From Moss Beach to Point Reyes National Seashore, the Greater Bay Area offers dozens of fun outdoor adventures for the whole family to enjoy. So awaken your inner birder or marine biologist, throw on some hiking boots, or hop on a bike — whatever your flavor, there are countless ways make the most of the region. Here are some of our favorites.
Featured Photo: Courtesy of C. Shen/CDFW
Elephant Seal Mating, Año Nuevo State Reserve
One of the most spectacular animal attractions on the entire California Coast is the elephant seal breeding grounds at Ano Nuevo State Reserve, 55 miles south of San Francisco off Highway 1. It’s worth the drive along the picturesque coastline to see the sight of massive elephant seals sunning themselves on the beaches year-round, but the December through March mating season is undoubtedly the most popular time to visit the reserve. Tickets sell out weeks in advance for a chance to witness the fearsome clashes between two-ton bulls over female mating privileges (talk about tough love!). Reservations are also required for the naturalist-led tours, and are held rain or shine. If you miss mating season, there’s still plenty of seal action, particularly between April and August when they come ashore to molt.
Point Blue Palomarin Field Station, Bolinas
Even if you can’t tell a condor from a bushtit, you’ll enjoy an outing to the bird observatory at Palomarin Field Station, one of the few full-time ornithological research stations in the United States. Since 1966, ornithologists have kept an eye on more than 400 feathered species that live in the region. Currently, access to the station is virtual only — but when it does open again, admission to both the visitor center and nature trail is free and a wonderful way to spend the day with the kids, learning about the ecosystem of birds and other wildlife while playing “I spy” with your bird-spotting book and binoculars.
Alamere Falls, Point Reyes National Seashore
Some of Point Reyes National Seashore’s best and least crowded highlights are accessible only on foot, such as Alamere Falls, a freshwater stream that cascades down a 40-foot bluff onto Wildcat Beach. Load up your day pack with sandwiches and drinks, bring your camera, park at the Palomarin Trailhead, and get ready for one of the finest hikes on the California coast. The 7.5-mile out-and-back day trip will take you past lakes, through towering groves of eucalyptus trees, and offer breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Enjoying a well-earned picnic lunch at the falls is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a sunny day in the Bay Area.
Full Moon Kayaking Trip, Tomales Bay
One of my favorite things to do in Point Reyes is paddle through placid Tomales Bay, a haven for migrating birds and marine mammals. But doing it under a full moon? Now that’s cool. A local company called Blue Waters Kayaking offers daytime outings for locals of all ages and levels, but it’s their three-hour moonlit tours that are truly special. As you glide across the placid bay, the moon lights the water with an almost mystical glow while night herons and osprey silently glide past you like airborne apparitions.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve Tidepools, Moss Beach
Get back in touch with your inner child and spend the day plonking through one of the best tide pools in the Bay Area, looking and touching all those weird and slimy things living or growing on the rocks. Located about 7 miles north of Half Moon Bay on Highway 1, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is one of the most diverse tidal basins on the West Coast, as well as one of the safest, thanks to a wave-buffering rock terrace 150 feet from the beach. Call 650.728.3584 before coming to find out when it’s low tide (all the sea creatures are hidden at high tide) and to get information on the docent-led tours, which need to be scheduled the month prior to your visit. It’s a great way to spend the day with the family.
Bicycle Tours, Sonoma Valley
Sonoma and its neighboring towns are so small, close together, and relatively flat that it’s not difficult to get around on two wheels. In fact, if you’re not in a hurry, there’s no better way to tour Sonoma Valley than via bicycle. There are several bike rental and tour companies in Sonoma Valley whose staff will happily map out the best bike routes, or take one of their organized excursions to Sonoma region wineries (some even provide a van to lug your wine purchases along the way). The rental cost typically includes helmets, locks, maps and everything else you’ll need. Tandem bikes are available as well.
Harley Farms Goat Farm, Pescadero
My all-time favorite place to visit when I’m in the Half Moon Bay region is Harley Farms Goat Dairy, the only working dairy farm left in San Mateo County. The charming and charismatic Dee Harley and her gaggle of 220 or so goats have been supplying the top restaurants in the Bay Area with some of the finest goat cheese in the world. Believe me: No matter how old you are, a visit to Dee’s rustic barn loft to meet her goats, learn how goat cheese is made, and sample some product straight from the source is an experience you’ll never forget. Tours are by reservation only, but you can stop by any day between 11am to 5pm.
SF Bay History Cruise on the USS Potomac, Oakland
It took the Potomac Association 12 years and the help of hundreds of volunteers — at a cost of $5 million — to restore the 165-foot presidential yacht USS Potomac, also known as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s beloved “Floating White House.” Now a proud and permanent memorial berthed at the Port of Oakland’s FDR Pier at Jack London Square, the revitalized Potomac is open to the public for dockside tours, as well as two or three-hour history cruises around Treasure Island and Alcatraz Island. Combined with a visit to Jack London Square, it’s a great way to spend the day.