Resource Center / Health and Lifestyle / The Best Bay Area Regional Parks

The Best Bay Area Regional Parks

Discover the best Bay Area Regional Parks to visit. Seniorly explores the top parks to travel to and spend the day at with family and friends.

By Lydia Bruno Updated on Jul 10, 2023

What is a regional park?

Have you ever wondered what a regional park is? A regional park is an area of land that has been designated by the state or local government for public recreation. This area of land is being preserved on account of its natural beauty or historic interest. There are many different types of recreational activities to enjoy in these parklands, including hiking, camping, fishing, and boating. Regional parks also provide opportunities for wildlife viewing and environmental education.

If you’re looking for a place to get away outside with your family, then look no further to one of the many beautiful local Bay Area regional parks.

What is the difference between a regional park and a national park?

National parks are protected areas of land and water that are owned by the federal government, while regional parks are typically owned by state or local governments. Both types of parks offer visitors beautiful landscapes and opportunities for outdoor recreation, but national parks also have stricter regulations in place to protect their natural resources.

A regional park is usually smaller than a national park. They often offer open spaces for cultural and recreational activities such as hiking, dog walking, and camping. They might also accommodate parties, city celebrations, and events like outdoor movies or concerts. Regional parks are often located in densely populated areas, while national parks tend to be more isolated. National parks also tend to have larger budgets for things like staff salaries, visitor services, and infrastructure maintenance.

Why are regional parks important?

Regional parks are important because they provide green space and recreation opportunities close to home. They also help reduce traffic congestion and promote healthy lifestyles.

Regional parks offer a variety of activities for people of all ages. You can go fishing, hiking, biking, and more. Regional parks are important because they help connect people with nature. They also provide a place for people to exercise and have fun with family and friends.

Regional parks offer a variety of activities for people who love being active outdoors. From hiking and biking to fishing and swimming, there’s something for everyone to do in regional parks. Regional parks are often close to home and more likely to be accessible to people with limited mobility (though you should call or check their website to ensure they can accommodate wheelchairs, just to be safe). If the hiking trails of a national park feel daunting, walking through a regional park might be a better fit. These parks are also beautiful, providing a natural oasis right in your backyard. They make great places to spend a weekend afternoon or an entire day with the family. And they’re perfect for getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

National parks are important sanctuaries where people can take time out of their busy schedules and enjoy nature. National parks allow you to get fit while also being surrounded by breathtaking beauty that can provide artistic inspiration or even a source of spiritual healing. Research shows how contact with the natural environment may reduce stress levels which leads to less anger in our lives as well as frustration.

11 Best East Bay Area regional parks

Briones Regional Park

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Briones’ Regional Park is 6,255 acres of land that is home to many animals and birds. There are known to be black-tailed deer, squirrels, red-tailed hawks, coyotes, turkey vultures, and other secluded animals. Many park district naturalists lead walks around the park to view the park’s natural and historic features. 

Briones is the perfect place to hike, run, ride horseback, picnic, bird watch, and other recreational activities such as kite flying or photography. 

Briones offers a secret wilderness surrounded by the towns of central Contra Costa County. While it's close to Lafayette, Walnut Creek, and Martinez among others, there are peaks within this park from which you can see acres upon acres filled with lush green forest land as far as the eye can see.

The highest point in the park is Briones Peak. From the peak, there are panoramic views of Mount Diablo in Mount Diablo State Park, the Diablo Valley to the east, the Sacramento River and Delta to the north, the East Bay hills and Mt. Tamalpais to the west, and Las Trampas Regional Wilderness to the south.

The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. There are parking fees for cars and buses as well as dog fees to enter the park. 

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Photo Credit: Lisa Noble/Getty Images

This free and easy trip to visit nature can be enjoyable for persons of any age. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is located in Moss Beach, in the state of California, about 30 minutes south of San Francisco on Highway 1, just 15 minutes north of the city of Half Moon Bay. Traffic can be hectic, so plan your trip with that in mind. Also, don’t forget to check the tides before you go. The lower the tide the better it is to see all of the creatures in the tidepool. 

The intertidal zone showcases many algae, neon-colored anemones, sneaky crabs, fish, octopuses, sponges, sea stars, and mollusks, all of which are easily found at low tide. At your feet is a vista of water and land like no other. While you are there you can also take a self-guided tour to see all of the animal habitats up close. Besides the tidepools, you are able to view harbor seals, red-hawks, fossils, rocks, surf grass flats, and a great panoramic view of the whole intertidal ecosystem. Often in the winter and spring you can see whale spouts.

If you are looking for hiking trails you are in luck. Spend your day hiking through the several miles of trails the reserve has to offer. 

