A San Francisco Microadventure: Mare Island Preserve

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The Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve is one of the Bay Area’s best hidden gems. Located in Vallejo, it’s only 40 minutes away from San Francisco – a quick and easy trip if you feel yourself needing a good old fashion dose of Mother Nature.

Besides being insanely accessible, the Preserve has an incredible history. The 300-acre park is located on Mare Island which used to serve as the U.S. Navy’s first ammo depot founded way back in the 1800s. The land was off-limits for public use until about a decade ago when a group of volunteers (lead by Hipcamp host Myrna) started a grassroots movement to keep this land wild – free from commercial development – for all Californians to enjoy.

This dedication to land advocacy and conservation warms our hearts over here at Hipcamp. This natural treasure is kept alive by the efforts of volunteers without any funding or protection from the local government. Your stay helps Myrna and the rest of the Mare Island Heritage Trust make a strong case to keep this land protected forever.

The Preserve is open to public use, so even if you can’t pull-off an overnight trip, you can still come enjoy panoramic views of the Bay Area on the many hiking and biking trails. By night time, though, you’ll have the whole place to yourself.


We know what you’re thinking: Google Maps, duh! But you don’t even need a car to escape the urban jungle. You can utilize public transportation by taking the ferry or BART – adding another dimension of adventure to your trip while also reducing your carbon footprint. From San Francisco there is a direct ferry to the Vallejo Ferry Terminal. You can also catch a direct train to the adjacent Vallejo Transit Center from the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station. Cyclists, you can take your bike on both!


Myrna and other volunteers have built and cleared out three incredible camping options for you. You can book each site directly, meaning the campsite is all yours if it’s shown as available! You won’t have to wait for Myrna to approve your stay, making it an even more ideal quick getaway.

Vista History Garden Yurt

This was the first yurt that Myrna and the gang put up. It is in the Rowser Garden, one of the historic sites on the Preserve. When volunteers were cleaning up the place, they found delicate remnants of what had been there before – an 88-foot clothes line. A 20-foot high swing. Ruins of a duplex that was home to two Navy civilian families for more than 45 years. Following their policy of “do no harm before you do good,” the Preserve has done its best to leave the precious spot as they found it.

You’ll be camping amongst history, but also in comfort and style. I mean, just look at this thing!

Old Tennis Court Yurt

This yurt is especially close to Hipcamp’s heart because Hipcampers like you helped create this campsite during our land stewardship summer campout a few months ago. As you can guess, there used to be a tennis court here! Now, there’s still room to play a game of badminton and also this family-friendly and spacious yurt.

Bunker Bay and River View Camp

This is another rad spot if you’re looking for a more primitive style of camping experience. You’ll have the option of camping either inside or right outside of an old 1930’s Navy bunker that has sunning views of the surrounding cities, Napa River and San Pablo Bay. Views on views on views.


There are endless options for hiking and biking on the Preserve. It’s also super dog friendly, so your four-legged friends can enjoy the 7-county panoramic views of the Bay too!


The Mare Island project is just as much about preserving land as it is about preserving history. History buffs will love the Mare Island Preserve museum Myrna has set up in the Visitors Center in memoriam to this special historic site. You can also visit the oldest Navy cemetery that is located behind the Old Tennis Court Yurt.


Myrna is helping bring people together from all over the Bay Area to connect with nature, themselves and one another. Don’t forget to stop by the Visitor Center when you go. There, you can buy locally produced honey and artwork and maybe even meet Myrna herself!

The island is also always buzzing with creativity, activity and other signs of life. When Hipcamper Vanessa Lamb stayed at the Bunker campsite, she attended an art show in another bunker that an artist had rented out for the night. It’s incredible what nature can inspire.

Myrna is always busy planning seasonal content all year round to actively engage the Bay Area community. This holiday season, the Mare Island Preserve has planned lots of festive activities to help you celebrate with your loved ones. Starting Thanksgiving night through New Years Day, you can explore the Mare Island Aglow Holiday Lighted Trail. Also, the three weekends before Christmas hop on over for O’Silent Fright – an unexpectedly frightful and a bit twisted Christmas including a visit from Santa Clause (Nightmare Before Christmas, anyone?).

This is truly a special piece of land – made possible by the efforts of incredible individuals who understand the importance of protecting nature and creating community around the love of the outdoors. Bay Areans, we’re so lucky have a place like this right in our backyard. If you’re trying to escape the city – even for a night – know that your adventure is helping protect and preserve the environment we’ve all come to know and love so much.

Hipcamp Staff

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

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