Friday, March 11, 2016

Hikes for Gray and Rainy Days

So just like that, March is here and with it came El Niño in full force. It's been raining on and off for days with more rain and an even an atmospheric river(?!) hitting the city this weekend. While it's tempting to hide inside, sometimes you just need to brave the rain and enjoy the great outdoors.

I don't particularly like rain or getting wet, so when it's dreary outside, I prefer hikes with a good amount of tree cover. The trees can shield you from the rain and you also won't be hiking up a large hill only to miss out on views that disappear with clouds, fog, or precipitation.

So if you're going stir crazy at home like I am, here are a few hikes you can enjoy as we make it through this El Niño together. Note that these hikes are best done in gray weather or light rain—not in the middle of an torrential downpour. Many of these trails run through eucalyptus forests, and eucalyptus trees are brittle and can fall and harm you in a storm!
Use common sense before hitting the trails.

Interior Greenbelt/Mount Sutro 
The twenty-one-acre Interior Greenbelt and sixty-one-acre Mount SutroOpen Space Reserve are nestled between the northwest end of Twin Peaks and the southeast end of Golden Gate Park. A single road, Medical Center Way, winds its way through the parks. Together, they form a vast eucalyptus forest, the result of a mass planting by Adolph Sutro in the late 1800s.   

Start your hike at the wooden stairway just uphill from the intersection of 17th and Stanyan streets. Take the Historic Trail, Cross Medical Center Way and after about 1 mile of total distance, take the South Ridge Trail and Nike Road up to the summit at 1.3 miles. Head back the way you came or try some of the parks' other trails to get back to your start.

Mount Davidson
Tucked into San Francisco’s Miraloma neighborhood is forty-acre Mount Davidson Parkhome to the city’s tallest peak at 938 feet. The west side of the park is covered with a dense eucalyptus forest, and the east side has grassy expanses and panoramic views of downtown San Francisco. Perhaps the best-known feature of Mount Davidson is the 103-foot cross that adorns its summit.

Start your hike on the Juanita Way stairs between Marne Avenue and Rex Way. Pick up the forested trail and turn left at a T at 0.1 mile (ignoring spur paths along the way). After 0.25 mile, turn right when your path splits. (There will be a turnoff to the left just before this.) Continue until you reach a fire road and stairway. Climb two flights of stairs and take a right. Climb the next stairway and emerge behind the Mount Davidson cross at 0.6 mile. Walk around to the front and look up! Here's a full trail map if you want to take a different way back.

Presidio Bay Area Ridge Trail
In the future, The Bay Area Ridge Trail will encompass 550 miles of trails. 365 miles of the trail are currently complete, and 10 miles run right through San Francisco. A great tree-covered stretch of this trail is in the Presidio.

My favorite aspects of the Presidio are history, art, and nature--and on this route, you visit all three. You’ll get your dose of military history at the National Cemetery Overlook and Rob Hill Campground, a former army lookout station and the only overnight campground in San Francisco. You'll take in large-scale art with Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire, a hundred-foot-tall sculpture made of cypress trees. And you'll stroll through two stretches of eucalyptus and cypress forest--with almost no trace of the city around you. 

Start your hike at the Presidio's Arguello Gate (just north of here) and follow the signs for the Bay Area Ridge Trail. The hike should have a good amount of tree cover until Rob Hill Campground, so you may want to turn around there instead of heading all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

So take a hike, stay dry, and we'll get through the rainy season together! Our city is green and gorgeous right now, so enjoy the lushness while it lasts.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Urban Hiker SF's Hiking Lovers'
Holiday Gift Guide 

The holidays are fast approaching. If you're stumped on what gifts to get your favorite outdoors enthusiast, I've got a few ideas. I've put together a list of products I use personally and with Urban Hiker SF that your favorite hiker might just like too. This list is designed to spark inspiration. I can share what I own and use, but it's hard for me to recommend exact items since there are tens (and sometimes hundreds) of models to choose from. Use this list as a starting point and then do some more research on your own to find exactly what to buy. Happy shopping and happy holidays!

