Where to Run: East Bay Edition

Cathryn came up with a great idea to have a series of “Where to Run Where I Live” guides for visitors, new transplants, and/or runners looking to explore new routes. Check out these editions that have already been posted:

I signed up for the task of writing a runner’s guide to the East Bay – which, for you non-locals, refers to the area east of the San Francisco Bay. For the purposes of this post, I’m limiting the region to the coastal areas — from the city of Richmond up north down to Fremont in the south. I’ve lived here for over a decade, and in my humble opinion, it is one of the best places to live AND run. Without further ado…

Where to Run
OMG, where do I even start?? As a general resource, the East Bay Regional Parks does a *fantastic* job maintaining hundreds of miles of paths and trails, with access to bathrooms and water fountains.

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So many parks, so little time…

If you’re looking to explore local trails but want a bit of  guidance and/or support, I highly recommend running a race organized by 3 local companies: Brazen, Coastal, and Inside Trail. Even if you don’t want to race, their websites have detailed trail maps that can be helpful when exploring a new park on your own.

Here are some of my favorite places to run in the East Bay, organized loosely by geography (north to south):

Tilden Regional Park
This is a sprawling park in the hills of Berkeley. My favorite route is a 3-mile loop from the Lone Oak parking lot. At the trail head, make a left to go up Meadows Canyon Trail. At the top of the hill, turn right on Curran Trail. When you reach the creek, make a right on Wildcat Gorge. The first hill is pretty tough (up Meadows Canyon), but it’s definitely worth it.

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The Wildcat Gorge Trail in Tilden. So peaceful.

Another popular route is Nimitz Way, accessible from the Inspiration Point parking lot. It’s a paved trail (9 miles out and back) that is popular with walkers, runners, and cyclists. There are some nice views of the Bay and of the surrounding reservoirs, and cows! However, I have to admit that it’s not one of my favorite runs, even though it has its purpose — e.g., a route with some hills/rollers, but also paved and not that technical (or muddy).

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Foggy morning on Nimitz Way.

Bordering Tilden to the north is Wildcat Canyon. I’ve only run here once, but I highly recommend exploring the trails here!

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Wildcat Canyon

Bay Trail – Emeryville to Richmond
The Bay Trail is an extensive trail system that will eventually circumvent the entire Bay Area. Until then, the public only has access to portions of it, one of which is from Emeryville up to Point Isabel. Pros: flat, by the Bay, water and bathrooms en route, and about 18+ miles out and back. Cons: can be boring at parts, can be sketchy at parts (especially past Golden Gate Fields – I don’t recommend running that stretch by yourself), some sections are right next to the freeway, and no shade. However, for anyone needing a long marathon training run, this is a great route. I like parking at Cesar Chavez park at the Berkeley Marina (the lot doesn’t usually fill up until closer to 11-12). From there, I do a warm-up loop (1 mile) around the park before venturing south towards Emeryville. This section is only about 8-9 miles out-and-back, so it takes a little bit of creativity to tack on mileage. On the southern end, it’s now possible to run the eastern span of the Bay Bridge, but you have to navigate through a couple of traffic-heavy intersections in Emeryville. If you decide to go north, you’ll head up the hill to Golden Gate Fields (a horse race track), cut across the parking lot, then rejoin the Bay Trail at the other end of the lot. You’ll run along the overpass for about 0.5 mile (this is the sketchy part). After that, you’ll need to survive another industrial section (near the Costco) before getting back to the more scenic route. The portion of the Bay Trail near Point Isabel is well-maintained and pretty. Afterwards, treat yo’ self to Mexican breakfast at Tacubaya or a jalapeño cheddar bagel with crunchy veggie cream cheese from Berkeley Bagels.

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View of SF from Emeryville Marina

