By Lee Foster
The sun often sets with stunning beauty over San Francisco Bay, raising a question: where should you go to enjoy and celebrate it?
The so-called “East Bay” is a logical contender. Three park sites along the water are especially recommended and worthy of your attention. They are Point Isabel Regional Shoreline Park in Richmond, Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley, and Powell Street Marina Park in Emeryville.
Here is a field report based on my recent sunset watches.
Point Isabel Regional Shoreline in Richmond
Point Isabel Shoreline Park in Richmond offers a sweeping panoramic water-level sunset view of San Francisco Bay.
Left to right, you can see the new tower of the Bay Bridge, the unobstructed San Francisco Skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, Mt. Tamalpais, and finally the historic Richmond Ford Assembly Plant area that Henry Kaiser turned into the WWII shipbuilding center, now celebrated as the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Site, well worth a visit.
This Point Isabel bay sunset panorama can be enjoyed right at the waterfront beyond the sidewalk and parking area.
Point Isabel is known as a “dog park.” This is not just an ordinary dog park. It is a doggone good dog park. There is nothing like it, in my experience, and I am not even a dog lover. It is filled with dogs and dog lovers. Dogs can run here without a leash, as long as they are under voice control of their owners. There is even an org and a publication called http://www.pido.org, as in Fido becomes Pido (Point Isabel Dog Owners). This publication has not gone to the dogs, unless it has. You can pick up a printed copy at the site. There is a restaurant, called Sit and Stay, selling coffee and sandwiches to dog’s best friend, plus a shop, MudPuppy’s Tub and Scrub, actual name, where folks can get their dogs professionally washed or do-it-themselves. Point Isabel is said to be the most popular off-leash dog park in the country, with about 1.3 million annual visits.
When you enter this park, as a stranger, it is likely that a dog will come up to you and tease you by dropping a tennis ball at your feet, suggesting, “Go for it. Throw the ball and create a joyful return. Then repeat.” Be careful of possible addictive behavior at this park.
Dogs are the greeters at this park, parallel to the Costco greeters at the prosperous Costco doors on Central Avenue a quarter mile away. After dark, some dogs will be running around with their running lights on around their necks. If you are not surrounded by happy people in your life, coming to this park may have therapeutic value. People and their dogs at this park are a happy lot. This is where dogs come to socialize. They also bring their owners.
At this park you can walk pleasurably a couple of miles north towards Richmond. You can link up with a paved hiking/biking trail, a major bayside urban amenity. Bring a headlamp light for after-dark walking, especially because bicyclists zoom by along the path.
Get to Point Isabel Park by turning off at Central in Albany from Freeway 580. Drive towards the Bay, past the huge Costco facility, aided by good signage, then turn right on Isabel, the only road, to Point Isabel Park.
Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley
Proceeding south, Cesar Chavez Park has a tranquil path along the water with benches and some secluded picnic tables. The view is your most direct look at the Golden Gate Bridge and the green bucolic outline of Marin County and Angel Island. There is also a somewhat obscured look at the San Francisco skyline, due to the historic Berkeley Pier, now in decay. Walk along the shore path to enjoy the sunset and solitude, with the Golden Gate and Marin as your meditative focus.
Cesar Chavez is the most pleasing of these three parks for having a picnic, flying a kite, or stretching out on the grass. It is a large park-like area with hiking trails over its elevated hilly interior ridges. There are some nesting birds and lots of ground squirrels. I remember on one visit seeing a well-fed five-foot gopher snake foraging purposefully through the high grass, intent on squirrels.
This park is a brilliant example of urban design and planning. When I came to Berkeley in the 1970s, it was literally a garbage landfill with mounds of waste material, bulldozers pushing around the piles, and thousands of hungry seagulls. You can still see methane-relief pipes going deep into the ground to allow gases to escape. Eventually the landfill was covered with dirt and landscaped to create a pleasing park.
There is a circular paved perimeter path around the park, which takes about a half hour to walk. This is a bracing walk or an easy bicycle outing.
