Beginner Hikes

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Now there are many reasons why you might want a secluded beach, and Hiking Diva isn’t here to judge your illegal or illicit activities. After all, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it” is kind of like, “if something happens on a secluded beach and no on is there to see it”. However, there are plenty of reasons why you might want a little privacy in a beautiful surrounding, such as a proposal, and in that case, Andrew Molera State Park delivers.

Located in Big Sur, near Carmel, the area has jaw-dropping, photo opportunities, especially with the fog rolling in. It’s beautiful to look at, but it’s not so fun to hike in, so go in the months of September or October. Avoid the summer as that is high fog season. Hike early and plan other activities away from the coast starting in the late afternoon.

When you arrive at Andrew Molera State Park, you’ll cross the parking lot and start your hike by trekking through a creek. We took off our shoes and walked through the creek in our flip-flops. The chill of the water sure wakes you up. We walked along the Big Sur River and through a meadow before reaching the ocean.

After a quick stop at the beach which will had tons of people (and horses), we took the Bluff Trail to the more secluded beach. Along the way, we enjoyed the views from up high.

In October, when we went, the vegetation was drier. I’m sure the area is equally beautiful, if not more so, in the spring with all the wildflowers.

The “secluded” beach isn’t actually secluded or private. It’s just hard to get there so people who were lazier than us didn’t make the trek. It’s farther away from the parking lot, and then we had to climb over all these fallen trees in order to get there.

We did see one other couple on this beach having a picnic, but that was it. We found a little cave ourselves and set up our fancy picnic. We had brought red wine (I know, I know, you shouldn’t drink on a hike…but it was a special occasion), roast beef and gorgonzola sandwiches, and caprese salad. We even brought a little travel guitar, and after lunch, Closet Granola sang a song he wrote and in his song, he proposed! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you want a little more privacy on a hike.

After many tears, we headed back to celebrate. The moon was already visible in the sky.

Where’s the diva-ish part, you ask? Throw in a night at Ventana Inn (my favorite hotel in the world) and not just any room…get the suite with a private ocean view deck. Don’t forget dinner at the Post Ranch Inn. The next day, grab a late lunch at Nepenthe where the food is decent and the view is spectacular before heading back home.

View from Ventana

View from Ventana

Nepenthe

Nepenthe

Oh, and Closet Granola and Hiking Diva lived happily ever after…

Overall rating: Pumas

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

One of the great things about living in California is that you can go hiking and biking almost year-round. I know I’ve neglected this hiking blog a bit over the last few months, but ever since my “injury” in Yosemite, hiking has taken a back burner to the easier outdoor activity known as biking. Note: my “injury” was not so much an “injury” but as my sports medicine doctor at UCSF said “the pain is likely caused by the lack of muscle in your legs…oh, and you also walk bow-legged.” Ouch, if anything knocks Hiking Diva down a peg, that might be it. But back to my apology, which somehow got sidetracked, for not blogging as much about hiking…I may have to make up for it with reviews of biking trails. If anyone has an objection, speak now or forever hold your peace. Of course, I control what comments show up, so it’s pretty much a done deal.

Now, back to today’s feature: the Matt Davis trail to Coastal Trail. If you’ll recall, Closet Granola had already dragged Hiking Diva on a rather steep uphill climb on Matt Davis in Take My Breath Away, Mount Tamalpais, but this hike was to be much easier on the knees. This out-and-back hike is more of a stroll along the ridge of Mt. Tam, overlooking the ocean. We parked at the Pantoll Ranger Station, which, by the way, has gotten quite pricey at $8 for a parking permit. But, California is in a bit of a financial crisis, so it was the least we could do to support the parks. Instead of heading down the Steep Ravine/Dipsea Trails like we did last time, we headed over to the Matt Davis Trail past the warning signs for mountain lions and rattlesnakes (nice way to set the mood).

Rather than continuing down the Matt Davis Trail, we veered right to take the Coastal Trail. This gave us great views with virtually no elevation change. The first part of the hike was shaded, but once on the Coastal Trail, it was very exposed. Since this hike was out-and-back, this also meant that the last part of the hike was very shaded, and given that we have a tendency to start our hikes late (not recommended) it was very dark in the shaded areas on the way back. It was a full moon, but very little light was filtering through the trees. That now makes THREE hikes where we haven’t made it back before dark, but who’s counting.

