Isabel is … going boating

Exploring the Bay

Bumping along the waves after a day in the city, my girlfriend Charlie, sitting in the rear of the Berkeley ferry and clutching a beer, gasped as salty water sprayed her each time the small boat encountered turbulence.

Transportation can be one of the toughest obstacles for a college student seeking to explore the Bay Area, especially without a car. Despite the challenges, there are a myriad of public transportation options: BART, buses, and Amtrak to name a few, along with the ferry from the Berkeley Marina to the Embarcadero I found myself on that day.

Transportation to destinations can be part of the fun itself. Having always traveled into San Francisco underground via Bart, to enter the city in the early morning on a boat that whizzed us into the city in half an hour with clear views of the Golden Gate was captivating.

Tideline, the private ferry operator which runs Berkeley’s commuter ferry service, began servicing Berkeley this January and is entering its first summer of service this year. Currently, the ferry runs on weekdays only, departing from the Berkeley Marina just behind Hana Japan Steak and Seafood at Pier 7. The boats make two trips each morning and evening, providing an easy schedule for a day in and out of the city. At a rate of $8 for a one-way ticket, the price is comparable to a BART ticket, and well worth the difference. I found the ferry unlike any other form of commuter transportation in that people who use it know each other. People talk and relax on the open deck in chairs, pack snacks to eat along the ride and share with one another. On Friday’s return trip, free beers are available from a cooler on deck.

Leaning over the ferry’s railing to watch the wake, I struck up conversation with a man who wore a camouflage bandana over his head and a wide smile across his face. I learned that he lives on a houseboat in the Berkeley Marina and takes the ferry to work each morning. “I don’t ever have to leave the water this way,” he said, “I’ve got the best commute.”

Charlie and I took the ferry in and out of San Francisco for a day spent simply and stresslessly wandering along the waterfront in San Francisco, returning in time to host a birthday get-together with friends back at our apartment in Berkeley. Not one, but two individuals on the ferry came over to us to say that they appreciated how happy we looked. One man kindly offered to send us the photos he had taken of the view.

The ferry provided a comfortable and eye-opening experience of the bay, but multiple modes of transportation have given me different perspectives on the region. One weekend, I took the 67 through the twisting hills of Tilden Park for a day of hiking and swimming at Lake Anza. Lake Anza is nestled in a valley clear, blue and surrounded by nothing but trees. Only two miles from Northside, it nonetheless feels like a different world. Time with friends, with my feet in the sand and a milkshake from the Anza Lake Cafe provided a real breath of fresh air.

Another day, my roommates and I took the 51B down to Fourth Street and the Berkeley Marina for sight-seeing, views of San Francisco and dinner out. As sunlight waned and our appetites grew, we wandered into Tacubaya, a casual Mexican restaurant with a patio and the best vegetarian torta in Berkeley. Branching out from one’s usual places out can be that simple.

With BART stations at Berkeley and Rockridge, and Amtrak down on Fourth Street, little trips and getaways can turn into big ones. Taking Amtrak from Berkeley to my grandmother’s home in Davis, California, I’ve often thought that the ride itself offers one a new perspective on the landscape. It is worth a trip, perhaps, even just for the view.

On the ferry headed back to the East Bay, the sun set over the Golden Gate and on another successful day of sightseeing. Whilst in San Francisco, Charlie and I had met several volunteers who worked on the historic ships moored near Ghirardelli Square. There, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is in need of volunteers to repaint, rebuild and fix the mechanics of the ships. As we expressed interest in volunteering, they invited us out for a ride on the rehabilitated 1891 schooner, “Alma.”

Adventure, apparently, begets adventure. One just has to get out there to do it.

Tickets and information for the ferry from Berkeley to San Franscisco can be found at

Isabel writes the Thursday column on discovering Berkeley and the greater Bay Area. Contact her at [email protected].