The Bay Area is a genuinely unique hiking destination and a must-visit for those who love the outdoors. Though most might think the Bay Area is full of tech startups, heavy traffic and bustling cities (we have that too!), it’s also full of a wide variety of trails and coastline, that are only a short drive from the center of San Francisco. From the foggy coast of Tomales Bay over to the exposed, harsh peak of Mt. Diablo and down to Big Basin and some of the oldest Coastal Redwood trees in the world, there is something for every hiker and occasion. Although there are thousands of trail miles across the Bay Area and too many beautiful hikes to fit into a lifetime, the below are 10 of the most recommended hikes for those visiting the area or who just haven’t explored all there is to offer yet in their backyard.
1. Mt. Tamalpais Summit
There are a few peaks in the Bay Area that are worth summiting for their sweeping views and beautiful trails. The most iconic of this is Mt. Tamalpais, located north of San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge. There are a few ways to get to the top of Mt. Tam, but the most beautiful and most-often recommended is via Matt Davis and Railroad Grade Trails. You’ll climb over 1,500 ft. of elevation across 7.4 miles, but it is well worth the trip. Once at the top, sit on the rocks around the fire tower for an impromptu picnic and spend time taking in the sights.
2. Dipsea, Steep Ravine, Matt Davis Loop
Mt. Tamalpais (known by locals as Mt. Tam) is too big and beautiful to include one hike on the list. Rated as the most popular hike in the area, the Dipsea, Steep Ravine, Matt Davis Loop takes you through the best parts of Mt. Tam in one 6.4-mile hike. Don’t think it’s going to be easy though as the elevation is almost 1,700 ft. You’ll start and end at Stinson Beach, and along the way enjoy waterfalls, ocean views, and the famous 10 ft. ladder. Make sure to save some time for a post-hike meal at Stinson Beach.
3.Donner Creek Loop Trail at Mt. Diablo
Mt. Diablo sits as the tallest peak in the East Bay, looming 3,849 ft. above Contra Costa County, with views that include parts of Nevada when the weather is clear enough. What makes Mt. Diablo so tricky isn’t just the elevation though. Temperatures can regularly creep over 100-degree Fahrenheit in the summertime, and a lot of the peak is exposed. For that reason, the best times for this hike are Spring mornings, where the weather is crisp, and the wildflowers are blooming. The Donner Creek Loop Trail is the most popular at Mt. Diablo and runs 5.1 miles with 1,161 ft. of elevation.
4. Angel Island Perimeter Loop
Though not the most challenging hike on the list, Angel Island is a must visit for those looking to explore what makes the Bay Area so unique. Angel Island is indeed an actual island sitting in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, the entirety of which is a State Park. The Perimeter Loop is 5.9 miles with 528 ft. of elevation and offers unique views of San Francisco, the Marin Headlands and more. Just be sure to check the ferry schedule and plan accordingly, as the ferry only departs to and from Angel Island at specific times of the day. There is also a cafe and cantina on the island for a post-hike meal.
5. Montara Mountain North Peak Loop Trail
Down south, past San Francisco and the famous beach destination Pacifica, is Montara Mountain. While the fog in this area is usually very thick most of the time, Montara Mountain, sitting at 2,000 ft. tall, breaks the fog, making for a sunlit hike and fantastic views of the Pacific. The hike itself will take you along 7 miles and 1,804 ft. of elevation, as you climb to the peak. And once at the top, enjoy views of Mt. Diablo and Mt. Tam, two other peaks on this list. Just be sure to get there early, as the parking lot fills up fast.
6. Tomales Point Trail
Tomales Bay is a 15-mile stretch of water that sits between Marin Country to the east and Point Reyes National Seashore to the west. It’s best known for its oysters and does not disappoint. The Tomales Point Trail runs through 9.4 miles of the Point Reyes National Seashore, with just over 1,000 ft. of elevation. You’ll have views on all sides as you make your way to the end point, where the bay meets the Pacific Ocean. Going later in the morning will lead to improved visibility, as the fog burns off around mid-morning. Also, make sure to wear long pants as some of the trail can be overgrown at times.
7. Skyline to the Sea Trail
The only backpacking hike on the list, the Skyline to the Sea Trail runs 25 miles from Castle Rock State Park in Santa Cruz to Waddell Beach. It has become one of the most popular backpacking hikes in the Bay Area because of its breathtaking views and accessibility. The most popular timeline is three days, stopping at Waterman Gap and Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Just make sure to check the weather as parts of the trail can be impassable after heavy rains.
8. Tennessee Valley to Muir Beach
Another North Bay treasure is the Tennessee Valley to Muir Beach hike, which travels just over 9.5 miles with over 2,000 ft. of elevation and offers nonstop ocean views the whole way. Parking at the Tennessee Valley trailhead is a breeze, and after a mile hike, you’ll find yourself on the famed Coastal Trail for the rest of the hike. You’ll enjoy uninterrupted ocean views, and Instagram-worthy photo stops before finding yourself at Muir Beach. Be sure to stop by Pelican Inn for a quick meal or beverage before your return hike back.
9. French Trail and Stream Trail Loop via Skyline Blvd
A local favorite for East Bay residents is Oakland’s Redwood Regional Park, which can feel like you’re miles away from civilization, but only a 10-minute drive from downtown Oakland. Featuring an array of coastal redwoods, evergreens, and chaparrals, the French Trail and Stream Trail Loops makes for a fantastic 7-mile hike with 1,300 ft. of elevation gain. One downside is that since this is such a local favorite, it is often quite crowded. However, most hikers are focusing on shorter hikes, so the middle portion of this trail has the least crowds, unless there is a trail race which is very common in the area. For those who live in or are visiting Oakland or Berkeley and would like to see one of the best trails in the area, this is the best option.
10. Palomarin Trailhead to Alamere Falls
Alamere Falls is a bucket list item for anyone who lives in or visits the Bay Area. The hike from the Palomarin Trailhead is 8.8 miles and has 1,335 ft. of elevation gain. Alamere Falls is a tidal waterfall right on the coast, that directly flows into the Pacific Ocean, which makes for a fantastic halfway point stop, so make sure to bring picnic foods for a mid-hike beach picnic. The trail is well-marked and is heavily trafficked so while you won’t ever be alone, you won’t get lost either. Just be on the lookout for poison oak as you make your way down the trail.
While there are thousands of miles of trails in the Bay Area, these have been some of the top to check out for those new to the area or new to hiking in general. While most are long in distance, they are all beautiful hikes that are also quite manageable. As you can see from the list, most of the hikes are located in the North Bay, which is no mistake as this is the most popular part of the Bay Area for hiking and often has the best hikes. So if there is one area you should visit on an upcoming trip, make sure to get to the North Bay and start exploring!
Kim Suarez is a Bay Area native who has been exploring local trails and spending time outdoors hiking, camping, climbing, surfing, mountain biking and trail running at any free moment for most of her life. Working in the outdoor apparel industry, she is able to take her love for the outdoors and combine it with creating products built for athletes and outdoor enthusiasts. She currently lives in Oakland, California.