Bigger Ticket Items

GoPro Camera (and/or GoPro accessories)

A GoPro camera can be a great way to relive a favorite hike and share it with friends. I used the GoPro Hero 3+ Silver when I was writing my book on hiking in San Francisco. It helped me record my routes and watch them again so that I could create accurate hike writeups. There are now newer models (like this one), but they are more expensive. If your favorite hiker already has a GoPro, they might want some accessories like a head strap. I've got this one. It's pretty dorky, but it does the job!

GPS Watch
A GPS watch is great for those into data and the quantified self movement. With a GPS watch, you can record your hiking routes and know just how far you went, how high you climbed, etc. I have the Garmin Fenix 2, but there are now newer models available. Since there is so much choice out there, you may want to read this post on the best hiking watches of 2015.

Hiking Daypacks
Backpacks are a necessity for hiking. They can store your food and hydration, extra layers, sunscreen, and more. For day hikes, you probably don't need more than a 20 liter bag. (The one I use is 19 liters). Also look for hip and sternum straps to keep weight off your shoulders. One option is to buy a hydration pack with built-in liquid reservoirs, but this may feel like overkill for shorter treks. As you'd expect, REI has a great selection of daypacks. Here's their guide on selecting the right one for you.

Hiking poles
Hiking or trekking poles are great for a number of reasons, including reducing the impact of hiking on your body. They can also propel you forward and can be a big help on hills. You'll probably want adjustable-length poles that are collapsible, so you can stow them in your backpack when you're not using them. And while some people swear by anti-shock hiking poles, they can be significantly heavier than regular poles and therefore not ideal for longer routes. Again, check the REI guide for more details.

Smaller Gifts

Strava Gift Subscription
Whether your favorite hiker uses a GPS watch or just their phone to record their hikes, they probably use a program like Strava (see right) to visualize them and track yearly mileage. A basic Strava account is free, but a premium membership ($59) unlocks features like "heatmaps" and "suffer scores." Read more here.

Headlamps enable outdoor fun long after the sunset. I have this basic Petzl model, which I use for hiking and camping. (There are many others listed here.) When buying a headlamp, just make sure you get one with >50 lumens, so it's bright enough to see on the darkest nights. If you want a detailed buying guide for headlamps look no farther than this one from REI.

Hydration Reservoir
If your favorite outdoors lover already has a backpack (and they don't have hydration pack), they may want a hydration reservoir. Three-liter bags are common and there's a wide selection of them here. I've got this one and it works great for me.

According to the American Skin Association, about 85% of the population is allergic to poison ivy, oak, and sumac—and 15% are extremely allergic. Tecnu is a great product that helps remove the oily irritant of these plants from the skin. You can buy a 4-pack—or even a 50-pack. It's a great thing to throw in your backpack for any hike.

Urban Hiker SF Gift Certificates
Urban Hiker SF has gift certificates for the holidays that you can redeem for any of our tours. Gift certificates are sent to your recipient—or you—instantly, so they're great for even the most last minute of shoppers. Visit the Gifts page on our website to get yours now.

I hope you've enjoyed this holiday gift roundup for hikers. Happy Trails and Happy Holidays from Urban Hiker SF. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hike All of SF Post 10: Visitacion Valley Greenway

I'm on a mission to #hikeallofsf. These are the stories of my hikes. ______________________________________________________
Hike Statistics
  • Distance: 0.5 miles one way
  • Elevation: 150 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: <1 hour 
  • Dog Friendly: No

Introduction to The Visitacion Valley Greenway
In 1995, Fran Martin and Anne Seeman had a vision for transforming Visitacion Valley, a working-class neighborhood that had developed a reputation for drugs and crime. The women worked with the Trust for Public Land to gain rights to empty lots in the neighborhood from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.

