Trail Description and Views
The peninsula of Foster City is a planned community of nearly 30,000 that was built in the 1960's on the hayfields of former Brewer's Island. At the turn of the century, levees were built around mud flats here, which were dried and turned into farmland. Housing developments now surround a 200-acre artificial lagoon that winds through the center of the 4 square-mile city. Marina Lagoon, a now-tamed slough which used to empty into San Francisco Bay, borders Foster City to the west. The two lagoons are used for water recreation and stormwater runoff control. Pumps control the levels of the lagoons and herbicides are used to control vegetation. In contrast to the highly-controlled lagoons, to the southeast of the city is the mostly-natural Belmont Slough, which empties into the Bay. The Bay tides dramatically affect the level and appearance of the slough. The waters of San Francisco Bay itself wash the city's northeast to northern shores. Hwy 92 cuts diagonally through the city and leads to the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. The outer edges of the city along Belmont Slough and San Francisco Bay are protected undeveloped marshland or bayfront, with public access. This is where the Bay Trail runs.
The Bay Trail here treads the boundary between the natural and the manmade. On one side of the trail, children play in playgrounds surrounded by manicured lawns behind their backyard fences. On the other side, spear-billed egrets wade in the pickleweed marshes probing the waters for food. Nearer the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, cars hurry by along the road paralleling one side of the trail, while the wind-whipped waves of San Francisco Bay crash into the rocky shoreline on the other side.
Foster City's segment of the Bay Trail starts at the southwest corner of the city at the end of Marina Lagoon. It heads east and follows the winding path of Belmont Slough, which gets steadily wider as it approaches the Bay. The trail follows the bayshore around the edge of the city and eventually crosses under the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge to continue on towards San Mateo. The trail description below describes a 12-mile loop trip that begins in Redwood Shores, loops around the Bay Trail in Foster City, then returns along Marina Lagoon. Most of this trip is on dedicated paved multi-use paths and can be taken in about an hour or two by bicycle. The paths are smooth enough for roller skaters and baby strollers. Walkers and joggers can take shorter trips. The Bay Trail in Foster City is easily accessible at almost any point along the route from suburban neighborhood streets.
The Bay Trail connects to Redwood Shores to the south and San Mateo's bayshore parks to the north. The trail along this part of the Bay can be taken as an almost continuous path, with only a few short sections requiring on-street travel. It runs from Redwood Shores near the San Carlos Airport, around Foster City, and along the bayshore to just south of San Francisco International Airport in Millbrae.
There are several ways to get to the southwestern end of the Bay Trail in Foster City. The easiest way, in terms of freeway access, is to come in from Redwood Shores near Oracle Parkway. (See the Redwood Shores section for more information.) Get off Hwy 101 at Marine World Parkway (now called just Marine Parkway). Turn left at Oracle Parkway and make an immediate left onto Shoreway Road. There is a tree-shaded parking lot near this intersection. Follow the directions in the trail descriptions below.
A longer way is to take the East Hillsdale Blvd. off-ramp from 101. Head east, then turn right on Edgewater Blvd. Turn right on Boothbay Avenue and follow it until it ends on Port Royal Avenue. Turn left on Port Royal and follow it a short distance. Just past Coral Lane is private Rockharbor Lane. There is a small park here with picnic tables and a parking lot. The Bay Trail begins just past the park at a junction with two other trails. One of these trails crosses a slough and runs along the west side of Marina Lagoon to Los Prados. The other trail follows along the east shore of Marina Lagoon in front of houses and apartments. It can be used as a return loop trail.
This trail description starts at the parking lot at the intersection of Oracle Parkway and Shoreway Road in Redwood Shores. This is one end of the U-shaped park that follows the perimeter of Oracle Parkway and borders Belmont Slough. This park and the area around Oracle Parkway belongs to Oracle Corporation, but public access is allowed to the recreation areas. From the parking lot, turn right and head down Shoreway Road. After crossing over Belmont Creek, a bike path starts near a powerline tower. The bike path follows the creek and crosses the Belmont city limit. It ends on Island Parkway behind a large auto dealer.
Note: mileage readings below are from a bike odometer. Your mileage may vary.
Turn right onto the street and cross the bridge over an arm of Belmont Slough to enter Belmont's Island park. At 0.2 miles, you pass the baseball fields of the Belmont Sports Complex. Continue on to the T-intersection of Island Parkway and Councourse Drive at a hotel and a small manmade lake at 0.2 miles.
The lake has a modern art sculpture ("Jetty" by David Black) in the form of a gazebo on the shore. Turn right on Concourse Drive and follow the road, which becomes Concourse Place, until it ends at a cul-de-sac. A short path leads to a paved multi-use path at 0.5 miles.
A playground and parcourse are nearby. The path runs for 0.2 miles next to a parklike strip of lawn behind a group of condos.
