Explore Salt Ponds and Marsh at Alviso Marina County Park

Alviso, Ca – Connect with a site that’s a part of one of the largest tidal marsh restoration projects on the west coast. Alviso Marina County Park was formerly an industry-dominated site, but now serves as an amazing entrance to the greater Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

About the Park

Alviso, Ca – Santa Clara County Park 

Science Spotlight: Leopard Sharks at Alviso

When I first learned that there were actual sharks around Alviso, I was in total shock. To me, the idea of the perfect habitat for sharks had always been the open ocean. Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I learned that the area is home to leopard sharks.

Leopard sharks are the most common sharks in the San Francisco Bay estuary, with a range that extends from Oregon to Mexico. They can grow to lengths of up to 7 feet, and feed on invertebrates and fish. To feed, they make a daily migration to shallow areas during high tides.

The San Francisco Bay Area lost much of the tidal marsh and shallow areas utilized by the leopard sharks to development for harvesting salt. As these tidal marshes are restored, researchers are finding that the leopard sharks are returning.

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Leopard shark; Source: © Nathan Rupert, 2009, Flickr Photo Album, some rights reserved.

Park History

Visiting Alviso truly feels like a blast into the past: on your way to the park, you pass by an old cannery site, the warehouses, and a Victorian-style home. The area that is now Alviso Marina County Park used to be receive drainage rich in mercury from the New Almaden Mining District. The site also used to be a heavily-trafficked port area supplying San Jose and a launching point for steamboat passage to San Francisco. When these operations shut down, the area was transformed into salt ponds for salt harvest, operated by the Cargill Salt Company.

The area is now rich with wildlife, providing a feeding and nesting area for many species of birds. Alviso Marina County Park has become a part of the nearby Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Today, the area is part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project (SBSPRP), one of the largest tidal marsh restoration projects on the west coast. Restoration offers new habitat for California wildlife and offers visitors the chance to see nature reclaiming a formerly industry-dominated area.

For more detailed information on the history of Alviso Marina County Park, check out this article by the Mercury News.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are now allowed on trails or walkways. For more detailed information on where dogs are and aren’t allowed, check out the park map.

Alviso Marina County Park serves as the entrance to the greater Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. We encourage you to explore that area as well, time permitting.

Here are some helpful resources to plan your visit:

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Enjoy a Hike with Your Pooch at Ed R. Levin County Park

Milpitas, Ca – If you’ve got a furry companion, this is the place to be! Ed R. Levin County Park allows dogs on-leash and has an off-leash dog park right near the trail entrance. Perfect for a weekend out with Clifford.

About the Park

Milpitas, Ca – Santa Clara County Park

Visit the Park

If you’ve been hiking around the Bay Area, you know that it’s usually a toss-up as to whether or not dogs are allowed at the park. Ed R. Levin County Park is special, as it allows dogs and has an off-leash dog park.

Please note that there is a $6 vehicle fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

Dogs & Parks – Why Restrict Dog Access?

Dogs, especially when off-leash at parks, are in an area with many other wild animals. In some cases, this can lead to unexpected altercations between dogs and wildlife. Thus, keeping dogs off trails is a way to protect them from harmful interactions such as these.

Beyond that, dogs can also pose a threat to wildlife at the park you’re exploring. Many dogs are curious, and will excitedly greet any new acquaintances made on the trail. However, some species, such as the Western snowy plover, are extremely stressed by events such as these. Snowy plovers are already facing steep population declines from habitat loss and disturbance, so protecting their populations from any sort of stress is critical.

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Wander in Eucalypts at Wunderlich County Park

Woodside, Ca – Ever had Folger’s coffee? The Folger family played a large role in the history of this park. Learn this and more in our guide to Wunderlich County Park.

About the Park

Woodside, Ca – San Mateo County Park

Science Spotlight: Eucalyptus in California

While winding out of the young redwood forest at Wunderlich County Park, I was met with stands of eucalyptus – a non-native species deeply rooted in the logging history of the San Francisco Bay Area.

When checking out the plant life on your local hikes, it’s likely that you’re witnessing a mosaic of native and non-native species. It is estimated that California is home to over 1,000 non-native plants, introduced by early settlers of the state. There are 5,000 native plant species in California – making the non-natives a decently large proportion of plant life.

Native to Australia, eucalyptus trees are a common household name known for their beautiful gray-colored leaves and aromatic oil. California settlers during the Gold Rush faced high demands for lumber and a looming concern for the amount of native forest logging. Eager for a good source of wood, operations planted millions of eucalyptus trees around the Bay Area.

The eucalyptus optimism was met with failure – settlers soon discovered that eucalyptus trees are not good for lumber until after the wood matures over 75 – 100 years. Today, they still are present in many areas along the Bay.

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Eucalyptus trees dot the edges of the trail at Wunderlich County Park.

Park History

The Costanoan Native Americans inhabited the park area prior to settlement by Europeans.

Just like nearby Huddart Park, the redwood forest in the area was heavily logged during the Gold Rush. In 1840, John Copinger established a ranch in the area. The ranch changed ownership until it was sold to James A Folger II (yes, you guessed it – the Folger’s Coffee family!) in 1902 to be used as recreational area. The Folger Stable and Carriage House are still open to the public today, used as a stable and museum.

The land was purchased by Martin Wunderlich in 1956, who gifted the area to San Mateo County in 1974.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are not allowed.

When visiting, we recommend checking out the Folger Stable and Carriage House for a taste of South Bay history from the lens of the famous coffee family. We also recommend checking out Salamander Flat – keep your eye out for any amphibians there!

