Monday, January 16, 2017

Exploring the Dragonfly Creek Trail

I have a confession to make: sometimes I get a bored with San Francisco. I thrive on novelty, and after writing Urban Trails San Francisco, I began to feel like I had seen all that the city had to offer.

Luckily, that's not quite true. While I have explored a lot of San Francisco, there's always something new to see. I just have to look a little bit harder than before.

This week, I fired up my novelty sensors by checking out new place, Dragonfly Creek, in the Presidio's Fort Scott district. While the creek has been around for quite some time, it got its name in the late 1990s when a biologist saw a dragonfly in the area.

The creek used to flow freely, but was channeled underground by the US Army. It remained hidden until 2011 when Presidio Trust began restoring it. In addition to restoring the creek, the organization also replaced non-native and invasive eucalyptus with native willows and wetland vegetation. You can read more about the restoration in this article in SF Gate.

Fence near Dragonfly Creek
If you visit the area, here's what you'll see. From Schofield Road in the Presidio, you'll know you're approaching the creek when you reach this fence lining your walkway and a fork in your path. You can either continue straight or to your right.

If you head right, you'll end up at the Presidio Nursery. Founded in 1995, the nursery grows up to 85,000 native plants each year which are replanted throughout the Presidio. The nursery welcomes drop-in volunteers on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 1-4 pm. It was closed when I visited, but I did get to enjoy this mosaic walkway on its grounds.
Mosaic walkway outside the Presidio Nursery

After checking out the nursery, I retraced my steps to the fork and went in the other direction to explore Dragonfly Creek (which was still hard to see even post restoration). After a short distance on the dirt path, I found myself in a small grove of redwood trees. There was no one else around, and I felt like I had stumbled upon a tranquil, special place.

The stone walkway
I continued on the path and found a stone-lined walkway that crossed the creek. I loved the look of this walkway and hadn't seen anything quite like it before. I walked around the area a bit more on similar walkways and headed back to Schofield Road.

While this was just a small exploration, I felt energized by seeing something new. I can't wait to find another new place to explore so I can get those novelty sensors firing again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Visit 6 National Parks — All Without Leaving San Francisco

2016 is the National Park Centennial, and this year, I was lucky enough to visit a number of national parks including Arches, Canyonlands, and Yosemite. 

To reach Arches and Canyonlands, we flew to Utah and then drove for hours to reach the parks. To get to Yosemite, we rented a car, and again, drove for hours. Visiting these parks gave me the impression that you had to go far in order to visit natural treasures.

While that sometimes that is true, if you live in the Bay Area, there are a number of national treasures right in your back yard. With a quick look at a list of national parks in California, I found six that I could get to in an hour or less! 

Hikers on the Lands End Labyrinth
Hikers on the Lands End Labyrinth
1. Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA

The GGNRA was established in 1972 and now encompasses more than 75,000 acres on both sides of the Golden Gate, the body of water that links the Pacific Ocean with the San Francisco Bay. Many of the national parks below are part of the GGNRA, including Fort Point, the Presidio, Alcatraz, San Francisco National Maritime National Historic Park. Since we'll talk more about those below, here are two other GGRNA-run areas in San Francisco that are worth a visit: 

Fort Funston: This area features lovely, sandy trails on cliffs 200 feet above the ocean. You  can visit an old gun battery Battery Davis, and take your dog on an off-leash walk. 
Lands End: The site of a former cliffside railroad, the Lands End Trail winds around the northwest corner of San Francisco. You'll get views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, and the Pacific Ocean. If you're feeling ambitious, you can continue on to the Batteries to Bluffs Trail and all the way to the bridge.
Alcatraz Agave Trail (Open Seasonally)
Alcatraz Agave Trail (Open Seasonally)
I'm not sure why, but it took me seven years of living in San Francisco before I visited Alcatraz. The short boat trip to the island is more than worth it. The cellhouse audio tour features the voices of actual correctional officers and inmates. In addition to the audio tour, the natural surroundings are stunning. If you have a little extra time at the start or end of your visit, check out the short, but sweet Agave Trail (open seasonally from around October-February) to get fantastic views of the city. Note on tickets: Alcatraz Cruises is the official provider of Alcatraz tickets. Tickets often sell out up to a month in advance, so buy as early as you can!

3. Fort Point
Built between 1853-1861, Fort Point was part of a defense system for defending the San Francisco Bay. Over the years, it was used intermittently as detention barracks and as housing for unmarried officers. It never saw battle, and was slated for demolition during the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss, however, saw the architectural value of the fort, and created a special arch to allow the fort to remain under the bridge.

Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line in the Presidio
4. Presidio 
When the Spanish came to San Francisco in the 1770s, they built a mission (Mission Dolores)and a military fort, the Presidio. Today, the Presidio is no longer a military fort, and there are countless things to do there. You can visit Andy Goldsworthy's art, explore over 24 miles of trails, visit the Officers Club in the Main Post, or even go camping!  

5. Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
This historic trail traces an overland trek from Mexico to San Francisco that Juan Bautista de Anza and 240 brave others sought to establish a settlement in San Francisco. Today the trail stretches 1,200 miles from Arizona to San Francisco. The section I recommend exploring is the Presidio Anza Trail, a 5.2 mile round trip hike tat takes you from the southern end of the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge.

