Sign for Foothills Park at the park's entrance.

Hike a Freed Park – Foothills Park in Palo Alto

After 51 years Palo Alto lost an ACLU case and now has to open its Foothills Park to the public. Previously this gem was only open for Palo Alto residents and their guests. 

Kind of a city wide country club if you will. As a holiday gift to the neighboring people this 1,400-acre park with multiple levels of hiking trails, picnic areas, a lake, and a campground has been open since December 17th 2020. See a PDF park map here.

Fishing pier at Boranda Lake.

The campground, Towle Camp, is open from May to October and you can make reservations online. Fishing is allowed with a licence if you are 16 and older. Boronda Lake prohibits swimming, but non-motorized boats are allowed. Canoes are available for rent, weather permitting, weekends and holidays from May to October. Dogs are only permitted during the week on leash. 

Sign for Woodrat Trail at Foothills Park, Palo Alto.

Of course they have COVID restrictions in place, like social distancing and masks, but the restrooms, except in the Nature Center, are open. Some hiking trails are one-way, but they have trail maps posted everywhere. 

Pole at Panorama Trail with the direction of San Francisco.

I drove up to Panorama Trail first. Taking in the beautiful view. To make it more interesting they put out poles with points of interest to see through pipes . Some of the locations you might spot are Oakland, San Francisco, Mt Diablo, and San Jose. 

Boranda Lake

The hiking trail around the lake was somewhat muddy and I regretted not having switched into my hiking boots. From the main entrance I took the Tayon trail into the Woodrat trail and looped back to my car for a 1.5 mile hike. 

There is a lot to explore here and people were happy to do so. Watch out for bikers on Page Mill Rd!

“Starting Saturday, January 9, every weekend and holiday the entrance to Foothills Park will be closed between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. ” Please check the City of Palo Alto website before you go: https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/…/foothills/default.asp

Have you been to the Foothills Park?

If you like to explore some more of Palo Alto you can check out my page for 50 things to do in Palo Alto, or 50 things to do in Stanford.

Boardwalk of the Neary Lagoon in Santa Cruz

Relax at the Lagoon – Neary Lagoon, Santa Cruz

Information sign of the Pollinator Garden.

At the beginning to enter the Neary Lagoon in Santa Cruz, we used the public entrance at the corner of Bay St and California, you walk by the playgrounds and the Pollinator Garden.

Information sign for the Wastewater Treatment.

They don’t hide the fact that the Water Treatment is right next door. An information sign on how a water treatment plant works can be found.

The path to the lagoon slopes downward, but except for a few muddy puddles is wheelchair and stroller friendly. 

Just one muddy puddle on the one mile path of the Neary Lagoon.

The floating boardwalks are a surprise and the serenity of the place is absolutely breathtaking. Ducks come and greet you, and the signs advise about all the other wildlife in this refuge. The walk around the lagoon is about 1 mile. Some benches to relax are throughout. 

Floating boardwalk of the Neary Lagoon in Santa Cruz.

The  boardwalk was wide enough for socially distancing, but we hardly encountered anyone. Due to COVID-19 restrictions the restrooms have been replaced with a porta potty. Parking was very limited on California & Bay. Since it is a wildlife refuge there are no dogs allowed.

Have you been to the Neary Lagoon?

Other relaxing places in Santa Cruz are the Monarchs walk at the National Bridges State Beach Park and the Botanical Garden of UC Santa Cruz.

Trees at McClellan Creek Trail

Climb Around Trees at McClellan Creek Trail

McClellan Ranch in Cupertino is an educational ranch with a science center and also hosts the 4H of Cupertino.

Entrance to the McClellan Creek Trail in Cupertino, CA.

If you score a parking spot at the ranch, the Creek Trail starts away from the buildings near the bee station. A narrow dirt path goes right next to the Stevens Creek. I was surprised to find that here it carries water; it must come from the Stevens Creek Reservoir. In Mountain View, Stevens Creek usually only has water from the Bay when it rains, as an overflow protection.

Anyway, it is quite pretty to walk by the trees, some of them even have signs to identify them. Deeper and deeper into the trail the trees grow more freely and make for interesting roadblocks and climbing opportunities, a nice way to say you can’t use a wheelchair or stroller on this path. 

Trees at McClellan Creek Trail, Cupertino, CA.

After a gathering point with tree benches, the trees are more and more unmanaged.

I end with a few more cautions:

  • Be careful of ticks, snakes and mountain lions
  • Don’t go into the water
  • Watch for Poison Oak

Where do you climb on trees?

