The East Bay has plenty to envy: a bounty of restaurants; thriving theater, music, and arts scenes; great minds and great universities. But one of our region's most enduring qualities, one that distinguishes it from many urban areas, is its unparalleled and fast access to natural beauty. The East Bay regional parks system is vast and gorgeous, offering panoramas and microclimates by the dozens, with terrain diverse enough to suit the most rugged hikers, weekend warriors, families with kids, and hobbling elders alike. Favorite family spots include places like lakes Anza, Temescal, and Chabot, and Tilden Park's Inspiration Point trail -- not to mention the ever-popular Steam Trains and Botanical Gardens. Moving south through the hills brings you to Sibley, a wide-open volcanic park where prehistory is writ in geologic form, and you'll see puzzling pagan rock circles and even a small marsh pierced by the metallic call of redwing blackbirds. The large Redwood Park features hiking and biking from mellow ridge trails with hilly views to steep, exposed fire roads to moist and shady streamside jaunts. The system's joys go on and on -- check Ohlone Wilderness' striking Little Yosemite, with its spring wildflowers and waterfall cascades. In all, the parks district manages more than 95,000 acres in 65 parks, recreation areas, wildernesses, shorelines, preserves, and land banks. It boasts 1,150 miles of park trails; 29 regional trails; 11 lakes and lagoons for swimming, boating, and/or fishing; 40 fishing docks; 3 bay fishing piers; 235 family campsites; 2 golf courses; nearly 3,800 picnic tables; and 18 kiddie play areas. With such natural and recreational spoils, you'll never be lacking ways to impress an out-of-town visitor. Or yourself, for that matter.