Category Archives: Biking & Hiking in the San Francisco Bay Area

Off-the-beaten bike rides and hikes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ai Weiwei Exhibit on Alcatraz Island

Like most San Franciscans, I’ve hardly ever been to one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, Alcatraz Island. Before last week, I’d visited twice—which is one or two more times than many local residents I know. There’s a good reason for anyone to go this spring, however, since it’s now hosting a one-of-a-kind exhibit of work by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

The dragon kite that greets visitors in the first part of the Ai Weiwei exhibition.

The dragon kite that greets visitors in the first part of the Ai Weiwei exhibition.

Ai Weiwei is not only an acclaimed modern artist, but also a noted human rights activist. Currently he’s not allowed to travel outside of China, and could not visit Alcatraz during the planning of this exhibition, which opened on September 27 of last year (and runs until April 26). Alcatraz makes for an especially apt venue for his artwork and installations, as like the prisoners who famously inhabited the island for much of the twentieth century, he is unable to freely travel, and his interaction with the outside world is restricted.

The trip to the exhibit begins, as it does for all visitors to Alcatraz, at San Francisco’s heavily touristed Fisherman’s Wharf. As has long been noted, the beauty of the island’s setting in the San Francisco Bay is a sharp contrast to the notorious prison (for many years open to tours) it once housed:

The view of Russian Hill, with Coit Tower to the right, as the boat pulls out of Fisherman's Wharf on the way to Alcatraz.

The view of Russian Hill, with Coit Tower to the right, as the boat pulls out of Fisherman’s Wharf on the way to Alcatraz.

The view as the boat approaches Alcatraz Island.

The view as the boat approaches Alcatraz Island.

Even in their current semi-ruinous state, some of the buildings left from the days when the prison was in operation make for a jarring juxtaposition against a small island that, on its own, is a quite pretty oasis:

Derelict building on Alcatraz, with the San Francisco Bay Bridge in the background.

Derelict building on Alcatraz, with the San Francisco Bay Bridge in the background.

You can’t see it too well in a picture taken at twilight, but some structures on the island still boast hand-painted slogans from the brief period in which Native Americans occupied the island in the early 1970s. This water tower is emblazoned with the red-painted slogan “Peace and Freedom: Home of the Free Indian”:

WaterTower

Those features can be viewed on any trip to Alcatraz. What makes the ones you can do now unique, however, is the opportunity to view Ai Weiwei’s art in this environment. The first stop on that tour is the New Industries Building, which features colorful kites such as these:

Kite5

Kite4

Look closely at some of them, however, which are emblazoned with quotes such as these reflecting current affairs and human rights situations/violations:

Snowden

That aspect of Ai Weiwei’s work is far more pronounced in the room behind the kites, which uses LEGO bricks to build portraits of almost 200 people from around the world “who have been detained because of their beliefs or affiliations,” as the guide pamphlet states:

LEGO of Agnes Uwimana Nkusi of Rwanda, a newspaper editor "convicted of defamation and threatening national security."

LEGO of Agnes Uwimana Nkusi of Rwanda, a newspaper editor “convicted of defamation and threatening national security.”

LEGO of Oh Kyu-won Suk-ja, imprisoned in North Korean after her economist father requested asylum in Denmark.

LEGO of Oh Kyu-won Suk-ja, imprisoned in North Korean after her economist father requested asylum in Denmark.

In the cellhouse, a block of cells now contain sound installations playing the music, poetry, and speeches of figures from around the globe who (again quoting the guide pamphlet) “have been detained for the expression of their beliefs.” Some of the more famous voices represented are those of Afrobeat giant Fela, Chilean singer-songwriter Victor Jara, Russian punk band Pussy Riot, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Also represented are Czech rock band the Plastic People of the Universe, who were prosecuted for playing avant-garde free-form rock in the 1970s and 1980s:

PPU

A tape of the Plastic People of the Universe plays as visitors sit in this tiny cell.

A tape of the Plastic People of the Universe plays as visitors sit in this tiny cell.

I wrote a chapter on the Plastic People in my book Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll, which you can read here. When I wrote this back in the late 1990s, I never thought they’d be featuring in a major art exhibition on Alcatraz. But life sometimes has more imagination than we do.

