Why go now: Few look past the big-box stores along I-880 to discover this city’s necklace of wild, open space that―for the next few weeks, at least―is carpeted with lush green grass.
Leave the car at home: Remarkably, a tour of the best parks can be done on an almost totally flat 20-mile bike ride, starting and ending at the Union City BART station. For detailed directions and maps: Explore Union City’s parks by bike
Or not … If a 20-miler sounds like too much work, you can easily do the route by car.
Hold the PB&J: Union City has large Filipino, Latino, and Chinese populations. That translates into some seriously out-of- the-box picnic fixings.
Best afternoon energy boost: Halo-halo, an icy dessert of sweetened condensed milk, taro root, and candied fruit, at Gerry’s Grill ($$; 31005 Courthouse Dr.), a restaurant with branches all over the Philippines.
Souvenir worth toting home: A jar of tangy, chile-spiked kimchi from Korean Grocery (34555 Alvarado Niles Rd.; 510/471-4892).
PLAN YOUR ROUTE
Ditch the freeway for a bike trail: Think I-880 is the only show in town? Think again. The Alameda Creek Regional Trail is the Tri-Cities’ freeway for bicycles. Once you pick up the trail a mile from the BART station and head toward the bay, city life fades fast―with oak trees on your left and mallards bobbing on Alameda Creek to the right. And when you get past the houses, you’ll see (and smell) fields of mustard in full yellow bloom.
Wander a garden swirling with butterflies: In Coyote Hills Regional Park, a little-known oasis between I-880 and the bay, hop off your bike at the Nectar Garden by the visitor center. March finds the garden alive with Monarch and swallowtail butterflies, hummingbirds, and sparrows. Red pineapple sage, snapdragons, and copper canyon daisies should be flourishing, the magnolia full of flowers.
Bird-watch in lush marshlands: Across the road from the Nectar Garden, a gravel path leads into Coyote Hills’ DUST Marsh. Watch a great egret, its wings spanning 5 feet, descending into the cordgrass on the rippling waters. As you pedal on, keep an eye out for soaring hawks, wandering geese, and wooden birdhouses made by schoolchildren for the white-chested, shimmery blue-winged tree swallow.
Grab a picnic of Vietnamese sandwiches: Heading northeast from Coyote Hills, stop off at Cam Huong. The Vietnamese deli in a strip mall near the bike route has tasty bánh mì, sandwiches of grilled or cured meat and pickled vegetables on French rolls. Good bets are the ones with grilled pork or chicken. They sell for about $3―great news if you’re biking, since you might just polish off two. 32124 Alvarado Blvd.; 510/441-0590.
Rest in the garden of a century-old oasis: Across town from the bay, at the base of the hills, is a welcome surprise: Dry Creek Garden. Here, an early 1900s cottage is set in a Monet garden setting, a perfect place for a brown-bag picnic in a grove of oak trees. After lunch, walk the narrow trails, which in early March lead through pink cherry blossoms and beds of purple hyacinth. Later this month, you’ll see tulips and daffodils.
Detailed directions and maps: Union City bike routes
Next: More great eats along the ride
3 more great ethnic eats along the ride:
On the way to Coyote Hills: Stop into Los Dos Gallos Taqueria, just off Decoto Rd., for a breakfast of eggs and chorizo or chilaquiles before heading to Coyote Hills. Enjoy the old-school atmosphere, complete with jukebox and a mural of white-clad caballeros. $; 34704 Alvarado Niles Rd.; 510/429-1735.
On the way to Dry Creek Garden: Another option for picnic food: Mr. Kebab, where Mediterranean cuisine gets the fast-food treatment but is no less tasty for the pared-down atmosphere. Pick up lamb wraps, chicken doner sandwiches, and smoky baba ghanoush. $; 1760 Decoto Rd.; 510/324-3035.
On the way back to BART: Reward yourself with a feast at Mayflower Restaurant. During the day, devour dim sum. If it’s evening, enjoy traditional Cantonese seafood dishes like spicy dry-fried Dungeness crab and honey-walnut shrimp. $$; 34348 Alvarado Niles Rd.