The 5 Bay Area Hikes with the Best Views and Biggest Surprises
The Bay Area is brimming with natural beauty. Every trail, from Mt. Diablo to Muir Woods, has photo-worthy scenery. We have a few favorite Bay Area hikes, but these ones stand out for their particularly stunning views. Better still, some offer a sprinkling of the unexpected, which makes them truly memorable.
Point Reyes National Seashore - Alamere Falls (Marin)
It takes dedication to complete a 13-mile round-trip trek, but this one is well worth the effort. When you reach Wildcat Beach, a dramatic waterfall awaits. Alamere Falls is a tidefall, which is relatively uncommon. Fed by Alamere Creek, the falls pour over a 30-foot cliff onto the beach below. During high tide, it’s hard to tell where the falls end and the surf begins.
Be aware that this hike isn’t for the faint of heart. Aside from the distance, you gain 1,442 feet of elevation, making it somewhat strenuous. There is real danger near the edge of cliff, both up top and down below. Stay away from the edge to avoid risking a fall. On the beach, keep in mind that rocks can tumble down at any time.
There are three trailheads where you can park and launch your expedition: Bear Valley (6.3 miles via the Bear Valley, Glen, and Stewart Trails), Palomarin (5.5 miles via the Coast Trail), and Five Brooks (7.1 miles via the Stewart Trail).
Mission Peak (South Bay)
Mission Peak is popular for its 360-degree panoramic views of the Bay Area, but that’s not the only reason hikers make the climb. When you reach the 2,517-foot summit, an unusual sight awaits in the form of a six-foot steel pole with sighting tubes that point to a variety of distant landmarks.
A selfie with the “Mission Peeker” is a badge of honor. The sculptor who designed the monument intended it as a statement about environmental issues. Sealed inside, there is a bottle of wine from 1990, along with five time capsules. Each contains artifacts that represent the most pressing issues of the decade. The time capsules are scheduled to be opened in 2090, one hundred years after they were created.
The hike is six miles round trip and it is fairly steep. You have three trails to choose from. The Hidden Valley Trail and the Peak Meadow Trail take you up the western face of the mountain, while the Mission Peak Trail climbs the northern face. Mission Peak is about an hour outside of San Francisco in the city of Fremont.
Kirby Cove (Marin)
Not all trails take you up hills and mountains. In the case of Kirby Cove, your hike starts with a steep descent. You'll pass by eucalyptus, pine, and cypress trees. When you reach the end, you will find yourself on a cozy beach. Take in panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge while gentle waves lap at your toes. To get there, park on Conzelman Road and head down old Kirby Cove Road.
Kirby Cove became popular with adventurers in search of a secret rope swing that was once located in the area. Unfortunately, the swing has been removed, but that doesn’t make Kirby Cove any less spectacular.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area – Lands End (San Francisco)
More than 250 hiking trails crisscross the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and all of them are worth a visit. However, if you only have time for one, choose the Coastal Trail for an opportunity to hike along the westernmost edge of the city – and the continent.
This route takes you through a cypress forest and along the 200-foot-high cliffs that guard the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Countless vessels have crashed trying to navigate the narrow channel, and you can see some of the wreckage from lookout points along the trail.
In addition to the area’s natural wonders, there are curious man-made sites to explore. A small detour off the trail will take you to the Land’s End Labyrinth, which was originally created in 2004 by artist Eduardo Aguilera. Some visitors stop here for a moment of quiet reflection and meditation, while others are more focused on photographing the stunning scene with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Before or after your hike, leave time for one more adventure. Near the parking area, the ruins of the massive Sutro Baths offer a glimpse into a forgotten era, when San Francisco residents spent their leisure time at the world’s largest indoor swimming facility. At its peak, the Sutro Baths covered three acres and had seven pools of varying temperatures that could accommodate up to 10,000 people.
The Coastal Trail connects to the Sutro Baths Upper Trail and the Sutro Ruins Trail. Park in the lot on Point Lobos Avenue to access both the ruins and the trail, which is approximately 1.5 miles long. This hike is generally quite easy, but there are some stairs to climb. You can avoid the steepest sets of stairs, but keep in mind that you will miss out on the best views.
Mussel Rock Park Nature Preserve (Daly City)
Long walks on the beach might be cliché, but there is nothing cliché about Mussel Rock Park. The endless expanse of ocean on one side and rugged cliffs on the other are just the beginning. Park on the bluff and follow a trail down to the water, where you can check out tide pools before beginning your trek. This hike can be as long or as short as you wish. To the north, there is walkable beach for the entire nine miles it takes to reach Cliff House. To the south, there is a man-made rock arch where the trail ends.
The most adventurous hikers like Mussel Rock Park for an unusual amenity. It is home to several spectacular paragliding launch points. Even if you prefer to stay on the ground, watching others fly is exciting.
The parking lot is located at the end of Westline Drive in Daly City. Make it a point to stay through sunset; the colors are particularly brilliant from a Mussel Rock vantage point.