The entrance to the sensory garden.

Relish with all Senses – Sensory Garden at the Gardens of Lake Merritt

Squirrel drinking out of a fountain at the Sensory Garden, Lake Merritt.

I did give you a little break before I write again of yet another garden at the Gardens of Lake Merritt. You enter the Sensory Garden through a tile covered archway. It right away heightens your senses. You smell the mint and other herbs and notice all the colorful flowers. The whole garden is planted in raised beds that make it easy to touch the plants. The smoothed edged bricks are guidance for the visually impaired. The path meanders towards a shady seating area. We were delighted to watch a squirrel drink from the beautiful fountain. 

The former Herb and Fragrance Garden, established in 1978, got a makeover in 2004 through a collaboration of members of the Oakland East Bay Garden Center, the City’s Public Works Agency, and members of the Hillside Gardeners of Montclair. If you wish to help out and further experiment with your senses you are welcome to volunteer every third Saturday of the month in the morning.

Mint at the Sensory Garden.

The Sensory Garden is part of the Gardens of Lake Merritt at

666 Bellevue Ave, in Oakland, located near the South-West gate.

Which one is your favorite garden at the Gardens of Lake Merritt?

Previous posts of the gardens were:

Bonsai next to a sign for the Bonsai Garden of Lake Merritt.

Pick your Favorite Bonsai, Gardens of Lake Merritt

Maple bonsai at the Bonsai Garden, Lake Merritt.

In last week’s post about the AirBeeNBee at the Gardens of Lake Merritt I mentioned there was more to come. The bonsai garden, the only all volunteer based bonsai garden in the U.S., is an outstanding display of this Japanese tradition. Over a hundred little trees in a pot are presented. The oldest is over 1,600 years old!

A large stone shaped as a bunny at the bonsai garden at Lake Merritt, Oakland.

Open since 1999 the Bonsai Garden also features a collection of suiseki stones. Suiseki stones, also known as viewing stones, are stones that suggest a scene from nature. They are usually displayed as found and not modified. 

The cedar entrance gate to this garden is by master carpenter Hiroshi Sakaguchi from Northern California.

The gate to the bonsai garden by master carpenter Hiroshi Sakuguchi.

The Gardens of Lake Merritt are free, but donations are appreciated.

What is your favorite garden at the Gardens of Lake Merritt?

Here is a link to last week’s post about the AirBeeNBee.

AirBeeNBee with blooming native California flowers.

Stop by the AirBeeNBee at the Gardens at Lake Merritt, Oakland

AirBeeNBee at the Gardens of Lake Merritt, Oakland.

There are a lot of different garden types at the Gardens at Lake Merritt in Oakland. One structure stood out to us as we enjoyed the grounds: the AirBeeNBee. It is home for some of California’s 1600+ species of native nesting bees. 

Wooden hives and logs at the AirBeeNBee.

These bees don’t have a queen, or hives, or make honey. They are solitary and ground nesting. The AirBeeNBee was installed since many of the solitary bees usually nest in the ground. In this public garden the grounds are cleared, so this habitat was created with varied sized holes for different sizes of bees. They enjoy the flowers of the gardens, especially the Native Bee Pollinator Garden. Here flowers are planted for an all year long bloom since California native bees hatch year round.

Bees are not the only residents. Nearby is the dragonfly habitat and the monarch butterfly garden.

The Gardens of Lake Merritt are divided into 17 specialty gardens. I will highlight more of the gardens in later posts. 

The Gardens at Lake Merritt are located at 666 Bellevue Ave in Oakland. 

COVID open hours are Mondays to Fridays 7:30am – 3 pm, weekends 8 am – 4pm.

The Bee Hotel is near the South-West gate of the Gardens. 

Admission is free.

Have you been to the Gardens at Lake Merritt?

If you enjoy insectaries you should check out Foraging Island at Byxbee Park in Palo Alto. An ecological sculpture to invite insects and rodents to live there.

Sign for the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center in the background is the boardwalk.

Hope there is Strength in Numbers of the Swallows of Baylands Park

The Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm, and on Saturdays, from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm. We happened to stroll by on a Sunday and enjoyed the Baylands Boardwalk. Wide enough to keep socially distant, the newly constructed boardwalk overlooks the Bay.

Boardwalk at the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center looking out to the Bay.

The most interesting part were the residents of the Center. Two species of swallows nest at Baylands Park from March to August. The barn swallows nesting under the deck, the cliff swallows prefer the eaves. A constant chirping from above and below. Young swallows asking for food in their nests. One nest right next to another. Little heads peeking out from the openings. You see the parents in their frantic flight in search of food. 

Cliff swallows peeking out of their nests at Baylands Park in Palo Alto.