In the cellhouse’s hospital, some tubs, sinks, and the like are now filled with porcelain bouquets:

TubSink

In the cellhouse’s dining hall, you can write postcards to prisoners of conscience around the world (including some from the United States). Binders on the tables have paragraph-long synopses of their situations. As an illustration, here is the profile of the one I selected to write a card to, Irom Sharmila Chanu in India:

“Charged with an attempt to commit suicide. Chanu is a political and civil rights activist. She began a hunger strike in 2000 to protest the killing of 10 civilians who were allegedly shot by Indian paramilitary forces. Since then she has been arrested, released, and re-arrested every year. Currently she is held in a hospital security ward, where she is force-fed. This is the 14th year of her fast.”

Laundry basket of postcards filled out by visitors to the exhibition.

Laundry basket of postcards filled out by visitors to the exhibition.

Ai Weiwei’s communication with the world, incidentally, is largely build around Twitter messages. Take a look at the dragon kite again, and notice that the eyes are twitter birds:

Kite

Tickets for the Ai Weiwei exhibit are available through Alcatraz Cruises, but you should book now if you’re interested. I don’t know how much space is left, but when I reserved tickets in early December, there weren’t any available until February. More information about the exhibit is at AiWeiWeiAlcatraz.org; the main forum for ongoing conversation about the exhibit is #AiWeiWeiAlcatraz.

The San Francisco skyline, as seen from Alcatraz Island.

The San Francisco skyline, as seen from Alcatraz Island.

China Beach on Super Bowl Sunday

Unlike much of California (especially the southern part), San Francisco is not a place you go to cavort on the beach. It’s too cold and foggy for that. Well, until global warming started changing things around in that regard recently, anyway. While most of the US has frozen this winter, San Francisco’s had quite a few warm, sunny days in the 60s and even 70s, making beach trips more of an option than they’ve ever been in memory. All those clueless tourists who come to San Francisco in shorts expecting hot sunny L.A weather are dressed appropriately for once.

The beach that draws the most visitors, whether from in-town or out of town, is Ocean Beach, by far the longest and widest in city limits. Not far north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Baker Beach draws its share of beachgoers too. Between the two is the smaller, and more obscure, China Beach, which I’d wager has the highest percentage of local residents, as it isn’t played up too much to the tourist trade.

China Beach on Super Bowl Sunday.

China Beach on Super Bowl Sunday.

I admit that though I’ve lived here for a little more than a quarter of a century, I’d only been to China Beach once, and briefly, before biking out there on an unseasonably hot Super Bowl Sunday. Even on warm days like that, it’s too cold to swim, unless you have a wet suit or are extremely hardy. Sunbathing’s an option, though, as you see when you descend the stairs-path and get a view of the roof of the lifeguard equipment pick-up station:

ChangingRoom

You do see a few surfers here, if not many:

ChinaBeachSurfers

And if you like checking out where the other half live, there are some likely ridiculously unaffordable homes hugging the cliff:

CliffHomes

Posting photos of the Golden Gate Bridge from just north of the structure is almost as cheap a shot as shooting fish in a barrel, but you’ll have some undisturbed views here:

BridgeChinaBeach2

And there are a few swimmers here, though it’s a lot more comfortable to lie on the beach than venture into the water:

ChinaBeachSwimmer

Named after Chinese fishermen who used the beach as a campsite in San Francisco’s early days, China Beach is reached through some small, out-of-the-way streets in the Sea Cliff neighborhood. There’s a small parking area on the hill above the beach, and a small bike rack just inside the entrance. There’s basic information about the beach at http://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/chinabeach.htm.

The monument honoring the fishermen after whom China Beach was named, just inside the entrance.

The monument honoring the fishermen after whom China Beach was named, just inside the entrance.

Hiking in the El Cerrito Hills, Part 3

Would you guess these impressive views are just a few blocks from some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s less highly esteemed suburbs?

