Five of the Bay Area's Best HikesJun 20, 2023 12:33PM ● By Deborah Burstyn
famed John Muir said, “Keep close to Nature's heart...and break clear away once
in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit
clean.” You can get a rejuvenating boost from a one to three-hour hike. No need
to climb a mountain or spend a week trying to do it. Plenty of Bay Area trails
offer easy to moderate elevations and spectacular views. Here are five of our favorites
in and around Walnut Creek. Make sure to hydrate.
This trail is a small slice of Marin Headlands tucked into Mill Valley and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It’s easily reached from the Mill Valley/Stinson Beach/Highway 1 exit off Hwy.101. Tennessee Valley Road turnoff is on the left. The trailhead begins at the parking lot and meanders along a stream through a valley that opens onto Tennessee Cove, a pocket beach surrounded by dramatic rocky outcroppings. For a unique dining experience after your hike, head to nearby Pelican Inn. You’ll think you’ve wandered into a Thomas Kinkade painting.
Sure, Muir Woods is home to some of the most magnificent old-growth redwoods in the Bay, but if you want to experience incredible beauty in the East Bay, head to this hidden gem instead. You’ll find the largest coastal redwoods—most stand at 150-feet tall. The park is 1,833 acres and has tons of hiking trails, but the one you want to hit is the Steam Trail (easy and wide) to the French Trail to the West Ridge Trail. It’s the perfect distance to get a good feel for the park, and you’ll stay cool under the shade of the redwoods. After your morning hike, take Highway 13 east toward Berkeley and enjoy brunch below the Claremont Hotel at Rick & Annes.
ALAMEDA COUNTY—Moderate. Sunol Regional Wilderness Park, Canyon View/Little Yosemite Loop: 3 miles.
Hidden in the hills between Diablo Valley and Silicon Valley is a wonderful hiking trail that leads to a scenic gorge full of boulders and falls. To start, look for a wooden footbridge over Alameda Creek in the meadow near the Visitor Center. Cross the bridge, turn right, and follow signs for Indian Joe Nature Trail. It’s all uphill from here; pause to take in the breath-taking canyon views. The trail drops as you near the falls. From there, it’s an easy downhill stroll on paved Camp Ohlone Road back to the footbridge. To make a day of it, head into historic downtown Niles on your way home for antique shops, cafes, and restaurants.
WALNUT CREEK—Moderate. Shell Ridge Loop: 2 miles.
You’ll forget you’re wedged between Ygnacio Valley Road and downtown Walnut Creek once you’re in the Open Space surrounded by native grasses, valley oaks, and gently sloping Mt. Diablo foothills. Marshall Drive dead ends at the trail head next to Indian Valley Elementary School. Follow the trail straight out as it gently dips and curves. Once you pass a bench on your left, be prepared for a steep ascent as the trail forks to the left. At the top, you can turn right and descend on a parallel path back the way you came in. If you turn left, the trail curves around the other side of the hill—with spectacular views of Benicia – ending back at Marshall Drive. If you’ve worked up an appetite, downtown restaurants are minutes away.
SAN FRANCISCO — Easy. Kennedy Drive to Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park: 3 miles.
This is a lovely hike the length of Golden Gate Park from the Haight Ashbury to the ocean. Park along the Panhandle and cross Stanyan Street to enter Golden Gate Park on Kennedy Drive. As you walk along, many of the Park’s Victorian splendors, like the dazzling white Conservatory of Flowers and the Grecian columns adorning Spreckels Lake, come into view. There’s the De Young Museum’s modern metallic Hamon Observation Tower, the Rose Garden, the Bison Paddock complete with a herd of grazing bison, and two full-size Dutch windmills. Then you hit the beach. To your left is the historic Beach Chalet Restaurant, a perfect spot for lunch. Catch a ride back to your vehicle if 3 miles is all you've got.