Marin Headlands for the Win!

Marin Headlands for the Win!

There’s something purely magical in looking at San Francisco from across the Golden Gate Bridge in the Marin Headlands! You know the hustle and bustle is all right there, but you can’t hear it and you are truly astounded by the beautiful blend of nature and city and immediately think, “wow, rent check worth it!”

We lucked out with a seriously sunny and warm late January day. Arriving at lunch time, we traveled through the one-lane tunnel straight up to Battery Wallace where the kids could stretch their legs and we could eat at the picnic tables while watching ships and kayakers come in and out of the Bay. There were several tables, barbecues for you to use, grassy areas, clean restrooms and parking right there. I haven’t been to a more scenic picnic spot in all my life.

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After lunch we headed to Point Bonita Lighthouse. Open Saturday – Monday from 12:30 – 3:30PM, the lighthouse is a half-mile hike from the trailhead (which was probably a quarter-mile downhill from the picnic area). It’s in full sun and it’s steep in places on the way back, but absolutely doable for both young and old (or even people in high-heels and dresses) and has several points where you can move aside and rest on a bench and enjoy the view or read a little history about the place or the wildlife in the waters below. The path gets more narrow and goes from paved to dirt, winding you down thru a hand-hewn rock tunnel to the suspension bridge that, somewhat terrifyingly, leads you out to the lighthouse.

The best way to end this beautiful day is relaxing on the beach. Walking on after you get back to the beginning of the trailhead, you will pass the YMCA on your left and come to a parking lot from which you can take the short 0.2 mile South Rodeo Beach Trail down to Rodeo Cove. Here you can enjoy surfers, people fishing, dogs playing and the birds and ducks in Rodeo Lagoon.

Marin Headlands offers everything: stunning views, hiking/biking/running trails, camping, beaches, wildlife, history. It’s good for your spirit, it’s like a cleanse. You see the city in a different light, different than the fast-paced work life you experience there and you just shake your head in disbelief at the beauty you’re lucky enough to be a part of.

Anyone have any favorite trails here? We will definitely be going back soon for more!

Food for the Sunol

Food for the Sunol

One of my favorite things about winter here in the Bay Area is the green hills filled with grazing cows. Sunol takes me back to my Midwest home, with its wide open spaces and wildlife, but adds an element of grandeur that only the beautify of California can.

Although not the 70-degree days of late, today was in the upper 50s, a bit windy with some clouds that spit about 30 seconds of rain in the morning and it was perfect for a hike to Little Yosemite in Sunol Regional Wilderness.

The Trail to Little Yosemite 

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We drove along Geary Road until it came to an end and parked in the lot right before the bridge over Alameda Creek. From there, the easy gravel path follows Alameda Creek and it was a quick 1.1 miles to the Little Yosemite Area. This trail is easily doable for little kids. It’s even potentially stroller-friendly (I saw several and know my BOB could handle it). However, it does not have any shade so just be sure to wear sunscreen, a sun hat, pack water and if you’re doing the hike in the summer you may want to go early.

The Falls 

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Once we got to Little Yosemite, the kids enjoyed the challenge of climbing all the rocks to see the different layers of the falls and explore the pools of water at the base of each. My older children are 6 and 8 and could climb around without giving me much of a heart attack, but younger children would need some help.

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When they were finished we sat at one of the picnic tables up above the falls and enjoyed some lunch before heading back along the Canyon View Trail.

Canyon View Trail

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This was, to my pleasant surprise, by far the best part of this hike. The VIEWS, the cows, the steep hillside that at times give you a little thrill. This is California. The way back was 1.3 miles along the Cerro Estes, Canyon View and McCorkle trails. It is not great for strollers. My BOB could do it, but it is narrow, tight when you encounter a hiker coming from the opposite direction, and sometimes it’s not easy to step off the trail because it can be rather steep on one side.

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You know that scene in The Princess Bride when Princess Buttercup pushes Wesley down the hill and he rolls down screaming, “As you wish!”, it could have been filmed here. Or you could also feel like a Von Trapp from The Sound of Music playing in the singing hills. At least these were what my family and I were imagining here.

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In terms of incline and difficulty, this is definitely something youngsters can still do. However, if you haven’t ventured into the kids backpack carriers I highly recommend looking into getting one like this! The child is able to take in all the action and you will be a happy hiker having the weight distributed nicely so as it doesn’t kill your back!

I can’t wait to go back and explore the trails here more and maybe even do some camping in the area! Let me know if you have trails you love here!

Fair Weather Camper?

Fair Weather Camper?

Some people don’t realize that it’s cold in the Bay Area in the winter. But when talking about going camping together one weekend in January, our friends just laughed and said, “Oh no, no, we are fair weather campers.” I mean, I see people (besides my daughter) swimming in the outdoor pool across the street every day. Besides, we had just got a new tent and camping gear for Sinterklaas and were eager to try it out.

Looking at the area forecasts, I saw that Monterey had a high of sunny 69 degrees and a low of 45 and thought it sure beat rainy, cooler South Bay. So off we went! Yeah right…

As many of you know, getting a campsite in California requires planning at least 6 months in advance. However, there are private camp grounds as well that are relatively easy to score, albeit at a higher rate per night. Luckily, I found such a campground outside of Carmel-By-The-Sea (more about this later). Now, we were literally the only tent campers there, but hey.

So off we went!

The drive

We headed west from South Bay over the Santa Cruz Mountains and decided to take a long drive down Hwy 1. This took much longer than we expected, partly because we stopped off at certain beaches (Pescadera pictured below) and partly because we were just ignorant, but the views and the playtime in the ocean were well worth it and we still made it in time to pitch our tent and play some in the daylight.

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The campground

Saddle Mountain Ranch is an off the beaten path, peaceful plot that offers beautiful views, cabins, yurts, tent and RV spots (which are separated), a nice playground and a pool that I bet would be a blast in the summer. The toilets and showers were super clean and there was a cleanup sink (with hot and cold water) by the restrooms too where you could do dishes and brush teeth. It’s 5 minutes outside of Carmel and about 15 minutes from Monterey. It was $50/night (plus $10 to rent a fire ring and another $12 for two Duraflame logs).

Tip! You remember your grandma having a hot water bottle to lay on your if you were cramping? These are AMAZING to stuff in sleeping bags, especially for the kids or if you just want to be super cozy on cool California nights. 

Next day adventures 

It was the middle of winter so we wanted beach and sun. After eating breakfast and packing up we headed into Monterey. Whale Fest at Fisherman’s Wharf was happening so we stopped there to let the kids see dissected squids, walk through a blow up whale to learn about their anatomy and we were going to go whale watching but I was 4 months pregnant so we couldnt (which was totally fine because we went in July which is apparently better since you typically see 5 types of whales then rather than 1 in January).

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I absolutely love where we ended up after that. We headed to Pacific Grove down the road just a few minutes to Lover’s Point Beach. There is a cute park up above the beach where you can throw out a blanket or grab a table and eat a picnic lunch. The kids can kick a soccerball around or play tag. The beach is a north-facing sandy beach at the southern tip of Monterey Bay. It’s a great beach to throw a ball or laze on the sand and read a book while the kids squeal at the waves trying to catch them.

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Camping, anytime of the year, teaches teamwork and allows you to slow down and take in the outdoors. Of course if you’re camping in the winter, it doesn’t hurt that you can enjoy 70 degrees and a beach at the same time. Let me know about some of your favorite Bay Area winter camping spots or outings – I’m always on the hunt!