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8 Nature Walks on the Southern San Francisco Waterfront

8 Nature Walks on the Southern San Francisco Waterfront


Did you know there are plans for a waterfront trail that will stretch 500 miles around San Francisco Bay and cross nine counties? This is the Blue Greenway, “a unifying identity for the 13-mile corridor along San Francisco’s southeastern waterfront,” according to the Port of San Francisco. There’ll be open spaces with greenery rather than concrete, marshland restoration, and “multi-modal” paths for walking, biking, skating, and strolling. There’ll be boat and kayak launch pads. Public art and signage are coming. (See below for the background of this tremendous project and relevant links.)


In San Francisco, the nearly completed northern portion stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to AT&T Park. The southern portion, from Mission Creek to Candlestick Point, is currently in the works but will feature 32 open spaces. Right now, however, there are eight parks and recreation areas ready to be visited and loved, without a wait.


All are accessible from the T-Third Light Rail, though some, like Heron’s Head or the Pier 94 Wetlands, are a long walk from the bus stop. The whole series would be perfect on a bike, as the area is flat. When the rest of the city is fog-covered, it’s bright and clear over here—bring a sun hat and a regional map.

Candlestick Point State Recreation Area

Come during high tide to see the abundant water birds and explore miles of trails on a bluff above rocky beaches and sandy mudflats. The picnic sites are first-rate, with tables, wind-walls, barbecue grills, water taps, and plenty of restrooms. This 252-acre California State Park (yes, it is a State Park!) has been in danger of being closed due to lack of funding. The Last Port parking lot on Harney Way is a great place to start a walk, but the main entrance and most parking is off Hunters Point Expressway, due east from the 49ers stadium. 


Yosemite Slough

Yosemite Slough is an inlet channel that experiences tides, and is where several San Franciscan creeks (including one from McLaren Park) drain into the South Basin of the Bay. Over the years, the area has become polluted, but now it is getting $14.3 million dollars in restoration (see: calparks.org/Candlestick). The Bay Trail on the north shoreline will be finished this fall, a great time to see flocks of migrating birds, and perhaps you might see the endangered clapper rail. You’ll get a fine view (and stinky whiff) of the slough if you walk south on the trail from Shafter Avenue and Filtch Street, leading to the north shore.


India Basin Shoreline Park

At Arelious Walker Street and Hunters Point Boulevard you’ll find 12 acres of parkland, half of which are deemed natural. A century ago Jack London commissioned the building of Snark, the sailboat he and his wife took to the South Pacific, and there are still old boats moored in the vicinity to pique your interest. You’ll also find plenty of pickleweed and cordgrass, trails for walking and biking, a phenomenal playground, picnic sites, and probably a hundred different bird species. Bring a bike if you like—it is fun to cruise from here to Heron’s Head, which you can see across India Basin.


Heron’s Head Park

Jutting out like a bird head with a long neck, the 24 acres of Heron’s Head Park are amazing: a marshland that was once Pier 98. You will find the park begins near the intersection of Cargo Way and Jennings Street. The main trail is flat and ends at a rocky outcrop where sailboats glide and cormorants dry their wings, and an occasional seal surfaces. Bicyclists can ride around Heron’s Head and easily follow the waterfront to India Basin. The Eco Center is the off-the-grid building near the entrance to the park, and Literary for Environmental Justice holds classes and workshops there (see: lejyouth.org). Across the street is Bay Natives, a garden nursery specializing in native plants.


Pier 94 Wetlands

This verdant five acres of restored marshland is at the eastern end of Amador Street, before it turns to the right, and although you travel industrial streets with barely a tree, don’t give up. Enter the dirt lot to Hanson Aggregates, and in the back is the small entrance sign for Pier 94 Wetlands and a clean port-o-potty. Despite the cyclone fences and the neighboring concrete yards, the Pier 94 Wetlands is a real gem. Marsh plants grow abundantly, more than a hundred different birds have been counted, and the place is a harmonious combination of land, plants, animals, and water, a throwback to a former time.


Tulare Park at Islais Creek

There was a time when Islais Creek was the biggest creek in the city, originating from the Glen Park area, but urban development has shrunk its size by eighty percent.  Tulare Park, the patch of greenery at the end of Illinois at Marin Street, is badly hurting for love, but the neighboring artistic enclave has done beautiful work busting up sidewalks in front of their warehouses and planting healthy vegetables and other riotous foliage.


Warm Water Cove

If you take 24th Street as far east as possible, you will end up at Warm Water Cove. It is a patchwork of small flower gardens ringed by stones that have seen healthier days, and there is a homeless encampment vibe to the outer edges. But don’t let this deter you! A bench faces the bay at the easternmost end, giving a meditative feel. A couple of blocks away at 22nd Street and 3rd Street, Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous, a gourmet ice cream parlor, is not to be missed.


China Basin Park

China Basin Channel is an inlet where the bay meets Mission Creek, which once flowed across the city from 17th and Valencia Streets. AT&T Park is on the northeast side of China Basin Channel, and the green lawns, trees, and peewee baseball diamond of China Basin Park are on the southeast side, partially alongside Terry Francois Boulevard. Kayaks are available for hourly rental at City Kayak, and a recommended, self-guided route is to paddle up the China Basin Channel, an unforgettable experience.


Blue Greenway Project Background

All in all, the Blue Greenway is a tremendous job in a part of the city that has been polluted. Once you know a little history, you’ll gauge the importance of the plan.


The southern part of San Francisco’s shoreline was once a marshland where thousands of birds fished for shrimp, crabs, worms, and snails among eelgrass and pickleweed, fish hatched in the marshy water, and plankton and diatoms drifted along, touched by sunlight instead of rainbow-colored oil. If marshlands were given a monetary value in terms of providing resources for humans, they are arguably the most valuable landform on the planet. This area in San Francisco changed in large part from marshland to industrial sector during decades of shipbuilding from the 1800s through World War II. It seems that in the late ’60s and ’70s, urban decay began, and when revitalization came back in the ’90s, the city focused on neighborhoods in the north and west.


“You don’t miss the water till the well runs dry,” sang an R&B artist from the 1960s. An environmental sea change is happening in San Francisco, and the

southern waterfront is undergoing marshland restoration, pollution cleanup, the creation of green corridors for plants and animals, and safe access to the water. The estimated time for completion is uncertain, but there are meetings going on right now about the Blue Greenway.


Relevant Links:


SF Port Blue Greenway Project



San Francisco Bay Trail Project



Save the Bay



Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Creeks



Golden Gate Audubon—Volunteer at Yosemite Slough & Pier 94



Volunteering at Yosemite Slough




San Francisco Estuary Partnership



Bay Wise



Islais Creek





By Jessica Erica Hahn

Jessica Erica Hahn was raised in San Francisco, and has degrees from UC Berkeley, University of San Francisco, and San Francisco State University. See her blog, Hill Babies, at http://hillbabiessf.blogspot.com, and her column about hiking with children at Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/hiking-with-children-in-san-francisco/jessica-hahn-taylor





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