Sure, it’s the home of Google, Facebook, and Twitter. But the San Francisco Bay Area is also the wildest metropolitan area in the United States, with broad swaths of open spaces surrounding its urban core. Step into the great outdoors that surrounds San Francisco and wondrous things happen: You’ll gaze at waterfalls. Stand atop mountain summits. Watch waves crash on rocky shores. Be awed by old-growth redwoods. So lace up your hiking shoes and explore the wild side of the Bay Area on these five local hiking trails. One bonus, beyond the views: At the end of each of these hikes, you won’t be far from a great spot for lunch, espresso, or wine tasting.
1. Matt Davis and Steep Ravine Loop
7.5 miles round-trip
This half-day loop delivers Mount Tamalpais’ photogenic highlights—grassy slopes with wide Pacific vistas, mossy forests, and a cascading stream. From Pantoll Ranger Station, north of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, follow Matt Davis Trail’s long, graceful arc from the mountain’s heights to the sea. With a 10 a.m. start, you’ll reach Stinson Beach by lunchtime. Refuel at Parkside Café or Stinson Beach Market, then pick up Dipsea Trail at Highway 1 and Panoramic Highway. Follow Dipsea across the grasslands to Steep Ravine Trail. Turn left and make a heart-pumping ascent alongside Webb Creek, where majestic redwoods and Douglas firs stand sentry over small waterfalls and crystal-clear pools. Zig-zag your way through this sylvan wonderland back uphill to your car.
2. Tennessee Valley Trail
3.8 miles round-trip
Pack a picnic and head across the Golden Gate Bridge for an easy Bay Area hike to the national recreation area’s Tennessee Cove, where rolling waves dissolve on the beach’s black sand, pelicans soar overhead, and the relentless tide batters the offshore rocks. Tennessee Valley’s wide, level path cuts through a valley between chaparral-covered hills. The trail forks just before a bird-filled lagoon; go left along the water’s edge to scout for ducks and egrets, then stroll onward to Tennessee Cove. Bracketed by high cliffs, this pocket beach is where the steamship Tennessee wrecked in dense fog in 1853. All of the roughly 550 passengers were saved, but the surf tore the ship to bits. See this picturesque cove from a pelican’s perspective by hiking up the northwestern bluff to an old military bunker.
3. North Ridge and Sunset Trail Loop
5.0 miles round-trip
Round up the gang for a boat cruise on San Francisco Bay and a hike on Angel Island. This family-friendly San Francisco hike leads to the island’s highest point, where the Bay’s cerulean-blue panorama unfolds. Getting there is half the fun: Savor the salty-breezy ferry ride (with service from San Francisco, Tiburon, and Vallejo), then disembark at Ayala Cove and climb a long staircase to join North Ridge Trail. Vistas widen as you ascend gentle switchbacks toward Mount Livermore’s northern shoulder. At the Summit Trail junction, bear right for the 788-foot summit. Count the famous landmarks—Berkeley, San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill, Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Tamalpais, and more. Tear yourself away from this riveting vista to loop back on Sunset Trail. Stop at Angel Island Café for veggie wraps and pulled pork sandwiches before catching the ferry home.
4. Berry Creek Falls
9.2 miles round-trip
Ancient redwoods and a glistening waterfall await on this all-day adventure west of Silicon Valley. Start at Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail near park headquarters and meander among virgin redwoods, some larger than 12 feet in diameter. You’ll follow bubbling creeks for much of the route, keeping good company with yellow banana slugs and, in the wet season, orange-bellied California newts. At 4.2 miles, the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail meets up with Berry Creek Falls Trail, and the waterfall appears like a mirage through the trees. Turn right to walk the final stretch to this 65-foot-tall cataract, which tumbles gracefully over a fern-lined cliff framed by redwoods. Nab a spot on the wooden viewing platform, pull a sandwich from your day-pack, and applaud the watery spectacle.
5. Mary Bowerman Loop Trail
.8 miles round-trip
The mileage is minuscule but the payoff is huge on this easy tromp near Concord in the eastern Bay Area. Mary Bowerman Loop Trail offers inspiring views from every turn as it circles the 3,849-foot summit of mighty Mount Diablo. Look west to pick out the Golden Gate Bridge and Farallon Islands, then circle to the east to spy the crest of the Sierra Nevada. Start at the visitors center, just below Diablo’s summit. Pick up an interpretive brochure and impress your friends as you identify local flora like chamise, yerba santa, and scrub oak. Don’t miss the short side trail to the Devil’s Pulpit, a red-colored, chert outcrop that’s a playground for rock climbers. After your walk, drive back down the park road to Live Oak Campground picnic area. A short walk leads to Rock City, a cluster of sandstone outcrops that kids love to climb on.
— Ann Marie Brown