The hour before sunset and the darkness after sunset can have surprises in these parks. I remember turning back one evening to the East Bay Hills after watching the sun set at Chavez, only to find a perfectly-circle moon rising.
Get to Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley by taking the University Avenue exist and turning towards the Bay. Keep to the right when the road divides at the marina, putting the boats on your left. Drive ahead on this Marina Drive and turn left at the only road, Spinnaker, to a circular loop near the water. Park at the loop or anywhere along the road when you see the park and have access to the perimeter loop path. The sunset view is near the water or from the slight hill elevations.
Powell Street Emeryville Marina Park in Emeryville
South from Cesar Chavez, turn off the 580 Freeway at Powell Street in Emeryville to the bay and the Emeryville Marina. Drive alongside the Watergate apartments/condos project on your right to the end of the road. The most park-like area is at the end of the road, and there is ample parking with many pleasant picnic tables, including some barbecue stoves, scattered adjacent to the water amidst cypress trees.
The special view from here is to the south at the large cranes in the robust Oakland container port and west to the Bay Bridge, including the new tower. A large marina of sailboats and powerboats is on the north side of the road.
You can make a pleasant sunset walk in this park by strolling on a paved path next to the water from the end of this park, along the south side of this narrow man-made peninsula, observing the Port of Oakland in the distance. Perhaps start an hour before sunset for this walk.
When you pass the fire station, with its clock tower, on your left, cross the road at the Watergate Shopping Center and walk down Captain Drive to the other side of the narrow peninsula. Then turn left at the water and walk on the extensive boardwalk, adjacent to the water.
You will walk past the elaborate landscaped Watergate housing complex on your left and see the picturesque sailboats and powerboats in the marina on your right, perhaps with the sunset behind them. Eventually you will emerge at the end of the peninsula, near your car.
Some startling experiences of wildlife can be enjoyed at different times of the year at these parks. I remember one such autumn moment at this Powell Street location. I was walking late afternoon along the Port of Oakland side and didn’t see much birdlife.
But when I left the walking path and proceeded a few steps to the right, overlooking the rocky breakwater, there were literally thousands of willet shorebirds huddled at water’s edge on the rocks for a half mile or so.
At this park the bright white illumination of the new tower on the Bay Bridge East Span may engage you after sunset.
The Trio of Parks
Note that the sunset hour can take a while to evolve, and can sometimes surprise you with pleasing color after you think it is almost over. Consider bringing a bottle of wine, plus some Brie and French bread, to ease yourself through these gradual Kodachrome revelations.
The angle at which the sun will set changes, of course, as the year unfolds. The location will be more northerly in winter and southerly in summer.
All these parks are linked together by a bayside trail. You can walk between them or, perhaps better yet, bicycle between them, on a paved and dedicated off-road path. Each park is a pleasant walking place in itself.
A brisk wind can kick up off the Bay, so come prepared with a windbreaker outer shell and warm clothing whenever considering a walk, year around.
These parks can be fairly described as “urban” adventures. Cesar Chavez is the most pleasingly rustic of the three. Do not expect the pristine wilderness beauty you will find at other locations, such as Limantour Beach in Point Reyes or while gazing up at the waterfalls in Yosemite Valley. These urban areas are brilliantly reclaimed public spaces, saved for recreation and a few struggling wild species, and represent the California public spirit at its best. These park joys have been created for us by thousands of citizen volunteers who devoted decades of their lives to the urban-planning political struggles. Their legacy contribution is a pleasant matter to contemplate at sunset.
The public entities managing these parks include the cities involved, the East Bay Regional Parks District (http://www.ebparks.org) and the California State Parks (http://www.parks.ca.gov/). One aspect of these park designations, focused adjacent to Chavez in Berkeley, is a larger grassland that is the heart of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, a state seashore. All three of these parks are considered part of the McLaughlin umbrella park.
San Francisco Bay figures prominently in my book/ebook titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends.