8 Scenic Hikes In The San Francisco Bay Area, California

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we realized how much Californians love the outdoors, going hiking, cycling, surfing or camping. No wonder. California has such pleasant weather all year, and it also has diverse landscapes, a huge selection of coastal and mountain trails. This collection of our favorite scenic trails in the Bay Area is long due, but here it comes.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California, USA

These are not the most breathtaking trails in California (we’ve written about those a lot though, check them out here!), but the ones that can be comfortably done as a day trip or half-day trip from the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of them are the prettiest in early spring (from February to mid-April) when California turns lush green after the winter rains, however, they can be done any time of the year.

Point Bonita Lighthouse From Rodeo Lagoon, Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California, USA

This short and easy trail starts from the Rodeo Beach & Lagoon parking and takes you to Point Bonita Lighthouse. What do you get on the way? Well, there’s Rodeo Beach in the beginning, a unique beach made of red pebbles. Behind it lies Rodeo Lagoon, a shallow wetland where several species of birds find shelter. Then the trail continues on the coastal bluff, offering amazing ocean views.

At the end you find Point Bonita Lighthouse and an impressive view of the San Francisco Bay, with Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. The lighthouse has quite short opening hours, so be sure to check them if you want to visit it.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California, USA

The only thing we didn’t like about this trail is that part of it follows the road. It’s not super busy, but we prefer actual hiking trails.

Hiking essentials:
  • Trailhead: Rodeo Lagoon parking
  • Length: ~3.5 miles (2 hours) loop
  • Difficulty: easy
  • See the trail map here!

Mission Peak Loop Trail, Mission Peak Regional Preserve

Mission Peak, California, USA

This is one of those trails that took us through rolling hills with great views of the San Francisco Bay. On a clear day you could see the skylines of Oakland, San Francisco and even San Jose. Ours was not a clear day, but at least the hills were lush green and full of wildflowers, because it was somewhen in February.

We started our uphill climb on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, turned onto a narrower, rockier trail that took us to Mission Peak, and then got back to Milpitas on Horse Heaven and Peak Meadow trails. For the most part, it was a well-maintained gravel path, but quite steep from time to time.

Mission Peak, California, USA

We had a memorable encounter with a cow on this trail. Cows were grazing everywhere along the trail, and it was not always easy to keep distance from all of them and not to leave the trail at the same time. But we quickly decided that it’s better to fight our way through a muddy meadow than fight for a trail with a cow. 😀 No chasing happened, but we got some very unfriendly glances and snorts.

Hiking essentials:
  • Trailhead: Stanford Avenue staging area, Milpitas
  • Length: ~6 miles (4-5 hours) loop
  • Difficulty: medium to strenuous
  • See the trail map here!

Easy loops in Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument, CA, USA

Muir Woods is the most easily accessible grove of the Bay Area’s old-growth coast redwoods, hence it’s a popular, but small park, best to be explored on weekdays to avoid the weekend crowds. Otherwise there’s no best season to visit, because any time is the best, it’s a majestic sight year-round.

The trails in Muir Woods National Monument are rather light walking trails, all are asphalted or boardwalked. However, you can extend your hike into surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park for some real hiking adventure.

Our favorite loops are both around 4 miles, one is the Hillside Trail – Ben Johnson Trail – Dipsea Trail, the other is the Canopy Trail – Panoramic Trail – Redwood Trail – Sun Trail – Dipsea Trail route. Both take you through the redwoods, but really, you can combine these short trails as you like, and be able to hike all over Muir Woods in a day.

Berry Creek Falls Loop, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California, USA

This waterfall loop trail is the most popular in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, because you get everything here: old-growth coast redwoods, ferns and moss, small streams and lovely waterfalls – Cascade Falls, Silver Falls and Berry Creek Falls.

The trail starts from the visitor center on Sunset Trail, then you can get back there on Skyline To The Sea Trail. It’s evenly ascending or descending all the way, a perfect full day hike to explore Big Basin. Sadly, wildfire damaged the area in August 2020 and it will take time until nature heals its scars.

It’s a great hike all year, though waterfalls are at their best in winter and early spring.

Hiking essentials:
  • Trailhead: Big Basin Visitor Center parking
  • Length: ~10 miles (6-7 hours) loop
  • Difficulty: medium
  • See the trail map here!

Mount Diablo Grand Loop Trail, Mount Diablo State Park

Mount Diablo, California, USA

Hiking in Mount Diablo State Park in the beginning of March was our most beautiful and colorful wildflower hike in Central California! It’s another of those trails that are lush green until mid-spring, then yellowish-brownish for the rest of the year until the first winter rains arrive. Nevertheless, the views of the Bay Area are impressive any time of the year.

Hiking essentials:
  • Trailhead: Juniper Campground
  • Length: ~7 miles (5-6 hours) loop
  • Difficulty: medium
  • See the trail map here!

Cataract Falls and Alpine Lake, Mount Tamalpais State Park

Cataract Falls, Mount Tamalpais State Park, California, USA

Our favorite trail in Tamalpais. It follows along Cataract Creek and features a series of small waterfalls and Cataract Falls, the largest one. It ends at Alpine Lake which – despite its name – is not an alpine lake, still nice though, surrounded by redwoods. We got back on the same way.

The best time for the waterfalls is winter and early spring, but the trail is great for any time of the year. It can get muddy and slippery when it rains (which happens only in the winter in the Bay Area).

Alpine Lake, Mount Tamalpais State Park, California, USA

Hiking essentials:
  • Trailhead: Rock Spring Trailhead
  • Length: ~2.5 miles (2 hours) one-way
  • Difficulty: medium
  • See the trail map here!

Wildcat Canyon Loop Trail, Wildcat Canyon Regional Park

Wildcat Canyon, California, USA

This one is a long but quite easy loop trail on rolling (green) hills. Again, the best time for this hike is early spring, but it can be done any time of the year. We did it after the winter rains, and the landscape was so fresh and green like a traditional Windows background. 😀

Little Farm on the way has cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and pigs so that small kids can get excited, too.

Hiking essentials:
  • Trailhead: Alvarado Staging Area, Richmond
  • Length: ~12 miles (6-7 hours) loop
  • Difficulty: easy
  • See the trail map here!

East Shore Trail & Heron Bay Trails, Lake Del Valle

Lake del Valle, California, USA

This lovely trail runs along the shore of Lake del Valle water reservoir, offering lake views and green hills (I mean, green until they turn brown by late spring). East Shore Trail and Heron Bay Trail both run on the north side of the lake, you can take one on your way there and the other when coming back. Or switch them as you like, because they often connect.

Hiking essentials:
  • Trailhead: Del Valle Lake trail (near Camp Arroyo)
  • Length: ~7 miles (4 hours) one-way
  • Difficulty: easy
  • See the trail map here!

Any of your favorite trails in the Bay Area?

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By Beata Urmos

Bea is the co-founder of Our Wanders. She’s the writer and the trip organizer, and she’d love to help you plan your own amazing trips! She likes hiking, good novels and chocolate, as well. Her motto is: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)

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