San Francisco Bay Camping

View of Golden Gate from Kirby Cove Campground, Photo by Alison Taggart-Barone, NPS
View of Golden Gate from Kirby Cove Campground, Photo by Alison Taggart-Barone, NPS

As Bay Area residents, we are privileged with incredible access to scenic hiking trails, wilderness areas and campsites. Although Tahoe, Big Sur, and Yosemite are favored by many, most of us don’t realize that we don’t need to travel quite so far to arrive at our next camping destination.

Learn more about four campgrounds that are located right on the Bay.

Kirby Cove

Located at the foot of the Marin Headlands, Kirby Cove has four public campgrounds, each accommodating up to 10 people. Kirby Cove is nestled right along the Bay, just west of the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, offering campers breathtaking views of the Bridge and San Francisco.

The descent to the cove begins at the parking area above Battery Spencer on Conzelman Road. The trail is merely 1 mile in length, descending through a stately grove of Monterrey pine and cypress and Blue Gum eucalyptus. Coastal sage and vibrant Lupine cover the neighboring hillsides.

Campers can spend their day hiking, picnicking and taking in the beautiful views from Kirby Cove beach. Visitors should also be sure to check out Battery Kirby, a historic army battery located in the middle of the campgrounds.

Angel Island

Smack in the center of San Francisco Bay sits Angel Island State Park, offering spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline, the Marin Headlands, Mount Tamalpais and the East Bay. Combine the proximity to the city and Marin with the spectacular views and you can see why campers have to reserve one of Angel Island’s nine sites up to six months in advance.

Camping at Angel Island provides a unique experience. Looking out, you quickly realize you are surrounded by a bustling and urban landscape, yet seeing the Bay surround you on all sides, there is also a feeling of isolation and seclusion.

During your stay, take the time to consider the island’s history and past inhabitants. Angel Island was originally a seasonal hunting and gathering location for the Coast Miwok tribes. In addition to serving as an Immigration Station, processing hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the island has over 100 years of military history.

Take the Tiburon Ferry to the island and you might get the chance to meet Captain Maggie and learn more about the island’s history and transition to a State Park.

Rob Hill

Rob Hill sits on top of the highest point in the Presidio overlooking Baker Beach and the Pacific Ocean. It is the only campground in San Francisco and is open April through October. Rob Hill is close enough to bus or bike to, yet secluded enough to provide a relaxing getaway.

Of the four campsites, two are available for public use, each accommodating up to 30 people. The other two sites are used for the Camping at the Presidio program, a program which provides youth who traditionally have not visited national parks with meaningful overnight camping experiences.

Campers can spend their time roasting marshmallows in the large campfire pits, hiking the nearby Bay Area Ridge Trail or walking down to Baker Beach via the sand ladder on Lincoln Blvd.

China Camp

Nestled on the shores of San Pablo Bay in San Rafael, Back Ranch Meadows Campground features 30 campsites situated among groves of oaks, bay laurels, and madrones. Once the site of a thriving fishing village, China Camp State Park is comprised of 1,640 acres of natural watershed along the shores of San Francisco Bay.

All campsites at Back Ranch Meadows campground are hike-in sites. The park features extensive salt marsh, meadow and oak habitats that are home to a variety of native wildlife. Campers can enjoy bird watching, hiking, swimming, boating, windsurfing and sunshine. The park has some of the best weather in the Bay Area, with an average of over 200 fog-free days per year.

Bay Artist Blog Roundup

Bay Area artists create art about San Francisco Bay that highlights the importance of regional environmental issues, providing unique perspectives on the Bay.  All three Bay artists make important statements about the San Francisco Bay through their artwork.

Environmental Activism Through Art | Linda Gass

Los Altos based textile artist Linda Gass creates vibrant stitched paintings that explore the water and landscapes of the San Francisco Bay, making statements about land use and the importance of wetland restoration.

Stitched paintings by Linda Gass

     Painting Photos with Light | Stefanie Atkinson

Mill Valley photographer Stefanie Atkinson captures light and movement along the Bay, creating unique visual imagery of birds in flight.

Photography by Linda Gass

South Bay Salt Pond Photography | Cris Benton

Aerial kite photographer Cris Benton uses a kite to fly a radio-controlled camera to great heights, bringing the intricate details of the South Bay’s salt ponds into focus.

Aerial kite photography by Cris Benton

Creative Ecology

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When I arrived at the at the Creative Ecology program at Cooley Landing, I was greeted by Bay Area textile artist Linda Gass and handed an artist sketchbook and field guide. I was about to engage in a range of science and art activities that would have me seeing near and far.

The activities were intended to make connections between art and science, pointing out that both artists and scientists ask questions, make observations, learn from their senses and record what they see.

A closer look

I started at the science station, where I got the chance to look at water samples that were taken directly from the Bay. A member of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo explained that in every drop of Bay water there are hundreds of microorganisms. When I looked at the water samples with a naked eye, all I could see were chunks of mud. Looking under the microscope, I was surprised to see amphipods, nematode worms and diatoms. It was so cool to see these mud creatures up close and to think that they live all over the Bay.

Next I went to the art station where I was handed a magnifying glass to look closely at the mud and rocks that neighbored the shoreline and sketch what I saw. A member of the Palo Alto Art Center told us to look for patterns and to consider lightness and darkness, using lines, dots and crosshatching to create a value scale in our sketches. Using my magnifying glass, I was able to get a better look at the mussels, crabs and pickleweed that lived in the mud at the Bay’s edge.

While we were sketching, we were told to identify what was “manmade” and what was “nature made”. Often that distinction was easy to make. For example I could see that the rocks along the shoreline were nature made, while the bricks intermingled between the rocks were manmade. There were other instances where the line between manmade and nature made was a bit fuzzy. For instance, barnacles covered large pieces of wire that lay over some of the rocks.

Art meets science

When we arrived at the third station, we were each given a viewfinder and were told to identify the horizon through our viewfinder. We were instructed to use our viewfinders to pick out a certain section of the landscape that we wanted to draw and begin sketching. Looking far, we strived to clearly outline the foreground, middle ground and background in our drawings.

I saw a fin peaking up above the water. I soon realized that this was a leopard shark and that there were tons of leopard sharks swimming around the Bay waters that surrounded us. I probably saw at least 6 leopard sharks that day, many of which came right to the edge of the water, giving us a view of all three of their fins.

As I looked out on the Bay and began sketching, I was struck by the intricate patterns that the ripples made in the water. I often found myself straying away from my drawing and observing the nearby leopard sharks instead. As I looked around at the landscape, I was able to see the Palo Alto Baylands to the South, one of the many sites along the Bay where we engage in restoration.

Cooley Landing

As I took in my surroundings, looking near and far, I tried to imagine what Cooley Landing used to look like before it was cleaned up and restored. The site was originally home to the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, who utilized the space for fishing. It was later transformed into a pier for ships to transport building materials to San Francisco. Between the 1930’s and 1960, Cooley Landing was used as a garbage dump where toxic trash was dumped directly into Bay.

In 2012, EPA and the Regional Water Quality Control Board partnered up to design and fund the site’s cleanup, filling in the Bay and sealing off soil contaminated with mercury, arsenic, PCB’s, lead, and other toxic chemicals.  Additional partners such as the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District contributed land and biological expertise to plant native vegetation to enhance the wildlife habitat for the nearby endangered Ridgeway’s rail and salt marsh harvest mouse.

The former garbage dump is now home to thriving native vegetation. Cooley Landing is now part of the Bay Trail, adding nine acres of public open space in East Palo Alto.

The Creative Ecology program brings people of all ages out to open space preserves like Cooley Landing and gets them interacting directly with the Bay. While out on the program, I watched kids become immersed in the art and science activities they were doing, using their imaginations to picture what the space may have looked like years ago and asking questions about the mud creatures that they saw. I watched longtime Bay residents enjoying the space for the first time, seeking more information about the site’s history and restoration.

Save The Bay’s own educational materials were used to answer questions and provide context. I was proud to tell program participants that I was a part of the Save The Bay team. As we looked at historical Bay maps, we identified parts of the Bay that had been converted to salt ponds, filled, or developed.  When Linda asked which parts of the Bay were still neighbored by wetlands, I responded “not enough”. She smiled and informed the group that I was a part of Save The Bay.

Marking Historic Shoreline

Linda showed us historical maps of Cooley Landing overlaid on top of Google maps. Looking at historic maps of the site from 1857 and comparing those to current maps, it was evident that a lot of the Bay had been filled and a significant portion of the marsh was gone. Linda explained that she was working on a land art installation project in order to illustrate how the landscape has changed overtime and what we have lost.

Linda invited us to help her with the project, explaining that it was a community-based effort. She told us that we would be using blue survey whiskers to mark the historic shoreline of Cooley Landing, explaining that the space in front of the blue whiskers represented historic Bay water and the space behind the blue whiskers represented historic wetlands. Linda said that with each program, the art installation grows in size, further documenting the historic shoreline.

We were each given a handful of blue whiskers and were instructed to place them however we wished, using the orange tape that was already in place as a guideline. As I began sticking the whiskers into the ground I started chatting with the couple next to me. They explained that they were avid readers of the Bay Monthly, Save The Bay’s monthly newsletter, and asked more about my work as an office volunteer. I was happy to share my experiences with them and hear that they were curious about the work we are doing.

After attending Linda’s field program, I got a better idea of how other groups and organizations are working with the San Francisco Bay and how art and science can be applied to inspire and educate Bay stewards of all ages. Read more about the art and activism Linda Gass here.


Staff Summer Outing

Our staff enjoying a day out of the office at MLK shoreline.
Our staff enjoying a day out of the office at MLK shoreline.

Every year, our Save The Bay team spends a summer day out of the office engaging in recreational activities around the Bay. The Summer Staff Outing is a day for staff to enjoy each other’s company and expand our understanding and appreciation of the Bay and the areas around us. These annual outings are also a great way for us to enjoy the beautiful Bay that we work to restore and protect every day.

Last year, our staff rented bikes and spent the day cycling around Angel Island. This year, we spent the day canoeing around San Leandro Bay, followed by a picnic at Crab Cove in Alameda.

Our day began at Tide Water Boating Station, along the Oakland Estuary at Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline. We had the privilege of going on one of the East Bay Regional Park’s recreation programs, a guided canoe trip that took us out on the Bay and gave us a unique perspective on our MLK nursery and many of our restoration sites.

After receiving a quick safety briefing from our instructors, we grabbed paddles and PFDs and began launching our canoes into the water. As I got into my boat, I spotted a familiar name written across the side of it: Esther Gulick, one of our organization’s founders.

It turns out that many of the canoes that we used that day were boats that had been donated to EBRP from Save The Bay. Our pilot education program Canoes in Sloughs, used to take kids canoeing out on the Bay to learn more about the estuary and the native species that depend on it. While we now teach by doing hands-on restoration programs with local schools, the tradition of Canoes in Sloughs lives on the through the EBRP recreational programs

Raft Up

While we were out on the water, we saw many of the native creatures that we work to save, including seals, pelicans, egrets, and cormorants. During our paddle, we got the chance to learn more about the natural history of the area, hearing stories from one of the EBRP naturalists about the formation of Arrowhead Marsh and it’s population of endangered Ridgway Rails, as we explored the perimeter of the site from the water.

After a few hours of paddling, we returned to the shore and got ready to head to Crown Memorial State Beach for lunch. When we arrived at the picnic site, we were greeted by a beautiful spread of fruit, salad and more. After eating we took to the beach, where we tossed around the Frisbee, watched the nearby kite surfers and played group games. We ended our day with a quick talk from Bay writer and natural history educator Joel Pomerantz.

After a fun-filled day of no work and all play, I returned to the office the next day feeling restored and inspired. It was great to be able to enjoy the Bay with my fellow Bay Savers, all of whom are so dedicated to protecting and restoring our most valuable regional treasure, the San Francisco Bay.



Captain Maggie McDonogh

Captain Maggie

Award winning U.S.C.G. Certified Captain Maggie McDonogh is the President, CEO and fourth generation Captain of the Angel Island – Tiburon Ferry Company, now celebrating over 55 years serving the community on San Francisco Bay.

Save The Bay last spoke with you about the return of the porpoises to the Bay. Do you still see porpoises on your daily trips across the Bay?

Yes we do. In fact I’ve been seeing quite a few calves, which is really quite wonderful.