Hermes3

Hermes2

 

Hermes1

I’ve written about the surprisingly scenic vistas in the El Cerrito hills on a previous posts. Last weekend I saw a few more, the big surprise being they were just a few minutes’ scamper from these unpromising signs:

CampSign

Prepared

Yes, just a little uphill from this boy scout camp, you’ve got these paths and hills to yourself, even on an early fall Sunday morning. They’re not too extensive, mind you, but there’s nearby Wildcat Canyon Park for that (see earlier post at http://www.richieunterberger.com/wordpress/hiking-in-the-el-cerrito-hills-part-2/).

This next shot isn’t exactly scenic, but the origination of this swimming pool might come as a surprise. It’s one of many, many projects constructed in the 1930s by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) that’s still in use:

Pool

On the way down the hill, also check out the virtually-unknown-unless-you-live-there Arlington Park, with this small family-friendly lake:

Lake1

Lake2

Glen Park — A Canyon in the City

From the picture below, would you have any idea that this is in the heart of a major metropolitan area of the United States?

Path

Well, you get a little hint that it’s in a city from this different angle:

PathwithHill

That house in the upper right-hand corner is a clue that it’s not in the country (as is the utility pole on the path). It’s Glen Canyon Park (more commonly called simply Glen Park by locals), right in the middle of San Francisco, if there is any “middle” to this irregularly shaped city. Despite its considerable size and fairly easy accessibility, it remains nearly unknown to many people who’ve lived here for years. A friend I met here yesterday (to see the San Francisco Mime Troupe) had never been here before, despite living here for more than twenty years, and currently residing only a mile or so away. I came an hour early to walk along the park’s back trails, not having done so, to my embarrassment, for about 25 years, though I’d often played baseball here in the dozen or so years after that one hike.

The most many residents see of Glen Park is a fractured view such as this one, taken from the long and winding road (O’Shaughnessy Boulevard) that descends alongside it from Portola Drive:

Pit

You’ve gotta dig pretty deep to get into the hilly, trail-covered open space in the pit of that photograph. Even then, it’s not so obvious to visitors who just visit the baseball/soccer fields and playgrounds that take up the most visited space near the bottom, as you need to go in back of the bathrooms and park buildings to get into the canyon proper.

Once there, it’s just a few minutes of walking before you’re into some hilly open space so quiet it’s hard to believe there’s plenty of traffic buzzing up and down the canyon just a few hundred yards away:

RockFormation4

Fence

As those photos indicate, there are plenty of rock formations in the park:

RockFormation2

RockFormation1

RockClimbers

Though you can cover most of the trails in an hour max, and none of the hills are terribly steep, it’s not advised for those with knee or mobility problems, since there are more or less constant inclines. Though there are plenty of steps to help you over the hillier parts:

Stairs2

And at times the trails do take you past sections at which you’re suddenly confronted with urban structures, such as this house that nearly spills onto a path:

House

So it’s not quite “country in the city,” but check it out if you’ve lived here and wonder what’s down that big canyon that you can’t really see as you drive back and forth from the Mission to Golden Gate Park.

Canopy

Click here for basic information about Glen Canyon Park.

On the Road to Paradise Beach Park

I’ve bicycled on Paradise Drive, the long and winding stretch that runs along the water in Marin County’s Belvedere and Tiburon, a few times over the years. I’ve passed the entrance to Paradise Beach Park on those rides, but never gone into the beachside park until yesterday. A time comes for everything if you bicycle the San Francisco Bay Area enough, and with the weather unseasonably warm, I made the 20-mile trek from San Francisco in the morning.

The pier in Paradise Beach Park, near the San Pablo Bay.

The pier in Paradise Beach Park, near the San Pablo Bay. Way in the background is the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge.

Is it a “destination” park? Not really, unless you live nearby or might want a place to rest and lunch while you’re on a long ride. It’s quite small, and unless you’re making a semi-day of it with a picnic, takes just a few minutes to walk through. Which, incidentally, will cost a $2 entrance fee if you bike in or even walk in (though I can’t imagine too many people enter on foot, unless they live very close by). It’s $10 per vehicle if you drive.

The entrance to Paradise Beach Park.

The entrance to Paradise Beach Park.