After passing through a gate, the trail enters Foster City at 0.7 miles and becomes a wide paved trail, part of the Foster City Pedway/Bikeway Facility. At 0.8 miles, it intersects the narrower paved trail that wraps around Foster City. This is the Foster City segment of the Bay Trail. To the right of the trail are pickleweed marshes, the wide channel of Belmont Slough, and the green reflective glass towers of Oracle Corp. To the left of the trail are strips of iceplants and the back roads of apartment complexes.
At 0.9 miles, the trail passes the confluence of two arms of Belmont Slough. At the point across the slough in front of the Oracle buildings is a lawn area with a row of Italian cypresses. The trail then makes a 90-turn to the left as it follows Belmont Slough north. At 1.1 miles, it passes a long grassy park area with a paved path winding through the center. At 1.3 miles, it passes a small park with private tennis courts, a playground, and picnic tables.
The trail begins to curve to the right, following the eastward bend of Belmont Slough. The trail runs behind the backyards of houses. Small paved footpaths intersect and parallel the Bay Trail. Across the Bay, new high-tech industrial parks, apartment buildings, and houses on Redwood Shores are visible. Joggers and bicyclists can be seen on the unpaved Bay Trail along the far shore. At 1.7 miles, the trail passes the end of Sea Cloud Park, a 6-acre city park with baseball diamonds and playing fields. The Foster City Little League plays here.
At 1.9 miles, the trail makes a wide turn to the north, along the outer bank of a long, shallow, rectangular lagoon that runs along the edge of Sea Cloud Park. This lagoon may be dry in the summer.
Belmont Slough begins to widen up considerably here. Small islands appear in the middle of the slough. The marshes get wider, cut by small channels and sloughs. On the opposite bank of Belmont Slough is the unpaved Bay Trail along Redwood Shores.
At 2.2 miles, the trail passes the end of the long lagoon. A short connector path leads inland to the bank of the Foster City Lagoon at Sea Cloud Park. Houses line the lagoon to the right. This is one end of the long, winding lagoon, whose other end is near the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. The Bay Trail continues to follow Belmont Slough next to a row of condos. It makes an S-turn to the right, then left.
At 2.4 miles is a sign at the edge of the marsh identifying it as the Belmont Slough Wildlife Refuge. A narrow dirt footpath leads into the marsh and across a wooden plank bridge. At 2.5 miles, Beach Park Blvd, a 4-lane divided road, approaches the trail and parallels it. It accompanies the trail from here to the San Mateo Bridge.
At 2.6 miles, the trail passes under the towering powerlines that follow along the bayshore. Catwalks lead out over the marsh to the power towers. Ducks may use these to rest on. Just beyond the power lines, is the intersection with Foster City Blvd., which is a 4-lane divided road. Foster City Blvd. cuts across the peninsula, goes over Hwy 92 and ends up at E. 3rd Avenue near the Bay Trail. This can be used as a shortcut or loopback route. The trail becomes more open through here, with wide grassy fields on both sides.
The wide, dry, bush-covered flats near the mouth of Belmont Slough have footpaths leading through them. At 2.9 miles, the trail turns to the left near the mouth of the slough. From this point, the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge and San Francisco Bay come into view. A wide field covered with vegetation separates the trail from the Bay at this point. Beach Park Blvd. comes closer to the trail until it runs right next to it. Single family homes line the opposite side of the road. Across the Bay, the East Bay cities from Hayward to Fremont, the Diablo Range, the Coyote Hills, the Dumbarton Bridge, and the Newark salt mounds are visible. The trail makes a long sweeping curve to the left and passes the fields of Bowditch Middle School across the road.
At 3.3 miles, the bayshore comes inland to meet the trail. Looking back to the right, there is a long stretch of shoreline, coated with tiny white shells that make the shore look like a white sand beach. Farther on, a rock wall protects the shoreline. At 3.4 miles, the trail seems to head straight for the middle of the arch section of the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge.
Mud flats and stands of sea grass appear on the shoreline. At 3.7 miles, the trail passes by a shopping center with a food store, restaurants, and a bike shop. In the Bay are the remains of pier pilings at a small point of land.
At 3.8 miles, the shoreline is gone at high tide. The waters of the Bay lap up against the rock wall next to the trail. At low tide, these are wide mud flats. At 4.0 miles, the trail makes one final curve to the left as it heads for the end of the ramp to the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. The afternoon winds blowing down the Bay are strongest along this stretch.
At 4.7 miles, the trail passes the entrance to the San Mateo County Fishing Pier and ducks under the approach to the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. The fishing pier is what remains of the western part of the old San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. At over 4000 feet long, it is the longest pier on the Bay. The pier is currently closed while undergoing renovation. The Bay Trail detours slightly as it passes under the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. This is a good place to rest, then turn around and head back. To make a loop trip, keep going.
