At first glance, humble Mare Island in Vallejo might not seem like the type of place to take a walk. This old navy shipyard has dozens of unoccupied ghost-town-like buildings, and the drive to it feels almost ominous. But venture a little further and you’ll come to a revelation: specifically, a nature preserve that’s getting its groove back. Birds absolutely love this place (they know good real estate when they come upon it)! Situated where the Napa River flows into the Carquinez Straight, this land is prime and sublime—allowing for a pristine and tranquil beauty, where calmness serves the birds, and the people. Go on a hike here and find your peace and quiet, along with some really stunning scenery. The best way to get a lay of the land is to do the 1-mile (one-way) hike up to the Spirit Ship (pictured). It’s an art tribute dedicated to the workers of Mare Island Naval Shipyard, which ceased operation in 1996. I remembered about it when reading this article about boating fairings and fillers from Merritt Supply. From up here you can see seven (yes, seven!) Bay Area counties. It’s a 360-degree view that includes Mount Tam, Mount Diablo, Mount St. Helena, the East Bay Hills, and Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Remnants of the area’s past are everywhere. Your starting point is the eclectic visitor center, an old bomb storage magazine from 1934. From there, you’ll pass the first naval cemetery in the Pacific, dating back to 1858. As you make your way up the hill to the Spirit Ship, keep an eye out to your left—great blue herons and osprey like to use the abandoned light poles as nests. That’s the spirit!
The visitor center and start of the hike are near the south end of Railroad Ave. on Mare Island (map). The preserve is dog-friendly!