For many Bay Area commuters, the San Francisco Bay is unfortunately more an obstacle to be crossed during rush hour than the signature natural feature of our region. But a variety of shoreline parks and visitor centers offer us an opportunity to get close to, and learn more about, that body of water you’ve been driving over.
Crab Cove Visitor Center-Crown Beach Regional Shoreline
Once known as the “Coney Island of the West” for its carnival rides and prize fights, Crown Beach has long since thrown away the carnival rings and washed off the cotton candy. Nowadays, it sports a more natural look, highlighted by the Crab Cove Visitor Center and marine reserve at the north end of the beach. The visitor center boasts interpretive programs, an aquarium, and displays of underwater Bay scenes. 1231 McKay Ave., Alameda. Open Wed – Sun 8 AM – 4:30 PM; closed Monday and Tuesday. Closed in December. (510) 521-7090 To schedule a school or other group tour through the Crab Cove Visitor Center, call (510) 521-6887.
www.ebparks.org $4 parking fee on weekends.
From 880, exit on Broadway in Oakland toward downtown. Take the ramp toward Jack London Square. Turn Left onto Broadway. Turn left toward Alameda. Turn right onto the Webster Tube/CA-260-S. Turn right on Central Ave. Turn left on McKay Ave.
Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center
Perched among 817 acres of mud flats, slough, salt marshes, and former landfills, the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center provides visitors with a close-up look at the dynamic South Bay tidal flows. The center offers aquariums, environmental education and recreation programs, interactive computer exhibits, and restoration projects. 4901 Breakwater Ave., Hayward. Open Sat and Sun 10 AM – 5 PM. (510) 670-7270 http://www.haywardrec.org/hayshore.html. Free.
Exit Clawiter/Eden Landing off Highway 92. Follow Breakwater Ave (along Highway 92). The Shoreline Interpretive Center is located at 4901 Breakwater Ave in Hayward.
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Former home of the Ohlone, the Spanish, and the salt industry, the South Bay now proudly features the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, covering 30,000 acres of salt ponds, mudflats, vernal pools, Bay habitat, and two visitor centers. The Refuge Headquarters Visitor Center in Newark (510-792-0222) features wildlife exhibits, an observation deck, an auditorium, a bookstore, and self-guided trails and is open Tues – Sun, 10 AM – 5 PM. The Environmental Education Center in Alviso (408-262-5513) includes two classrooms, an auditorium, an enclosed observation tower, and a new boardwalk through the seasonal wetland; it is open 10 AM – 5 PM on weekends. The Visitor Center is on Marshlands Rd. in Newark, near the Dumbarton Bridge. The Environmental Education Center is on Grand Ave. in Alviso off Highway 237. Visitor Center. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 AM – 5 PM. www.fws.gov/pacific/desfbay Both centers are free.
Visitor Center: From Highway 84 (at the east end of the Dumbarton Bridge), exit at Thornton Avenue. Travel south on Thornton Avenue for 0.8 miles to the Refuge entrance on the right. Turn right into the Refuge and follow Marshlands Road to the stop sign. Turn left into the parking lot.
Environmental Education Center: From I-880 or Highway 101, exit on Highway 237 toward Alviso. Turn north onto Zanker Road. Continue on Zanker Road to the Environmental Education Center entrance road (a sharp right turn at Grand Blvd.) The distance from 237 to the entrance road is 2.1 miles.
Crissy Field Center-Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Crissy Field’s tidal marsh had a face-lift a few years back and has been a popular place to spot pelicans, grebes, herons, and roller bladers ever since. The adjacent Crissy Field Center plays host to a variety of school, group, individual, and community programs. Also available are computer media labs, urban ecology labs, and sustainable arts workshops. 603 Mason Street in the Presidio, across the street from the Crissy Field marsh. Open Wed – Sun 9 AM – 5 PM. Weekend workshops & classes (415) 561-7752, school programs (415) 561-7763, group programs (415) 561-4318, community programs (415) 561-7751, www.crissyfield.org/center. Free.
Go to the Crissy Field website for directions: www.crissyfield.org/center/directions.html#
Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education
The past lives of Coyote Point have included time spent as an amusement park, a college, and a Merchant Marine academy. The point’s current incarnation is a 670-acre park and natural history museum, the Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education. The museum includes exhibits on the six major ecosystems of the Bay Area, featuring interactive displays, videos, films, and live animals. 1621 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo. Open Tues – Sat 10 AM – 5 PM and Sunday 12 AM – 5 PM. Closed Mondays. (650) 342-7755 www.coyoteptmuseum.org. $5/car for admission to park. $6 adults, $4 seniors (62+), $4 Students (13-17), $2 Children (3-12), Free admission first Wednesday of the month.
From the north, take Highway 101 to the Poplar Ave exit. Take a right on Humboldt until Peninsula Ave. Turn right on Peninsula. Drive over the freeway, then circle into the park.
From the south, take Highway 101 to the Dore Ave exit. Take a quick left onto N. Bayshore Blvd., then turn right into the park.
China Camp State Park
China Camp was the site of a small Chinese shrimp fishery and village in the late 1800s. The shrimp are still there, though the Chinese fishermen have gone. Luckily, they left remnants of their settlement preserved throughout the park and in China Camp’s museum. Located along North San Pedro Rd. near San Rafael. Open daily 10 AM – 5 PM. (415) 456-0766
From Highway 101, drive east on North San Pedro Road for five miles until park entrance.
Bay Model Visitor Center
Surging tides and flowing currents are on display in miniature at the Bay Model, a working hydraulic replica of the San Francisco Bay and Delta areas. 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito. Open Tues – Sat 9 AM – 4 PM. Closed on Sundays, Mondays, and holidays. (415) 332-3871
From Highway 101, take the Sausalito-Marin City exit and continue straight at the stop light. Bay Model signs will be visible along the way. Take a left on Harbor, then turn right on Marinship Way and follow the signs to the Bay Model. The Bay Model is located at 2100 Bridgeway.
Tiburon Audubon Center and Sanctuary
This center, including the historic Lyford House, is located on the edge of Richardson Bay, between Tiburon and Sausalito. The center sits on 11 acres of land that includes a half-mile mountain trail and four platforms with viewing scopes and educational material. The historic home is open for tours by appointment only. The center, located at 376 Greenwood Beach Rd. in Tiburon, offers environmental education workshops, docent programs, Summer Audubon Adventures day camp, and school science programs. Visit www.tiburonaudubon.org or call (415)388-2524 for more information.
From 101 North or South, take the CA-131 / East Blithedale Ave. exit toward Tiburon Blvd. Turn left onto East Blithedale Ave. After about a mile, turn right onto Greenwood Cove Dr., which becomes Greenwood Beach Rd.