Where to Bike, Hike, or Fly 

Our guide to the best nature — or man — has to offer.


The Bay Area is flush with things to do, so get on out there. ... Disneyland may be the most famous American theme park, but Children's Fairyland (699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland, 510-452-2259) is America's original storybook theme park with storybook sets, kiddie rides, pint-sized farm animals, puppetry, and plays. This low-tech wonderland, where 1950s-era Magic Keys still unlock nursery rhymes and stories, remains a glitz-free children's paradise. ... For more family theme-park fun, consider Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (1001 Fairgrounds Dr., Vallejo, 707-643-6722), where you and the tots and teens can bond with sea, sky, and land animals or brave roller coasters or less-thrilling rides and more for a full day of activity. ... For a fresh-air, animal-oriented outing, check out the Oakland Zoo (9777 Golf Links Rd., Oakland, 510-632-9525), home to 440-plus native and exotic animals, the new Valley Children's Zoo, and an amazing sky ride with a stellar vantage point for seeing the East Bay. ... With wow-worthy close-up views of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and other astronomical phenomena through three big telescopes, an evening at Chabot Space & Science Center (10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland, 510-336-7300) is like an IMAX version of a night under the stars, perfect for budding scientists. See the night sky in a whole new way. ... Grown-ups desperate for an outing that will stimulate not only Johnny's brain but also Mom's and Dad's need look no further than Lawrence Hall of Science (Centennial Dr., Berkeley, 510-642-5132), a science and math mecca perched in the hills above the UC Berkeley campus with expansive bay vistas. ... Who's not a sucker for trains, merry-go-rounds, and animal farms? Kids are seemingly born loving 'em, and adults get a warm, fuzzy feeling just thinking about 'em, and Tilden Regional Park (Wildcat Canyon Rd. and Grizzly Peak Blvd., Berkeley, 510-843-2137) has all three (and more): historic steam trains, a just-restored Herschell-Spillman carousel, and the Little Farm. ... Ever wondered how the early pioneers ran a cattle ranch? Modern day cowpunchers can see firsthand by visiting Borges Ranch (1035 Castle Rock Rd., Walnut Creek, 925-942-0225), the Frank Borges homestead that's now a working ranch and historical site, complete with blacksmith shop, farm equipment, and livestock. ... Learn more history at Ardenwood Historic Farm (34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont, 510-796-0633), once the largest farm estate in the East Bay, occupying today's Fremont. With its beautiful Victorian mansion and garden, demonstrations of 1870s farming techniques, and opportunities for hands-on participation, it's always fascinating. ... For a calm way to start the day, wake at the crack of dawn, haul a kayak down to the Berkeley Marina (201 University Ave., Berkeley, 510-981-6740), paddle beyond the seawall, and watch the sun rise over Angel Island. ... The California Academy of Sciences (55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 415-379-800) is a natural science nerd's dream: aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum in one place with super-impressive new digs opening in fall 2008. ... The ferry ride alone is worth the trip to Alcatraz Island (catch one every half-hour or so at Pier 33, San Francisco, AlcatrazCruises.com), the infamous federal pen that held the likes of Al Capone, the "Birdman" Robert Stroud, and George "Machine Gun" Kelly. It's a self-guide setup once you're on the Rock, so leave time for exploring. ... While you're at it, don't forget Angel Island (San Francisco Bay; arrive by ferry from Oakland/Alameda, Tiburon, or San Francisco), the Ellis Island of the West Coast. The garrison that once housed new immigrants and later internees and POWs poignantly remains, but today's woodsy Angel Island is most associated with picnics, hikes, trail runs, bike rides, and other fun activities. ... Nothing says San Francisco like the Golden Gate Bridge, the graceful, iconic red-hued suspension bridge and the longest in the world when it was built. The best way to enjoy the bridge is by foot or bike, but bring a windbreaker. ... For gorgeous looks at the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, explore the wilds of the hilly Marin Headlands (Visitor Center, Fort Barry Chapel, Field and Bunker roads, Marin County, 415-331-1540), an urban park Eden with hiking trails, wild flowers, fauna, a lighthouse, military sites, and beaches. ... Sure, Pier 39 (east of Fisherman's Wharf at Beach Street and the Embarcadero, San Francisco, 415-705-5500) is the nexus of San Francisco's tourism commercialism, but it's perfect for snagging souvenirs. Here's where to shop, eat, drink, play games, watch street performers, and see the sea lions against the backdrop of Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. ... Not far from Pier 39 lies the quaint and bustling Italian neighborhood of North Beach, home to the beat generation and a district populated with great restaurants, unique boutiques, and adult entertainment outlets. ... And for a fascinating cultural tour, detour to San Francisco's Chinatown, an always-mobbed neighborhood spilling over with Asian markets, trinket shops, temples, and restaurants.



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