The reserve and the visitor center are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and can get quite crowded on the weekends. The reserve is free to the public. Plan your trip today!

Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve

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The Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve is 241 acres of land in a regional park and nature reserves in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay area of California. It is named after the California huckleberry that grows abundantly here in its natural habitat. Not many places can boast that their plant community is so unique and special. The native plant association here is found nowhere else in the East Bay, which represents a relic group of vascular plants with only certain areas along California's coast where ideal soil conditions exist for them to grow.

Huckleberry Fields is a hidden gem in the East Bay Area for those that enjoy exploring off-the-beaten-paths. The local topography and heavy tree cover make it feel cooler than other nearby parks, but you can see Mount Diablo on clear days from its perch high above San Leandro Creek flow through these remotely located open grasslands.

The Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve is a 1.7-mile loop of self-guided nature paths. The paths have a wide variety of terrain and include an upper trail for those who want a less strenuous walk around. Either way, both self-guided trails have beautiful views of a mature bay forest that can be observed.

The preserve is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day and is free to the public. Because of the fragile nature of the preserve, dogs, bicycles, and horses are prohibited. The preserve is currently not accessible to wheelchair users at this time. Jogging is also discouraged.

Joaquin Miller Park

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Joaquin Miller Park is owned and operated by the city of Oakland, California. Named after California writer and poet Joaquin Miller, who bought the land in the 1880s. Miller called the area “The Heights,” and had the house he lived in preserved as the Joaquin Miller House.  

The Joaquin Miller Park will make you forget that you are close to the hustle and bustle of the city. This 500-acre park brings hikers, equestrians, joggers, bicyclists, and picnickers from all over the Bay Area. Dogs are allowed on a leash as you explore the woodland trail loop that takes you through the redwood groves and oak woodlands. 

The park has over 200 species of native plants. You will see plants like the Oakland star tulip, pallid manzanita, and leatherwood alongside non-native plants like fennel, acacia, and eucalyptus.  You will also discover the wildlife in the park. Cooper’s hawks, wild turkeys, California quail, lizards, deer, and skunk are just to name a few.

Joaquin Miller Park is open from sunrise to sunset. The park is free to the public and dogs. Dogs are allowed in the park on leashes. 

Lake Anthony Chabot Regional Park

Photo Credit: Mercurywoodrose/Wikipedia

In 1874 Lake Chabot Reservoir was built as a primary source of water for the East Bay. The lake is 315 acres of native plants and filled with trout and catfish. It was closed to recreational use for 91 years. In the 1960s the lake was opened up again by the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) to the public after an agreement was made with the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD). The EBMUD now owns and operates the reservoir. 

The lake is not only filled with trout and catfish but there is also bass, crappie, and other types of fish in the lake. There is an annual fishing derby that takes place in the spring, which is a very popular event. 

The marina area has wheelchair-accessible restrooms, picnic tables, and drinking fountains. There are several fishing piers that include one with access for the disabled, and there is a wheelchair ramp from the parking lot to the marina. The disabled parking spaces are located in the main lot.

The lake is open every day from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. unless otherwise noted. There are fees for parking, entering the grounds, bringing in dogs, boating, kayaking, and charter boats. 

Leona Heights Park

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While visiting Leona Heights Park visitors can enjoy hiking with scenic views of a park full of wildlife, history, and natural beauty. Leona Heights Park is operated by the City of Oakland. East Bay Regional Parks operates the nearby Leona Canyon Regional Open Space Preserve. The park also adjoins the former Leona Heights Sulfur Mine.

The main trail that connects the lower portion of the park to the upper portion of the park is the York Trail. As the trail makes its way up the canyon the trail is full of bay trees, wildflowers, thimbleberries, and the city’s namesake tree, the coast live oak. 

The trail ultimately joins a fire road. A fire road is a fire trail that is a road specifically built for fire management purposes. The fire trail is named McDonnell Trail and it is privately owned.  If you head east on the trail it leads to another junction and the other entrance to the park or up to the old abandoned parking lot for the local Merritt College. 

Leona Heights Park is open from sunrise to sunset unless otherwise noted. The park is free to the public and dogs. Dogs are allowed on-leash in the park. 

Redwood Regional Park

Photo Credit:

Redwood Regional Park is a park in Northern California in the rolling hills of Oakland and western Alameda and Contra Costa County, owned and operated by the East Bay Regional Park District. The redwood forests were planted in the 1800s making the trees over 150 years old.

The park has a number of easy walking trails and more moderate hikes, lots of picnic areas, a playground, and lots of redwood and sequoia trees. 