While the saying goes: “One swallow doesn’t make a spring (or summer)”, explained by Word Histories as meaning “a single fortunate event doesn’t mean what follows will also be good”, we can still hope that the future will have multiple fortunate events. And if you see multiple swallows doesn’t this mean a great future?

Part of the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center, one swallow flying to it.

Do you believe in strength in numbers?


Another bird watching opportunity on the Bay is in Sunnyvale’s Baylands Park.

Wildflowers at East Glenwood Preserve

Cherish the Wildflowers at Glenwood Preserve, Scotts Valley

Grazing cow along the Glenwood Preserve, Scotts Valley.

Glenwood Preserve has two entrances – the east and the west, that lead to over seven miles of trails. We decided to go to the East Glenwood entrance and followed the red path. A short 1.2 mile hike, not too hard in elevation changes and with some shade along the way. The trail is open to hikers and horses, but because of the grazing cows, no bikers or dogs are allowed. The red trail leads you by a pond with a lot of water lilies in it.

Lili pad in the pond of the East Glenwood Preserve.

I misjudged the sun’s intensity and came back with a sunburn. So, make sure you bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen. Bathrooms are at the adjacent park. We did not see the endangered Ohlone Tiger beetle that is endemic to the Santa Cruz Mountains. They come out late January to early April to mate and lay their eggs. But there are a lot of wildflowers still in bloom. 

California poppies at the Glenwood Preserve, Scott Valley.

I found the wildflowers plentiful – not like a superbloom, but many varieties, like the California poppy and lupine. If you like to look up what flowers are blooming, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District has published the Sierra Azul Wildflower Guide with 100 of the most common species. 

East Glenwood Open Space Preserve is open sunrise to sunset.

Lupine at the East Glenwood Preserve.

Where do you go to see wildflowers?

For more ideas on wildflower hikes you should check out my post: Hunt for wildflowers.

Or these websites:

https://hilltromper.com/article/spring-wildflower-hikes-santa-cruz-county

https://www.openspace.org/visit-a-preserve/plants-wildlife/wildflowers

Sign for Foothills Park at the park's entrance.

Hike a Freed Park – Foothills Park in Palo Alto

After 51 years Palo Alto lost an ACLU case and now has to open its Foothills Park to the public. Previously this gem was only open for Palo Alto residents and their guests. 

Kind of a city wide country club if you will. As a holiday gift to the neighboring people this 1,400-acre park with multiple levels of hiking trails, picnic areas, a lake, and a campground has been open since December 17th 2020. See a PDF park map here.

Fishing pier at Boranda Lake.

The campground, Towle Camp, is open from May to October and you can make reservations online. Fishing is allowed with a licence if you are 16 and older. Boronda Lake prohibits swimming, but non-motorized boats are allowed. Canoes are available for rent, weather permitting, weekends and holidays from May to October. Dogs are only permitted during the week on leash. 

Sign for Woodrat Trail at Foothills Park, Palo Alto.

Of course they have COVID restrictions in place, like social distancing and masks, but the restrooms, except in the Nature Center, are open. Some hiking trails are one-way, but they have trail maps posted everywhere. 

Pole at Panorama Trail with the direction of San Francisco.

I drove up to Panorama Trail first. Taking in the beautiful view. To make it more interesting they put out poles with points of interest to see through pipes . Some of the locations you might spot are Oakland, San Francisco, Mt Diablo, and San Jose. 

Boranda Lake

The hiking trail around the lake was somewhat muddy and I regretted not having switched into my hiking boots. From the main entrance I took the Tayon trail into the Woodrat trail and looped back to my car for a 1.5 mile hike. 

There is a lot to explore here and people were happy to do so. Watch out for bikers on Page Mill Rd!

“Starting Saturday, January 9, every weekend and holiday the entrance to Foothills Park will be closed between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. ” Please check the City of Palo Alto website before you go: https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/…/foothills/default.asp

Have you been to the Foothills Park?

If you like to explore some more of Palo Alto you can check out my page for 50 things to do in Palo Alto, or 50 things to do in Stanford.

Boardwalk of the Neary Lagoon in Santa Cruz

Relax at the Lagoon – Neary Lagoon, Santa Cruz

Information sign of the Pollinator Garden.

At the beginning to enter the Neary Lagoon in Santa Cruz, we used the public entrance at the corner of Bay St and California, you walk by the playgrounds and the Pollinator Garden.

Information sign for the Wastewater Treatment.

They don’t hide the fact that the Water Treatment is right next door. An information sign on how a water treatment plant works can be found.

The path to the lagoon slopes downward, but except for a few muddy puddles is wheelchair and stroller friendly. 