You told me you saw a Mola Mola out in front of your boat in Tiburon the other day. How often do you see marine life during your daily trips across the Bay?

We see some sort of wildlife every day on every trip. Right now, we see a lot of jellyfish, baitfish, seals, harbor seals, sea lions, harbor porpoises, an occasional whale and many different kinds of sea birds. It’s fascinating when you see species that aren’t normally seen in the Bay.

The Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry Company is the last remaining family owned and operated ferry service in California. What was it like growing up out on the Bay?

It was wonderful. We saw all sorts of beautiful things regularly.  My father, who grew up on the Bay himself, taught me how to handle all sorts of different situations and we met many fascinating people. The Bay is a beautiful place to be. I was very lucky to grow up with it being a central focus of our family’s lives.

What is it like to continue your family’s work and to see your children becoming involved as well?

Well that’s wonderful too.  Not only do we have the privilege of operating the boats but we get to make people happy for a living. My dad taught us that not all returns on an investment are monetary. It’s a very enriching and a wonderful experience to continue doing ferry boats and to watch over people. To share what we get to do every single day with people who don’t get to do this every day, that’s a huge honor.

It’s amazing to watch our son Sam who is 20 getting his captain’s license. Teaching him to run the ferry boat is an experience. When he receives his documentation he will be the 5th generation of our family in Tiburon to be a captain. His grandfather would be very proud. Our daughter Becky is the next in line after Sam and our youngest Ben is all about learning how to tie the lines.

What I didn’t understand for a long time is that the highest form of compliment is imitation. When your children are imitating what you do and following you, that’s a huge compliment. They don’t need to do it. They certainly are welcome to explore other avenues, but it’s very nice to see them showing interest in what we do.

From hearing stories from your family and from your own experiences have you noticed any changes in terms of how people interact with the San Francisco Bay and how people talk and think about the Bay?

I see a lot more people interested in the Bay and its wellbeing. There’s a lot of discussion and concern about the funneling of the water from the Delta south because that’s going to have a tremendous impact on the health of the Bay. Then you get the people who don’t know anything about the Bay, so there is an opportunity to educate them. There are all of these different avenues for people who aren’t involved to see more and for people who don’t really understand to be educated.  I hope that people who ride the boat and experience the Bay’s beauty will educate themselves and become involved since the Bay is an essential element in our greater community.

During the 2008 wildfire, you brought fire fighters to Angel Island via ferry, ensuring that the island and its historical buildings were protected. Can you tell me more about that experience and what role the AITF has played in saving the Bay?

That was a period where we had four or five days of North Easterly wind and we were called by the Head Ranger who said that there was a small fire but we didn’t need to worry.  We came to the docks and at that point my phone was ringing like crazy and everyone was saying, “Hey Maggie your island is on fire.”

So William and I ran the boat with some other volunteers for hours, moving firefighters back and forth because you have to move quickly in situations like this. You know there’s concern for all the historic buildings and then there’s the concern about all of the people on the island. It was really intense and I have a lot of respect for the firefighting crews that were out there because they were very effective in dealing with a potentially horrific situation.

We were also involved with the 2007 oil spill that recently was on the Bay. We discussed with the cleanup crews the best placement of the oil absorbent pads because we are familiar with the currents around Angel Island and in the cove better than just about anyone else. We came and helped them move equipment back and forth to the island. We provided service off of our dock in Tiburon for them to use as a staging platform.

When you are not ferrying passengers across the Bay, what are some of your favorite things to do on the Bay?

We do lots of things on the Bay. I like to just take the boat out and relax. We go swimming, paddle boarding and kayaking. Since the Bay is never the same from hour to hour or day to day there is always something to see or do.

Learn more about Captain Maggie

A pillar in the San Francisco Bay Area community and beyond, Captain Maggie McDonogh is the recipient of many honors and awards including the Tiburon Peninsula Business Citizen of the Year Award, North Bay Business Journal Women in Business Award, and the American Red Cross Lifesaving Hero Organization Award, to name a few.

In addition to fun day-trips to Angel Island State Park year-round via Tiburon, California, the public is invited to join “Captain Maggie” and her expert crew on-board for seasonal Sunset Cruises, specialty cruises and private charters on San Francisco Bay.

For more information and to plan your next getaway on San Francisco Bay please visit: