Experience the Bay
by Matthew Bettelheim on October 01, 2003
- Swimmers plunge into the Bay at Aquatic Park for the swim to Alcatraz and back. Photo by Charles Kennard.
The best way to appreciate San Francisco Bay is to experience it firsthand. There’s nothing like getting some spray on your cheeks, some wind in your hair, and some sand in your shorts to help put the “bay” back into Bay Area.
A good place to start is Aquatic Park in San Francisco, just west of Fisherman’s Wharf. The lagoon here is home to the hardy members of the Dolphin Club and the South End Rowing Club. The water is cold (between 52-62 degrees) and the wind riles things up, so bring a neoprene wetsuit or grin and polar bear it.
Short of getting wet, the next best way to explore the Bay is by boat. If you aren’t afraid of a workout, slip into a kayak and cruise out to Angel Island, or see the Golden Gate Bridge from a harbor seal’s point of view. California Canoe and Kayak (www.calkayak.com), Sea Trek (www.seatrekkayak.com), and UCSF Outdoors Unlimited (www.outdoors.ucsf.edu) offer classes and guided trips on the Bay for people with various levels of experience. Or they can outfit you for your own adventure. Blue Waters Kayaking (www.bwkayak.com) offers occasional trips around the Marin Islands and the salt marshes at China Camp. On Saturday, October 18, Sea Trek and the nonprofit Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC) will hold their 22nd annual Sea Trek Regatta, where contestants will match their skills against the Bay and each other. ETC (www.etctrips.org), which provides outdoor adventures for people with special needs and inner-city youth, also offers benefit full-moon Bay paddles for the general public. The East Bay Regional Park District offers a number of canoe and kayaking activities this fall, including trips to Brooks Island off the Richmond Inner Harbor (ebparks.org/parks/brooks_island). For a complete list of local kayaking clubs and opportunities, visit the San Francisco Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK) website at www.baskers.org.
The nonprofit advocacy group Save the Bay also offers outings as part of its “Discover the Bay” program. On October 25, Save the Bay will partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a Marin Islands Kayak and Restoration outing. The 430 acres of islands and surrounding tidelands that make up the Marin Islands National Wildlife Refuge are normally off-limits to the public. On November 2, Save the Bay will visit the restored tidal marshes of Bair Island in the South Bay. Learn more at www.savesfbay.org.
If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by the Bair Island Aquatic Center (BIAC). BIAC encourages youths and the general public to explore low-impact aquatic activities such as outrigger canoeing, rowing, and sculling. Its community access programs cater to adults and children, with classes like sweep rowing, one-person sculling, and Hawaiian outrigger paddling. Go to www.gobair.org for details.
The Cal Sailing Club is a nonprofit cooperative based at the Berkeley Marina, with a fleet of about 23 sailboats and 50 sailboards for recreational sailing, cruising, and racing. The club gives sailing and boating safety instruction to its members, but free introductory sails are offered during open house sessions, which coincide with high tides. Visit www.cal-sailing.org for details.
- Candlestick Point in San Francisco is a favorite spot for boardsurfers. Photo by Frank Balthis.
The San Francisco Boardsailing Association (SFBA) is a nonprofit fueled by volunteers, self-proclaimed board-heads with a yen for windsurfing and a passionate connection to the Bay. They never know what they’ll encounter from the vantage of their boards: Three years ago, members reported several whale sightings in the Bay offshore of Crissy Field. The SFBA website at www.sfba.org has “shops” and “sites” links that take you to a list of stores in the area that provide lessons, boards, and rentals, as well as good sailing sites around the Bay, rated from beginner to expert.
Of course, the most direct way to experience the Bay is to swim in it, but there are only a few places where you can find a real beach along the bay shore. The most extensive is Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda, with 2.5 miles of dunes to explore after a long swim in the shallow waters. Another favorite is China Camp State Park near San Rafael, where the beaches and waves are smaller, but more protected. Once the site of a Chinese shrimp-fishing village in the late 1800s, China Camp now offers access to activities such as windsurfing, fishing, boating, and swimming. Candlestick Point State Park in San Francisco and Point Pinole Regional Park in the East Bay are other options for getting yourself immersed in the Bay.