Hayward, California, is an affordable and convenient base that lets you explore every nook of the Bay Area with ease. You’re close to the water here on the East Bay and the Hayward Hills behind the city offer a clear panorama that captures San Francisco, Fremont, Silicon Valley and Oakland with one memorable view.
The choice of days out is way too long to list, but for starters you can see San Francisco’s famous sights, tour prestigious universities, sample high-tech life in Silicon Valley or soak up the beautiful natural scenery around the bay. Let’s explore the best things to do in Hayward!
1. Hayward Japanese Gardens
Right in Hayward’s hectic downtown is this sanctuary where you can take a minute to reflect. The Japanese Garden was the Bay Area’s first to be designed according to strict traditional guidelines.
Typical for this style of garden the beds with 70 different tree and plant species have been meticulously tended to resemble miniature landscapes and on a visit you’ll pass through pavilions, cross a bridge over a koi pond fed by a waterfall and see a Japanese teahouse.
The detail is impressive – even the wood grain of garden’s structures has been carefully notched to give the impression of great age.
2. Garin Regional Park
Bay residents have been coming to these hills from miles around for at least a hundred years, especially in the evenings when the sun sets over the west bay.
There was once a ranch here before owner Andrew J. Garin sold his tract of undulating land to the district. You can still amble through the ranch’s former orchards and in autumn there’s an apple festival, celebrating the harvest with games, apple tasting sessions and live bands.
The grassy hills rise above 500 metres and the special views from these peaks incorporate all of the Bay Area.
3. Local cuisine
Hayward is a little less fashionable than some neighbouring communities, but more than holds its own for culinary options.
On the streets you’ll notice just what a melting pot Hayward is, a quality reflected by the choice of restaurants.
The Mexican taquerias are particularly good, but you can also tuck into Korean barbeque, Vietnamese, Japanese or classic American diner food.
4. Hayward Regional Shoreline
You’ve seen the hills, now it’s time to explore the shore. This stretch of the East Bay is a salt marsh ecosystem supporting abundant birdlife.
Borrow some binoculars from the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center for your walk and see if you can glimpse the likes of double-crested cormorants and long-billed curlews.
For a long time the Hayward’s shore farmed for sail but in the 80s it was restored as a wetlands to bring wildlife back to this part of the East Bay.
The San Francisco Bay Trail runs right through the park, so if you feel like a longer walk venture for a few miles along this 345-mile path curving around two thirds of the Bay.
5. Mural Arts Program of Hayward
For many years Hayward had a bit of a graffiti problem. So back in 2008 the city decided to beat the taggers at their own game: They picked all the walls and pillars that would usually fall prey to vandalism and invited artists to paint their own eye-catching murals on them instead.
The money the city would otherwise have spent painting over and removing graffiti they diverted into commissions.
So on a walk around the downtown you’ll view some inspired artwork on the sides of buildings and otherwise empty spaces.
6. Don Castro Regional Recreation Area
A peaceful natural partition between Hayward and the adjacent Castro Valley, this mini wilderness is loved for its lagoon hidden within the woodland. In the summer the lagoon’s clear waters are a great way to cool off and for most of the perimeter there’s a sandy beach.
If you’re here in the evenings and have the patience you’ll see deer and raccoons creeping out of the treeline to drink at the lagoon.
You can rent a boat on the shore, and anglers come to Don Castro throughout the year to catch catfish, bass and trout.
7. Sulphur Creek Nature Center
A free attraction in one of Hayward’s green spaces, this wildlife rehabilitation centre will impart valuable lessons to kids about the natural world.
At least 900 animals are treated here every year, and they’re kept in open enclosures so you can get up close and observe them. Typically you’ll see eagles, gray foxes, rattlesnakes and long-toed salamanders.
Friendly staff and volunteers are happy to pass on their expertise and children can see the animals being fed and handled. The setting is also part of the charm – Sulphur Creek is in a deep wooded valley that feels more remote than five minutes from downtown Hayward.