Educational sign about the three different oak trees in San Jose

Learn About Local Oak Trees at San Jose’s Guadalupe Oak Grove Park

San Jose’s Guadalupe Oak Grove Park is a hilly park with sparse trees covering about 60 acres. It turns out they are all oak trees! There are three varieties of local oaks here. 

First the Valley Oak. It is the largest of the group of locals. The leaves are shaped to what I as a European have known as an oak tree leaf, a long leaf broken up with round edges. The other two species, the Blue Oak and the Coast Live Oak, have similar leaf structures; we had a hard time picking out which is which. Our best guess was the blue oak is lighter in color. The Las Pilitas Nursery website stated that Blue Oaks like to hybridize with other oaks. So, maybe we were onto something?

View at the Guadalupe Oak Grove Park, San Jose.

The hill was a nice challenge and allowed for a terrific view. And thanks to all the acorns the park attracts a lot of birds. We enjoyed watching a group of acorn woodpeckers.

One of the beautified water utility boxes at the Jeffery Fontana Park, San Jose.

The Jeffrey Fontana Park borders the Guadalupe Oak Grove Park and has a playground and two dog parks. In the grassy area they have beautified the water utility boxes. One features the nearby oak trees. 

Do you know your endemic oak trees?

Looking for a forest to hike in? Check out Huddart Park in Woodside: Hike a forest.

Bridge to the Ravenswood Bay Trail in East Palo Alto.

Find a Bridge to East Palo Alto

Wishing Trees signs at Palo Alto Art Center.

Originally I wanted to tell you about the Wishing Trees in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. A wonderful idea to bridge these two cities together by Canopy. Seven trees had been nominated to become wishing trees and people would leave messages written on hanging cards on the tree. Plus you would learn about what type of tree your wishing tree was. 

This beautiful idea ended October 31st. I hope they’ll repeat this some time.

Gate to Ravenswood Bay Trail. Hours are 5:00 am - 10:00 pm.

But as of August 7th, 2020 there is a real bridge connecting East Palo Alto with the neighboring counties: the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve. Ravenswood OSP is part of the Bay Trail and with it’s only 0.6 miles in length it establishes to connect three counties for a total of 80 miles of continuous trails.

Ravenswood Bay Trail bridge in East Palo Alto.

At the end of Bay Ave, an under construction path, you will reach the Cooley Landing Education Center. Right now from this side of the trail this is the only parking lot into the park. You can also enter from the other side using the Dumbarton bridge entrance off Highway 84. 

Biker on the Ravenswood Bay Trail in East Palo Alto.

What would you do to build a bridge to East Palo Alto?

More suggestions to ride your bike along the Bay: https://www.untilsuburbia.com/take-advantage-of-your-bike/

Forbes Mill Bridge in Los Gatos.

Admire the work of young artists at Forbes Mill Footbridge

Entrance of the Forbes Mill Museum (closed) in Los Gatos.

An outside gallery, the Forbes Mill Footbridge, consists of 156 panels of local art work. The bridge connects old town Los Gatos with Forbes Mill, a former flour mill and history museum.

The Forbes Mill Bridge is mainly the overpass for Highway 17, but since 1998 it also serves as an art gallery for the Los Gatos youth. 

It started as a summer program by the Los Gatos – Saratoga recreation. Selected artwork was digitally reproduced and placed on the bridge. These murals will be exchanged over time. 

Forbes Mill Bridge in Los Gatos.

A tribute to the artists is also given on the website of the Los Gatos Local History Research Collection.

As part of the Los Gatos Creek Trail you might pass the Forbes Mill Footbridge. If you start out your hike here please take some time to admire the art.

Have you seen the murals?

Resources:

https://patch.com/california/losgatos/los-gatos-forbes-mill-footbridge-murals-to-be-re-dedicated

Do you like seeing more works of young artists? You might want to check out the County Government Center in Santa Cruz – read my post about this: Admire young artists.

SS Palo Alto view from the wooden stairs, Aptos.

Watch an Over 100 Year Old Deteriorating – the SS Palo Alto

The SS Palo Alto, a concrete ship off the Monterey Bay Shore in Aptos, was left to decay. It eventually became a habitat for birds, sharks, and sea lions. 

SS Palo Alto, Aptos, CA.

Launched in 1919 in Oakland, the SS Palo Alto, a former oil tanker, missed World War I by a few weeks. This war vessel is made of  concrete because of the steel shortage at the end of the war.

