30 Best Bay Area Hikes Near San Francisco (From a Local)

Reviewed by Elina Ansary
Last updated:

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The best hikes in the San Francisco Bay Area from a local who spends her weekends hiking them.

When I finally decided to move back to the Bay Area, one of the aspects that I was most excited about was being surrounded by California nature again. 

I imagined long hikes on the weekends, walking through redwood forests or taking in breezy coastal views when I needed a break from city life. wat

I started researching all of the trails and parks I could visit and was reminded of just how many options there were.

It’s been three years now since I moved back and I’ve spent a lot of that time doing exactly what I imagined – hiking in beautiful areas around the Bay Area. 

So I finally felt ready to put together a detailed guide to hiking in the Bay Area that’s based on my first-hand experience. 

I’ve hiked 70% of these trails that I’m recommending and the other 30% are on my to-do list to tackle within the next year or two. 

These are my favorite places to hike near San Francisco, whether you’re looking for an easy trail or something more challenging. 

Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.

best hikes san francisco

Best Hikes in San Francisco

Although this guide is mostly about hikes just outside of San Francisco, there are still a lot of great urban hikes in the city that are worth mentioning.

I actually wrote up a full post on the best urban hikes in San Francisco, but I’ll give you the shortened version of that post here.


These are my picks for the five best hikes around San Francisco:

  • Lands End Hike (4 miles) – If you haven’t been hiking in San Francisco yet, I always recommend starting with Lands End. This easy coastal hike is fairly flat and gives you stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as one of San Francisco’s most unique sights, the Sutro Baths. The Sutro Baths is also the perfect place to watch the sunset if you time your hike during golden hour. 
  • Batteries to Bluffs Trail (1.7 miles) – Another one of the most popular trails in San Francisco, this is the hike to do if you want the most scenic views of the Golden Gate Bridge up close. It also takes you around to some of the beaches near the Golden Gate Bridge, like Baker Beach and Marshall’s Beach. 
  • Presidio Trails – The Presidio is one of the oldest parts of San Francisco and a tucked-away forested area in the northwest corner of the city that’s perfect for a scenic stroll. There are quite a few trails in the Presidio, but the ones I’d recommend are the Presidio Promenade Trail (4.2 miles) and the Lovers’ Lane and Presidio Ecology Trails (2 miles). 
  • Twin Peaks Hike (2.1 miles) – If you’re looking for a hike that’s a combination of a good workout and some of the best views in the city, look no further than Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks is one of the most popular viewpoints in San Francisco and it’s worth experiencing for yourself at least once. You can drive up to the top of Twin Peaks, but why drive when you can hike? 
  • Angel Island – An underrated destination in the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island State Park is one of my favorite places to visit near the city. It also happens to be a great place to hike with stunning coastal views in every direction. Besides the views, it’s also a historic island that has a lot of sights to see before or after a hike. Angel Island is technically in Marin County but I’m putting it as a San Francisco hike since the most popular way to get there is on the ferry from San Francisco.

Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state. 

Best East Bay Hikes

Berkeley Fire Trails

Berkeley Fire Trails

Length: 1.5 miles | Elevation Gain: 806 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: The best place to start this hike is near the intersection of Dwight Way and Sports Lane on the Clark Kerr Fire Trail. 

Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash. 

Features: Panoramic views, steep elevation gain, and a great place to watch the sunset.

One of the most beautiful hikes in the Bay Area, the Berkeley Fire Trails are a local hiking spot nestled up in the Berkeley Hills. 

Along the fire trails, you’ll discover panoramic views looking out over the greater Berkeley area and the San Francisco skyline on a clear day. 

The fire trails are popular with students at UC Berkeley and Berkeley residents and it’s one of the best places to hike at sunset in the Bay Area. 

Just note that although the main fire trail is short, it’s also a very steep trail so make sure you’re prepared to climb the equivalent of a stair climber for the first half of the hike. 

Also, the Berkeley fire trail system can get confusing if you’re not familiar with the area since there are a bunch of crisscrossing trails. 

To get the most out of this hike, I’d recommend checking out my full guide to hiking the Berkeley Fire Trails

Lafayette Reservoir Hike

Lafayette Reservoir

Length: 2.7 – 4.7 miles  | Elevation Gain: 170 – 912 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide: Shorter or Longer route 

Trailhead: You’ll start your hike from the Lafayette Reservoir parking lot. Just note that there are two parking lots, one is for day-use parking ($7 for the day) and the other has a limit of two hours ($1.50 per hour). 

Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash. 

Features: Waterside views, easy hikes, local hiking area, and option for a paved trail.

If you’re looking for easy hikes in the Bay Area, the Lafayette Reservoir offers up a nice stroll along the water without too much elevation gain. 

I recently did this hike with my friend and fellow California travel blogger, Allison, and it was a beautiful day near the water.