8. San Leandro
San Leandro is the next community up from Hayward and goes all the way back to 1872 – truly historic for a Californian city. The community grew around the oyster beds on the bayfront, which at their height made up the largest oyster fishery in the Americas.
In the 20th Century the waters became too polluted to sustain healthy oysters and the industry faded away. The site of the oyster beds is protected today as a California Historical Landmark.
Also historic is Casa Peralta, an early 20th century mansion designed in the colonial style and maintained by the city as a museum. It’s a handsome nod to California’s Latin heritage.
This community to the south preserves its own slice of California’s early past. Mission San Jose is one of an array of catholic buildings scattered across the state.
This one was ordained way back in 1797 and although it sustained damage in a 19th-century earthquake the exquisite whitewashed adobe church was faithfully restored.
A blast from the past of a different kind can be found at Ardenwood Historic Farm. Little has changed at this working farm in more than a century – the same crops are sewn and harvested in the same way they were in the 1800s.
A city that has changed a great deal recently, Oakland long fought a reputation as San Francisco’s gritty neighbour but these days things are on the up and you should come for the outstanding food.
The city has always been very diverse and if you head downtown you’ll be overwhelmed by the choice of international cuisines. The oriental food is incredible – Cambodian, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Indian and Cambodian restaurants all tempt the taste buds.
For a look at Oakland’s waterfront roots get to Jack London Square, named after the writer and set at the core of the city’s wharf district.
11. Palo Alto
Near the base of the San Francisco peninsula is a dynamic urban area adjacent to both Stanford University and Silicon Valley, so you won’t be shocked to learn that this is one of the most educated places in the country.
Stanford provides Palo Alto with some great attractions, such as the Cantor Arts Center’s Outdoor Sculpture, a garden with 20 works by the sculptor Auguste Rodin, the largest collection of his pieces outside Paris.
In Silicon Valley you could make for the Intel Museum to go behind the scenes at the world’s largest chipmaker.
12. San Jose
It’s not hard to find the way to San Jose from Hayward; it can’t be more than a few miles down the shoreline! San Jose also includes a big portion of Silicon Valley, making it one of the richest and most expensive cities in America.
On Fridays and Saturdays come to browse the first-class farmer’s market, and any day of the week is a fine time to check out Japantown where the restaurants are superb.
Santana Row is a sophisticated retail area with eateries and European-style local shops, favoured by San Jose’s trendier residents.
Finally for a dose of edutainment take a look at the interactive Tech Museum of Innovation, showing the application of technology in day-to-day life.
13. San Francisco
The heavyweight of the bay area, there’s nowhere quite like San Francisco. You’ll know the steep streets, “painted lady” houses and streetcars from untold films and TV shows.
And of course the big landmarks like Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and Chinatown are all essential for sightseeing and facebook albums.
Join the tourist trail down at Fisherman’s Wharf, the historic fishing district, to get some fresh crab or clam chowder.
San Francisco’s reputation for enlightenment extends to its excellent museums, covering every topic from Asian art to the distinctive cable-cars that rattle up and down the city’s slopes.
Also on the Bay’s east shore, just a few miles past Oakland you’ll come to a city synonymous with its university.
This institution is responsible for many of the city’s best attractions. Take the University of California Botanical Garden, a fantastic 34-acre park with one of the USA’s most varied plant collections. The gardens date back to 1890 and the 12,000 plant species here are arranged by their geographical region.
The restaurants in Berkeley are also superb; the city pioneered the idea of a native Californian cuisine and world-famous Chez Panisse opened here in 1971, inspiring a culinary tradition that cherishes the freshness and provenance of its ingredients.
15. Napa Valley
North of the Bay Area is America’s foremost wine region. The Napa Valley has upwards of 400 wineries, nourished by a climate almost identical to Europe’s Mediterranean regions.
The scenery is lovely of course, with vine-draped hillsides and valleys cradling the rustic barns and stone houses of farm wineries.
The award-winning wines of the Napa Valley have given rise to a whole culture that celebrates the best things in life – good wine needs to be paired with good food, so the dining scene is fantastic, and there are great golf courses, spas and all sorts of opportunities to set off to revel in the bucolic countryside.