California Nature: The Best Places to Spot Bay Area Wildlife

By: Claire Bullen

August 13, 2013

Holidays in San Francisco are as perfect for nature lovers as they are for cosmopolitan tourists in search of the city’s anything-goes lifestyle. The Bay Area offers some of the country’s richest biodiversity, from golden eagles in the air and mountain lions on the ground, to dolphins and Humpback whales in the ocean. For those looking to explore California’s natural bounty, we’ve pinpointed some of the best places around the Bay Area for spotting wildlife. Book a flight to California and pack some binoculars too – you might just spy something exciting.

Mount Diablo State Park

Mount Diablo State Park, Mountain Lion | San Francisco

Mount Diablo State Park, Mountain Lion © Tony Rix, 2013. Licensed via

Located just on the other side of the hills from San Francisco, Mount Diablo State Park is one of the Bay Area’s natural wonders. Surrounding Mt. Diablo’s rather impressive peak, the 20,000 acres of parkland are home to fields of poppies (California’s state flower), flocks of quails, and other wild critters. If you take the park’s Deer Flat hike, you’ll be in prime nature-watching territory. Just be cautious: the area’s wilder animals – from mountain lions to tarantulas and snakes – mean you’ll want to keep ears and eyes open.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore | San Francisco

Point Reyes National Seashore © Julie Vader, 2013. Licensed via

About fifty miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County (check out our Point Reyes road trip itinerary), Point Reyes National Seashore offers a vastly different range of wildlife from the species that inhabit the dry grasslands of Mount Diablo State Park. Abutting the ocean, the park affords visitors the opportunity to run into elephant seals, migrating whales and sea lions, as well as a number of sea bird species. In addition to coastline, the park also includes some forested areas – look out for deer and even bobcats.

Redwood Regional Park

Redwood Regional Forest Park | San Francisco

Redwood Regional Forest © Peter Kunasz, 2013. Licensed via

Located in the East Bay about ten miles east of downtown Oakland, Redwood Regional Park is a way for visitors to catch a glimpse of the ancient trees without trekking out of the Bay Area. As a bonus, the tranquil area is also home to a number of interesting species. Golden eagles are known to call the grove home, as are Alameda striped racer snakes, also known as California whipsnakes (luckily not poisonous).

Heron’s Head Park

Heron's Head Park Sandpiper | San Francisco

Heron’s Head Park Sandpiper © Czesznak Zsolt, 2013. Licensed via

From beach to grassland to forest, Bay Area nature is home to numerous ecosystems that share the same geographical area. Heron’s Head Park – located at Pier 98 close to San Francisco’s Bayview neighbourhood – rounds out the diversity with its wetland environment. What was once land cleared away for a shipping dock is now a green area home to over 100 species of migratory birds, including great blue herons, black oystercatchers and sandpipers.

Header photo: Mount Diablo State Park © Lynn Watson, 2013. This and all other photos used under license from

Virgin Atlantic operates daily flights to California from London Heathrow. Book your flight today.

Have you been wildlife spotting in San Fancisco’s Bay Area? Where are your favourite places to go? Share your recommendations below.

Written by Claire Bullen


Claire Bullen

Claire is a born globetrotter: before relocating to London, she spent time in New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco. When she's not in pursuit of the next exciting meal, she can be found haunting indie bookstores and sketching outdoors. Follow Claire @ClaireMBullen

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