BARTable by bike: Bay Trail, Alameda
A sunny afternoon. Low tide if you like shorebirds; high tide if you want to swim.
BART Station:Fruitvale (Oakland)
A project conceived in 1986 by State Senator Bill Lockyer, the Bay Trail is a vision for a connected set of pathways and roads ringing the Bay, providing access to shorelines and waterside parks for walkers and cyclists. Over 350 miles have been created so far, and most of it is BARTable by bike.
One of the more accessible segments is along the shoreline of Alameda. Alameda is an artificial island, created when the mud flats which separated it from Oakland were dredged to provide access for shipping early in the 20th century. Now connected to the mainland by four bridges and a tunnel, a bike ride can take you out to the state parks along the Bay, and to the old Naval Air Station Alameda, where you can visit the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier, or spend an afternoon at one of the wineries or breweries along Spirits Alley. Hop the ferry back to Oakland and do a quick lap around Lake Merritt to finish up.
How to get there
Exit the Fruitvale BART station to the west (where the buses are). Turn left onto Fruitvale Ave. at the light on 10th Street.
This route heads over the High Street Bridge and follows the perimeter of the island, mostly on dedicated pathways with wonderful views of the Bay and San Francisco. You’ll see hundreds of shorebirds along the beaches and mud flats and end up exploring the wide roads and huge warehouses of the Naval Air Station Alameda. A short-hop ride on the San Francisco Bay Ferry (as of March 2020, $1.70, payable by Clipper card) will take you back across the estuary to Jack London Square. The schedule varies seasonally; check before you go. Generally the ferries run until 9pm or so on weekdays, 7pm on weekends.
Things to see
Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach
Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach runs for several miles along Alameda’s bayfront. The southernmost portion is a wildlife sanctuary with good shorebird viewing. You can rent a windsurfer, kite board or stand-up paddleboard at the Boardsports kiosk. And at high tide, Crab Cove is quite pleasant for swimming on a hot day; the water is warmer than most beaches around the Bay.
The USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum provides tours and special events aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier with a long history, including retrieving the Apollo 11 capsule. Take the haunted ship tour on Halloween or bring your friends and try out the escape room.
The huge former Alameda Naval Air Station is being rededicated to civilian uses, and the most active area is the street known Spirits Alley, where breweries, wineries, and distilleries have set up shop in the abandoned warehouses of the former Navy base. Many of the businesses have picnic tables with spectacular views of the Bay and San Francisco, and you’ll find food trucks serving lunch and snacks.
This longer route includes more of the pathways along Oakland’s beautiful Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, and ventures out to San Leandro’s Oyster Bay and to Bay Farm Island, connecting back to Alameda over the nation’s only bicycle drawbridge. The route finishes by completing the circumnavigation of Alameda, returning to BART via the Park Street Bridge.
Things to see
Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline
Accessing Oakland’s waterfront is a little challenging, but once you’re there it’s beautiful. The Bay Trail rolls through MLK Regional Shoreline, where you’ll find many opportunities for picnicking and bird watching alongside the salt marshes and mud flats.
Bay Farm Island
Now misnamed, Bay Farm Island was once an island, but now is connected to Oakland and San Leandro by the bay fill used to construct a site for Oakland Airport. Riding around it, you’ll pass the airport’s North Field, where you’ll find the Oakland Aviation Museum, and you also might get to see some hobbyists flying at the Bill Osborne Model Airplane Field on your way to the Bay Farm Bike Bridge.
Alameda’s classic downtown has a bunch of interesting businesses and restaurants. Check out the High Scores Arcade, where the entry fee gets you access to free play on dozens of classic cabinet video games. Finish up your ride with a cone at Tucker’s Super Creamed Ice Cream.
- Fruitvale Avenue near the BART station is busy and has poor infrastructure. Be careful.
- The left turn off of Fruitvale Ave to the Bay Trail is difficult; the pedestrian crosswalk may be easiest.
- For the longer route, crossing High Street near the bridge can be hard, and there is no traffic control. And, the road between High Street and Tidewater Boating Center is one of the most degraded in Oakland.
- Doolittle Drive has a wide shoulder but a lot of traffic. There is a set of alternative paths which are bike-legal but more oriented towards pedestrians. If you decide to use those paths, go slow and be aware of walkers.
- The park near the Bay Farm Bike Bridge is home to a large colony of rock squirrels, and they all seem to want to run out in front of your bike as you approach.
- Alameda Naval Air Station is under active construction and detour routes often change. Pay attention to signs.
- If you want to take the ferry back to Oakland, check the schedule; outside of commute hours, ferries are infrequent.