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 ( and the new online resource Trailspotting (, 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

South Bay

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.

Santa Cruz

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.

East Bay

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.

Marin County

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.

Donna M. Airoldi


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.

After that side trip, get back to the Marina Green and continue west through the Presidio on the Golden Gate Promenade. The Golden Gate Bridge has 24 hour bicycle access. (Hours for use of east and west sidewalks can vary, so check the bridge Web site for current times.) Take a cruise across the bridge, but don’t forget to stop and look at the scenery.

If you have extra time on your return trip, explore the trails in the Presidio and get a look at the Main Parade—home to the oldest existing buildings in the Presidio.

Blazing Saddles. 2715 Hyde St., San Francisco (there are other locations as well, so check the Web site for the one most convenient to you). Tel. 415-202-8888, Open 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. (last rental out is 7:30 p.m.); hours vary by location. Rental rates start at $7 per hour; discount coupons are available on the Web site.

Golden Gate Park

Take advantage of car-free Sundays on John F. Kennedy Dr. to enjoy a bike tour of Golden Gate Park. Pick your rental up at Golden Gate Park Bike and Skate, and start at the 8th Avenue entrance to the park. Pedal east along JFK Dr. to check out the Conservatory of Flowers. Then backtrack and follow JFK Dr. west, past Stow Lake (or you can take a side trip to cycle around the lake), Speedway Meadow, the disc golf course and Spreckels Lake. Take a short breather at the bison paddock to view the massive beasts. Then pedal past the golf course and celebrate your park adventure at the Beach Chalet and Park Chalet restaurants, just steps from the Dutch Windmill.

Golden Gate Park Bike and Skate. 3038 Fulton St., San Francisco. Tel. 415-668-1117, Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Rentals cost $3 per hour for kids’ bikes, $5 per hour for mountain bikes and $15 per hour for tandem bikes. Rental includes helmet, lock and map. The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department also provides a helpful downloadable map of the park.

Peninsula Biking

Cyclists are abundant on the many steep and winding roads in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties along the Santa Cruz Mountain foothills on the peninsula, south of the city. It’s not uncommon to see teams of cyclists, decked out in full head-to-toe racing gear, tackling the switchbacks of such noted challenges as Montebello, Alpine, Old La Honda and Jamison Creek roads.

Jill K. Robinson


Water is everywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area—so why should you limit yourself to just looking at it? Local kayak outfitters allow you to get out on the water and see the sights from a different perspective.

Half Moon Bay

On the Pacific coast in Half Moon Bay (about 30 minutes south of San Francisco), Pillar Point Harbor is home to commercial and sport fishermen, as well as a base for kayak, kite-boarding and sport boating enthusiasts. The famed Maverick’s big wave surf spot, which is active in the winter months, is only a short distance away.

The Half Moon Bay Kayak Company is located on a beach in the heart of the harbor, and is a full-service kayak outfitter—offering rentals, guided trips, a full instructional program for beginners and advanced alike, and boat and gear sales. Families who want to explore at their own pace can rent kayaks for $15 per hour for single boats and $30 per hour for double boats; all the gear, including life jackets, come free with the rental. Inexperienced kayakers can venture out into the calm, double-breakwater harbor with a short introductory demonstration by a skilled guide.

Those guides also lead local excursions, including three-hour harbor tours where you can see marine mammals and bird life ($65), a trip to the tidepools of nearby Fitzgerald Marine Reserve ($100), and sunset and full moon paddles ($60/$70). After the sun goes down, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to view the bioluminescence in the seawater stirred up by your paddle.

Special children’s programs are offered, from a Take the Kids trip (adults $65/kids $35) to five-day summer kids’ camps ($235). In addition, children can go along on a selection of other guided trips offered by the company.

Half Moon Bay Kayak Company. 2 Johnson Pier, Half Moon Bay. Tel. 650-773-6106, Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Wed.-Mon. (closed Tues.).

Richardson and San Francisco Bay

More kayaking options are available across the Golden Gate Bridge, about 10 minutes north of San Francisco. Sea Trek Ocean Kayaking Center is another full-service outfitter, and operates on a beach in Sausalito’s Schoonmaker Point Marina.

Families can take guided trips along the Sausalito waterfront, viewing marine life and quirky houseboats (adults $65/kids $30). Adventures on Angel Island are also available, where you can spend some time hiking along the trails of the island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, and then paddle out along the shoreline (adults $75 adults/kids $45).

For those interested in going it alone, Sea Trek also rents kayaks in Richardson Bay, a small northern finger of San Francisco Bay. Rentals for single boats are $20 per hour, double boats are $35 per hour. All necessary gear is included with your rental.

Sea Trek Ocean Kayaking Center. Schoolmaker Point Marina, Sausalito. Tel. 415-332-8494 (weekdays) and 415-332-4465 (weekends), Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., daily.

—Jill K. Robinson (Full disclosure: Jill and her husband own Half Moon Bay Kayak Company.)

Destinations: Sausalito, Stinson Beach, Half Moon Bay, San Francisco

Themes: Family Travel, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Hiking, Cycling, Kayaking

User Comments

The Golden Gate Trailblazer Thanks for the article, just the tip of the iceburg. We bring our bikes when we visit and ride many of the trails listed in this amazing resource. It details Angel Island (ride the ferry and peddle and picnic - no need to pay a tour guide), Sausalito, the Golden Gate Park and gives you the parking and driving directions. I got mine on Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on a bike is one of the most exhilarating experiences ever.

More hikes close to SF Great article! A few other hikes close to the city SF are San Bruno mtn .. and Sweeney Ridge .. On my Trailspotting hiking website I'm also putting the finishing touches to a short hike on Mt. Davidson. It's just south of the Twin Peaks tourist trap, but it involves hiking boots rather than tour buses and the short hike to the summit and the Mt. Davidson Cross leads you to some awesome panoramas of SF and beyond. Plus is was the location in a pivotal scene of the first Dirty Harry movie.

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