It's no coincidence that Northern California has a high concentration of outdoorsy types. Many of them are drawn to living there because of the region's stupendous -- and usually easily accessible -- natural scenery (despite the occasional fog). Wilderness lovers headed to the San Francisco Bay Area should bring along the below list of the area's 10 best places to experience the outdoors.
- Muir Woods. To get the true California redwood experience, head 12 miles north of San Francisco to Muir Woods. This mossy, mystical grove, named after John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, is home to towering, old-growth trees, some taller than 258 feet and older than 1,200 years. Online at www.nps.gov/muwo or www.visitmuirwoods.com.
- The Presidio. Considering that San Francisco is only seven miles by seven miles, the fact that there are 11 miles of hiking trails winding through the Presidio is pretty significant. Those miles include the breathtaking Golden Gate Promenade, from where you can see windswept views of the bay and the famous bridge. Other points of interest include Crissy Field, Fort Point, and Baker Beach. Online at www.nps.gov/prsf or www.presidio.gov.
- Mount Tamalpais. Climbing this 2,571-foot peak in Marin County via one of its many hiking and biking trails (the mountain bike is said to have been invented here) rewards you with spectacular ocean views. Campgrounds are available. Online at www.parks.ca.gov or www.mttam.net.
- Angel Island. Take a ferry out to the San Francisco Bay's largest island (which once functioned as the west coast version of Ellis Island) and bike on the elevated trail -- you'll be grateful for the amazing views. There are also more than 13 miles of hiking trails, some of which lead up to Mt. Livermore's 788-foot-high summit. Campsites are available. Online at www.parks.ca.gov or www.angelisland.org.
- Golden Gate Park. San Francisco's biggest park, a long and narrow rectangle that juts from the breakers three miles into the city, closes its main drive on weekends, when many turn out to bike and jog amidst the gardens, lakes, and museums. Online at www.golden-gate-park.com.
- Ocean Beach. A popular spot for experienced surfers, Ocean Beach is also a great place to stroll, skate, play volleyball, or have a bonfire. On the northern end of the beach are the ruins of the historical Sutro Baths. The stretch lies on San Francisco's western shore and is run by the National Park Service. Warning: Swimming is not recommended, due to strong riptides. Online at www.nps.gov/goga.
- Golden Gate Bridge/Marin Headlands. Bike, jog, or walk the easy, level 1.7 miles across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to see the bay in all its splendor. Stop to view San Francisco from Vista Point, then head up into the Marin Headlands. This part of the foray is steep, but allows you to see the impressive wilderness just outside the city. Online at www.goldengate.org and www.nps.gov/goga/marin-headlands.htm.
- Sigmund Stern Recreational Grove is known for its free summer Sunday concerts, which have featured San Francisco's world-class symphony performing in the attractive outdoor amphitheater. Known as Stern Grove Festival, its slogan is "In concert with nature" -- and there's lots of nature here. Tall pines, fragrant eucalypti, small pathways, hidden meadows, a dog park, and a duck lake make this a serene, idyllic place to visit. Online at www.sterngrove.org.
- Coit Tower. If you're not averse to stairs -- a lot of them -- climb to Coit Tower. On your way up, you'll likely see, or at least hear, the famous parrots of Telegraph Hill, as well as lots of appealing greenery and gardens. From the top, at the platform just beneath the 210-foot-tall tower, you'll see clear across the bay. Online at www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com/icons/coittower.asp.
- Crystal Springs Park, south of the city in San Mateo County, offers trails along lake water on which to walk, run, or bike. In this open space, you'll enjoy lovely views and abundant flora and fauna -- especially birds. Along Sawyer Camp Trail, look for the Jepson Laurel, a 600-year-old tree. Online at www.co.sanmateo.ca.us.
For more ideas about what to do in the San Francisco outdoors, go to www.weekendsherpa.com.
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