The women’s vision was the Visitacion Valley Greenway, a checkerboard of six adjacent one-block-long parks: Hans Schiller Plaza, a community garden, an herb garden, a children’s playground, an agriculture garden, and a native plant garden. 
 In 1999, the parties agreed to make the Greenway a reality, and in 2000, construction began. The Greenway’s major goals included educating people about natural sciences, nutrition, and plants; creating open recreational space; and making the neighborhood more pedestrian-friendly.

As you meander through the parks, you will notice some common themes: terra-cotta-colored walkways, black gates, and mosaic art. Additionally, the parks were all designed with accessibility in mind, which means that wheelchair users can enjoy the Greenway, too.

In 2004, the Greenway was turned over to the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. It has become a success, revitalizing the community and providing nearly two acres of green space for a diverse wildlife community. 

Route Details
You will find the entrance to the Greenway on Leland Avenue between Rutland Street and Alpha Street. Whimsical mosaic columns and a low mosaic wall welcome you into Hans Schiller Park. More columns greet you as you enter the park and find the colored walkway that will take you through the six sections of the Greenway. 

After exiting Hans Schiller Park, cross Raymond Avenue and look for the familiar black gates across the street.

You are now in the community garden, which features multiple gardening plots and two greenhouses. Here the walkway hugs the left side of the park while the garden occupies the right three-quarters of the park.

After the community garden, you will cross Arleta Avenue to enter the herb garden, which houses terraced beds, lavender-lined pathways, and outdoor education spaces with seating and picnic areas. Make sure to look back every now and again to catch a glimpse of San Bruno Mountain behind you. 

After you leave the herb garden and cross Teddy Avenue, your fourth park is the children’s play garden, which is equipped with a small playground and a playfully-decorated front gate. 

Once you exit the play garden, cross Campbell Avenue to reach the agriculture garden where you will encounter seasonal crops and fruit trees, which were planted to teach the community about nutrition.

To reach the last park, the native plant garden, cross Tucker Avenue. Here the walkway zigzags left and right for 200 feet, reaching an incline of 40 feet. The garden is a habitat for local wildlife such as bees, butterflies, other insects, and birds.

At the end of the native plant garden, you will be on Tioga Street and will have reached the end of the Greenway. 

Continuing on to McLaren Park
McLaren Park is just a short walk from the Visitacion Valley Greenway. To get to the park, follow Tioga Avenue west one-half block east to Delta Street. Then, walk one block north to take Delta Street back to Wilde Avenue. Make a last left on Wilde Avenue to reach this street’s intersection with Ervine Street. From here, you can use the stairway or a trail to climb a steep 300 feet to reach the park entrance. From here, you can do the Philosopher’s Way hike (see pages 40-43) or take your own route around the park. 

Getting there
Public Transit: MUNI bus 9 will take you to Bayshore Boulevard and Arleta Avenue. Walk south two blocks on Bayshore to reach Leland Avenue. Then take Leland Avenue past Alpha Street (Alpha will be the first street on your right) to find the entrance to the Greenway. If you reach Rutland Street, you have gone too far.  For MUNI bus information, call 311. Outside San Francisco, call (415) 701-2311.
Parking: There is metered parking along Leland Avenue. There is plentiful, unmetered parking along Raymond Street and other streets around the Greenway. 

Visitacion Valley History
Visitacion Valley’s modern history began on July 2, 1777, when Spanish priests first saw the area on their way to the Presidio. They found the land where the neighborhood now stands when they lost their way in the fog. The priests said their first mass there on the feast of the Visitation, an event that gave the neighborhood its name. For many years after that, the land was used to graze cattle.

Then in 1822, Mexico gained its independence from Spain, and in 1841, Visitacion Valley became part of a land grant, Rancho Cañada de Guadalupe la Visitación y Rodeo Viejo that also contained today’s McLaren Park.

