Yes, 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 swathes 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 walking shoes and explore the wild side of the Bay Area on these five local walks. One bonus, beyond the views: at the end of each of these walks, you won’t be far from a great spot for lunch, an espresso or a wine tasting.
1. Matt Davis and Steep Ravine Loop
This half-day circular walk 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 am start, you’ll reach Stinson Beach by lunchtime. Refuel at Parkside Café or Stinson Beach Market and then pick up the Dipsea Trail at the junction of 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
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 rocks offshore. Tennessee Valley’s wide, level path cuts through a valley between brushwood-covered hills. The trail forks just before a bird-filled lagoon; take the left fork along the water’s edge to be in with a chance of seeing ducks and egrets, then continue onward to Tennessee Cove. Bracketed by high cliffs, this pocket-sized beach is where the steamship Tennessee was wrecked in dense fog in 1853. All of the roughly 550 passengers were saved, but the surf tore the ship to pieces. See this picturesque cove from a pelican’s perspective by walking up the north-western cliff 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 across San Francisco Bay and a walk on Angel Island. This family-friendly San Francisco walk leads to the island’s highest point, where the Bay’s cerulean-blue panorama unfolds. Getting there is half the fun: savour the salty-breezy ferry ride (with services from San Francisco, Tiburon and Vallejo), before disembarking at Ayala Cove and climbing a long staircase to join North Ridge Trail. The vistas widen as you ascend gentle switchback paths towards Mount Livermore’s northern shoulder. At the Summit Trail junction, bear right for the 240-metre 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 view to loop back on the 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 the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail near the park's headquarters and meander among virgin redwoods, some larger than 3.5 metres in diameter. You’ll follow bubbling creeks for much of the route, and be in 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 the Berry Creek Falls Trail, and the waterfall appears like a mirage through the trees. Turn right to walk the final stretch to this 20-metre-tall cataract, which tumbles gracefully over a fern-lined cliff framed by redwoods. Nab a spot on the wooden viewing platform, pull a sandwich out of your rucksack, and enjoy the watery spectacle.
5. Mary Bowerman Loop Trail
0.8 miles round-trip
The mileage is minuscule but the payoff is huge on this easy stroll near Concord in the eastern Bay Area. The Mary Bowerman Loop Trail offers inspiring views at every turn as it circles the 1,173-metre 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 centre, just below Diablo’s summit. Pick up an interpretive brochure and impress your friends as you identify local flora such as chamise, yerba santa and scrub oak. Don’t miss the short side path to the Devil’s Pulpit, a red-coloured, 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 from here leads to Rock City, a cluster of sandstone outcrops that children love to climb on.
— Ann Marie Brown
A crimson bridge, cable cars, a sparkling bay, and streets lined with elegant Victorian homes—San Francisco is undeniably one of the world’s great cities. Located along the Northern California at the state’s distinctive bend in the coast, the region has an alluring magic that stretches beyond the bay to diverse cities with nightlife and trend-setting cuisine.
"I left my heart in San Francisco, High on a hill, it calls to me." –singer Tony Bennett
The Bay Area is also home to some of the world’s finest wine country, including Napa Valley and Sonoma, plus waterfront towns, dramatic beaches, and the tech-savvy southern end of the bay known as the Silicon Valley, where lunchtime ideas at Google, Facebook, and Apple, turn into the next brilliant innovation.
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