This is one of the busier hikes in the East Bay, so don’t come here if you’re looking for a secluded hike without many people. 

There are actually two options for hiking at the reservoir, the shorter 2.7-mile Lakeside Nature Trail that goes around the perimeter of the reservoir. 

This one is a nice after-work hike or easy weekend hike. It’s also a paved trail that’s relatively flat so it’s one of the better stroller-friendly hikes in the Bay Area. 

The longer 4.7-mile Rim Trail is also a loop around the lake but a wider loop that doesn’t go next to the water as much. 

There are some steep sections along the outer perimeter hike so be prepared to climb for a bit after the first couple of miles.

Throughout the hike, you’ll be rewarded with higher-up views looking over green hills and glimpses of the deep blue reservoir down below.

Sibley Volcanic Round Top Loop

Sibley Volcanic Round Top Loop

Length: 3.5 miles | Elevation Gain: 571 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start hiking from the unstaffed visitor center at Skyline Boulevard Staging Area.  

Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash.  

Features: Wildflowers in the spring, volcanic history, open vista points, and labyrinths.

Did you know that there’s an extinct volcano hanging out in the Berkeley Hills? 

I didn’t either until I heard of Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve – a park that allows you to walk through a volcanic crater from 10 million years ago. 

And Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve is just as unique as it sounds. 

It features open vista points, rolling brown hills, labyrinths, thick forests, and a volcanic history to explore through the park’s self-guided tour and informational placards. 

The best trail to tackle to see the most that the park has to offer is the Round Top Loop trail. 

This 3.5-mile trail takes you from the Skyline Boulevard Staging Area around to the park’s main volcanic sights and viewpoints and ends with a shaded walk through the forest. 

The Round Top Loop trail is also a good trail to do a quick detour from to see one of the park’s famous labyrinths that have become popular on Instagram in recent years.  

Lastly, this is one of the best dog-friendly hikes in the Bay Area. 

Although dogs have to be leashed, there are always so many cute pooches that I come across when I go hiking here. 

Read my full guide to Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve.

French Trail Loop

French Trail Loop

Length: 4.4 miles | Elevation Gain: 958 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start your hike from the Skyline Gate Parking Area on the Stream Trail. 

Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash. 

Features: Redwoods, close to downtown Oakland, wildflowers in the spring, and a stream.

One of the best hikes near downtown Oakland, the French Trail Loop is the best place to see redwoods in the East Bay. 

The French Trail is more reminiscent of the Santa Cruz Mountains than the usual East Bay trails that feature drier landscapes and golden hills, but that’s what makes this hike so unique. 

Located in Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park, this five-mile loop starts on the main Stream Trail from the Skyline Gate Parking Area and takes you to the French Trail (my favorite trail in the park!). 

Along the French Trail, you’ll find a quieter side to Redwood Regional Park as you walk amongst Oakland’s second-growth redwood trees. 

When I hiked this trail last, I actually did a slightly longer version that was closer to seven or eight miles. 

For this longer version, you can still start from the Skyline Gate parking area but hike the full length of the Stream Trail.

Then you’ll take the West Ridge Trail to the Orchard Trail and finally get on the French Trail. 

Whether you go for the shorter or longer option, this hike has a good mix of flat parts and uphill climbs and it’s filled with diverse landscapes and hushed redwood forests. 

There’s free street parking along Skyline Boulevard, otherwise, the Skyline Gate Parking Area is $5 per car. 

Point Pinole Regional Shoreline Loop

Point Pinole Seashore

Length: 4.1 miles | Elevation Gain: 177 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start your hike from the Giant Highway Staging Area on the Bay View Trail. 

Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash.

Features: Bayside views, wildflowers, good picnic spots, easy and flat trails, and shaded hikes.

Point Pinole Regional Shoreline is one of those tucked-away gems that a lot of people pass up in favor of the more popular hiking areas in the East Bay. 

And that’s a shame because Pinole Regional Seashore is a beautiful bayside park that’s perfect for an easy hike, beach picnic, or to simply relax in the sunshine. 

It’s a popular spot for local East Bay residents to walk their dogs as well, so you’ll probably come across quite a few pups while you’re there.

My favorite hike in the park is the 4.1-mile loop trail that takes you around the perimeter of the park, with options for side trails if you’re looking for a longer hike. 

It’s a mostly flat trail with some paved parts so it’s an easy no-stress hike to tackle (aka you’ll have more energy to spend soaking up those views).  

Along the way, you’ll come across some of the most beautiful viewpoints looking over the San Francisco Bay and San Pablo Bay and a few beach access points. 

There are quite a few different trails that make up this hike, so I’d follow the Trail Guide link above for the exact directions, but basically, you’ll just follow along the water until you run out of trail. 