The first landowners in the area were Irish and Italian factory workers. Windmills also irrigated a number of farms in the area, giving the neighborhood its former nickname, “Valley of the Windmills.” In the 1870s, Visitacion Valley was home to a ribbon factory, breweries, quarries, a fertilizer company, and the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Starting in 1925 (and until 1999), Schlage Lock was a major presence. And during World War II, the nearby Hunters Point Naval Shipyard employed a large number of African Americans, which led to an influx of working-class blacks into the area. While African Americans still comprise 30 percent of the neighborhood population, over half of Visitacion Valley’s residents are now Chinese.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hike All of SF Post 9: Juan Bautista de Anza Trail

I'm on a mission to #hikeallofsf. These are the stories of my hikes. ______________________________________________________
Hike Name: Juan Bautista de Anza Trail
Distance: 12 miles!
Elevation: negligible
Difficulty: Difficult
Time: 5-8 hours
Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash

Hike Description
Since most people have a day off on Labor Day, I decided to take advantage of that to assemble some friends and tackle one of San Francisco's longest hikes, the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail. While the trail is 1,200 miles long in total, it covers 12 miles in San Francisco. This route Marks where Lieutenant Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza led 245 men, women, and children on an journey to establish a settlement at San Francisco Bay between the years of 1775 and 1776. Some trail highlights include Mountain Lake, Immigrant Point, and Rob Hill Campground, the only overnight campground in mainland San Francisco. The red dotted line on this site shows you the entire route. If you can’t swing the whole thing (totally understandable!), I recommend that you do the the 2.7-mile/5.4-mile round trip section through the Presidio.

Route Details

Since de Anza was coming from Mexico, he completed his trek from south to north, but I recommend doing the opposite and starting your walk at the Golden Gate Bridge. You can start your walk by picking up the Batteries to Bluffs Trail from the Golden Gate Bridge parking lot. When you reach Dove Loop right after Batter Godfrey, head back to Lincoln Boulevard. Stay on Lincoln Boulevard until you reach Washington Boulevard, which you'll take to the aforementioned Rob Hill Campground. Feel free to explore the campground and then head back to Washington Boulevard. Follow Washington Boulevard South and then continue your route on Battery Caulfield Road. From here, you should start to see signs for the "Anza Trail." When we did the hike, there was a hike detour on Battery Caulfield Road, and we turned left onto a trail toward Mountain Lake just before the street turns into Wedemeyer Street. Follow the trail around Mountain Lake and see where the de Anza expedition camped while looking for a good place to found the Presidio. If you need a bathroom break by now, this is the perfect place to go. 

Trail to Mountain Lake from Battery Caulfield Road
 After your tour of Mountain Lake, head toward Funston Avenue. You are now exiting the Presidio. If you opt for the 5.4-mile round trip route, this is where you can turn around.

To continue on, follow Funston Avenue until you reach Golden Gate Park. Then you can take JFK Drive to Transverse Drive to MLK Drive. There are paved trails throughout the park, but if you look parallel to these trails, you'll often find dirt trails you can take instead. After 25th Avenue, you can take a dirt trail that will take you southwest toward Lincoln Way. Walk along Lincoln (or on parallel dirt trails inside the park!) until you reach Sunset Boulevard. 

One of many dirt trails in Golden Gate Park

Once you reach Sunset Boulevard, the hike become a little difficult. Not because the route is treacherous, but because - it was flat and straightm and loooong, and  there wasn't much to look at. Luckily, I knew beautiful Lake Meced was coming. 

When you reach Lake Merced Boulevard, take a right and head toward Skyline Boulevard to walk along the lake. You can take this path along the entire western side of the lake. At the lake's southernmost point, continue on to Lake Merced Boulevard and make a right onto John Daly Boulevard. You can take John Daly Boulevard to its intersection with Skyline Boulevard and your hike is done. Whew, that was a tough one. Congrats on a job well done.

Lake Merced after a loooong stretch on Sunset Boulevard
Getting there
  • Public Transit: This page offers detailed information on the public transit options for getting to the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Parking: This page offers detailed information on parking options for the Golden Gate Bridge.

