Where to Get Outside in the San Francisco Bay Area

Explore the parks and preserves that surround San Francisco.

If you want to add more adventure to your life, San Francisco is a good place to be. The Bay Area is rich with hiking and cycling trails, rock-climbing spots, kayaking routes, equestrian-friendly parks and recreational activities of all kinds. With some of the most popular parks and protected nature areas just a short drive or public transit trip away, it's easy to get out and explore. Plan your next excursion with this guide to Bay Area adventures. 


Biking on Angel Island

North Bay/Marin County

Hike through Bay Area history: Angel Island State Park
Alcatraz gets all the attention, but neighboring Angel Island is an overlooked gem accessible by ferry or private boat (slips and overnight mooring buoys are available on a first-come, first-served basis). Once you arrive, head out on hiking and cycling trails that circle the island and ascend to the Mount Livermore summit at 788 feet. Those paths provide a peek at the Angel Island of days past, when it served as a cattle ranch, military base, quarantine station and immigration station. Today, park staff and volunteers lead guided tours and talks, and the U.S. Immigration Station museum welcomes guests seven days a week. 

Muir Beach Overlook

View watershed restoration at work: Muir Beach
Three miles west of much-acclaimed Muir Woods, Redwood Creek meets the Pacific Ocean, and the surrounding beachfront and wetlands promise a memorable recreational experience. A multi-year restoration project has refreshed the floodplain, tidal lagoon and dunes, creating habitat for the threatened and endangered California red-legged frog, coho salmon and steelhead trout. A new pedestrian bridge, interpretive signs and trailhead amenities make it easier for visitors to explore the watershed, as well, while several hiking routes branch off from the beach.

View of San Francisco from Mount Tamalpais

Get lost for a day: Mount Tamalpais State Park
With more than 60 miles of hiking trails, challenging loops for road and mountain bikers, hang gliding launch sites, winter waterfalls, spring wildflowers, summer astronomy talks and year-round wildlife watching, Mount Tam caters to adventurers of all kinds. More than 750 plant species grow across the park’s 6,300 acres, and the Steep Ravine Trail winds through redwood groves on its way to the popular Dipsea Trail. The paved, half-mile Verna Dunshee Trail at East Peak accommodates wheelchairs (and boasts stunning bay views). 


Tilden Park Golf Course

East Bay

Choose your own adventure: Tilden Regional Park
Tilden Park is one of those “something for everyone” jewels, covering approximately 2,000 acres in the hills above Berkeley and welcoming visitors with a botanic garden, environmental center, farm animals and an antique carousel, plus golf, fishing, camping and nearly 40 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails. For a paved route with rolling hills and panoramic views (watch for hawks, raptors and golden eagles, too), cycle four miles along Nimitz Way. Or, hike the Seaview Trail loop in the late afternoon and watch the sun set over San Francisco Bay.

Hiking near Mount Diablo in the East Bay

Survey the bay and beyond: Mount Diablo State Park
Mount Diablo stands tall among the neighboring foothills, so when the skies are clear, the view from the top extends from the Farallon Islands to the Central Valley, and from Mount Lassen south to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Don’t miss Rock City, with its small caves and ethereal sandstone structures. This is where 1930s California Conservation Corps workers quarried stone for the nearby Summit Building and Museum, and fossils are still embedded in the surrounding walls.

Crab Cove

Go for a swim and build a sandcastle: Crown Memorial State Beach
A 2013 renovation project restored this 2.5-mile beach and dune system on Alameda Island, where swimmers, windsurfers, kite boarders and kayakers relish sunny skies and warm, shallow waters. Get your bearings at the Crab Cove Visitor Center, and then explore the beach or watch for birds while strolling a paved path that runs parallel to the shore. Look for barbecue pits and picnic tables near the bathhouse on the west end of the beach. On-leash dogs are welcome on the lawn and paved trail areas.


 

Devil's Slide Coastal Trail

South Bay/Peninsula 

Explore a recycled roadway: Devil’s Slide Coastal Trail
When the Tom Lantos Tunnels rerouted Highway 1 traffic in 2013, the move paved the way for this multi-use trail that traces 1.3 miles of cliff-hugging coastline. The converted roadway accommodates cyclists, runners, hikers and horseback riders, while scenic overlooks and observation scopes encourage you to stop and take in the scenery. Wildlife watching is also big here. Expect everything from gray whales to harbor seals to red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons and Bewick’s wrens, depending on the season.

Discover an urban oasis: San Bruno Mountain State and County Park
Don’t let the surrounding freeways and runways fool you—nature is the star at San Bruno Mountain State Park. San Bruno Elfin, Mission Blue and Bay Checkerspot are among several species of endangered or threatened butterflies living here, and several types of birds soar over the park’s 12 miles of trails. The Summit Loop Trail winds through diverse plant communities before topping out at 1,314 feet (complete with a San Francisco skyline view), and it’s a great place to photograph wildflowers in the spring.

Roam in the redwoods: Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve
Loggers worked along these western Santa Cruz Mountain slopes in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today, thanks to a $2 million gift from the Save the Redwoods League, this 4,711-acre preserve is again populated with coast redwoods plus lush ferns, wildflowers and creeks. The Purisima Creek Trail follows an old logging road across several bridges and past former sawmill sites; the Craig Britton Trail winds a photo-worthy path through redwood groves and patches of grassland and chaparral.

Renee Brincks
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