Parking is $3 per vehicle at the Giant Highway Staging Area and $2 per dog. 

Seaview Trail

Seaview Trail

Length: 5.4 miles | Elevation Gain: 1,151 ft | Type: Out-and-back | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Seaview Trailhead near Grizzly Peak Boulevard, there’s usually plenty of parking. 

Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash. 

Features: Wide trails, eucalyptus trees, little shade, scenic reservoir views, and wildflowers.

Tilden Regional Park is one of the oldest East Bay Regional Parks and also one of the most popular and convenient parks to get to right outside of downtown Berkeley. 

There’s a lot to see in Tilden Park’s 2,079 acres but one of the best hikes at the park is the Seaview Trail. 

My friend Carrie introduced me to this trail and I love its combination of reservoir views, moderately challenging hills for that added workout factor, and length. 

Five miles is seriously the perfect length for a quick weekend hike. 

There’s little shade on this trail so I recommend hiking early because this part of the East Bay can get hot, especially in the summer and fall. 

This is one of the most popular East Bay trails so expect to come across plenty of other hikers if you’re hiking on the weekend. 

After the hike, you can stop by Grizzly Peak Vista Point for even more views looking out towards the San Francisco skyline, the bay, and Berkeley. 

Mount Diablo Summit Hike

Mount Diablo Summit Hike

Length: 13.1 miles | Elevation Gain: 3,585 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start from the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area on the Mitchell Canyon Trail in Mount Diablo State Park.  

Dog-Friendly: No, dogs aren’t allowed on the trail. 

Features: Panoramic views from the top, wildflowers, steep inclines and declines, one of the East Bay’s most famous peaks.

There are a lot of great hikes at Mount Diablo State Park but the hike that’s on everyone’s bucket list is the one to the summit. 

The Mount Diablo Summit Hike is one of the hardest hikes in the Bay Area and not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for the challenge it can be a rewarding experience. 

At 3,849 feet, the Mount Diablo summit gives you 360-degree views over the greater Bay Area. 

But even before you reach the summit and make your way back down, you’ll get to enjoy stunning views, local flora, and varied terrain throughout the hike. 

The best time to visit Mount Diablo State Park is in the spring when temperatures are still somewhat cool and there are bountiful wildflowers

If you’re hiking at another time of the year, I’d recommend checking the weather before doing the hike up Mount Diablo. 

In the summer it gets extremely hot in this area and the views are usually hazy from the summit. In the fall there’s always the risk of wildfires and in the winter it can sometimes snow

It’s best to check ahead and be prepared when it comes to the summit trail. 

Although not a threat to humans, another thing to note is that Mount Diablo has tarantulas that are generally more active in the late summer and fall. 

There’s a $10 entrance fee to get into Mount Diablo State Park and the parking lot doesn’t open until 8 am. 

Best North Bay Hikes

Muir Woods Hikes

Muir Woods

Trailhead: All of these hikes start from the Muir Woods Visitor Center.

Dog-Friendly: No, there are no dogs allowed in Muir Woods.

Features: Old-growth redwood trees, easy and paved trails, family-friendly hiking distances, popular trails with plenty of other hikers.

If you’re looking for the best redwood hikes in the Bay Area, head over to Muir Woods National Monument for a day of exploring the closest redwood forest to San Francisco.   

The trails at Muir Woods are mostly short, flat, mostly paved, and very manageable to explore in one day.

There are just six miles of trails within the park, although there are connecting trails that take you into the greater Mt. Tamalpais area and even down to Muir Beach for those who are looking for a longer hike.

A few of my favorite hikes in the park include the following:

  • Canopy View to Lost Creek to Fern Creek Loop (3 miles) – This loop hike takes you around to some of the most scenic trails in Muir Woods and features both redwoods and Douglas-firs. You’ll find the Canopy View Trail right after you pass the Founder’s Grove on the Main Trail. There’s a steep climb before you get on the Lost Trail and then the Fern Trail, which takes you back to the Main Trail.
  • Ben Johnson Trail to the Dipsea Loop (4 miles) – This hike combines two of my favorite things – hushed redwood forests and stunning viewpoints. The Ben Johnson Trail intersects with the Main Trail after you cross Bridge 4. Once you get on the Ben Johnson Trail, it’ll be a somewhat steep climb to get to those Mt. Tam viewpoints before heading back on the Dipsea Trail.

Muir Woods is a very popular park in the Bay Area and gets crowded fast. 

Because of this, the park now requires visitors to book parking reservations ahead of time for specific time slots, which you can book here

Parking is $8.50 per vehicle and the Muir Woods entrance fee is $15 per person. 

If you don’t want to drive, they also offer shuttles up to Muir Woods during the summer (but these are usually just on weekends and holidays). 

You can book a spot on the shuttle from the same site that you book parking reservations, they charge $3.25 per seat. 