What Paradise Beach Park does have going for it is the quiet. Even up in this affluent enclave — you wouldn’t take Paradise Drive to get anywhere by car, unless you live there or indulge in a pleasure drive — it’s hard to escape at least some of the noise that’s part of the price of living in a big metropolitan area. Go down the road from the drive to the beach, though, and it’s almost as silent as anywhere I’ve been in the San Francisco vicinity. And while the views in the park aren’t plentiful, they’re pretty.

Looking toward the park from the pier.

Looking toward the park from the pier.

Stairs in the park, near the picnic area.

Stairs in the park, near the picnic area.

This open grassy part of the park actually comprises a good percentage of its acreage.

This open grassy part of the park actually comprises a good percentage of its acreage.

From the pier, you can see some beachside homes that give you a glimpse of how the other half, or perhaps of how the 1%, live:

Park visitor perched on the pier, with beachside home in the background.

Park visitor perched on the pier, with beachside home in the background.

Half the fun is getting there, of course, though you’ll need to be in reasonable shape if you’re coming all the way from San Francisco (taking the nearby Angel Island Ferry back is an option if you’re not up for the steep climb from Sausalito to the Golden Gate Bridge on the return journey). And Paradise Drive really is a long and winding road, no matter how long of a stretch you ride, a bonus being the near-absence of cars, especially early in the morning. Bicyclists outnumber cars by a wide margin, especially on the weekends.

The long and winding road that's Paradise Drive.

The long and winding road that’s Paradise Drive.

On your way back to Tiburon’s small downtown, check out this enigmatic tower just north of the ferry, and take in a distant Golden Gate Bridge view:

Lyford's Stone Tower, built in 1889, on Paradise Drive just a few hundred yards or so past downtown Tiburon.

Lyford’s Stone Tower, built in 1889, on Paradise Drive just a few hundred yards or so past downtown Tiburon.

The Golden Gate Bridge can be seen as you leave Paradise Drive to enter downtown Tiburon, though it's sometimes shrouded by clouds.

The Golden Gate Bridge can be seen as you leave Paradise Drive to enter downtown Tiburon, though it’s sometimes shrouded by clouds.

Cycling the Bay Bridge: A Path Not Far Enough

To those of us who’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, it’s still a shock to drive across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge since its east span has been reconfigured. Starting last September, instead of driving under an upper deck for its entire length, all of a sudden you emerged into the open air halfway en route to the East Bay. Not only could you see the sky and the water on each side, but there were also pedestrians and bicyclists on the south side, a new path having been constructed for just that purpose.

The family-friendly Bay Bridge bike/pedestrian path. Baby strollers and dogs are not uncommon sights either.

The family-friendly Bay Bridge bike/pedestrian path. Baby strollers and dogs are not uncommon sights either.

It seemed like there was a mini-boom in bikers and walkers right after the path opened, but it seems to have cooled off a little as the novelty’s worn off a bit. I cycled the path ten days or so after it opened in September 2013, but only went back for the second time this week, helping a friend to celebrate her birthday. I didn’t have my blog the first time I rode it, but I do now, so it’s time to make it the subject of a post.

Though it’s well worth doing, know this: the path, especially the two miles or so before you reach the bridge proper, is never going to compete with riding over the Golden Gate Bridge in the glamour sweepstakes. The most convenient entry point is right across the street from the entrance to IKEA in Emeryville; on the way to the bridge ascent, you pass all manner of industrial facilities that, no matter what renovations are in store for the far-off future, seem pretty entrenched for the near future. I’m not sure who will take advantage of a pathside bench we saw in the midst of this quasi-industrial park en route, except if you really need to stop and take a breather.

Easily visible from many points on the Bay Bridge (and even on the BART ride from San Francisco to Oakland), these giraffe-like structures are actually among the more aesthetically pleasing features of the industrial area of Oakland near the approach to the bridge on the bike/pedestrian path.

Easily visible from many points on the Bay Bridge (and even on the BART ride from San Francisco to Oakland), these giraffe-like structures are actually among the more aesthetically pleasing features of the industrial area of Oakland near the approach to the bridge.

The oddest sight as you pedal by the water, however, is the yet-to-be-demolished old bridge portion on the south side of the path, standing all by its lonesome with no vehicles or human activity save construction workers. It’s a bridge to nowhere, inhabited only by birds the day we took our ride. Looking at the east “entrance,” such as it is in mid-July 2014, makes you feel like you’re in one of those post-apocalypse horror movies:

A bridge with no entrance and, on the day we saw it, no people.