After passing under the bridge, the trail turns left to the southwest and parallels E. 3rd Avenue. It passes by a new office complex on Lincoln Centre Drive, then passes the service buildings and round blue tanks of Foster City's corporation yard. Through a fence, the narrow channel of the northern end of the Foster City Lagoon is visible as it ends inside the city's water control facilities.
Along the way, the trail passes by several sandy pocket beaches on the Bay. In some places, concrete ramps provide access down the rocky seawall to these beaches. The full fury of the afternoon bay winds may cause waves to crash into the rock walls and sprinkle travelers on the trail.
Next to a wide sandy beach, the trail makes a 90-degree turn to the right. At 5.9 miles, it passes a parking lot used as a staging point for wind surfers. This is a popular wind surfing area. Past this, the trail makes another sharp turn to the left and passes alongside a golf driving range, with the Bay along the rocky seawall to the right.
At 6.2 miles, the trail makes a sharp left turn as it leaves the Bay next to a wide open field of marshes, mudflats, and rocks. This is the Bay Marshes Open Space. At 6.5 miles, the trail turns right as it meets J. Hart Clinton Drive. It continues on to enter the city of San Mateo and its Shoreline Parks. To get back to the starting point in Foster City, either backtrack along the Bay Trail or cut inland across the Foster City Peninsula along Marina Lagoon. (This inland route along Marina Lagoon is not part of the Bay Trail.)
To head back along Marina Lagoon, turn left and follow the gravel path to the intersection of E. 3rd Avenue and Mariners Island Blvd. Carefully cross E. 3rd Avenue and head down Mariners Island Blvd., which is a a divided 4-lane road with bike lanes. There is no pedestrian crosswalk here, so crossing may be tricky. A safer alternative is to head down the Bay Trail more and cross at Anchor Road. Take the path through Tidelands Park. This ends at Mariners Island Blvd. This road is in the city of San Mateo. The road passes by apartments and condos that border Marina Lagoon, which can be glimpsed occasionally between the buildings. There are no public roads or paths along Marina Lagoon here.
At 7.2 miles, the bridge passes over a narrow channel that feeds into Marina Lagoon from an office complex. Along the west side of the channel is Mariners Island Park. At 7.6 miles, the road passes the Harbortown residential complex and meets Fashion Island Blvd. Turn right here and follow Fashion Island Blvd. southwest. At 7.8 miles, just before the bridge over Marina Lagoon, take the path to the right that leads down to the lagoon.
At the bridge, the narrow path to the right passes in front of Harbortown, but it is for foot traffic only. No bikes are allowed. Instead, turn left and go under the bridge. Soon the trail passes a path leading up to another entry to the trail on the northeast side of Fashion Island Blvd. The trail then passes under Hwy 92. Shortly after, it crosses back into Foster City, and the path becomes part of the Foster City Pedway/Bikeway. The trail continues following the winding shoreline of Marina Lagoon, next to apartments and condos. Benches are placed periodically along the way. Boats and waterskiers may be seen plying the waters of the lagoon. Small docks are scattered along the shoreline, but the main access point for boats is farther down the lagoon at Parkside Aquatic Park, which is not visible from the pedway.
Iceplant lines the lagoon side of the trail. The left side often has lawns, landscaping, and even the backyard gardens of homes. The opposite shore of the lagoon, which is in the city of San Mateo, is lined with the backyards of houses and apartments, but no continuous pathways. At 8.8 miles, the sandy wading beach, playground, and recreation center of San Mateo's Lakeside park can be seen on the opposite shore.
At 8.9 miles, the trail passes under the E. Hillsdale Blvd. bridge. Side roads can be taken to reach E. Hillsdale Blvd., which is the main road through Foster City.
E. Hillsdale Blvd. can be taken to make a side trip to Leo J. Ryan Park on the wide Central Lake portion of Foster City Lagoon. The 8-acre crescent-shaped park has a boardwalk and gazebo along the lagoon, a grassy amphitheater, play areas, tennis courts, parcourse, recreation center, and a boat launching facility.
Continuing back along Marina Lagoon, the trail passes behind houses, then heads closer to Hwy 101 as it follows Marina Lagoon to its end. Boats are not allowed in this part of the lagoon.
At 10.2 miles, the trail along Marina Lagoon reaches the junction of the Bay Trail and the trail in San Mateo leading along the west side of Marina Lagoon to Los Prados. At this point is the small park at the west intersection of Rockharbor Lane and Port Royal Avenue. From here, the Bay Trail begins, following along a straight, narrow channel that connects to Belmont Slough.
At 11.0 miles, the trail turns to the left and passes the end of Port Royal Park, which has broad lawns and a playground. At 11.1 miles, the trail reaches the junction of the connector trail to Redwood Shores. Backtrack to the parking lot at Oracle Parkway from here, resulting in a total loop trip of about a dozen miles.
Information and opinions expressed here are the responsibility of the author.