WRITTEN BY Alejandra Saragoza
Alejandra is the managing editor of California.com. She's a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, T…See full bio
Sometimes, all you need is a relaxing seaside stroll to refresh your spirits. These four scenic coastal trails in the Bay Area provide a quiet escape where you can feel the crisp ocean breeze flow through your hair, breathe in the scent of surrounding wildflowers and trees, and taste the sweet saltiness of the air. So put on your favorite pair of walking shoes, ditch the car, and traverse these meandering pathways that lead to breathtaking panoramas. Your soul will feel anew in no time.
Situated about an hour north of San Francisco, the Point Reyes National Seashore is a gorgeous getaway rife with wildlife and unparalleled coastal views, which are best enjoyed on the Bear Valley Trail. This popular hike begins at the Bear Valley Trailhead, just past the Bear Valley Visitor Center at the south end of the parking lot. Stroll through the fragrant Douglas fir forest, looking out for deer and the elusive Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly as you meander by flowing creeks. The lush, shaded path eventually opens out to coastal grassland and chaparral, with the final stretch leading to a protruding headland and precipitous bluffs. Before you head back, take a moment to savor the view from this spectacular vantage point—which unveils a rugged yet pristine shoreline spanning for miles in both directions—and listen to the calming sound of crashing waves.
Tennessee Valley is a spectacular offshoot of the Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco, with a variety of family-friendly hiking trails such as the beloved Tennessee Valley Trail. Pack a picnic and start on the pathway to Tennessee Cove Beach at the trailhead parking lot, located at the end of Tennessee Valley Road. (Note that dogs are not allowed on this trail, even on a leash, so make sure to leave Fido at home.) The trail winds between rolling hills but stays relatively level—making it an easy trek for little ones—and offers dramatic coastal views and ample opportunities to spot rabbits, deer, owls, and coyotes. When you reach the end, relax on the secluded, sandy beach and enjoy your picnic. If the tide is low enough, you might even spot the rusted engine and anchor of the SS Tennessee, a steamship that sank after hitting a reef near the Golden Gate Bridge in 1853.
Perched on the edge of Berkeley, César Chávez Park has long been a popular destination among East Bay dwellers seeking an escape—and for good reason. The verdant, 90-acre expanse named after the late civil rights activist sits adjacent to the Berkeley Marina, boasting spectacular vistas to the west and to the east. Spend the afternoon walking along the paved trail that loops around the park, where you can take a leisurely stroll through the wetlands, spot wildlife, and soak up sweeping views of the Bay, downtown San Francisco, Angel Island, and (on a clear day) the Golden Gate Bridge. Afterward, settle in on a park bench and watch the youngsters hoist their colorful kites up into the strong oceanside breeze. Bonus: The park is dog-friendly and even has a large designated off-leash area where pups can roam at their leisure, ensuring it will be a favorite spot for Fido, too.
A haven for city slickers living in the concrete jungle of San Francisco, Ocean Beach is a 3.5-mile stretch of white sand tucked away on the city’s westernmost border, right next to Golden Gate Park. The extensive pathway runs from the historic Fort Funston to the iconic Cliff House, leading you along the tops of dunes while providing incredible views of the windswept coastline and the famed Golden Gate Bridge. Park in one of three areas—on the south end at Sloat Boulevard, across from Golden Gate Park, or next to the Cliff House—then embark on your easy oceanside stroll. During the trek, keep your eye out for groups of endangered snowy plovers on the shore below; depending on the tide, you might also get a glimpse of the hull of the shipwrecked King Philip. For a truly unforgettable experience, linger until the sun goes down to witness the majestic golden hour, when the sky transforms into breathtaking hues of gold, red-orange, and deep purple.
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