Coastal hikes reinvigorate our souls, tapping into our sense of adventure as we stand at the edge of the continent and look out into an endless ocean. The sound of the ocean rolls and echoes in sea caves and coves like the inside of a shell. High, layered sea cliffs overlook startling scenes of harbor seals resting like torpedoes on flat-topped rocks and, if we’re lucky, the telltale spout of a whale. Among the humidity, fog and wind are places to take a break, from oceanfront restaurants to farm stands full of seasonal produce, fresh fruit and jars of jam.
Soak in the coast from Santa Cruz to San Francisco through these four waterfront hikes, paired with nearby eateries. Beautiful and wild, bluffside trails have steep, unprotected drop-offs: Please watch your footing and loved ones as you hike.
Santa Cruz’s Wilder Ranch is home to a 19th-century dairy ranch with delightful farm animals, as well as spectacular cliffs, coves and pocket beaches. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at Fern Grotto Beach or one of the picnic tables at the ranch.
The Old Cove Landing Loop trail at Wilder Ranch yields a little beach time, as well as bluff hiking. (Courtesy Melissa Ozbek)
The 2.3-mile Old Cove Landing Loop crosses railroad tracks on a wide, bike-friendly trail to an overlook of Wilder Beach, closed to protect snowy plover habitat. Then turning west, the trail hugs 50-foot sea cliffs with views of pelicans, cormorants and harbor seals quietly resting offshore. Just over halfway, Fern Grotto Beach is an excellent spot for a picnic. Beyond it, the route curves back north into the park’s interior and returns to the parking area.
Trail map: https://tinyurl.com/oldcovelandingloop
Details: Wilder Ranch State Park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset daily at 1401 Coast Road in Santa Cruz. There is a $10 vehicle day-use fee. Find details at www.parks.ca.gov.
Grab a bite: Emily’s Good Things to Eat offers treats like apple cake and olallieberry pie, as well as roast chicken and turkey sandwiches. The bakery opens at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays and 6:30 a.m. on weekends at 1129 Mission Street in Santa Cruz; www.emilysbakery.com.
San Francisco’s Legion of Honor art museum in Lincoln Park makes an extraordinary start to a 3.25-mile, Golden Gate vista-filled loop hike that includes a beach and sweeping Marin Headlands views from Lands End.
Side trip: Add on a visit to the Lincoln Park steps, a 10-minute walk from Eagle’s Point.
Trail map: https://tinyurl.com/landsend-legionofhonor
Details: The Legion of Honor is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. daily (closed Monday) at 100 34th Ave. in San Francisco. Admission is $15 for adults, free for youth 17 and under, and free on Saturdays for Bay Area residents. Advance ticket reservations recommended. Free parking is available in front of the museum and on El Camino del Mar. Find more at https://legionofhonor.famsf.org and www.nps.gov/goga.
Grab a bite: The Legion of Honor Café serves hot sandwiches ($18.50), salads, tea and pastries from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on weekends through September, and Tuesday-Sunday beginning Oct. 1. A museum ticket isn’t required to dine, and outdoor seating is available.
Named for the Sir John Franklin, shipwrecked in 1865, the Franklin Point Trails in northern Año Nuevo State Park trace the wild and rugged San Mateo coastline to walkable beaches, beautiful rocky coves and sand-colored sea cliffs. This hike visits beaches, coves and cliffs on a 3.8-mile round-trip hike from Franklin Point to Whitehouse Creek Beach.
A wooden walkway leads the way from Franklin Point in northern Año Nuevo State Park to Whitehouse Creek Beach. (Courtesy Melissa Ozbek)
Side trip: Continue southeast on the Atkinson Bluff Trail for 1 mile to Cascade Creek Beach.
Trail map: https://tinyurl.com/franklinpoint
Details: The Franklin Point trailhead, open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset, is 3.5 miles north of the main entrance to Año Nuevo State Park. Additional roadside parking areas are located along Highway 1 beginning 2.2 miles north of Año Nuevo State Park. There is no parking fee. Find details at www.parks.ca.gov.
Grab a bite: Pie Ranch’s farm stand offers produce, jams, pie and ice cream sandwiches, including Revival’s Bees Knees ($7), which churns burnt honey, honeycomb candy and pollen into a beeswax custard base. Pie Ranch opens at noon on weekdays (closed Tuesday) and 10 a.m. on weekends at 2080 Cabrillo Highway in Pescadero; www.pieranch.org.
Moss Beach Distillery is a fun coastal destination for lunch, with a dog-friendly patio and the sound of the ocean as the backdrop. Hike from Pillar Point Harbor for a 3.7-mile round trip or from Fitzgerald Marine Reserve for a less strenuous, 1.3-mile round trip. Either way, the beaches, benches and bluffs are spectacular.
The Moss Beach Distillery makes a perfect spot for a mid-hike bite. (Courtesy Melissa Ozbek)
Beginning from Pillar Point Harbor, hike northwest along the Ross’ Cove Trail to an overlook of Ross’ Cove. Red-tailed hawks circle above the coastal prairie, with benches studded at the edge of the 150-foot bluffs for ocean gazing. Reach the park boundary and continue northwest through a Moss Beach neighborhood with oceanfront homes and cypress trees to the Moss Beach Distillery, where you can grab lunch or takeout. Retrace your steps when ready.
Side trip: Add on a visit to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve to make it a 5-mile round trip hike.
Trail map: https://tinyurl.com/pillarpoint-fitzgerald
Details: The Pillar Point Marsh lot is open from sunrise to sunset on the western shoreline of Pillar Point Harbor. An alternative parking lot is located off Airport Street on Pillar Point Bluff and opens at 8 a.m. There is no parking fee. Find more details at https://parks.smcgov.org.
Grab a bite: Moss Beach Distillery’s seafood-forward menu includes Dos Fish Tacos ($19), as well as oysters, sandwiches and wings. The restaurant opens daily at noon at 140 Beach Way in Moss Beach. Reservations strongly recommended; https://mossbeachdistillery.com.