Juan Bautista de Anza History
Juan Bautista de Anza was born in Sonora, New Spain (Mexico) in 1736. He joined the army in 1752 and served on the northern frontier of Sonora. In 1772, de Anza asked the Viceroy of New Spain for permission to explore Alta California. A group of 3 priests, 20 soldiers, 11 servants, and a number of horses, mules, and cattle took off to explore Arizona and made it to Monterey, California two years later in 1774. On a second Mission, 245 people joined de Anza on a trip back north with the goal of reaching San Francisco. When group made it to Monterey, de Anza, Father Pedro Font, and a number of soldiers continued the trek north to the Bay Area. There, he located the site of Presidio of San Francisco and Mission San Francisco de Asis (now Mission Dolores). 

Fun fact: If you take a look at the list of families who joined de Anza on his expedition, you can see many last names have been turned into San Francisco street names.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hike All of SF Post 8: Lobos Creek Valley Trail

I'm on a mission to #hikeallofsf. These are the stories of my hikes.

Hike Name: Lobos Creek Valley Trail
Distance: 0.8 miles round trip
Elevation: 50 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Time: < 1 hour
Dog Friendly: Dogs not permitted

Today's planned 5k turned into an unplanned half marathon around the northern neighborhoods of San Francisco. My friend Debbie and I awakened early to do a quick race on Crissy Field with the Dolphin South End Runners. When we found ourselves done by 9:30, we decided to take advantage of the day to keep exercising.

We headed out on foot in the direction of the Legion of Honor, but with momentum ruling over us, we skipped the museum and continued walking to Ocean Beach...and back (Strava proof of walk and Strava proof of 5k). 

While walking down Lincoln Boulevard, I realized we were heading right by a hiking trail I'd been meaning to visit, the Lobos Creek Valley Trail. At around 0.8 miles round trip, this is one of the shorter trails in the city. For someone who's looking for some serious exercise, this trail is best done as part of a longer walk. However, if you want a quick jaunt through some nature, this is a nice way to go.

The trail starts on Bowley Street just before its intersection with Lincoln Boulevard. At the trailhead, you'll find an introduction to the area plus a boardwalk that will take you through the first part of the hike.


The path is flat and is built upon a restored dune habitat and is surrounded by dry, brown plant life and some small green bushes (at least at this point in the year). 

At about 0.4 miles, the boardwalk ends and you can walk up a few stairs into a sandy area shaded by Monterey Cypress Trees. 


At the end of this path, you'll end up on concrete at the Lobos Creek Valley Overlook. From here, you can look down upon the entirety of the path you just took. 

Note: Even this trail is called the Lobos Creek Valley trail, the actual Lobos Creek is not visible from the trail. If you want to see the creek, you can view it at the west end of Baker Beach.

To return to your start and complete your loop, head back through the cypress grove. Instead of turning left to go back down the stairs, continue straight. Keep walking on the dirt path until you see the parking lot and three buildings on your left. After the last building, turn left to reach the trailhead.

About Lobos Creek
Lobos Creek is the only free flowing creek remaining in San Francisco. Yosemite, Islais,  and Mission Creeks have long been rerouted and in some cases diverted underground from their original paths. Lobos Creek originates in the southwestern corner of the Presidio and flows into the Pacific Ocean at Baker Beach. The creek is the Presidio's primary water source today.

The dunes around the creek were destroyed while the Presidio was a military base. Restoration began in 1994 and was comlpeted in 1996. The dunes now house over 130 plant species as well as birds and butterflies.

Monday, August 4, 2014

10 Hikes with the Best Views in San Francisco

A version of this blogpost was originally posted on Thrillist on 7/28/14:

San Francisco’s hills can seem like a cruel joke at the end of a hard workout, a long night, or let’s face it - even with a bag of groceries - but they’re also what makes our city unique. We can’t complain too much about our hills because they give us the views that give others city envy while making us proud to call San Francisco home. Get your ‘pano’ mode ready - here are 10 hikes with the best views in San Francisco.*

1. Mt. Davidson Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 8.53.00 PM.png
In a city of over 40 hills, Mount Davidson is the tallest of them all. The 0.44 mile hike to the top is easy, and you can choose an exposed or eucalyptus-covered route to take you there. Once at the summit, you can soak in the downtown views, or stand at the foot of the 103-foot cross featured in the ransom scene of Dirty Harry. Two popular entrances for the park are on Dalewood and Juanita Way.

