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

Updated on February 12, 2017

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.

1. Alamere Falls

Alamere Falls
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 a fairly easy hike with a few challenging parts. The challenging parts are absolutely worth it though 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.

2. Castle Rock State Park

Castle Rock State Park
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.

3. Black Sands Beach

Black Sands Beach
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.

4. Lake Chabot Trails

Lake Chabot
Lake Chabot

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.

5. Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Trail

Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Trail
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 got 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.

show route and directions
A markerAlamere Falls near Bolinas -
Alamere Falls, Northwest Marin, CA, USA
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B markerCastle Rock State Park -
Castle Rock State Park, Saratoga, CA 95070, USA
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C markerBlack Sands Beach at Marin Headlands -
Marin Headlands, Mill Valley, CA 94941, USA
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D markerLake Chabot Trails -
Lake Chabot, California, USA
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E markerMatt Davis- Steep Ravine Trail -
Mt Tamalpais, Mill Valley, CA 94941, USA
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Questions & Answers


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    • Diane Woodson profile image

      Diane Minton 5 years ago from Evansville, Indiana

      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.

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 5 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

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

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      Interesting and informative ..really some cool places out there

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 6 years ago from Jaipur

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

    • PiaC profile image

      PiaC 6 years ago from Oakland, CA

      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.

    • MosLadder profile image

      Chris Montgomery 7 years ago from Irvine, CA

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

    • muvhen profile image

      muvhen 7 years ago from northants

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

    • SteveoMc profile image

      SteveoMc 7 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      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.

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Marie Giunta 7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

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

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

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

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for showing all these beautiful areas.

    • profile image

      Wife Who Saves 7 years ago

      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 profile image

      sherrylou57 7 years ago from Riverside

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