This park, located just north of Ghiradelli Square, includes a fleet of historic boats from the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Maritime Museum (which looks like a boat), and Aquatic Park, where you can picnic on the beach and watch people swimming in Aquatic Cove.

If you live in the Bay Area, national parks don't have to be out of reach. Just walk out your door and walk, bike, BART, or boat to any of these parks to explore our country's national treasures.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Visiting San Francisco's Four Mosaic Stairways

San Francisco is home to four beautiful mosaic stairways, but they were all inspired by one. 

The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps Project (2005)
The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps project began in early 2003 when Sunset residents Jessie Audette and Alice Xavier conceived of the idea to bring people together and beautify the neighborhood. Later that year, project volunteers chose Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher as the project artists. The 163-step mosaic depicts a landscape that goes from the bottom of the ocean, to land, and all the way to the sun in the sky. More than 300 neighbors participated in the creation of the mosaic panels. Work started on July 13, 2005, and the ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on August 27, 2005, which the mayor’s office proclaimed “16th Avenue Tiled Steps Day.” The inspiration for the steps came from Selarón’s staircase, a mosaic staircase in Rio de Janeiro named after artist Jorge Selarón. Jesse Audette discovered the staircase while living in that city.
Location: Moraga Street between 15th and 16th Avenues

Hidden Garden Steps (2013)
Inspired by the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, the neighboring Hidden Garden Steps were conceived in January 2010 and completed in November 2013. Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher were called in again to create this 148-step mosaic depicting flora and fauna, including flowers, ferns, butterflies, and a salamander that extends up 26 stairs.

Location: 15th Avenue between Kirkham and Lawton Streets

Flights of Fancy Steps (2014)
One year later, Barr and Crutcher won a competition to design the 87-step Flights of Fancy Steps in the Bayview neighborhood. This mosaic pattern was inspired by decorative patterns from Ghanaian Adinkra cloth, Central American weaving, Middle Eastern tile and Native American pottery. Flights of  mosaic was placed on the Aurelious Walker steps, a stairway named for a pastor and champion of the Bayview neighborhood.
Location: Intersection of Arelious Walker Drive and Innes Avenue

Lincoln Park Steps (2015)
San Francisco’s most recent mosaic stairway is the Lincoln Park Steps, situated next to the Lincoln Park Golf Course. In 2007, a neighborhood organization, the Friends of Lincoln Park, began a seven-year long renovation of the 52-step-stairway. Barr and Crutcher came back for their fourth mosaic, which was  inspired by historic photographs of Sutro Baths and buildings of the 1890 World’s Fair in San Francisco. The renovated steps debuted their new design on May, 28, 2015.
Location: 32nd Avenue between California Street and the Lincoln Park Golf Course.

Where would you like to see the next mosaic stairway in San Francisco?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Epic Hikes in the Bay Area: Four Trails over 500 Miles

Many of us read the book or saw the movie Wild and were inspired by Cheryl Strayed's trek along the 2,600+ mile Pacific Crest Trail. Hiking the PCT is a massive accomplishment and not surprisingly, it takes most people five months to complete.

But, in case you don't have that sort of time right now, not to worry—there are plenty of adventures to embark upon a little closer to home. In fact, there are four 500+-mile-long trails that pass right through San Francisco. Each of these covers at least 10 miles in the city—and has plenty more mileage just outside city limits

Here's a list of these epic trails ordered from shortest to longest.

Heron's Head Park on the California Coastal Trail
1. Bay Trail 
The Bay Trail will be 500 miles long when completed, extending as far north as Napa and as far south as Milpitas. In San Francisco, the route traces the bay from Candlestick Point State Recreation Area to the Golden Gate Bridge stopping at Heron's Head Park, AT&T Park, the Ferry Building, Fort Mason, and Crissy Field.

The Presidio section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail
The Bay Area Ridge Trail will be 550+ miles long when completed. It traces ridgelines and mountain summits between Mt. Saint Helena in Calistoga and Mt. Madonna in Watsonville. In San Francisco, the trail runs between Lake Merced and the Golden Gate Bridge, passing through Pine Lake Park, Stern Grove, Twin Peaks, Mount Olympus, Buena Vista Park, and the Presidio.

One day, the California Coastal Trail will cover the entire west coast of California between the Oregon and Mexico borders—a whopping 1,200 miles. This route takes you from Fort Funston to the Golden Gate Bridge and everywhere in between, including: Ocean Beach, the Cliff House, the Lands End Trail, Baker Beach, and the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. Once you're over the bridge, you'll want to keep hiking. There are gorgeous trail sections that pass through Marin County.

Walkway on the Presidio Anza Trail
The 1,210 mile Juan Bautista de Anza trail starts in Nogales, Arizona and ends at the Golden Gate Bridge. It commemorates the 1775-1776 expedition of Juan Bautista de Anza and over 240 others as he sought to establish a Spanish colony in Alta California. In San Francisco, the trail runs from Lake Merced to the Golden Gate Bridge passing through Golden Gate Park, Mountain Lake, and the Presidio.

The San Francisco segments of these trails are a great starting point for exploration. Once you've conquered the city-based parts of the trails, venture out to Marin, the East Bay or the Peninsula to see what else the routes have to offer. An epic adventure awaits you, and it's all a short distance from home.

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.