Palo Alto’s Baylands Nature Preserve is the largest tract of undisturbed marshland remaining in the Bay Area, and the landscape maintains the same look from hundreds of years ago (just ignore the power lines and buildings). Many consider this to be one of the premier bird-watching spots on the West Coast—especially during a winter high tide. Walk out on “Rail Alley,” the wooden boardwalk that stretches across Harriet Mundy Marsh for a quarter of a mile to the shore of the bay. This is the best place to see the endangered California clapper rail, distinguished by its orange breast. For a longer walk or bike ride, head out on the Adobe Creek Trail all the way to Charleston Slough. Look for peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks perched on the power lines; below them, grebes, herons, egrets, and ducks splash in the sprawling marshes. Despite its proximity to Highway 101, Baylands is an amazingly peaceful place.
The Baylands Nature Preserve is reached from Hwy 101. Exit Embarcadero and follow it east all the way to the preserve. Make a left at the T-intersection and go .25-mile to the parking lot for the Duck Pond and Rail Alley. Or go right at the T to the parking lot at Byxbee Park Hills for Adobe Creek Trail. Dog-friendly!