A bridge with no entrance and, on the day we saw it, no people.

The biggest frustration, of course, is that you can’t ride all the way across the bridge to San Francisco (or even ride anywhere on the bridge from San Francisco). Imagine if you could only ride or walk halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course, the Bay Bridge is much, much longer than the Golden Gate Bridge — about four-and-a-half miles, where the GG Bridge is a little more than one-and-a-half miles. Funding for a west span path being so costly and subject to government/public policy debates, I’ll consider it a triumph if I’m able to bike the bridge from bay-to-bay in my lifetime.

You can’t, however, even bike to Yerba Buena Island, which would give you something of a destination, and theoretically enable you to continue to San Francisco by mounting your bicycle on the front of a public bus (though those only have racks for two bikes at a time). As of this writing, the path stops just a little short of the island.

Yerba Buena Island (in the background) isn't too far from  where the bike path ends.

Yerba Buena Island (in the background) isn’t too far from where the bike path ends.

Though it seems not much more than a stone’s throw away, again funding/policy issues might be a lot more costly and complicated than you’d think. For one thing, a remaining portion of the original bridge has to be dismantled before the path can even reach the island. It was reported that the path should connect to Yerba Buena Island a couple years after the east span opened, which would have made it open for business by the end of 2015, but no definite ETA seems available at the moment.

For San Franciscans, it’s an odd experience, taking the BART train to the East Bay, riding from there to the middle of the bay, and riding back to a BART station to take a train back to San Francisco. That makes it a bit more than a casual getaway, but it’s worth doing, once or twice a year at any rate. It’s a bit of a slog to ride the windy uphill section to its current endpoint, but be consoled by the knowledge, as one rider shouted to us on our way up, that it’s all downhill once you turn around. As long as you’re going, though, try to check out other sights on the path that runs from Emeryville to Richmond, like the Berkeley Marina:

Sailors just off the Berkeley Marina.

Sailors just off the Berkeley Marina.

The Bay Bridge bike/pedestrian path is generally open from around dawn to dusk, though hours change according to the season. Check the Bay Bridge Bicycle and Pedestiran Path site for specific opening/closing times, as well as general information about the path.

Tomales Point Trail

There aren’t too many springtime days in the San Francisco Bay Area when the temperature soars over 80 degrees. It happened yesterday, though, and I took advantage of it as an opportunity to do a 9.5-mile waterside hike to Tomales Point in Point Reyes, about an hour north of San Francisco. It can get pretty windy on that exposed finger of land, all the more reason to go on a much warmer-than-average day with relatively little breeze.

Tomales Point, at the very end of the Tomales Point Trail.

Tomales Point, at the very end of the Tomales Point Trail.

That’s your reward for reaching the end of this out-and-back trail, with near-cliffside views of the water on either side for most of the way. It’s not too tough, with a wide, rolling dirt path that doesn’t get too steep, although there’s a real long downhill on the way to the point (and so a real long uphill about halfway back, when you’re more tired). It gets pretty sandy on a couple stretches near the point, too, so don’t break your best shoes or socks, as you’ll need to shake a cupful of sand out a couple times (and take a shower at home to get the sand out of your feet).

The most spectacular view is at Tomales Point itself, but you get a few good cliffside vistas on the bay side, like these:

Beach1

Vista3

Rock

Vista1

There are also some elk on the trail, especially in the Windy Gap area near the bottom of the long downhill section:

Elk2

I saw a deer hopping around not too far from here too, though not one as amiable about remaining stationary for the benefit of cameras.

When you get near the end of the “out” part of this out-and-back trail, you might be wondering if it’s worth it to go all the way “out,” especially as you get this view when you first spot the final segment:

PathBeforePoint

But persevere, and clamor down the last part, because you don’t want to miss these views at Tomales Point itself:

Point4

Point1

Point6

After you manage the long, long haul up the trail around the halfway point on the return journey, take in the rock formations as the path levels out:

RockFormation

There’s not a whole lot in the way of trees, but there are patches here and there:

Trees

The uphill part of the trail on the way back is behind the trees, and you can see how far it stretches.