Lake Merritt
I lived by Lake Merritt for almost 3 years. It’s where I fell in love with running, and I still miss it a lot, despite running along its paths 2-3 times a week for years. Pros: no cars (and no traffic lights), bathrooms and water en route, almost a perfect 3-miles in circumference, scenic, and lots of friendly runners. Cons: can be mundane if wanting to run more than 3-miles, can be congested with pedestrians, and can be smelly by the bird sanctuary. The Lake is BART-friendly — it’s within easy access of the 12th Street, 19th Street, and Lake Merritt BART stations. There’s free street parking along the east side of the lake and on some of the smaller streets off of Grand Avenue on the north side. Otherwise, you can pay for parking at the large lot next to Embarcadero (there’s a farmers market on Saturdays though, FYI). If you run along the lake, it comes out to something like 3.3 miles. I never felt unsafe running around the lake, but use caution/common sense (i.e., don’t run alone late at night with your headphones on, etc.) It’s a pretty flat route, but if you want to add some elevation to your workout, head to the Cleveland Cascade on the northeast side of the lake, off of Lakeshore. It’s about 3 stories of stairs, and a great cardiovascular workout. I should also mention that Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders puts on a chip-timed 5K/10K race on the 4th Sunday of every month (just about). It’s not a closed course, but it only costs $5 (or $7 day of). Post-run, head to Arizmendi’s on Lakeshore Avenue for the best corn and cherry scones, to Chinatown for a bahn-mi and Vietnamese iced coffee, or to the Tacos Mi Rancho truck for the best tacos in town…basically, the possibilities are endless.

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One of my parting shots of Lake Merritt

Redwood Regional/Joaquin Miller
I have a love/hate relationship with these two parks. They are filled with beautiful trails in a secluded, redwood forest, but some of the climbs are heart/back/leg-breaking. We’re talking 15-20% grade inclines, folks. For a first trip at Redwood, I’d recommend parking at Skyline Gate Staging Area and running along the West Ridge Trail, which provides a nice introduction to the park (7 miles out and back) without the strenuous/extended climbs. Once you’re ready to tackle more elevation, I suggest the bike loop (East Ridge to West Ridge, 8-9 miles), also from Skyline Staging Area. There are so many wonderful trails, but if I had to name my favorite, it would have to be French Trail. At Joaquin Miller, which is a small park managed by the City of Oakland and adjacent to Redwood, I highly recommend the Sequoia-Bayview Trail. If your looking for a post-run meal, I can recommend Montclair Egg Shop if you’re near Skyline Staging Area, or Sparky’s Giant Burger if you’re closer to Joaquin Miller Park or the Canyon Meadows staging area at Redwood.

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Nice downhill stretch in Redwood Regional

Also close to Redwood and accessible from Skyline Gate are the Sibley Volcanic and Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserves, which are even more secluded, beautiful, and lung-busting.

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I *think* this is in Huckleberry??

San Leandro Marina/Hayward Shoreline
This is another section of the Bay Trail – from San Leandro Marina down to the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center – for a total of ~7 miles, or 14 out-and-back. There’s lots of free parking at the SL Marina, and the trail is also accessible from Grant Ave. in Hayward. Similar to the Bay Trail segment to the north (described above), the Hayward Shoreline is flat, has bathrooms en route (not many water fountains though), and runs next to the Bay. It’s also much prettier than its northern counterpart, trading in the freeway for salt marshes. On the downside, a majority of the path is gravel, and if you go out too late in the day, you’re pretty much guaranteed a nasty headwind. If you need more than 14 miles, it’s easy to add mileage by either running the 1-mile bulb/loop off of SL Marina, or by running the couple of side trails through the marsh. My favorite post-run treat is a blueberry cake donut from Ming’s Donuts. Get there before 10am for the best selection!

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Marsh by the Hayward Shoreline

Lake Chabot
I consider Lake Chabot my home turf for trail running. I feel like I’ve run 90% of the trails there, and some of them dozens of times. There are a few tough climbs, but also extremely runnable stretches, which makes it a great place to train. You can pay to park inside the main lot, or park along Lake Chabot road for free (though you might have a bit of a walk). My go-to route is a counterclockwise loop, starting from the marina: East Shore Trail – cross the wooden bridge – (left on) Honker Bay – (left on) Columbine – cross the creek – (left on) Bass Cove – run across the dam – (lefts to stay on) West Shore Trail. This loop is ~750-800′ elevation gain over 8.5 miles. To add a mileage (and elevation), I like to tag on the Cameron Loop (~200′ over 1.1 miles). For a short but tough run, I recommend an out-and-back on Ten Hills Trail, which is accessible from Redwood Road, or from the Nike Classroom. It’s 3 miles with ~400′ elevation gain – short but steep rollers. Post-run, head to brunch at Doug’s Place, a classic Castro Valley establishment, or to the new hot spot, Denica’s.