Redwood Regional Park is the only off-leash park in Oakland, so it is very popular with dog walkers. It is also ideal for mountain biking and horseback riding. Mountain bikes are only allowed in a 9-mile loop on the East Ridge and West Ridge trails.

The park is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Parking, bus, and dog fees are only collected on the weekends and major holidays from April through October. Some picnic sites, Canyon Meadow Staging Area and Skyline Gate Staging Area are accessible to wheelchair users.

Roberts Regional Recreation Area

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Roberts Regional Recreation Area is an East Bay Regional Park that is part of Redwood Regional Park. This 87-acre area is a popular place for family and group picnicking. The park is a beautifully landscaped area with many amenities for visitors. It has large redwood groves, picnic sites that are perfect spots to enjoy your lunch or dinner on one of their BBQs available at some locations throughout the property. There is a swimming pool so everyone can cool off during the hot summer months. The swim complex is fully accessible to individuals with disabilities, including the bathhouse and an accessible lift into the pool. There is also a “barrier-free” (wheelchair accessible) playground along with an archery range near the entrance. 

The Roberts Treehouse is a popular destination for tourists who want to experience the wonders of nature up close. The best part is you can access these redwoods without having to hike too far or wear your favorite pair of hiking boots.

Roberts Regional Recreation Area is open from sunrise to sunset. There are entrance fees for cars and buses along with fees for bringing in dogs. 

Robert Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

Photo Credit: Sarah Stierch/Wikipedia

Robert Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve is located in the East Bay Regional Park District and is their oldest park. It is located in Oakland Hills just off Skyline Boulevard. The most unmistakable feature in Sibley Park is a 1,763-foot high hill that consists of lava and volcanic debris left over from an ancient 10 million year old small volcanic complex.

The park is known for its mysterious labyrinths that are along the base of the quarry canyons. These trails are accessible for runners and are family and dog friendly. 

When the preserve opened it was called Round Top Park. It was later named after Robert Sibley, who helped found the park district as a member of the board of directors for 10 years. Sibley as well as Temescal and Tilden Parks have the distinction of being three of the East Bay Regional Park District’s original parks. 

Depending on where you are standing in the park it is possible to see Mount Diablo, Mount Tamalpais, the Golden Gate Bridge, and possibly the Farallon Islands and the Sierra Nevada. 

There are trails for just about everyone. Most trails are for hiking and equestrian only, but a few are also for bicycles only. The preserve is free to the public and dogs and the trails are open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. unless otherwise noted. 

Temescal Regional Recreation Area

Photo Credit: Lagringa/Wikipedia

Lake Temescal is the focal point of Temescal Regional Recreation Area, also known as Temescal Regional Park. Lake Temescal is a small reservoir in northeastern Oakland, California. The recreation area is part of the East Bay Regional Park District. 

Lake Temescal is a hidden gem in the heart of Oakland. This lush green oasis bustles with wildlife and plays an important role as home to many creatures, making it not only beautiful but invaluable too.

The park is ideal for picnics with its picnic areas about the park, hiking on trails, swimming, fishing off the docks, playing on the playgrounds, and biking. The lake is open every day from 5 am to 10 pm unless otherwise noted. There are fees for parking, entering the grounds, bringing in dogs, and boating. There is no swimming allowed. 

Tilden Regional Park

Photo Credit: Wesman83/Wikipedia

Tilden Regional Park was named after Charles Lee Tilden, the first president of the Park District Board of Directors. Considered one of the three oldest East Bay Regional Park District’s parks, Tilden Regional Park is known for its recreational activities for youngsters. Tilden has a variety of activities to delight everyone. Enjoy the carousel ride and picnic sites, or swim at Lake Anza, Tildens' 2089 acres offer plenty of quiet places for wildlife shelters as well as the natural beauty that you can enjoy on a stroll through the Botanical garden.

The park is open from 5 am to 10 pm unless otherwise noted. The park is free to the public and dogs. Steam Train, the Merry-Go-Round, Little Farm, and the Environmental Education Center in the Tilden Nature area are all wheelchair accessible. Wheelchair-accessible parking and restrooms are available on Wildcat Canyon Road.

Works Consulted:

Ewert, Alan “Levels of Nature and Stress Response”. National Center for Biotechnology Information. May 17, 2018.


Works consulted:

  • Ewert, Alan. "Levels of Nature and Stress Response." May 7, 2018.
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    written by:
    Lydia Bruno

    Lydia Bruno

    Lydia Bruno boasts over ten years of technical writing, having been a compassionate caregiver for over five years for seniors, and working within senior care facilities with a high level of dedication, care, and compassion for older adults and their families. When Lydia isn’t writing she is spending time with her husband and four daughters or enjoying time in her garden. 

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