Read my full guide on where to find redwoods near San Francisco.

Dipsea Trail to Steep Ravine Trail and Matt Davis Loop

Dipsea Trail to Steep Ravine Trail and Matt Davis Loop

Length: 7.5 miles | Elevation Gain: 1,689 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start near Stinson Beach on the Dipsea Trailhead. 

Dog-Friendly: No, most trails in Mount Tamalpais State Park don’t allow dogs, including this one. 

Features: Redwoods, Pacific Ocean views, beach, waterfalls, streams, and mountains.

The Dipsea Trail is one of the Bay Area’s most popular trails, featuring some of the most quintessential Bay Area scenery like coastal views, redwoods, and waterfalls. 

Leaving from Stinson Beach on the Dipsea Trail, you’ll climb towards Mount Tamalpais on a steady and steep incline. 

This whole hike is scenic but this beginning section of the trail is one of my favorite parts. 

As you make the climb, you’ll be rewarded with consistently more impressive Pacific Ocean views when you look back towards where you started from.

Eventually, you’ll move away from those ocean views and get on the Steep Ravine Trail as you head into the forest.

Along the Steep Ravine Trail, you’ll come across two waterfalls (these are the most impressive in winter or early spring) and eventually reach the Pantoll Ranger Station. 

Once you get to the Ranger Station, you’ll head back to Stinson Beach on the Matt Davis Trail. 

After the hike (which I suggest doing early in the day), you can explore the cute town of Stinson Beach, grab lunch, and enjoy the beach. 

Cataract Falls Trail

Cataract Falls Hike

Length: 4.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 1,056 ft | Type: Out-and-back | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start from the Cataract Trailhead on Bolinas Fairfax Road.

Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash.

Features: Waterfalls, forested and shady trails, family-friendly, and a swimming hole at Cataract Falls. 

If you’re looking for waterfall hikes in the Bay Area, the Cataract Falls Trail is one of the best.

Located in Mount Tamalpais State Park, this trail takes you past a bunch of small cascading waterfalls until you get to Cataract Falls, which is the perfect place to cool off and have a picnic. 

This hike can get very crowded on the weekends, so I’d recommend trying to go early or hiking on a weekday if you don’t want to deal with the crowds at Cataract Falls. 

And although this hike has a decent elevation gain in just a few miles, it can be a great hike for the whole family. 

The last time I was at Cataract Falls, I saw a bunch of families enjoying picnics and playing in the water with their kids. 

This is also one of the few trails in Mount Tamalpais that allows dogs and there were a lot of pooches last time I hiked here. 

Alpine Lake Loop Hike

Alpine Lake Hike

Length: 10 miles | Elevation Gain: 1,200 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start from the Bon Tempe Lake Trailhead off Bon Tempe Dam Road. 

Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash.

Features: Waterfalls, lakes, shady trails, forests, grassy hillsides, and not too crowded.

The Alpine Lake Hike also takes you to Cataract Falls, so I’d recommend this one as a longer alternative to the above Cataract Falls hike if you’re looking for a more challenging trek. 

I discovered this hike from the Nudge app and it quickly became one of my favorite day hikes in the Bay Area. 

It starts from Alpine Lake and Bon Tempe Lake and goes through a shady trail that gradually takes you on a steady uphill climb. 

You’ll eventually walk through the Cataract Falls area and find yourself on an open, grassy hillside until you make your way back down to Alpine Lake. 

The thing I love about this trail is how it has a little bit of everything – a challenging distance and calf-burning inclines and declines, waterfalls, shade, lakes, and wide-open grasslands. 

It also has a nice mix of being completely empty at times (even on the weekends) and then going through more crowded parts of the trail (around Cataract Falls) before emptying out again once you start heading back towards the start. 

There are a lot of directions and trail changes involved if you want to do the full loop so make sure to follow the trail guide above for this hike. 

Tennessee Valley Trail

Tennesse Valley Trail

Length: 3.4 miles | Elevation Gain: 170 ft | Type: Out-and-back | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start your hike on the Tennessee Valley Trailhead off Tennessee Valley Road.

Dog-Friendly: No. 

Features: Partially paved, flat, beach, easy hike, family-friendly, wildflowers

One of my favorite areas to go hiking and soak up coastal views is the Marin Headlands and the greater Golden Gate Recreation Area

Although the Bay Area isn’t exactly known for its beaches, this is also where you’ll find some of the best beaches near San Francisco. 

One of those beaches can be found on this hike along the Tennessee Valley Trail that takes you to Tennessee Cove. 

This is also a good “choose your own adventure” hike, with different offshoot trails along the route that allow you to explore more of the beautiful Golden Gate Recreation Area. 

If you’re looking for easy hiking trails in the Bay Area, the Tennessee Valley Trail is one of the best that’s also very conveniently located near San Francisco. 