Tomales Point Trail is isolated enough that you’re not going to run into too many other hikers (or horse riders, which are allowed), especially on a weekday. Usually the trail looks like this:

EmptyTrail

Over the course of the three hours and 45 minutes so (including camera/water/snack breaks) it took for my out-and-back, I couldn’t have seen more than 20 or 30 people. Go on a weekday if possible, since it’s likely far more crowded (and there will be far more traffic on the two-lane roads leading to the trailhead) on weekends. The parking lot at the trailhead has about 25 spaces, and was half-full when I arrived around 10:45am; it was completely full when I left four hours later.

There’s more information on the Tomales Point Trail page of the Bay Area Hiker site.

Point5

Hiking in the El Cerrito Hills, Part 2

Just a few weeks ago, I posted about a hike through the El Cerrito Hills – the first such walk I’ve taken, despite living in the Bay Area for about thirty years. Such are the riches of this area that I returned yesterday to sample more of its delights. Well, I guess I wouldn’t be coming back so soon had not friends recently moved to that neighborhood. But it’s certainly a good excuse to set off in a different direction from their home to Wildcat Canyon Park, which I’m again embarrassed to admit I had not entered until yesterday:

On the trail in Wildcat Canyon Park, near the entrance on Rifle Range Road.

On the trail in Wildcat Canyon Park, about half a mile down from  the entrance on Rifle Range Road.

Technically a part of Richmond, the park can be entered from the tippy-top of the El Cerrito Hills, near the end of Rifle Range Road. There’s no trail-specific parking, but then again, not many people are using the trail, so you won’t have a problem finding a space on the street within a block or so. We saw a couple walkers here and there, but usually the trail looked like this, even on a sunny spring Saturday afternoon:

EmptyTrail

Eaves

We didn’t get too far into the hills of the park, which we’re planning to walk through for a longer and more ambitious trek this summer:

MoreHills

If you’re walking to the trail entrance through the El Cerrito neighborhood near Arlington Avenue, you’ll be bound to come across some sights worthy in their own right. My camera can’t do justice to some of the panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay, but here’s one sample, with the tried-and-true image of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distant background:

DSCF1354

You can also take in some of the interesting architecture in the surrounding blocks, like this steep garden:

Garden

There’s more info about the park on the Wildcat Canyon Park website, as well as the Wildcat Canyon Park page on the San Francisco Bay Area Hiker site.

Near the trailhead for the Rifle Range Road entrance to Wildcat Canyon Park.

Near the trailhead for the Rifle Range Road entrance to Wildcat Canyon Park.

The End of a Land’s End Era

Just like it seems almost too easy—cheap, even—to post photos of the Golden Gate Bridge when you’re blogging about great San Francisco outdoors sites, so it is to post photos taken from the trail at Land’s End. Like this one:

The Golden Gate Bridge, seen from the eastern end of Land's End trail.

The Golden Gate Bridge, seen from the eastern end of Land’s End trail.

There you get Land’s End and the bridge in one shot. A key difference between this and most bridge pics is that most tourists don’t even know about Land’s End. In fact, some San Francisco residents haven’t even been to Land’s End. That’s unbelievable considering both its spectacular cliffside trail—running by the water between the bridge and Golden Gate Park—and its lack of much pedestrian traffic, even on near-ideal sunny Sunday mornings like this one. I guess I’m blowing the secret by blogging about it, but I’ll take my chances.

I much prefer entering Land’s End at its eastern end, which is much quieter than the large parking lot (including a Golden Gate National Recreation Area visitor center) at the western entrance near the famed Cliff House restaurant.  The trail as a whole, but especially this part—with its inconspicuous entrance, between a tony residential area and a golf course—has undergone some recent renovations. Here’s the best one, finally adding a few bike racks where previously there were none, forcing you to use a Stop sign pole down the street:

Bike Rack

Be sure to take the scenic Lake Street bike path if you’re coming from points east, rather than the more traffic-heavy alternate routes:

The Lake Street bike path, halfway between Land's End and its start (at Arguello & Lake in the Inner Richmond)