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One of a million pictures I’ve taken of Lake Chabot Trails

Misc.
This list is getting very long, so I think I’ll stop here, except I also wanted to make quick mention of a few more routes. Mission Peak in Fremont is a favorite workout spot for locals – probably more for hiking/backpacking than for running, but it’s great hill training. It’s 6 miles out and back (or should I say up and down) with ~2000′ elevation gain. There’s no shade and it can get very hot, so bring plenty of water. Two good (if boring, flat) paths are the Bay Trail in Alameda (12 miles out and back) and the Ohlone Greenway, a multi-use path that starts at the intersection of MLK Jr. Way in Berkeley and connects the BART corridor from North Berkeley BART up past El Cerrito (5.3 miles point to point). You can keep going north for 2 miles on the Richmond Greenway. If you’re really into trail running, my friend Mike wrote up this awesome guide (part I, part II) to the 32-mile Skyline Trail, which starts up in Wildcat Canyon and goes to Lake Chabot. Finally, even though these are not technically “East Bay” but more like “East East Bay”, I feel I should mention the Lafayette-Moraga Trail (7 miles point to point) and the Iron Horse Trail (32 miles point to point) for the sake of comprehensiveness.

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The pretty part of the Iron Horse Trail. I think I took this somewhere near Walnut Creek?

Where to Shop
Transports is a great local running store in Oakland that organizes weekly trail runs. They’ll let you run around the block while trying on shoes! They also have a treadmill to run on in case it’s raining. Bonus cool points: 2015 Western States winner Magdalena Boulet is married to the owner!

A new Sports Basement, a Bay Area sporting goods chain, just opened in Berkeley last year. Then there’s Road Runner Sports (also a chain, also opened last year) in North Berkeley. For the ladies, there’s See Jane Run and Lululemon, both on College Ave. in Oakland. And of course, there’s REI (Berkeley).

What to Wear
I would say 48 weeks of the year, I can get away with short sleeves and shorts. There are a couple of weeks in the winter where I need gloves, long sleeves, and capris. Once a year, I’ll break out ear warmers and full-length running tights, and maybe even a jacket. Sunscreen and sunglasses are a must.

Races
I already mentioned the LMJS 4th Sunday Race above, as well as the 3 main trail race organizers – Brazen, Coastal, and Inside Trail. A few big road races have started recently, the biggest of which is the Oakland Running Festival (marathon, marathon relay, half marathon, and 5K), now in its 7th year this March. There’s also the The Town’s Half Marathon in Oakland – entering its 3rd year this August and the Berkeley Half Marathon, also entering its 3rd running this November. See Jane Run sponsors a female-focused half marathon and 5K in Alameda every June. One of the newest events is Brazen and Represent Racing’s Let’s Go 510, a big 5K/10K event along the Bay Trail that ends with a lap on the Golden Gate Fields horse track.

Follow These East Bay Bloggers/Tweeters/IG’ers
Many of my favorite East Bay runner peeps have moved away and/or fallen off the blogging radar, but luckily some of them are still posting on Twitter or Instagram:

(Apologies if I’ve forgotten anyone!)

I hope you’ve found this useful! Please let me know if you have any questions!

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About

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Advice, Trail running
6 comments on “Where to Run: East Bay Edition
  1. MILF Runner says:

    O my goodness! You mentioned me 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Of course! Even if you don’t run (or blog) anymore, I’ll always think of you as one of the original East Bay running blogger. 🙂

  2. Cathryn says:

    Woohooo….awesome work!

  3. Mike says:

    Nice! This will be a valuable resource to a lot of runners Googling “Where to run East Bay”. And definitely makes me miss some of my favorite old stomping grounds (the “stomping” part was usually to get the mud off my shoes).

    I’d also recommend Mt Diablo and its surroundings, though not during the summer when temps can hit triple digits. Some awesome trails out there as well, and a great way to explore them is during Brazen’s Diablo Trails Challenge in April (or their Diablo Trails Adventure in November, though later in the year tends to = greater chance for rain).

    And thanks for the shout-out… clearly a labor of love for us both!

    • Jen says:

      Yes, hopefully this post – and your posts – will come in handy for anyone looking to explore running routes in the East Bay!

      I debated about adding some of the “East East Bay” places, like Mt. Diablo, Briones, Pleasanton Ridge, but decided to leave that for some of the other bloggers who live out in Dublin – who might still write a version of “Where to Run Where I Live” themselves. But your Mt. Diablo suggestion reminds me that I should really explore that area more!

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