With its location near the city and the easy nature of this hike, it’s not surprising that it’s also a very popular hike to do near the city. 

I’d avoid hiking this one on the weekends unless you get to the parking area super early because it can be like Disneyland

The best time to hike Tennessee Valley is during the week when you can enjoy more of Tennessee Cove to yourself at the end. 

Pioneer Tree Trail

Length: 2.1 miles | Elevation Gain: 196 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start from the Cross Marin Trail off Taylor Park Road. 

Dog-Friendly: Dogs are only allowed on the Cross Marin Trail but not the Pioneer Tree Trail.  

Features: Old-growth redwoods, shaded trail, wildflowers, birdwatching, and family-friendly. 

If you’re looking for a place to see old-growth redwoods without the crowds of Muir Woods, head over Samuel P. Taylor State Park to hike the Pioneer Tree Trail. 

Less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco, the Pioneer Tree Trail is a short, easy walk that takes you through the forest and is a good introduction to Samuel P. Taylor’s 2,882 acres. 

At about two miles roundtrip, it’s not too long of a hike and doesn’t require a lot of effort, but it’s a great way to spend an hour if you’re looking for something easy and scenic. 

If you’re looking for a longer trail, you can stay on the Cross Marin Trail to see Lagunitas Creek and learn more about the park’s history through interpretive signs. 

Note: This trail has a lot of tall poison oak so make sure to wear pants and don’t go off the path. 

Alamere Falls Hike

Alamere Falls Hike

Length: 13.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 1,574 ft | Type: Out-and-back | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start hiking from the Palomarin Trailhead on the Coast Trail (the trailhead can be accessed at the end of Mesa Road. 

Dog-Friendly: No. 

Features: Beach hike, waterfall, eucalyptus trees, coastal views, bird watching, and wildflowers.

The Alamere Falls hike is not only the most popular hike in Point Reyes National Seashore, it’s also one of the best beach hikes in the Bay Area. 

This is one of those hikes that you have to plan ahead for because you can only do it during low tide. 

In fact, it’s dangerous if you hike this trail when the tide is coming in since you can get stranded on one side of the beach. 

Starting from a eucalyptus grove, this trail takes you along a coastal path towards Wildcat Campground and eventually ends up on the beach until you get to Alamere Falls. 

The beach section of the hike is when you want to be paying attention to the tide and make sure you’re hiking at low tide. 

At the midpoint of the hike, before you turn around, you’ll be rewarded with a view of the 40-foot Alamere Falls that flows into the ocean. 

It’s one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California so soak it up! 

The parking lot fills up quickly on the weekends and cars will sometimes be turned away once it’s full, so I recommend getting to the lot no later than 8 am if you’re hiking on the weekend. 

There’s sometimes parking available on the western side of Mesa Road as well but that’s not a guarantee. Otherwise, you can enjoy a much less crowded hike during the week.  

Note: There’s a shorter 8-mile version of this hike but it involves taking a “shortcut” along the cliffs that are already starting to crumble from erosion and too many people walking over them. If you’re going to do the shortcut, just know that it can be a dangerous scramble down to the beach and it’s not recommended by the National Park Service.  

Tomales Point Trail

Tomales Point Trail

Length: 9.4 miles | Elevation Gain: 1,177 ft | Type: Out-and-back | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start hiking from the Tomales Point Trailhead at the end of Pierce Point Road.

Dog-Friendly: No. 

Features: Bay and coastal views, wildlife spotting, birdwatching, wildflowers, historic dairy ranch, and beach access.

Another Point Reyes hike, the Tomales Point Trail starts from the northern end of Point Reyes National Seashore. 

It offers stunning views of Tomales Bay and Bodega Bay, as well as plenty of Pacific Ocean views from dramatic coastal bluffs. 

Besides the consistently good views throughout the hike, there are a few other sights to see along the trail that make this hike unique. 

Most notably, the trail cuts through the Tule Elk Reserve for prime wildlife spotting and it also goes past the historic Pierce Point Ranch (a dairy ranch from the 1850s). 

Near the ranch, there’s a short detour you can take down to McClure’s Beach if you’re looking for some beach time. 

At the end of the hike, you’ll find Tomales Point and more panoramic views.

In 2017, some of the cliffs at Tomales Point crumbled into the sea because of erosion, taking out the end of the trail with it. 

You can still go to the current end of the trail but the cliffs are unstable so it’s not recommended to go off-trail. 

Note: Some parts of the trail can be overgrown so it’s best to wear pants for this hike. 

Bodega Head Trail

Bodega Head

Length: 1.7 miles | Elevation Gain: 187 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start your hike from the Bodega Head Trail near the parking lot off Westshore Road. 

Dog-Friendly: No. 