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 7.49.14 PM.png2. Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks may be five feet shorter than Mount Davidson, but it shows no sign of an inferiority complex. This is probably the best-known and most-loved view of the city for both tourists and locals. Leave the Christmas Tree Point tour buses behind and climb up Noe or Eureka Peak (yes, they have names) for 360 degree views. You can access the official stairway to Twin Peaks on Crestline Drive.

3. John McLaren Park’s Philosopher’s Way
The city’s second largest park may be out of the way, but it’s still worth a trip. McLaren Park’s Philosopher’s Way is a 2.7-mile loop with impossible-to-get-lost trail markers and a number of “musing stations” with quotations, history, and other park information. An 80-foot blue water tower marks the top of the park where you’ll get views that take you from downtown San Francisco all the way to San Bruno.

4. Presidio Promenade
With 25 miles of trails, the Presidio has enough hiking routes to make up its own top 10 list. There’s no one best trail in this historic ‘hood, but the Presidio Promenade stands out for its views of the Bay, Marin, and Crissy Field. The 2.2-mile paved trail starts at the Lombard Gate and visits the Presidio Main Post and San Francisco National Cemetery before reaching the Golden Gate Bridge.

5. Lands End
Land End may be San Francisco’s most perfect hike. At 3.5 miles round trip, it’s a legitimate workout, and whenever you get tired, you can just pretend you’re stopping to stare at the Golden Gate Bridge. To get a harder workout, follow signs for Mile Rock Beach to visit the Eagle Point Labyrinth. A trip all the way down to the beach and back will cost you 224 steps, but who’s counting?

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 8.00.25 PM.png6. Fort Funston
Located in the southwestern corner of the city, Fort Funston is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). The park’s sandy trails offer expansive views of the ocean and serve as arguably the largest unintentional dog park in the city. A nice two-mile hike at Fort Funston starts in the main parking lot. Take the Sunset Trail past Battery Davis and then take the Horse Trail back to your start.

Photo credit: Brett Lider
7. Stow Lake and Strawberry Hill
Hidden in Golden Gate Park, Strawberry Hill occupies an entire island in the center of Stow Lake. The top of Strawberry Hill is 430 feet tall and is the highest point in the entire park. For a 2+ mile hike, first circle the island then start climbing up. From the summit, you can get views of downtown San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Marin.

IMG_0291.JPG8. Batteries to Bluffs 
This bayside trail is short - 0.7 miles each way -  but still manages to pack a punch due to its large number of stairs. But don’t worry too much about the stairs, there is plenty to distract you. When you’re not gazing at views of the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Marin Headlands, you can learn the history of the gun batteries you pass on the cliffs.

9. Bernal Hill 
Bernal Hill is a highlight of the (relatively) sunny neighborhood of Bernal Heights. Start your walk on the one-mile paved path surrounding the hill. Then take any of the park’s dirt trails to reach the top of the hill where you’ll find Sutro Tower’s smaller cousin, Sutrito Tower. From here, get 360 degrees views of the city including downtown, Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson, the East Bay, and the peninsula. On your way back down, don’t miss these slides.

10. Golden Gate Heights Park
The Inner Sunset’s Golden Gate Heights Park offers unique views of San Francisco. Not only can you see Sutro Tower and downtown, but you can also see the entire length of Golden Gate Park -- from the Panhandle to the ocean. This park isn’t a hike in and of itself, socombine a visit here with a trip to Grandview Park and its two nearby mosaic stairways (here and here).

*Views not guaranteed. Karl the Fog can strike at any time, especially in “Fogust.”