) and honed their rock-climbing skills. It was a bit like the scene out of Frozen when Anna tries to climb up the mountain side only to realize that all her efforts have gotten her only a few feet off the ground.

From the fern grotto beach, the trail follows the coast for a short distance before cutting inland towards the parking lot.

After our hike we made a stop in downtown Santa Cruz to enjoy some seriously fresh and tasty mexican food from Cafe Campesino. The cafe is located in a small kiosk on the sidewalk and despite having no more than 10 square feet of working space, the two ladies inside were cooking up some delicious food. We had the spicy chicken tortilla soup, chicken gordita and quesadillas from the kids menu. The mexican mocha was calling my name, but will have to be saved for our next visit. We ate our meal at one of the cafe's tables along the sidewalk - such a California treat to eat outdoors in December!

Looking for more Santa Cruz adventures? You may like our recent trip to a swimhole at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park or our visit to Westside Santa Cruz (which would be a great stop before or after visiting the beach or taking a nice hike).

What are your favorite spots in Santa Cruz?

Details: Santa Cruz is about an hour and a half from Berkeley. Parking at Wilder Ranch State Park is $10, however there are spots along the highway that are free. The hike is a 2.5 mile loop and took us about 2 hours with kids walking at their own pace. Entrees at Cafe Campesino ranged from $6-$12 and are made with fresh, organic ingredients. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ladybug hunting in Redwood Regional Park

Ever since our first trip to Redwood Regional, I have been eager to return. It still blows my mind that we are only a few miles away from this unbelievably beautiful park. While you really don't need an excuse to venture up into the Oakland Hills for a hike, this time of year is particularly special because of the ladybugs that call the park home each winter. Here's a short video of what you can expect to see on your visit. 

In an effort to try out some new trails, we decided to take a slightly different loop than on our first trip and started by heading down the Stream Trail from the main Skyline Staging area. This is a wide and relatively easy path to maneuver (although it can get a bit muddy in parts after heavy rains) and takes you down into the Redwood Groves. The Redwoods do not disappoint and on both trips have left me nearly speechless. The trails are just SO beautiful and despite the parking lot being full on both of our visits, we have often found ourselves to be the only ones on long stretches of the trail (a stark contrast to visiting some of the more popular trails in Muir Woods which are overrun with tourists!). 

The colors in this picture almost look fake to me, but I didn't edit them! This is really what it looks like at the bottom of the canyon.

At the junction of the Stream Trail and Tres Sendes trail, there are some benches to take in the beauty as well as a seasonal stream with large fallen trees for the kids to enjoy. This was as far as we had made it on our last trip, so it was a real treat to continue down along the Stream Trail which, as you may have guessed, runs adjacent to a stream! This portion of the trail is so peaceful it had me making a mental note to return in the spring when there will hopefully be much more water flowing. 

The stream was barely flowing during our X-mas day hike, but hopefully that will change soon!
About a half mile down from the Tres Sendas trail (at the junction of the Stream and Prince Trails) is where all the ladybug action is happening! You will find hundreds, if not thousands, of ladybugs along the ground and in the bushes. I was surprised by how easily the bugs blended in with the shrubs on the ground. You could easily walk by without seeing them. I was also surprised by how completely uninterested my kids were! Ha! At least I enjoyed finding them.

The hike back up to the East Ridge Trail is just under half a mile of up hill climb that can be challenging with kids, but it was manageable even with a 35 lb. child in my arms. This was our first time on the East Ridge and the trail was considerably busier than the those at the bottom of the canyon. There were lots of people out walking with their families and dogs. Having now done portions of both sides of the ridge, I would say that the East Ridge has the more impressive views which span all the way out to Mt. Diablo on a clear day. We were able to find a few more fallen trees to climb on and lots of dogs for our little ones to smile at. 

If you're looking for ways to extend your visit to Oakland, follow up your hike with a stop at Oakland's Temescal Alley and a delicious fried chicken sandwich from Bakesale Betty, or lunch in the Elmwood neighborhood of Berkeley. 

Have you been to Redwood Regional? Any favorite trails you would recommend?

The details/facts: The Redwood Regional Park is about 5 miles from Berkeley (15 min drive) and free if you are entering the park from the Skyline gate.  The hike we did was about 3 miles roundtrip, and took about 2 hours with the kids. There are a number of paths that also allow dogs off leash if you are a dog owner/lover.