Features: Coastal views, wildflowers, bird watching, whale watching, and family-friendly.

One of the best wildflower hikes in the Bay Area (this area has a ton), Bodega Head is a dramatic headland protruding from the north end of Bodega Bay. 

Although it’s only just under a two-mile walk around the headland, give yourself plenty of time to take in the stunning coastal views, explore the pocket beaches, and maybe even try to spot a whale. 

Plus, this is a very photogenic spot, one of the prettiest in the North Bay, so you’ll probably be taking a lot of pictures. 

Jack London State Park

Jack London State Park

Trailhead: Start from the museum parking lot. 

Dog-Friendly: Dogs are allowed in the historic zones and developed areas but not on trails. 

Features: Historic sights, ruins, not too crowded, and a good variety of different types of trails.

Located in Glen Ellen, Jack London State Historic Park is home to a significant amount of wildlife, vegetation, historic sights, and hiking trails. 

This 14,000-acre park was Jack London’s residence from 1905 until his death in 1916.

There are a number of easy, short trails and sights to see around the park so I’d recommend combining a few of those together to get the most out of your visit. 

You can begin your hike from the museum parking lot on the Wolf House Historic Trail. This short one-mile hike takes you past Jack London’s grave and the Wolf House. 

From there, you can make your way to the Upper Ranch Parking Lot where you’ll get on the Beauty Ranch Trail.

This trail takes you past a few historic barns, the cottage, winery ruins, a cacti patch, and Pig Palace. 

Along the way, you’ll get to know more about Jack London’s life and his many experiments when it came to running a farm. 

These first two trails are dog-friendly and kid-friendly with how flat they are and the number of sights to see (especially for older kids). 

With that said, I’d recommend doing at least one of the trails that goes into the less developed areas of the park to see the natural beauty that Jack London loved so much. 

From Pig Palace, you can take the Lake Service Road to get on the Lake Trail and make your way to London Lake. 

The lake is not actually a lake anymore but there are more signs that talk about what it once was and the ruins around here are still cool to see. 

From London Lake, you have a few options for trails. 

When I was here last, I did a loop from the Lake Trail to the Upper Lake Trail but you can also do longer treks from here to Fern Lake or the Sonoma Ridge Trail. 

There’s a $10 entrance fee per vehicle to get into Jack London State Park. 

Best South Bay Hikes

Mori Point Hike

Pacifica - Mori Point Hike

Length: 2.5 miles | Elevation Gain: 396 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start from the Mori Point Parking Lot. 

Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash. 

Features: Coastal views, family-friendly, dramatic bluffs, wildflowers, and a black sand beach.

Mori Point is the most popular lookout point in Pacifica and one of the most scenic hikes in the Bay Area. 

This is one of the best hiking trails near San Francisco for those who are looking for an easy one-hour walk filled with spectacular coastal viewpoints. 

Alternatively, this is another short hike that’s easy to add onto with connecting trails, like the Coastal Trail that heads toward the Pacifica Pier, if you want to make it longer. 

Along the trail around the bluffs, make sure to do the detour to see Bootlegger’s Steps and the black sand beach just beyond them. 

I did this hike for my 30th birthday after eating burritos on the beach and I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. 

Mori Point is also a great place to watch the sunset in Pacifica. 

Quicksilver History Loop

Length: 8 miles | Elevation Gain: 1,648 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start your hike on the Mine Hill Trail from the Hacienda Entrance at Almaden Quicksilver County Park. 

Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash. 

Features: Historic sights, rolling hills, forests, and conveniently located in San Jose. 

The Quicksilver Historical Loop is located in Almaden Quicksilver County Park and is one of the best hikes in San Jose. 

It’s great as a morning or evening hike and features rolling hills, historical sights, and a decent elevation gain for more of a workout. 

This was one of the most productive mercury ore mining spots in California during the late 1800s to early 1900s and this historic loop takes you around to some of the original mining sites and ruins. 

Mount Umunhum Hike

Mount Umunhum Hike

Length: 7.7 miles | Elevation Gain: 1,187 ft | Type: Out-and-back | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start your hike on Mt Umunhum Trail from the Baldy Mountain Parking Area off Mt Umunhum Road. 

Dog-Friendly: No. 

Features: Historic place, 360-degree views from the summit, shaded trail, wildflowers, and a good workout.

One of the most noticeable peaks in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mount Umunhum has a layered history. 

It’s been a sacred site for Indigenous Americans of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band for thousands of years. “Umunhum” means “resting place of the hummingbird.” 

There was also an Air Force radar station set up at the summit during the Cold War. 

Now located within Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, this is one of the best Bay Area trails to explore the South Bay landscape, with a gradual uphill climb and sweeping views from the summit. 

Similar to a lot of hiking trails in the Bay Area, the parking area for this hike can get crowded on the weekends, so it’s best to go early or during the week. 