This particular hike is rather scenic with views of San Francisco, the beach, and the water. The sunset was gorgeous and if I had had a real camera with me (rather than my G1), I would make a panoramic picture that shows a gorgeous sunset scene where you can see both the moon and the sun. But alas, no camera…just a G1 with a low battery.

I’d recommend this hike for beginners. It’s a great introductory hike since you can wow them with the views, and you won’t have to listen to complaints of body aches the next day. On the day we went there was virtually no wind. Since the hike is rather exposed, I would check the weather report before heading out there. I’m sure I would not be recommending this hike if I had been blown off the ridge.

Overall rating: Heels (definitely)

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

As a special post honoring the upcoming Valentine’s Day, I’ll be putting on my psychology hat and analyzing the heck out of the Ano Nuevo hike. I wrote about this hike a couple months ago and suggested that anyone who wanted to go see the baby elephant seals book their tickets. On the day that Closet Granola and I had reservations, his roommate and her boyfriend also wanted to go. They called Ano Nuevo State Park to see if they could get tickets and all they could hear on the other end of the receiver was laughing. So if you haven’t made reservations, remember this lesson for next year: Good Things Come To Those Who Plan. Or read my special comment below.

This docent-led hike lasts about 2.5 hours and is pretty easy. Upon arrival at the state park, we picked up our tickets and waited for our tour to start. There a few picnic tables if you want to grab a quick bite before heading out. Food is not allowed once the tour starts, so better eat now. The tour begins with a quick introduction from one of the volunteers at the visitors center. The group of 20 or so hikers head out towards the ranger station by themselves, passing a lake meant for bird watching. Closet Granola and I didn’t stop as we’re not the bird-watching types.

At the ranger station, there were some exhibits that I found too creepy - the skull of an elephant seal, fur from a sea otter, etc. A docent picked up the group and started the hike and heading towards the beach where the elephant seals were. We stopped at several points along the way where the docent could address the group and relay facts about the elephant seals. Many people asked questions along the way as well, which were sometimes interesting and sometimes not. This was definitely the most educational hike we’ve been on.

Here are a few things we saw/learned on the hike along with Dr. Hiking Diva’s interpretation:

  • There’s an alpha male for every 40-50 females, known as the harem. (Loosely translated: Men aren’t meant for monogamy. In their ideal world, the dominant males would have a harem and all the other men would get nothing.)
  • The beta males roam the outskirts of the harem trying to sneak in some action, but the females only want to mate with the alpha male. (Loosely translated: We know the best men are taken, but we want them anyway. We don’t want no scrubs.)
  • The mama elephant seal weans her baby after about 25-28 days by abandonment, and then mates with an alpha male again. (Loosely translated: No good man is going to want me while I’m saddled with a kid. Time for the kid to grow up on its own.)
  • Males fight to gain dominance and the right to breed. They rear up and slam their bodies against each other. (Loosely translated: They still haven’t learned to use their words.)
  • The elephant seals come ashore to mate but rarely go back out to sea for food and water. They may fast for several months. (Loosely translated: (The only time you should be this fat is when you’re not planning to eat for the next 3 months.)

Special Note: I overplanned my trip to Ano Nuevo and bought two tickets for two separate weekends, in case the first weekend was a bust. It’s hard to plan these hiking trips around ski weekends, which depend on the fickle weather. But since Closet Granola and I did this hike a couple weekends ago, I’m giving away my backup tickets for this Saturday, Valentine’s Day, February 14th. If you want the 2 tickets for a 2 p.m. hike, leave a comment or send me an email if you have my private email address.

Overall Rating: Flip-flops

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Golden Gate Bridge

Here in San Francisco is one of Northern California’s treasure, a hike so stunning that it’s hard to imagine that it’s in right here in our own backyard. Without leaving the city, you are tranported to nature’s finest with views of the ocean, dramatic cliffs, cypress trees, and views of the Golden Gate bridge that rival Crissy Field or Marin Headlands.

Coastal Trail

We started this hike near Seacliff and parked on El Camino del Mar near 32nd Avenue. It was very easy to find the sign for Land’s End and the Coastal Trail, especially since so many others were also entering and leaving the hike. The only downside to this hike is that it is rather crowded. One of the best things about this hike, however, is that it also crowded with dogs. To that end, we had come prepared with one half of the Fluffy Puppies. It was Bianca’s first hike (while Sorcha stayed at home getting ready for the dinner party scheduled for later that night) and she thoroughly enjoyed it.