Just one muddy puddle on the one mile path of the Neary Lagoon.

The floating boardwalks are a surprise and the serenity of the place is absolutely breathtaking. Ducks come and greet you, and the signs advise about all the other wildlife in this refuge. The walk around the lagoon is about 1 mile. Some benches to relax are throughout. 

Floating boardwalk of the Neary Lagoon in Santa Cruz.

The  boardwalk was wide enough for socially distancing, but we hardly encountered anyone. Due to COVID-19 restrictions the restrooms have been replaced with a porta potty. Parking was very limited on California & Bay. Since it is a wildlife refuge there are no dogs allowed.

Have you been to the Neary Lagoon?

Other relaxing places in Santa Cruz are the Monarchs walk at the National Bridges State Beach Park and the Botanical Garden of UC Santa Cruz.

Trees at McClellan Creek Trail

Climb Around Trees at McClellan Creek Trail

McClellan Ranch in Cupertino is an educational ranch with a science center and also hosts the 4H of Cupertino.

Entrance to the McClellan Creek Trail in Cupertino, CA.

If you score a parking spot at the ranch, the Creek Trail starts away from the buildings near the bee station. A narrow dirt path goes right next to the Stevens Creek. I was surprised to find that here it carries water; it must come from the Stevens Creek Reservoir. In Mountain View, Stevens Creek usually only has water from the Bay when it rains, as an overflow protection.

Anyway, it is quite pretty to walk by the trees, some of them even have signs to identify them. Deeper and deeper into the trail the trees grow more freely and make for interesting roadblocks and climbing opportunities, a nice way to say you can’t use a wheelchair or stroller on this path. 

Trees at McClellan Creek Trail, Cupertino, CA.

After a gathering point with tree benches, the trees are more and more unmanaged.

I end with a few more cautions:

  • Be careful of ticks, snakes and mountain lions
  • Don’t go into the water
  • Watch for Poison Oak

Where do you climb on trees?

Educational sign about the three different oak trees in San Jose

Learn About Local Oak Trees at San Jose’s Guadalupe Oak Grove Park

San Jose’s Guadalupe Oak Grove Park is a hilly park with sparse trees covering about 60 acres. It turns out they are all oak trees! There are three varieties of local oaks here. 

First the Valley Oak. It is the largest of the group of locals. The leaves are shaped to what I as a European have known as an oak tree leaf, a long leaf broken up with round edges. The other two species, the Blue Oak and the Coast Live Oak, have similar leaf structures; we had a hard time picking out which is which. Our best guess was the blue oak is lighter in color. The Las Pilitas Nursery website stated that Blue Oaks like to hybridize with other oaks. So, maybe we were onto something?

View at the Guadalupe Oak Grove Park, San Jose.

The hill was a nice challenge and allowed for a terrific view. And thanks to all the acorns the park attracts a lot of birds. We enjoyed watching a group of acorn woodpeckers.

One of the beautified water utility boxes at the Jeffery Fontana Park, San Jose.

The Jeffrey Fontana Park borders the Guadalupe Oak Grove Park and has a playground and two dog parks. In the grassy area they have beautified the water utility boxes. One features the nearby oak trees. 

Do you know your endemic oak trees?

Looking for a forest to hike in? Check out Huddart Park in Woodside: Hike a forest.

Bridge to the Ravenswood Bay Trail in East Palo Alto.

Find a Bridge to East Palo Alto

Wishing Trees signs at Palo Alto Art Center.

Originally I wanted to tell you about the Wishing Trees in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. A wonderful idea to bridge these two cities together by Canopy. Seven trees had been nominated to become wishing trees and people would leave messages written on hanging cards on the tree. Plus you would learn about what type of tree your wishing tree was. 

This beautiful idea ended October 31st. I hope they’ll repeat this some time.

Gate to Ravenswood Bay Trail. Hours are 5:00 am - 10:00 pm.

But as of August 7th, 2020 there is a real bridge connecting East Palo Alto with the neighboring counties: the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve. Ravenswood OSP is part of the Bay Trail and with it’s only 0.6 miles in length it establishes to connect three counties for a total of 80 miles of continuous trails.

Ravenswood Bay Trail bridge in East Palo Alto.

At the end of Bay Ave, an under construction path, you will reach the Cooley Landing Education Center. Right now from this side of the trail this is the only parking lot into the park. You can also enter from the other side using the Dumbarton bridge entrance off Highway 84. 

Biker on the Ravenswood Bay Trail in East Palo Alto.

What would you do to build a bridge to East Palo Alto?

More suggestions to ride your bike along the Bay: https://untilsuburbia.com/take-advantage-of-your-bike/