Beginner Hikes

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Women are better planners. Not all of them are better planners, but overall, we just kick men’s butts at planning. And that is why I’m letting you in on a little secret now regarding a hike I haven’t even been on yet.

Baby Elephant Seal by Chris Pearson

Baby Elephant Seal by Chris Pearson

I plan on going on the Ano Nuevo hike to see the baby elephant seals in late January or early Feburary. According to the California State Parks site, Northern Elephant Seals come ashore to mate and give birth from December to March. Although you can’t time it exactly, it sounds as if the best times to see the cute cuddly little babies are January and February. These tours are led by docents and must be reserved ahead of time. There are some first-come first-serve tickets, but you don’t want to drive all the way down there only to get turned away.

So take some initiative and plan for this hike if you want to see the cuddly little baby seals. The cost is $7 per person and you can book online 8 weeks in advance. Book your tickets now and look for my review of the hike in a couple months.

The View

The View

Most weekends we’ll flee the city in search of better weather and greener pastures, but when the weather is finally warm in San Francisco (usually September or October), the best we can manage is a quickie in Marin to satisfy the outdoors bug before heading back and drinking sangria at an outdoor cafe.

The warm weather and lack of fog in San Francisco made it an ideal day for otherwise windy and chilly Marin Headlands. We drove out to Rodeo Beach and had a long lazy picnic with sandwiches and wine. The beach was not overly crowded and we hung out for a while chatting and digging holes in the sand.

Stairs

Stairs

We took the Coastal Trail up to Hill 88. This was by far the most scenic part of the hike and also the most challenging. It’s basically a climb from sea level to the top of the cliff, with views of the beach, the coast and ocean, and the San Francisco skyline including Twin Peaks. We could see the fog start to roll in around Coit Tower. It’s definitely better to watch it roll in than to feel it roll in.

Hill 88

Hill 88

At the top of the ridge, we passed the junction with the Wolf Ridge Trail and continued to the top to see Hill 88. It’s easy to forget that this area used to be a military site, but along the trails, you’ll see some stark reminders. At the top of the hill, we took a break at the former radar station with its eerie abandoned buildings with graffiti.

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

We then turned around and walked back to the junction with Wolf Ridge Trail. This trail then meets up with the Miwok Trail. These trails go around the backside of the ridge and is less scenic. We also came across a snake, but at least this time it was slithering away from me, not towards me (like in the Alamere Falls hike). The Miwok trail took us around the Rodeo Lagoon and back to the parking lot.

If I were to do this hike again, I would probably turn around at the top of Hill 88 and do an out-and-back hike just on the Coastal Trail. The rest of the hike wasn’t scenic enough for me.

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.

Redwood Trail

When I think of wine country, I think of indulgence - from the famous chefs cooking seven-course meals to the wine-tasting at world-famous vineyards. Unfortunately all that indulgence comes with a lot of guilt. A quick stop and hike at the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park will let you indulge guilt-free.

At just 4.6 miles and roughly 1,000 ft in elevation gain, this rather easy hike right in the heart of wine country will help you burn some calories in under two hours. Even with a heavily packed wine-tasting agenda, you can stop here and race through the hike. That’s what we did this weekend before grabbing some gourmet pizza.

View from Coyote Peak

My favorite part about this hike was that it was almost completely shaded. Napa and Sonoma are usually much warmer than San Francisco and Point Reyes, and therefore represent a problem to those of us who are climate-control-challenged. But despite the warm temperatures in the high 70s/low 80s, this hike was quite comfortable. On the way up to Coyote Peak, the highest point in this hike, the breeze is like sangria…cools you down and makes you smile. Before we reached the top, we stopped to take a few pictures of the view and good thing we did because the views from the peak are pretty obscured (no good picture opportunities).

The creek was on the parched side in mid-August but it seems like it would be lovely when it’s full. We scrambled over rocks to cross the creek on a few occasions and had to dodge horse souvenirs on the first mile or so. Other than these small obstacles, the path was well maintained and the climb quite moderate and doable.

Wine Country Sunset

Overall, I would recommend this hike if you’re up in Napa or Sonoma and need a break from the wine-tasting, gourmet dining, hot springs-soaking lifestyle, but otherwise it’s not worth the drive from the city.

Overall rating: Flip-flops for difficulty and duration

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.

Castle Rock Views

Castle Rock Views

This figure-eight hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains was my very first hike with the new boyfriend (several months ago). Totaling 5.5 miles, I was quite doubtful beforehand that I could finish it and quite impressed when I did. In retrospect though, 5.5 miles isn’t that bad. And this hike is rather easy with the exception of the last uphill climb.

Castle Rock Falls

Castle Rock Falls

There was a promised waterfall, views, and sandstone formations, unfortunately most of which didn’t live up to the imagination. Although we went in early spring/late winter, there wasn’t enough water to make the waterfall memorable. It was also really, really cold! There were decent views of the mountains and surrounding areas, but I’m more impressed by coastal views than valley views. My high-maintenance side is coming out…these views just weren’t good enough!

Moss

Moss

Despite all this, I had a great time. I learned a couple things on that excursion. One, a pastrami sandwich from Robert’s Market in Woodside with a bottle of red wine transforms a hike into a gourmet experience. Two, my boyfriend and his friends talk about how to get women outdoors. Three, women talk about how to get men to talk to them. And four, men can get women outdoors if they talk to them and women will go outdoors since the only thing to do is talk. Perhaps that is how to solve life’s greatest mystery - how to make both men and women happy.

Fence

Fence

And this is how I determined that my first hike would not be my last. The conversations we had on this hike make it all worthwhile!

Tip: Beware the poison oak. This is a danger that us city girls aren’t so used to. We know to look out for men loitering in alleys late at night, and the occassionally over-aggressive creep at the bar, but this little plant can be just as dangerous and a bit more innocuous. Watch out for those three glossy leaves!

Overall rating: Flip-flops (figuratively, please don’t actually try to hike it in 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.

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