Coastline

Within minutes of starting this hike, we had beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge spanning from San Francisco to Marin. We thought the views couldn’t get any better, but there are benches from lookout points and cypress trees that perfectly frame the bridge further along on this hike.

The trail is well-trodden and there are steps to help you go down to the beach and lookout points. If you skip these optional parts, the hike is relatively flat and easy. As you approach the second half of the hike, the trail is paved as it heads to Sutro Baths and the Cliff House. Before we reached the destination, we saw a sheet of rain and storm clouds approaching and decided to call it a day and head back to the car. After all, Sorcha and a dinner party awaited.

GG Bridge

This is the perfect hike for this city girl/hiking diva. It’s not far, it’s beautiful, and we can get a hike in and still have brunch and dinner in the city. Perfection!

Overall Rating: Flip-flops (although I did the hike in Pumas)

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Tip #1: If you have time before or after the hike, stop by the Palace of Legion of Honor. Even if you don’t go into the museum, you can still see Rodin’s Thinker in the courtyard.

Tip #2: Take a drive through Seacliff before or after your hike and see how the rich and wealthy live in San Francisco.

Coastline

Coastline

The weather this weekend was just glorious…one of those days where you’re so happy to be living in California and not somewhere in the Northeast. Notice how quickly we attribute 80 degree weather in San Francisco in the middle of November to living in California rather than global warming. Even the hippies can’t complain when the weather is this spectacular.

To take advantage of this unprecedented state of affairs on our one and only hike in the month of November, Closet Granola surprised me by suggesting a hike in Point Reyes. Normally, I am arguing for a Point Reyes hike and he is adamantly opposed, but even he believes that the weather will be nice up there. And it is!

Bear Valley Trail

Bear Valley Trail

I’ve been bugging him to go on this trail since April, but he’s always found an excuse to go somewhere else. The Bear Valley to Arch Rock Trail is also a bike-and-hike, but we weren’t certain if my cheap commuter bike with its thin road tires could handle the trail. After hiking the entire trail, we’ve decided it would have been fine. A mountain bike would be better, but my little bike could have made it.

With bikers and hikers and strollers, the trail can get very crowded. And since this is a really easy hike with only 300 feet in elevation gain, it doesn’t scare off the weaklings (like myself). This may have been the most crowded hike I’ve been on. Luckily, the trail is very wide for passing people as well as engaging your significant other in forced conversations regarding where the relationship is going. You may be in the great outdoors, Closet Granola, but there’s nowhere to run! <<insert evil laugh>>

Meadow

Meadow

But I digress…on the trail, we passed a meadow along the way, where we stopped to eat a little snack. We wanted to save the true picnic for when we reached our destination, Arch Rock. Incidentally, there are those dreaded toilets available if you need to make a little stop, but beware the horrendous odor. You’ve been warned.

The first leg of the hike is about 3.5 miles of a mostly shaded, sometimes muddy, but very well-kept trail. At the end of the bike trail, there’s a bike rack for parking your bike (so bring your lock if you plan to make this a bike-and-hike). After that, it’s less than a mile to the destination.

Coastal views

Coastal views

Arch Rock juts out into the ocean providing beautiful views of the coastline up and down from where we were. There are a few other rocks out at sea that make the views even more picturesque. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people also picnicking, but I’m pretty sure we had the best spread - bread, smoked salmon, four types of cheese, and turkey pepperoni. The scenery makes up for the lack of privacy.

At around 3:30, we decided to call it a day. Closet Granola was not going to be tricked into a night hike like Eagle Lake, so we packed up and headed back the way we came. A little over 9 miles total and four hours including picnic time, we were ready to head back to our city life.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock

On our way back to the city, we stopped for dinner at Guaymas in Tiburon.  We drank margaritas, snacked on tortillas and salsa, ate chile poblano and arroz con mariscos on the outdoor deck with a to-die-for view of the San Francisco skyline. It was the absolutely perfect ending to the perfect day.

Overall Rating: Heels for difficulty, flip-flops for length

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Tip #1: A city girl’s necessity equals a hiking diva’s luxury. I’ve learned to dread hikes where the guidebooks mention pit toilets at the trailhead. Luckily, the restrooms at Bear Valley are not only clean with functional toilets and running water, but the hand dryers are Xcelerator. Nice touch! (or actually no touch!)

Tip #2: For more serious hikers, bike out to the end of the Bear Valley Trail and hike some of the more strenuous trails rather than sitting on your butt at Arch Rock like we did. When I’m back in shape, we might have to try that.

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