Coastside Trail

Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail

Length: 9.4 miles | Elevation Gain: 164 ft | Type: Out-and-back | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start from the parking area at Poplar State Beach and head north from there. 

Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash. 

Features: Coastal views, urban, partially paved, beaches, bird watching, relatively flat, and family-friendly.

If you’re looking for the best coastal hikes in the Bay Area, it doesn’t get much better than the Coastside Trail in Half Moon Bay.

This flat trail takes you through four beaches in Half Moon Bay and provides ample coastal views throughout most of the journey. 

This is one of the best hikes in Half Moon Bay, especially if you’re looking for something that’s a bit more of an urban hike for a day trip. 

Starting at Poplar State Beach, you’ll make your way north, passing by campgrounds and various Half Moon Bay Beaches until you reach Pillar Point Harbor. 

Right before you get to the harbor, you’ll also pass by Sam’s Chowder House. 

This is one of the best places to eat on the Pacific Coast Highway and great for a lunch stop around the midpoint before you head back. 

If you’re looking to add to this hike, you can keep heading south past Poplar Beach and The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay until you get to Half Moon Bay State Beach. 

This is about an additional four miles there and back and can also be a shorter alternative to doing the longer option north of Poplar Beach. 

Redwood Grove Loop Trail

Redwood Grove Loop Hike

Length: 0.9-mile | Elevation Gain: 45 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start from the main parking lot at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, near the Nature Center. 

Dog-Friendly: No.

Features: Old-growth redwoods, flat and easy trail, family-friendly, accessible, stroller-friendly, and forest views.

I’m partial because I grew up in Santa Cruz, but some of my favorite redwoods in California can be found in the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

And one of the best trails to introduce you to these behemoths is the Redwood Grove Loop Trail found in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

This short and flat trail takes you through some of the biggest trees in the park, including the 1,500-year-old Fremont Tree. 

You can step inside of the Fremont Tree because it’s so huge, which is a pretty cool experience (just make sure you have some kind of light). 

Since it’s so short and there are signs along the way that tell you more about the Santa Cruz redwoods, I recommend starting with this trail and then doing one of the longer trails at the park afterwards. 

There’s also Roaring Camp Railroads nearby if you’re looking for a unique and historic train ride through the redwoods. 

This was one of my favorite activities as a kid and I still love riding Roaring Camp Railroads as an adult (#sorrynotsorry). 

There is a $10 per vehicle day-use fee at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. 

Lime Kilns Trail

Length: 4.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 744 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start from the parking area at the Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Dog-Friendly: No. 

Features: Redwoods, lime kiln ruins, bird watching, creek, and family-friendly. 

Henry Cowell’s 15 miles of trails is one of the best places to hike in the Bay Area, especially if you love forest hikes. 

And the Lime Kilns Trail is one of my favorite hikes at the park.

This is the perfect trail to add to another shorter trail, like the Redwood Grove Loop Trail. Just note that the trailhead starts from a different area of the park at the Fall Creek Unit. 

The Lime Kilns Trail gives you a good dose of history, views, and redwoods all in a manageable five-mile hike. 

The main attraction is the lime kiln ruins that were built by Henry Cowell in the late 19th century. 

Lime used to be the main ingredient in building materials like plaster and mortar right after the California Gold Rush. 

However, it was short-lived since cement became commonly used by the 20th century, which is how these lime kilns became abandoned over a hundred years ago.  

Along this trail, you’ll pass by the ruins of the lime kilns that the forest has reclaimed as its own.   

Maple Falls Hike

Length: 7.7 miles | Elevation Gain: 823 ft | Type: Out-and-back | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start from George’s Picnic Area on the trail that runs parallel to Aptos Creek Road. If this area is closed due to weather (usually in winter), you’ll have to start from the Steel Bridge Parking Area and add two miles to your hike.  

Dog-Friendly: No. 

Features: Redwoods, waterfall, creek crossings, and a good workout. 

Getting into some of my favorite Santa Cruz hikes, the Maple Falls Hike can be found in Aptos at The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

This is one of the most popular trails at the park that takes you to Maple Falls and includes some bridges and water crossings. 

Once you get to the halfway point of the hike, you’ll find the scenic waterfall surrounded by redwood trees.

The falls are especially boisterous in the winter and spring, although the trail can get pretty muddy during that time of the year too. 

If you’re looking for even more of a challenge, I’d recommend tackling another waterfall hike at the park – the 14.9-mile Five Finger Falls hike

This is probably the most strenuous hike in the park with a 2,290-foot elevation gain, but you’ll be rewarded with some unique sights and scenery.  

It takes you past the epicenter of the Loma Prieta Earthquake and eventually to the beautiful Five Finger Falls. 