Here are some helpful resources to plan your visit:

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Enjoy Spring Poppies at Rancho San Antonio County Park

Cupertino, Ca – Learn more about one of the most popular parks in the Silicon Valley, nestled right in Cupertino.

Species to Look Out For:

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California Poppy

About the Park

Cupertino, Ca – Santa Clara County Park

Science Spotlight: State Flower at Rancho San Antonio

When strolling along the trail at Rancho San Antonio County Park, Dan and I were struck by the sheer numbers of bright California poppies we encountered.

California poppies are bright, adaptable flowers native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. They were first named by a naturalist aboard a Russian ship exploring California and Alaska.

California poppies can be found in a variety of habitats, from California’s coasts to the Mojave Desert. Their bright flowers are composed of four petals, and can range in color from yellow to orange. They are symbols of the “Golden State”, earning the title of California’s state flower in 1903.

On any Bay Area hike, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for blooming poppies in the spring and summer!

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California poppy at Rancho San Antonio County Park.

Park History

Prior to European settlement, the Ohlone Native Americans inhabited the area for over 3,000 years. Following the arrival of Juan Baptista de Anza to the Bay Area in 1776, the area around Rancho San Antonio was transformed into ranchland. The ranch changed ownership several times in its lifetime.

The Santa Clara County Parks department began to purchase the land in 1977, eventually accruing over 3,988 acres of land. Today, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space Preserve manages the entire park.

For a more detailed history of the park, check out the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space Preserve’s page on Rancho San Antonio history.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are not allowed.

Here are some helpful resources to plan your visit:

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Look for Banana Slugs at Sam McDonald County Park

Loma Mar, Ca – Sam McDonald County Park is a gem located just an hour Southwest of the Silicon Valley. The park is split into two habitats: grassy hills and shrubbery to the Northwest and redwood stands to the Southwest.

Species to Look Out For

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Coast Redwood

About the Park

Loma Mar, Ca – San Mateo County Park

Science Spotlight: Banana Slugs

When the forest floor is damp at Sam McDonald County Park, it’s common to encounter large, yellow slugs. These slimy sights are banana slugs – one of the largest species of terrestrial mollusks.

Banana slugs can grow up to the incredible length of 10 inches, and live up to 7 years. They are found in forests along the West coast of North America from Alaska to California.

Although it’s tempting, if you find a banana slug along your journey, be sure not to pick it up! Contact with our skin can dry them out. Check out these cute critters with just your eyes, and watch your step for others as you continue on the trail.

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A banana slug enjoying the damp forest floor at Sam McDonald County Park.

Park History

Born the descendant of slaves in Louisiana, Sam McDonald settled down in Palo Alto, CA in 1903. While in California, he began what would become a long career with Stanford University as the superintendent of athletic grounds and buildings. He was well-loved by the Stanford community throughout his lifetime.

McDonald acquired the park and a small property on the grounds in 1917. After his death, he granted the land to Stanford, requesting that the park be used to enrich the lives of young people. San Mateo County acquired the land in 1958. It remains named in Sam’s honor, with a total of 867 acres of land.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is a parking fee. Dogs are not allowed.

Our love for trees brought us to the Heritage Grove Trail to Hiker’s Hut. However; regardless of the trail that you take or its length, you are guaranteed to get beautiful views of the Coastal Redwoods and the animal communities that live there.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

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Hike in San Jose at Santa Teresa County Park

San Jose, Ca – Santa Teresa County Park is located just 10 miles outside of bustling San Jose, CA. With its rolling hills and gorgeous views of the Bay Area, this location is definitely worth the short drive.

About the Park

San Jose, Ca – Santa Clara County Park

Science Spotlight: Red-shouldered Hawks at Santa Teresa

Dan and I were making our back after finishing up the hike to Coyote Peak when suddenly a blur of a bird rushed past us on the trail. Looking in the direction of its landing, we were met with an awesome sight: a red-shouldered hawk perched up on a nearby tree. I was surprised when I noted the beautiful red streaking across the belly and shadowy-looking eyebrows of the bird – a surprising sight when you’ve grown used to glancing at perching raptors and seeing red-tailed hawks.

Red-shouldered hawks are typically birds of the forest. Their meals of choice include small mammals, amphibians, small birds, and reptiles. These hawks prefer intact forests – a habitat that has been lost in many places out east, resulting in a decline in local populations.

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Red-shouldered Hawk; © Ferd Brundick, 2014, Flickr Photo Album, some rights reserved.

The red-shouldered hawk, like many other raptors (or birds of prey), has ties to conservation initiatives in the Bay Area. The Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted a study on rat poison’s effects on predators, and found that poisoned rodents can cause the secondary deaths of hawks, owls, foxes, and bobcats. The red-shouldered hawk is among the list of species affected. Concerned about the loss of predators, the Raptors Are The Solution (RATS) organization is using posters in a campaign to educate the public about the secondary effects of rat poison. You can help, too – when faced with a rodent issue, leave the killing to the raptors or humane alternatives to poisons.

Park History

For over 6,000 years, the park was occupied by Native American tribes (most notably, the Muwekma Ohlone tribe). The park was visited by Juan Bautista de Anza during his explorations for mission locations in the 1770’s. In 1825 the area was settled by José Joaquin Bernal, a member of the expeditions. The area was primarily used as a ranch, vineyard, and orchard under Bernal. In 1956, the county purchased land for the park, thus beginning the accumulation of acreage for Santa Teresa County Park.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is a fee for parking. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

We recommend making the trek up to Coyote Peak (3.8 Miles) while visiting the park. When walking along the grassy hills, be sure to look out for birds of prey such as the red-tailed hawk and the turkey vulture. When in more forested areas, keep an eye out for red-shouldered hawks and songbirds.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

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