SF Bay Area: Favorite Parks and Hiking Spots in the East & South Bay

James Shih

Going to local parks and hiking spots are considered relatively safe physical activities to do during the pandemic as long as you’re following social distancing and mask wearing guidelines. Was back recently in my hometown area of the San Francisco Bay and wanted to go over three South Bay and three East Bay locations that are great for getting some fresh air and exploring nature.


Photo by James Shih.

Ed Levin Park

Hidden in the hills of Milpitas, Ed Levin Park features a beautiful lake, grassy fields, and excellent hiking trails. To get to the park, it’s a quick drive up Calaveras Blvd past a horse ranch and the road winds along a creek. Some people enjoy the challenge and ride their bicycles to the park or go deeper into the rolling hills for a scenic ride. If you plan to drive your vehicle, just know there may be a parking fee.

The lake itself is quite a sight and is a popular spot for people to go fishing. If you go in the early morning or late afternoon, be sure to layer up as it can get quite chilly. If you’re bringing children, just past the guard gate to the right are playgrounds with slides that the kids love.

From the playground, if you go up the hill, you can reach the lake. Towards the hills you can find some great hiking trails. If you plan to hike, be sure to get some info and a map from the guard gate. Be safe and bring plenty of water and a cellphone. One time me, my friend, and his dog got lost and we ended up hiking for about seven hours. Not fun.



Photos by James Shih

Salt Ponds of Alviso

West of Milpitas and near the town of Alviso are the Salt Ponds. This beautiful nature reserve area has some of the most iconic scenery and views that are great for photographers and videographers looking to get some cinematic shots.

There are a series of doors that lead to nowhere that are set up along the Salt Ponds that give an eerie and majestic feeling.

As is expected from the salty area, be prepared to get a whiff of sulphur and some pungent smells. Be careful not to venture too far off the path as you may fall into the pond or disturb some of the nature growth in the area.

Looking out onto the flat gray expanse is quite the sight.


Photo by James Shih


Photo by John D. on Yelp.

Municipal Rose Garden of San Jose

The Rose Garden in San Jose is a beautiful stop for any fan of the colorful flower. Featuring a variety of rose species as well as benches and grassy areas for people to lounge, this is a great spot for couples and families to come for a stroll.

Pre-pandemic, this location was a popular place for weddings with an arch entrance leading to a water fountain. This fountain and roses beside it have borne witness to many couples saying the words “I do.”

The roses are in rows and amongst the flower beds you can find a variety of hues, some that I didn’t even know roses came in (purple!). Be careful not to get too close to the roses, as they do have thorns.



Photo by James Shih

Lake Elizabeth/Central Park

Central Park in Fremont is right by Lake Elizabeth and is an excellent loop to take a walk around. There are ducks, geese, and other avian species I don’t know the names for, but they definitely make the area feel teeming with life. One time in the grass bushes I also saw a cute stray cat enjoying the sunshine.

The park is quite big, so if you’re meeting up with friends, be sure to setup a clear meeting point. A popular meeting spot is the boat launching deck that is at the bend of the lake closest to the park’s main parking lot.

Lake Elizabeth and Central Park offer clear views of the hills and is just far enough from the main street to give it a nice feeling of natural seclusion from the city. The loop around the lake if walking briskly takes about 25 minutes and you’ll get to see some squirrels jumping in and around the rocks next to the water.


Photo by James Shih

Mission Peak of Fremont

This is the go-to hiking spot of the East Bay. As the name suggests, the hike leads to a peak offering scenic views of the entire Bay Area. The trail is fairly easy to climb, just be sure not to go after the rain, as it can get quite muddy.

Mission Peak holds a special heart for many East Bay-ers and is depicted on the logo for the City of Fremont. The full six mile hike round trip takes about 3-4 hours if moving at a relatively leisurely pace.

This park is also popular for hangliders, with a launching off point around 1,950 ft above sea level.. There is a trail that connects Mission Peak to Ed Levin through the Ed Levin County Park route, though this path is generally not recommended as it’s approximately 6 to 7 miles of terrain one way and there’s no easy way to get back to civilization if you decide to stop halfway. If you do do it, have someone pick you up at the end destination.


Photo by Aran Johnson from Wikipedia.

Lake Merritt

This is a staple of Oakland. I’ve focused so far mostly on Milpitas and Fremont, but if you make your way up further north, this is a great place to take a quick stroll during the daytime. Lake Merritt has an interesting shape and connects Chinatown to the south to Adam’s Point in the north, with two prongs of the lake reaching further north with the west prong alongside Children’s Fairyland and the Pergola structure on the east.

In good weather, you can find people out here sitting on the grass, reading a book, dancing, going for a run–just be sure to stay safe during the pandemic. In the evening though, be careful if you’re venturing on foot near the lake as crimes do happen–I’ve had my phone stolen from me before in this neighborhood at night.

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I enjoy writing about film/TV, travel, slice of life, language, Asian American issues, and other interests. Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment or message if you have any thoughts to share =).

Los Angeles, CA

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