Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
By Erica Mailman
Swim in Nature's Pool
Winter and spring blessed us with plenty of rain, so Bay Area kids can once again jump in their backyard sprinklers and drink from the hose. We should still be conservative, but we can relax a little. As the weather warms up, I am transported back in time to my own youth where I came home every day smelling like a swimming hole or a creek. I spent weeks in a creek when I was my children’s age, catching newts and turtles. Some of my happiest memories were of playing on a lakeshore with cousins and friends. Kids who live in any of the pockets of the Greater Bay Area are spoiled for choice when it comes to great natural spots to splash.
Some pools can be crowded, the chemicals harsh, the noise level intense. Shorelines offer sand instead of concrete, wide open space instead of bustling pools and, the big draw for me, nature. For a change of pace from the bright blue water and concrete landscape of city pools, here are a few natural spots to swim in.
One place that I enjoy visiting with my family is Tilden Park’s Lake Anza. For just a few dollars, families will enjoy clean restrooms and the luxury of trained lifeguards while wading, swimming and splashing in the roped-off area of the lake. The shore is sandy enough for sandcastles and it’s just a few feet to grassy picnic spots. Water areas range from just a few inches deep for tots and the timid, to deep enough to do laps in. Little clam shells and rocks can be found in the sandy-bottomed wading area, and visitors might be lucky enough to see the native birds skimming the water for small fish to eat.
In Richmond, the Miller Knox Regional Shoreline allows parkgoers to swim in the San Francisco bay at their own risk. There are restrooms and picnic tables but no lifeguards. Keller beach is the most popular area for wading. There will be seashells, beach glass, tiny crabs, sea birds and more to see. There are play structures, and places to ride bikes and scooters around the park as well. It is free to get in all year.
Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda also offers SF Bay waters. They are warm and shallow most of the year, even as late as October. There are no lifeguards but there is a bath house with changing rooms and bathrooms, located on the west end of the shore. There is ample space and picnicking areas for other outdoor activities such as soccer, kites, Frisbee, etc. Sandcastles can be built and small seashells can be found. It is free to get in and open year-round.
Cull Canyon in Castro Valley is similar to Lake Anza. There are lifeguards, vending machines, changing rooms, and a nice, sandy wading area for little children and deeper waters for proficient swimmers.
De Valle Regional Park in Livermore offers two swimming areas, and there is even a place for boats. Year-round swimming is permitted but there are not always lifeguards on duty.
Don Castro Regional Recreation in Hayward offers swimming in the lagoon only when lifeguards are on duty. Families can enjoy a sandy beach, grassy area for picnics and changing-room facilities.
Lake Temescal in Oakland is open April through October. A beach house on site offers changing rooms adjacent to the beach area. No lifeguards are on duty here. This is a popular location on hot days in Oakland!
Marin boasts Point Reyes, Bolinas and Lagunitas, but lesser known is Three Wells in Mill Valley. It is a marvelous formation of three circular cascading pools formed in rocks along the creek in Cascade Canyon, Mill Valley. When it warms up, daredevils may want to zip down the natural water slide that’s formed above the first well. Three Wells is located in Cascade Creek, about 100 yards below the parking lot at Cascade Falls.
San Francisco has a great spot too! Oyster Point Park, South San Francisco: Built on an artificial peninsula, this park on San Francisco Bay north of SFO has a marina, 33-acre park and 2.5-acre sandy swimming beach. The San Francisco Bay Trail runs around the periphery of the park along the Bay. The swimming beach is in a small cove, protected from waves, near the foot of San Bruno Mountain.
It is easy to see that there is no shortage of options for swimming and splashing in nature for East Bay families. There are many more options in Fremont, San Ramon, Oakland and Pleasanton. A simple browse of www.ebparks.org swim facilities page will give readers information on disability accessibility, hours, locations and admission fees, which are usually just a few dollars, but cash only at most locations.
Erika Mailman is a Northern California freelance writer. Reach her at Erikaeditor@cs.com.