After a fairly long hiatus, we’re back with more Bay Area outside adventures! Mare Island is one of the most exciting finds I’ve had in a while. I found it while scouring Hipcamp for new Bay Area camping adventures I did not know about (yes, I’m weird like that), and booked for December. Normally, December is a dicey month to plan an outdoor adventure, which is why I went with the yurt option.
I knew very little about Mare Island, except that there is a pretty good brewery in Vallejo named after it. It served as a naval shipyard from 1852 until 1996. Now the island holds a golf course, some lovely housing and the Mare Island Preserve, home to hiking, camping, yurts and a seasonal haunted house (more on this later). But 1/2 of the Bay Area Families Outside parenting team had to work all weekend, so I found a good friend to accompany myself and the four year old for some exploring time. (Most pictures thanks to this good friend, J Tanguay!)
We got to Mare Island and set off on a short hike around the preserve. It’s not an epic distance, but it’s pretty perfect for hiking with kids. (Maybe 2-3 miles total?) There are some climbs, but then you get to beautiful views like the one below. The highest point brings you to the sculpture seen above in the featured image–the Spirit Ship. We did not realize it was there and so for us, climbing up to this huge sculpture on the top of a brilliant view was a welcome surprise.
There are currently three different sleeping options at Mare Island–two yurts and a camping spot. While you can’t build a campfire at any of the sleeping locales, you CAN head over to the visitor center, where a nightly campfire happens (with s’mores provided by the helpful host, Myrna!). The smaller yurt has one bed and can fit 2-4 people comfortably (you can add cots, and a tent outside if you want). We stayed in the larger yurt, which had two big beds and one bed that could probably have comfortably slept two smallish kiddos. Myrna informed us that people had added tents to the yurt set up, so you could camp with more people, were they willing to stay in a tent as opposed to the bed in the yurt. Both yurts have a few picnic tables outside the yurts and a FULLY stocked camping cooking set up. (As in, there was a Coleman stove and a gas BBQ and a full set of plates, cutlery, cute napkins– it was amazing.)
We stayed in the big yurt and it was extremely comfortable, even in December. It was definitely chilly, but there were lots of blankets on the beds and eventually we got cozy. There was even a blanket provided to put on the bed in case the dog was an on-the-bed sleeper (she isn’t, but Mare Island is totally dog-friendly).
The other exciting pieces of Mare Island are rather seasonal. Just down the road from the bunker that houses the Visitor Center (home to the nightly campfire as well), there is another bunker that has a seasonal haunted house. We went in December, and apparently the people who created it decided that it was so much fun in October, they didn’t want to take it down, and thus switched it to a Christmas theme, “The Fright Before Christmas.” It was fairly scary, FYI. We went with a four year old who said she was really scared but wanted to go again. And again. So it may not have been excessively terrifying. For the 7-11ish set, it would be perfect, though.
For a holiday treat, Myrna (the host) puts lights all over various trees on the preserve to create a holiday lights night walk. It’s apparently only lit up on weekends in December, but it was glorious to experience after we ate dinner and then traipsed back up to the completely lit-up Spirit Ship.
In all, Mare Island was a treat. It’s so close to the Bay Area (20 minutes from our Richmond front door) but it felt like an adventure. We’ll definitely be back!
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