Top 5 Natural Attractions Near San Francisco
The San Francisco Marathon is classified as a destination race for a good reason. Besides the city itself, there are many natural attractions near San Francisco that runners can visit in the days leading up to and following the race itself. Explore the parks, beaches, and towns locals love!
Written by Pavlína Marek
Mount Tamalpais rises from the waters of the Pacific Ocean, its unmistakable East Peak an inseparable part of the surrounding landscape. It dominates Marin County and offers uncontended views. From its top, you can see as far as the Sierra Mountains and admire Mount Diablo as it rises above the East Bay landscape.
You can drive up “Mount Tam” or take one of its many trails that range from mellow to extremely technical. A gorgeous hike with a combination of fun trails and comfy fire roads will take you from Stinson Beach to the top of the mountain. Go via Dipsea and Steep Ravine trails to Reach Pantoll Campground, then get on the Old Stage and Old Railroad Grade roads to complete the hike to the top. Don’t forget you have to get back down again; we don’t recommend taking on this adventure the day before your big race!
Under the watchful eye of Mount Tamalpais, wrapped in its arms, lies Muir Woods National Monument. Ancient redwood trees fill this little valley carved by Redwood Creek. It’s one of the many great natural wonders Marin County has to offer.
There are three ways you can get to Muir Woods. Because visitation has increased in recent years, you’ll need a reservation to drive to and park in the valley. If you want to avoid driving and parking stress, shuttles are a great (and greener) option. The third (and cheapest) way to get to Muir Woods is by foot. You can hike in from Mill Valley via the famous Dipsea Trail and its stairs if your legs are ready for another challenge post-race!
On the weekend, many San Franciscans head north to Point Reyes National Seashore. Don’t let the maps fool you; this park covers an area of more than 100 square miles! Most of the park slowly slides north along the coast; did you know that some 20 million years ago, Point Reyes sat right next to where Los Angeles is today?
The park is home to the California-endemic tule elk as well as typical Californian fauna and flora like mountain lions or the California poppies. You can also walk right along the San Andreas fault that separates it from the continent and see how far the land jumped during the infamous 1906 earthquake.
On the other side of the Point Reyes peninsula is a favorite local getaway place: Tomales Bay. It may be a beautiful area but the main attraction here are oysters. Incomparably fresh, the shellfish are cultivated and harvested right in the bay. You can either order oyster dishes or go out to collect and shuck your own.
Moving slightly south, there’s Angel Island. It used to be the immigration port of the West, like Ellis Island in New York. Nowadays, the island welcomes visitors with its trails, history tours, and a coffee shop right by the water. Compared to other destinations like Alcatraz or Muir Woods, Angel Island is virtually without crowds.
The whole island is a state park with campgrounds and even its own mountain. The top of Mount Livermore overlooks the bay from 788 feet above sea level. If you’re not in the mood for sleeping in a tent, Angel Island also makes for a perfect day trip—start by taking a ferry from San Francisco (not too) early in the morning and plan your perfect day with our handy Angel Island guide.
Highway 1: Towns, Beaches, and State Parks
If you fancy a mini road trip, the famous Highway 1 that hugs nearly the entire California Coast is a great choice. If you drive south from San Francisco, you’ll soon reach Half Moon Bay. There are many hiking trails, a distillery, and beaches for days—just stop at one and relax!
If you keep driving, you’ll pass by more beaches (which you’ll have mostly to yourself) and several state parks just waiting to be explored before you reach Santa Cruz. This famous town boasts many attractions like the Natural Bridges State Beach, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and the Santa Cruz Wharf. With many beaches and cafés for days, it’s a great spot to kick back and relax for a day or two.