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5 Favorite Bay Area Hikes: Waterfalls, Rock Formations and Cool Scenery

Kathryn is a San Francisco-based writer who loves covering a diverse range of topics, including healthy eating and cooking.

Bay Area Hikes

Hiking in the San Francisco Bay Area is amazing. Water flows along many of the area’s trails. Trees grow tall and lush. Views include glimpses of the gorgeous San Francisco skyline, sights of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay and expanses of grass. Wildlife sightings include mountain lions, snakes and eagles. There are many, many great hikes in the Bay Area so I’d encourage people to check out a lot of them. However, there are five specific hikes here that I think are absolutely amazing must-do hikes.

Alamere Falls

Alamere Falls

1. Alamere Falls

This is my number one favorite hike in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is located north of San Francisco on the coast. The hike is fairly easy with a few challenging parts, which are absolutely worth it because when you get to the end of this trail you find yourself at a waterfall that falls down into the Pacific Ocean. There are very few waterfalls that cascade down into the ocean and it’s truly an amazing thing to see. You can stay at the top of the waterfall and look down at the ocean view if you’d like. Alternatively, you can scramble down the rocks at the last part of the trail (the only part of the trail that’s really a bit difficult) and hang out on the beach where the waterfall meets the ocean. The best time of year to hike to Alamere Falls is right after the winter rains in March or April because that is when the falls are at their most powerful.

Castle Rock State Park

Castle Rock State Park

2. Castle Rock State Park

This is one of the few trails south of San Francisco that I truly, truly love. There are many that I like but I love this one. It’s so different from any other trails that I have been on. It passes natural rock formations; these are huge rocks that have cavernous holes and gorgeous natural shapes. You can stay on the trail and simply pass by these with wonder. Alternatively, you can scramble up and down these rocks. It’s a fun area for climbing and bouldering even if you don’t have a lot of skill or equipment for those sports. The trail itself has some difficult parts but is a fairly moderate trail for experienced hikers.

Black Sands Beach

Black Sands Beach

3. Black Sands Beach

This trail is located just on the other side (the northern side) of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Marin Headlands. This region is great for hiking with numerous trails that climb up and down the mountains and head all the way out to the ocean. It is possible to actually drive to the parking lot of Black Sands Beach and then just walk a very short trail down to the water. However, I prefer taking a longer hike by parking at the very entrance to the Marin Headlands (just off of the freeway on the way back towards the city) and then hiking from there all the way to the beach. There are parts of this trail that feel very strenuous to me, although I believe it is considered a moderate trail. At the end, you hike down to the beach. This is a gorgeous black sand beach on the bay. From here you can see waves crashing on to rocks. You can also see a gorgeous view of the southwestern side of San Francisco. Be forewarned that Black Sands Beach is actually a clothing optional beach so you may run across some nude people here. However, it’s not an overly populated beach and most people here stick to themselves. In addition to the cool hike, neat sand and great views, one of the things I like about this hike is that the beach is often glittering with jellyfish.

Lake Chabot

Lake Chabot

4. Lake Chabot Trails

People who are seeking easier trails might want to take a look at the trails around Lake Chabot in the East Bay. I do not have a favorite trail here but have enjoyed hiking on many of them. They wind around the lake and go through pretty forested areas. They are well-maintained trails that are fairly easy for hikers. This is a good place for taking a picnic lunch and then doing some after-lunch hiking.

Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Trail

Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Trail

5. Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Trail

One of the most beautiful trails that I’ve ever been on is the Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Trail, which is a loop trail that’s part of Mount Tam. This trail doesn’t climb as high as some of the other Mount Tam trails, but it has the most diverse views and landscape that I’ve seen in the area. You pass terrific creeks here. You start at gorgeous Stinson Beach and later see it from above. You go through dry grassy areas. You walk through the shade of tall trees. It’s truly amazing. There are actually many ways to reach portions of this trail so you don’t have to do the whole thing. I’m a huge fan of loop trails since I find them less boring than point-to-point trails so that’s why I like the whole shebang here. It is about eight miles long and has some definitely strenuous pieces to it, though, so you may find that you only want to do part of it if you’re not an experienced hiker or aren’t in the mood for a longer day hike. Notably, there are campgrounds in this area so you could also camp here and hike in the area during the day.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Diane Minton from Evansville, Indiana on May 22, 2012:

These are all places we have never been or heard of, this Hub gives us the itch to go and travel in the next few years and see some of the wonders that Mother Nature has created for us. The photos are beautiful and the information is so concise. Thanks for a great informative Hub.

Maree Michael Martin from Northwest Washington on an Island on May 22, 2012:

Great Hub about the Bay Area. Thanks for some great waterfalls to go see!

htodd from United States on January 15, 2012:

Interesting and informative ..really some cool places out there

Jyoti Kothari from Jaipur on December 06, 2011:

Hi, Very good and informative hub. Photos are so nice. Rated up and interesting.

PiaC from Oakland, CA on June 08, 2011:

I've been looking for some new hikes for the summer in the Bay Area. I'll be sure to try these. The Castle Rock one sounds especially enjoyable. Thanks for writing this Hub.

Chris Montgomery from Irvine, CA on April 29, 2011:

Wow, great info. I had no idea there were such cool hikes up there.

muvhen from northants on January 23, 2011:

great holiday spots these are I like vacation there once a year my self an I also recommend travelling outside the USA

SteveoMc from Pacific NorthWest on September 16, 2010:

Wonderful sight, I was recently in Santa Rosa and there was a river there that war neat and had a couple of funs falling spots. I loved the weather and the surroundings. Thanks for sharing. I want to come back and take some of the great walks you pointed out.

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on September 16, 2010:

There is nothing like getting out into nature, these hikes look so inviting, thanks Kathryn.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on September 16, 2010:

All great spots!! The Bay Area sure has some great hikes- hurrah for that!

Hello, hello, from London, UK on September 16, 2010:

Thank you for showing all these beautiful areas.

Wife Who Saves on September 16, 2010:

I enjoyed your hub. I've never been to the west coast. You've allowed me to see a part of San Francisco other than the hilly streets and the earthquakes.

sherrylou57 from Riverside on September 15, 2010:

I am a Northern Calif person, I love the area. Thank you, for sharing this hub!