There’s an $8 per vehicle day-use fee at The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. 

Old Landing Cove Trail

wilder ranch state park - hiking in Santa Cruz

Length: 2.3 miles | Elevation Gain: 85 ft | Type: Loop | Trail Guide

Trailhead: Start on the Old Landing Cove Trail from the eastern side of the main parking lot at Wilder Ranch State Park. 

Dog-Friendly: No. 

Features: Coastal bluffs, ocean views, bird watching, whale watching, family-friendly, and hidden coves. 

A popular hiking spot in the Bay Area, the Old Landing Cove Trail is one of my favorite coastal hikes in Santa Cruz. 

Located at the historic Wilder Ranch State Park, the Old Landing Cove Trail takes you past stunning viewpoints and hidden coves in one of the prettiest parts of Santa Cruz. 

This is also a good spot for whale watching (peak season is December-April).   

At the start of the hike, you can take a quick detour to visit the remnants of the old dairy farm that used to be here. 

The nice thing about the Old Landing Cove Trail is that you can also make it as long or as short as you want. 

You can stick to the core two-mile hike or you can extend it to five miles by hiking to the Ohlone Bluff Trail or back. 

Or, if you’re looking for a longer escapade, you can hike to Four Mile Beach and back for a 10-mile hike. 

There’s plenty of coastal bluffs to explore at Wilder Ranch State Park, depending on how much time you have and how long of a hike you’re after. 

There’s a $10 per vehicle day-use fee at Wilder Ranch State Park. 

If you’re looking for more hikes in the area, check out my post on the best Santa Cruz hikes

What to Pack for Hiking in the Bay Area

What to Pack for Hiking in the Bay Area

Tips for Hiking in the San Francisco Bay Area

Tips for Hiking in the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Always bring an extra layer in case it gets cold or foggy – This is just a general rule of thumb for the San Francisco Bay Area as a whole, but always bring an extra layer with you. The fog has a tendency to roll in when you least expect it and when it does, it gets about 10 degrees cooler. 
  • Check weather conditions ahead of time – There are a few times of the year when this is especially important – the winter and then the summer and fall. In the winter, we can sometimes have the odd winter storm in redwood parks that down big trees and make trails more dangerous to hike. Always check the official park website for trail closures and conditions at any time of the year, but especially after winter storms. For the summer and fall, this has become peak fire season in California. Our last fire season sadly wiped out a huge chunk of Big Basin State Park and it’s not unusual for us to lose large areas of the forest during fire season. Stay safe and check nearby fires and air quality before going out for a hike in summer or fall. 
  • Cell service can be spotty – Even though the Bay Area is a densely packed urban region, the hiking areas can have spotty cell service. This is probably due to how dense our forests are and the mountains in certain parts of the Bay Area, but make sure to download maps to your phone ahead of time and, if it’s available, stop by the local visitor center for physical maps too.   
  • Be aware of the local wildlife and poison oak – The most common wildlife to watch out for in the Bay Area is mountain lions. Although, I’ve been hiking in the Bay Area for decades now and I’ve still never come across one. With that said, it’s still good to make noise while you’re on the trail and to be aware of your surroundings. Mountain lions rarely attack humans, but it’s a good idea to make sure there aren’t any that are stalking you as you hike. Other things to look out for are ticks and poison oak. Both mean you should probably wear long pants when you’re hiking and avoid going off trail as much as possible. 

Looking for other California hikes? Check out our guides to the Trans-Catalina Trail, Catalina Island hiking, Berkeley Fire Trails, best hikes in Laguna Beach, best hikes in Orange County, best Malibu hikes, best Santa Cruz hikes, best Torrey Pines hikes, best Big Basin hikes, best hikes in San Francisco, best San Jose hikes, best Joshua Tree hikes, and best Big Bear hikes.

Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state. 


Mimi McFadden Headshot

Mimi McFadden
Founder & Editor-In-Chief

Mimi McFadden initially started The Atlas Heart in 2013 to write about her adventures abroad. But since 2019, The Atlas Heart has become a love letter to the Golden State. Mimi enjoys sharing her first-hand knowledge and expertise with the places she knows so well and making the most comprehensive travel guides possible. When she’s not hiking and exploring new places in California, she loves to travel abroad, read in her cozy chaise lounge, play basketball, and connect with friends and family over board games. Over her 28 years in California, she has lived in Santa Cruz (18 years), San Diego (5 years), and the San Francisco Bay Area (5 years), where she currently resides.

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Hi, I'm Mimi! I'm an outdoorsy Californian who has spent over 28 years immersed in the incredible natural beauty that California has to offer. My goal is to inspire others to get out and find their next adventure in California. Whether it’s escaping to an alpine lake in the Sierras, finding peace among the giant redwoods, or road tripping down the PCH, there’s always more to explore in this beautiful state.


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