Fitness + Outdoors
Snagging a good campsite among Bay Area redwoods is about as easy as getting a parking spot in North Beach. But head to Butano State Park and, with a little help from a hike, the odds swing heavily in your favor. Butano is a park less traveled, and a 5.5-mile hike-in leads to a sweet reward: a tranquil trail camp among redwood trees. Make your way by heading up lush Jackson Flats Trail and exposed Canyon Trail. It’s a bit of a climb, but the effort is worth the huff and puff. Butano’s Trail Camp was just cleaned spic-and-span by the Boy Scouts (they even added log tables to most of the sites). Most of the sites are the size of a studio apartment—but #8 is more like a two-bedroom!
Rugged headlands, brushy hillsides, piney ridges, and pocket beaches—Point Reyes is a soul-soothing stretch of California coast that's less than half a gas tank from San Francisco. And when the day-tripping tourists leave, you've got it virtually to yourself. Accessible only by a 2- to 5-mile walk, Point Reyes' hike-in campgrounds are the best way to experience the Bay's favorite coastal wilderness wonderland. Grab one by reserving ahead or sacrificing some sleep (see below). Coast Campground is only a 1- to 2-minute walk from sublime Santa Maria beach, which is nearly vacant toward the end of the day.
San Francisco is a fractious city—there are Marina-ites and Mission-ites, Ritual devotees and those who swear by Blue Bottle. Rock climbers in the city are similarly divided—there are Mission Cliffs people and there are Planet Granite people. And while they each have their loyalists, both gyms are solid spots to learn and advance.
If you're looking for the quintessential Northern California pocket beach, head to Marin's Pirate's Cove. Only accessible by a moderate 1.5 mile hike, this secluded haven of soft white sand is bookended by tall, rugged cliffs. And the coast-hugging trail you must take to get there is almost as spectacular as the cove itself. Starting from Muir Beach, you ascend a fire road for about three-quarters of a mile until you reach the crest of the trail, and then—wow! Your high vantage point (pictured) offers stunning views of the craggy coast all the way to Pacifica—and you'll spot the stretch of sand that's your destination. Pirate's Cove's privacy made it a great staging area for bootleggers in the 1920s.
Skip, dance, frolic. You may be inspired to do all three on your first visit to Black Sand Beach in Marin. This half-mile stretch of chocolate-colored coastline just northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge is roughly the size of Baker Beach—with only a fraction of the crowds. Walk ten minutes down the 253 wooden steps from the dirt parking lot, then spread a blanket behind one of the several rock outcroppings (a great windbreak on gusty days).
I'm playing matchmaker here and directing you to two separate articles from the San Francisco Chronicle and ReadyMade Magazine on something I only have basic knowledge of: Northern California camping and what to eat when Northern California camping.
The rolling green hills, the bicycles, the wineries … if Tuscany had an American counterpart it would be found an hour and fifteen minutes north of San Francisco in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley. The mostly flat back-roads of the valley make exploring by bike easy, even for those with little or no road-biking experience. Bring your own iron horse or rent a bike from Wine Country Bikes in Healdsburg. John Mastrianni, a former competitive cyclist, has run this shop for three years and will properly fit you with a new Trek Pilot road bike or the more casual Trek Hybrid. Pedal along West Dry Creek Road, where picket fences, multiple wineries, and shady trees line both sides.
THE EXPERT: Richard Jepsen, lead instructor at OCSC Sailing School: “Sailing has the social construct of a picnic with friends.”
WHY DO IT: Because it combines the exhilaration of conquering the sea with the sights and sounds of a relaxing day at the beach. Who wouldn’t sign up for that?
Who says you have to drive to Tahoe to get away? The Marin Headlands provide their own sort of seasonal inspiration along this three-part, seven-mile loop on majestic Mount Tam (pick up a Mount Tam trail map at boredfeet.com).
Part 1: Beginning halfway up the slopes of Tam’s western flank, take the Matt Davis Trail from Pantoll Ranger Station to Stinson Beach. Gobble up spectacular, bluff-side Pacific panoramas and hear caroling brooks as you whorl toward sea level.
Awe-inspiring beauty like Yosemite’s doesn’t come cheap: You pay for it with cash and with crowds. But there are ways to ameliorate that. To start, avoid the hordes of summer tourists by going in the shoulder months. April and May are the perfect time to see the national park’s gushing waterfalls (nps.gov/yose).