Living in San Francisco for over six years, I've had the opportunity to explore many hikes around the region. My favorite are coastal hikes, where I can see and enjoy stunning ocean views. Growing up next to the ocean, watching and listening to the waves always feels like home to me.
In this post, I want to talk about two of my favorite coastal hikes - Alamere Falls and Tennessee Valley Trail.
Waterfalls onto a beach is something special, and that's what you get in this coastal hike. This hike is mostly flat, with the occasional highs and lows, but nothing severely substantial. What is dramatic though is the landscape at the beginning and end of the trail. The trail starts of with lovely views of the ocean and jagged cliffs, which are undoubtedly inspirational. These cliffs felt very familiar to ragged coastline of the 1-California route.
The trail is straight-forward, starting at Palomarin Trailhead. After passing through beautiful coastal views at the beginning of the trail, you take the first left to get onto the Coast Trail and after passing the Bass and Pelican Lakes, you take a left again to get to Alamere Falls on the beach.
If you thought the beginning of the trail was pretty, the end is even better. You can see Alamere Falls in all it's glory, and there are multiple cascading falls both towards and away from the ocean. This sight is well worth the hike!
Not only can you get wet under the falls, but you also get a relatively empty beach all to yourself, what more can you ask for? 😉
You do need to get down a steep cliff at the end of the trail to see the falls get into the ocean -- but there are ropes for assistance. Getting downhill the cliff was harder than climbing uphill for me.
During the course of the hike, there are a couple of lakes you pass through, the first of which called Bass lake is located next to the trail. We saw some blooming flowers on this lake, which was nice. The best time for this hike, should you want to see the falls in swell, is in spring. The water level in the falls is high at that time because of the winter rains. This is also when you can see little wildflowers all over the trail, making it look super pretty!
This is a perfect hike to explore with your loved ones, we saw a lot of families with kids, and large groups of friends on this trail.
Alamere Falls -- Hike Details
- This hike is 4.2 miles one-way; so approximately 8.5 miles to go and come back. It will be longer if you decide to walk and explore the beach next to the Alamere Falls.
- The trailhead is at Palomarin, and there is car-parking available at the trailhead. But, you should expect the car-parking to be full on peak-hours during weekends.
Tennessee Valley Trail
This trail provides the unique opportunity to see both ocean views and the city skyline which is so San Francisco. This trail is also multi-faceted, it provides something for hikers of all abilities. There are rolling hills which provide elevation gain and the feeling of having climbed a mountain, and you can also choose to make the hike as long or as short as you prefer.
There is car parking for this trail at Tennessee Valley Trailhead. We started on the trail and took the second right onto Fox trail, and then continued straight along to Coastal trail, which ends at the coast. We then turned left on Pirates Cove trail which eventually becomes Coastal trail and then again merged left to Tennessee Valley trail which ends at the trailhead. We didn't go to Tennessee Beach, but it's a great option to explore for families with kids. A detailed map of Marin Headlands is here, should you be interested.
As you climb uphill on the Fox trail, don't forget to look behind and see the city skyline come up as you ascend to the top. You'll feel like you're minutes away from the city, but you're watching it from a entirely different lens in the midst of a trail. So near, yet so far never felt more true. As you advance further, you'll see glimpses of the ocean and trust me, that sight never gets boring! 😍
Continuing straight, you'll merge into coastal trail and then come across the views of Muir Beach from the top. There's magic in these little beach communities, especially as you see it from uphill, getting a birds eye view. Multi-colored houses that took like tiny specks on the hills and the beach itself - simply mesmerizing. I spent a lot of time staring at what felt like an idyllic life.
The best part was what came next, when we moved onto Pirates Cove trail. This is where we walked next to the ocean with a 180-degree view. Honestly, nothing beats this scene! We hiked along this path looking out in the ocean for some wildlife, but didn't find any. That didn't disappoint me much though.
Be aware that you need to climb uphill on the last part of the Pirates Cove trail to merge back to Coastal trail. This summit felt a little strenuous especially now since the ocean view was behind us, but it's very much doable.
We relaxed for a bit after reaching the summit, and then stayed on the Coastal trail for a while. At the final intersection on the Tennessee Valley trail, we turned left to get back to the trailhead. We got some glimpses of the Tennessee beach from the Coastal trail, which was neat, but neither of us were inspired enough to go there.
Tennessee Valley Trail -- Hike Details
- Our entire loop was 5 miles, but we there were two stretches of elevation gain at Fox trail and Pirates Cove trail, which is why this hike is moderate-level despite the short length.
- There was plenty of car parking available at the Tennessee Valley Trailhead on a weekend, so it seemed like this trail is still a hidden gem.
So, these are a couple of my favorite seaside trails near San Francisco. I hope this post inspired you to seek out a few trails around you!
Have you explored any coastal trails? Do you enjoy seeing views while on a hike?