The Lake Street bike path, halfway between Land’s End and its start (at Arguello & Lake in the Inner Richmond)

I have mixed feelings, though, about the renovations just a few yards past the bike racks at the trail’s entrance:

Platform

There used to be an elevated platform there. Yes, it obstructed part of the view, at least from some angles. But it was also where I saw a good friend get married a dozen years ago—possibly the best such outdoors location in San Francisco for such an occasion. It was one of those typically Mark Twain-nightmare socked-in foggy mid-summer days here, and as I drove out to the site, I had little hope it would lift. Magically, it did, only minutes before the ceremony, brilliant blue sunny skies bordering gray clouds just over the highest tips of the Golden Gate Bridge. Hollywood couldn’t have planned a better shot. And no, I don’t have a photo, unfortunately. In a happier footnote, the couple’s still married, with a son just a few years away from entering his teens.

Other modifications on the trail are more moderate, the most visible being a few graded steps in a couple sections and some unobtrusive small chained-together poles guarding some cliffside sections. You still get great views like these:

The Sutro Baths -- the most spectacular view from Land's End trail, near the western entrance.

The Sutro Baths — the most spectacular view from Land’s End trail, near the western entrance.

That's the Marin Headlands from another point on the trail.

That’s the Marin Headlands from another point on the trail.

Yet another bridge view, though not from the ex-platform space near the eastern entrance.

Yet another bridge view, though not from the ex-platform space near the eastern entrance.

From the top of the steep stairs about halfway along the trail.

From the top of the steep stairs about halfway along the trail.

And you can still get great views from where that platform used to be (it seems like they’re putting in plants in the leveled space it formerly occupied). It’s sad, though, knowing I’ll never see a wedding there again.

You can't see weddings-on-a-platform anymore at the eastern end of Land's End, but at least you can sit down while you enjoy the view.

You can’t see weddings-on-a-platform anymore at the eastern end of Land’s End, but at least you can sit down while you enjoy the view.

Hiking in the El Cerrito Hills

Just a few miles north of Berkeley, El Cerrito is not known as a destination point, even to San Francisco Bay Area residents. If it’s known for anything, it’s for being the hometown of Creedence Clearwater Revival, as well as the location of Down Home Music, for many years one of the primary retailers and distributors of “roots” music.

Much of El Cerrito is indeed flat, suburban, and unremarkable. But go up the steep hills to the east, and if you know where to walk, there’s some good hiking and views, like this:

Motorycycle Hill

That’s Motorcycle Hill, where riders would indeed try to ascend the peak back in the 1920s. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture of Dudley Perkins winning the 1928 National Hill Climb there:

el-cerrito-hill-climb

Photo on the Motorcycle Hill page of the El Cerrito Trail Trekkers site, at http://ectrailtrekkers.home.comcast.net/~ectrailtrekkers/styled-2/index.html

Nowadays it’s a lot more peaceful, though on the other hand, back then, you didn’t have as much noise from the nearby highway and public transit trains. You can still hear some of it on the modest hike I took today, but it’s pretty peaceful for the most part. In part that’s because the community’s making a concerted effort to prevent development on this stretch of land, Madera Hillside Open Space:

Madera

Should it remain undeveloped, there will be uninterrupted parkland from here to Motorcycle Hill, save for one main artery (Potrero Avenue) running between them.

The trail going through Madera Hillside Open Space is accessible by public stairway near Madera Circle. Other nice spots on the walk include spots like these:

Spot

And this view of the bay. That’s little-known, seldom visited Brooks Island, with larger Angel Island behind it, the Marin Headlands in the distance, and the Golden Gate Bridge at the left:

Brooks Island

This being not-too-far-from Berkeley, it wasn’t a total surprise to come across this public artwork near the end of the walk:

PublicArtwork

On your drive down (you can bike here, but it’s almost as steep as it comes in the Bay Area, which is saying something), you might come across wildlife like this turkey, spotted on Portrero Avenue:

Turkey

Cap off the day with lunch at fine eateries such as this, on El Cerrito’s main drag, San Pablo Avenue:

Taco

For more information about hikes in the El Cerrito hills, go to the El Cerrito Trail Trekkers site.