San Francisco Outdoor Adventures: Hike, Bike and Kayak
San Francisco Outdoor Adventures: Hike, Bike and Kayak
Looking to get in an active workout while on your urban endeavor vacation to the Bay Area? You’ve found the right place.
Are you the type of traveler who likes both an urban environment experience combined with outdoor adventures on your trips? Then you can’t go wrong with planning a San Francisco vacation. The city and its surrounding Bay Area offer a wealth of popular outdoor activities—including three biggies: hiking, biking and kayaking.
Since moving here last summer, I’ve discovered that San Francisco and the Bay Area is one of the best places to live in if you’re a hiker. With the Santa Cruz Mountains to the south, Mt. Diablo and other peaks in the East Bay, and dozens of county and state parks with trails throughout the region, it’s a hiker’s paradise—for beginners to advanced trekkers. (These days, I fall somewhere in the middle.)
Two sites I’ve used to help me find trails are Bay Area Hiker (www.bahiker.com) and the new online resource Trailspotting (www.trailspotting.com), for hikes, bike trails and more. Here are a few of the trails around the Bay Area I’ve enjoyed checking out. All are within an hour drive of San Francisco. Park Web sites will have complete directions.
Santa Cruz Mountains
Stevens Creek County Parks, Cupertino.
Stevens Creek trails through the Santa Cruz Mountain foothills are ideal for beginner and moderate hikers, boasting excellent valley views. The Zinfandel Trail leads to adjacent Picchetti Ranch Open Space Preserve, where you can indulge in a wine-tasting at Picchetti Winery before heading back to Stevens Creek. There’s good bird watching too, so bring your binoculars.
$6 parking fee, open from 8 a.m. to sunset.
Rancho San Antonio County Park and Open Space Preserve, Los Altos Hills and Cupertino.
Rancho San Antonio offers up a variety of its trails. The shorter, flatter one are popular with casual hikers and families, especially on the weekends, but pick one of the lengthier and more strenuous routes, such as combining the PG&E Trail to Upper High Meadow to Upper Rogue Valley, and you’ve got yourself a good workout, along with some privacy with nature. Families shouldn’t miss the preserve’s Deer Hollow Farm, a working farm with goats, cows, chickens, sheep, pigs and other animals, along with an organic garden.
Free parking, open from dawn until 30 minutes after sunset. Deer Hollow Farm is open Tues. to Sun., 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed at 1 p.m. on Wed.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Santa Cruz.
Big Basin was established in 1902, making it California's oldest State Park. It’s also home to the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco, with more than 80 miles of trails, so be sure to get a map upon your arrival. Most people come to see redwoods along the half-mile Redwood Trail Loop, which identifies the “mother” and “father” trees of the forest, along with plenty of other majestic giants. If you can linger, try the moderate Skyline to the Sea or Shadowbrook trails.
$6 parking fee, $5 for seniors; open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. year round.
Mission Peak Regional Preserve, Fremont.
The trails at Mission Peak take you up 2.8 miles to the summit, where you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views of the Bay Area, including many neighboring peaks and the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west. The day I hiked, there were several hang gliders jumping off the summit. The Peak Meadow Trail ascends gradually, becoming more difficult as you climb (and pass grazing cows). If your goal is the summit, be prepared for a challenging, rocky trail near the top. Wear sturdy boots and bring a hat (there isn’t any shade) and plenty of water and reenergizing snacks.
$3 parking fee, open daily 7 a.m. to dusk.
Mount Tamalpais State Park, Stinson Beach.
My most recent hike was the rewarding Matt Davis/Steep Ravine/Dipsea Trail loop at Mt. Tamalpais State Park. This moderate-level combination of trails starts from the oceanside town of Stinson Beach—which is a great place to grab a hearty bite—winds across golden meadows into the park’s woodlands, drops down into a redwood-lined ravine along a creek path (as the name implies) and ends by circling around with terrific views from the hills overlooking the coastal cliffs and water, back down into the town. It’s about seven miles and four hours worth of nature.
$6 parking fee, $5 for seniors; open daily at 7 a.m., closing time varies by season.
San Francisco is a cyclist’s city, with plenty of green space to play in and public transportation to help get you and your bike where you need to go. If you’re planning to bring your own wheels, check out the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s bike map, with cycling paths and lanes clearly marked. The map also serves as a great walking guide. And don’t forget to head outside the city. Caltrain has designated cars for bikes, making it easy to fit in a biking excursion on the many trails and winding roads in the hills and mountains on the peninsula, south of the city.
The Wave Organ and Golden Gate Bridge
The Presidio of San Fransicso offers a dozen major trails and stunning views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. If you don’t have a bike, it’s easy to rent one from Blazing Saddles in nearby Fisherman’s Wharf. Besides the bicycle, they provide maps, helmets, locks and packs at no cost.
Start at the Marina Green, just outside of the Presidio, and pedal west. At the San Francisco Yacht Club, turn right and go through the parking lot. Ride along the waterfront until you can’t continue. Peter Richards and George Gonzales created the Wave Organ in 1986 as an environmental art installation. Listen to the 25 organ pipes provide sounds of the Bay—as the water hits and moves in and out of the pipes.