A Bay Area nature day trip or weekend jaunt is just what the doctor ordered

A Bay Area nature day trip or weekend jaunt is just what the doctor ordered


Breathing in the sweet scent of coyote bush and listening to the gentle drone of bees, a feeling of well-being washes over me. I’m outside a special cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains trying the latest trend in healthcare in the heart of Silicon Valley.

This isn’t some costly high-tech treatment — it’s a dose of nature, which some Bay Area doctors have begun prescribing alongside traditional remedies.

Research shows spending time in nature can lower blood pressure, anxiety and stress levels. In recent years, Bay Area doctors and organizations such as the Institute at the Golden Gate, which is part of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the nationwide Parks RX, have begun taking a more proactive approach to connect people with nature.

Dr. Laurie Bostick Cammon participates in Santa Clara County’s Juntos Initiative at the Pediatric Healthy Lifestyle Center in Santa Clara, writing prescriptions for her patients to spend time outside.

“Even if you can’t do a lot of adventuring or hiking, going for a walk or even just sitting in nature is good for your health,” she says.

But you don’t need a doctor’s prescription to immerse yourself in nature. The Bay Area has 4.4 million acres of open space available to everyone, whatever their ability. If you need a little inspiration, here are just a few of the physician-approved places where you can hike, play, sleep or just sit outdoors.

East Bay parks

Alameda and Contra Costa counties run several Park RX programs, including a successful collaboration with Oakland’s UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, which has helped more than 3,300 children and their families visit local parks for outdoor activities. And the East Bay Regional Park District, which oversees 100,000 acres of parkland in both counties, makes it easy for everyone to get out into nature with free guided walks and activities.

Easy day trips: Join one of the free Multicultural Wellness Walks hosted on eight Saturdays a year that draw 50 to 60 people — from kindergartners to octogenarians — each time. Join the walk at Berkeley’s Tilden Nature Area from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 26, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at Castro Valley’s Lake Chabot and 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 28 at Martinez’s Briones Regional Park. The Park District also runs regular bird-watching walks, which are free and available to everyone. Find details at www.ebparks.org/recreation/hiking.

Overnight jaunts: Skip the Tahoe crowds and head to Del Valle Park Regional Park, ten miles south of Livermore. This East Bay gem is a warm-weather oasis, with a five-mile-long lake, sandy swimming beach and boat rentals — and five cabins you can book for an overnight stay. (The campground is still closed due to winter storm damage.)

Doug Duran staff archivesAn East Regional Park District naturalist will lead a hike Oct. 2 at Del Valle Regional Park, above, south of Livermore.
The star of Del Valle Regional Park is a 5-mile long lake. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group File) 

From the marina car park, take the East Shore Trail south for a flat, paved trail to the swimming beach. For a more challenging hike, head north and cut inland along the Ridgeline Loop for spectacular views over the lake.

Find details on other East Bay Regional Parks, including several with campgrounds for families, groups or backpackers, at https://www.ebparks.org.

South Bay sunshine

Santa Clara County regularly offers hikes and activities to families through its parks and Santa Clara Medical Center. And if you’re looking for themed outdoor experiences, families can learn about gardening through the Veggielution program at San Jose’s Emma Prusch Farm and local wildlife via guided hikes at San Jose’s Santa Teresa Park.

Easy day trips: Veggielution Community Farm is open on Friday and Saturday mornings to anyone who wants to learn gardening skills and volunteer at the six-acre farm — and you can buy produce from the Veggielution farm stand on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 647 S. King Road. Learn more and register to volunteer at https://veggielution.org/.

SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 13: Maya Talpai-Vasinthascha from the Climate Action Corps and Rosa Maria Gordillo, the environmental education coordinator at the Veggielution community farm chat in one of the farm's greenhouse, in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. Taking up a corner of the 48-acre Emma Prusch Farm Park at the busy intersection of Story and King roads, Veggielution's fields, gardens and buildings sit in the shadow of the flyover ramp from Highway 101 to Interstate 680. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
SMaya Talpai-Vasinthascha from the Climate Action Corps and Rosa Maria Gordillo, the environmental education coordinator at the Veggielution community farm chat in one of the farm’s greenhouse, in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. . (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group File) 

And local parks offer easy guided hikes of every variety, from a forest bathing experience — Showers of Bliss at Saratoga’s Sanborn from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 10 —  to a ranger-led redwood exploration at Watsonville’s Mt. Madonna County Park from 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 19.

Overnight jaunts: Mt. Madonna has yurts available to rent at its camping area, offering an easy way for families to try out camping without investing in a ton of equipment. Tent campers and RVers are also welcome.

At Mt. Madonna in Santa Clara County, a view from Valley View Campground at the park. Courtesy of Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department
The views from Mt. Madonna Park in Santa Clara County are spectacular. (Photo: Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department) 

This beautiful park features a diverse terrain of oak woodland and pristine redwood forest. In summer and early fall, the shady forest is a welcome escape from the heat. For an easy walk, take the one-mile Miller trail to explore the crumbling remains of timber baron Henry Miller’s former summer home. Find Santa Clara County Parks details at https://parks.sccgov.org

If you prefer your outdoor experiences with less rustic sleeping arrangements, Land of Medicine Buddha is a peaceful Buddhist retreat hidden in Soquel. The simple rooms are free from electronic distractions, and guests can hike, swim in the spring-fed pool and enjoy a massage. Find details at https://landofmedicinebuddha.org/.

Peninsula pursuits

in San Mateo County, the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) collaboration with the San Mateo Medical Center’s Park Rx program extends beyond trails and parks. It includes a beautifully renovated cabin, conceived as a place for healing and nature immersion high in the Santa Cruz Mountains near LaHonda and Loma Mar.

Easy day trips: Hiking trails and nature activities abound in these county parks, and special events add to the outdoor fun. Woodside’s Wunderlich County Park, for example, will host a family fun day from 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 27, complete with petting zoo and pony rides. Woodside’s Huddart Park will hold a wheelchair- and stroller-friendly Community Nature Day from 1 to 3 p.m. Sept. 30 that includes nature games, meditation and “Walks With Your Doctor.”