In 1929 the Seacliff Amusement Corp. bought the ship and transformed it into an amusement park in its current location. Besides a casino, they added a swimming pool and a dance floor as attractions; ‘rum runners’ delivered illegal booze as a driveby operation. The Great Depression and the seasonality of the business probably were reasons for the fast closure two years later.

Pier and SS Palo Alto in Aptos.

In 1936 the State of California purchased the vessel for $1. Twelve years later it was incorporated into one of the first State beaches. Its condition deemed too dangerous for explorers led to its closing in 1998. Now it is a sanctuary for birds and other sea life. 

Parking at Seacliff Beach in Aptos, California is $10. 

Have you seen the SS Palo Alto?

If you are looking for other bird watching opportunities in the Bay Area, check out Sunnyvale’s Baylands Park

Resources:

View through the linked fence to the SS Palo Alto, Aptos.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Palo_Alto

https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=543

Stairs from Trailhead, Saratoga view from the top.

Climb some Stairs in Saratoga

Sometimes hiking is a planned activity. These days with limited access you have to be flexible.

View of the top of trailhead in Saratoga.

We headed out to Fremont Older in Cupertino, which has a small parking lot. It was full on arrival and we decided to turn around. On our way back we discovered a sign marked Trailhead. This short hike starts on Prospect Rd in Cupertino. You’ll pass a little stream and after crossing a street the trail runs through a housing development. That’s when you know you’ve crossed over to Saratoga. The houses are large and have huge backyards. 

Wooden stairs of trailhead in Saratoga.

The nice part of the trail is the wooden stairs after the development. I did not count how many stairs we climbed, but it was a fun way to get some exercise. Plus the views at the top are spectacular. A lot of locals are taking advantage of this trail. 

Have you been up the stairs of Trailhead?

Here is a list of all trails in Saratoga, CA: https://www.saratoga.ca.us/223/Trail-Maps

Other short hikes in Silicon Valley are for example Rancho San Antonio, Huddart Park, and Pulgas Ridge Preserve. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comment section.

Succulents at the Phelan Cactus Garden, Montalvo in Saratoga.

Recharge in the Cactus Garden at Montalvo

Montalvo is Saratoga’s first address for art and culture. Did you know they also have a cactus garden? I stumbled on this treasure when I visited the Loneliness exhibit. It is tucked away in the gated part of the Italianate Garden.

Fountain in the Italianate Garden at Montalvo, Saratoga.

Enter the gate and stroll past the rose bushes towards the fountain. The fountain creatures hanging there might not spit water right now, but are impressive nonetheless.

Large cactus supported by a belt at the Phelan Cactus Garden at Montalvo, Saratoga.

The succulents and cacti are imposing. Some so large they need to be propped up by a belt. Others stand tall like a monolith the size of a yard stick. The Phelan Cactus Garden was designed by Senator James Phelan in 1920 as a ‘showcase of interesting and unusual plants’. A magical little escape great for recharging.

Plant at the Phelan Cactus Garden at Montalvo, Saratoga.

Montalvo’s park hours are Monday – Thursday, 8am – 5pm and Friday – Sunday, 9am – 5pm.

Did you know about the Phelan Cactus Garden at Montalvo?

If you are interested in seeing more succulents I recommend the Arizona Cactus Garden at Stanford. 

Fishing gear at the Pacifica pier

Go Fishing on a Public Pier

I have never been fishing or hunting. I think hunting is a bit too much for survival skills, but fishing seems like an interesting capability to know. 

People fishing on the Pacifica pier.

The other day we went to the public fishing pier in Pacifica. It smells like salt-water and fishing bait. I saw people use shrimp, calamari and little fish as live bait. I am not sure, but I think there might be a distinction of what fish you can catch depending on where on the pier you cast your rod.

People with fishing gear walking on the Pacifica pier.

If you prefer to go fishing on a lake you can either apply for a license or take advantage of the two Free Fishing Days. The last one this year was  on July 4th and the next one is on September 5th, 2020. 

While everyone over 16 years of age needs a license to go fishing, in California, the exception is if you fish from a public pier for your non-commercial use. (https://wildlife.ca.gov/fishing/ocean/beach-fishing#320781172-where-and-when-can-i-fish-in-the-ocean-without-a-fishing-license

Fishing rods at Pacifica public pier.

To learn how to fish the California Department of Fish and Wildlife usually offers in person clinics. Well, not right now. But they have videos to teach you fishing.

Have you ever fished on a public pier?