Hike and Eat Your Way Through the Scenic San Francisco Bay Area

ritz carlton

Photo Credit: The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay

When it’s not possible to get away for the weekend, don’t miss the fun right outside your door. Grab your partner or good friend and head for the hills—literally. This trip started in the South Bay. The next following day began in Marin County and the odyssey finally ended in St. Helena. These jaunts are great for recharging, getting in time together and savoring lunch nearby.

Half Moon Bay

The Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve covers more than 4,400 acres on the western edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Within the Preserve, find over 24 miles of trails and historic logging roads which are ideal for easy walks, challenging hikes and bike rides. A popular attraction in this verdant area is the Purisima Creek Canyon. Walk by the rushing creek, giant Redwoods and Douglas Firs besides beds of ferns and wildflowers. The redwoods are about 100 years old, the second growth in a forest with original trees close to 1,000 years old before they were cut by loggers. Many of the old stumps are visible as you go along the Purisima Creek Trail. In the early 1900s, the trees in the canyon were taken to one of seven mills located in the Preserve.

ritz carlton
Photo Credit: The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay

In keeping with the natural surroundings of the morning, we headed straight for The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay for lunch. Its spectacular position atop a coast-side bluff enlivens the senses. We settled into Navio with its floor-to-ceiling windows, endless views of the ocean and championship golf course. We visited on a Saturday when the Farmers Market Brunch was in full swing. We each started with a create-your-own Bloody Mary as our first beverage of the day. While there are plenty of choices, we opted for the classic, salted rim with several garnishes (think bacon, tomato and olives) and the Cajun—kicked up with spices guaranteed to make your eyes open wide.

The all-you-can-eat buffet overflows with the chef’s discoveries at the Coastside Farmers Market. Favorites include the chilled English pea and mint shooter, Fanny Bay oysters, steamed and peel whole shrimp (head included), herb-crusted salmon, snails and garlic sausage, and the luscious potatoes au gratin. Not thinking about the calories burned hiking, we tasted our way through the Sunrise Farm lemon chiboust, honey roasted nectarine façon Melba and smore’s chocolate mousse. For the faint of heart (or full stomach) there is also plenty of fresh fruit.

Photo Credit: Michal Venera

Marin County

There is no better place than Mt. Tamalpais State Park in Mill Valley for incredible vistas of the surrounding area. One of the most spectacular panoramas is from the top of Mt.Tamalpais. From here it’s possible to see the Farrallon Islands, the hills of Marin County, San Francisco and across to the East Bay and Mt. Diablo. A popular hike winds up to the Cushing Memorial Amphitheater, a natural setting for theatrical performances. The loop covers part of the southern side of the mountain with stunning views in most directions. Along the way, take a break on Forbes Bench and catch the scene from the East Bay south to the Santa Cruz Mountains and Moffett Field.

After a hike on Mt. Tam, don’t give up the sights; opt for lunch at Murray Circle, the popular restaurant at Cavallo Point in Sausalito. With a dramatic tableau of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco in front of us, we lounged in the oversized chairs on the restaurant’s expansive front porch and sipped tropical breezes. The hearty portion of steamed mussels was luscious: plump and juicy cooked in white wine, crème fraîche and tarragon and served with warm garlic croutons. The Prather Ranch burger was smothered in cheddar cheese from Fiscalini. The restaurant also serves a four-course tasting menu. The small portions make this an appealing option at lunch and include starters and choice of main. The strawberry and rhubarb tart with mango basil ice cream was a sweet ending to a beautiful day.

st helena
Photo Credit: Bo Links

St. Helena

The peak of Mount St. Helena rises over 4,300 feet in the Mayacamas Mountains. Located in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, the mountain is composed of volcanic rock from the Clear Lake Volcanic Field. Begin in the forest of pine trees and Manzanita bushes on the five-mile Stevenson Memorial Trail. Pass a stone monument that commemorates the site where Robert Louis Stevenson spent his honeymoon in 1880. As you wind your way to the top (mostly on a fire road), enjoy gorgeous valley scenes. On a crystal clear day, see all the way to San Francisco. A longer and more scenic trail starts close by and includes the Table Rock, Oat Hill Mine and Palisades trails.

The day was warm and sunny so we chose the relaxing patio at Goose & Gander for lunch. Known for their artisanal cocktails, we had the Rosemary-Pear Shrub with Distillery No. 209 Gin, rosemary-pear shrub syrup, lemon, ginger and seltzer; and the cucumber Collins made with Square One Cucumber Vodka, yuzu, lemon, fresh and pickled cucumber, huckleberries and seltzer.

With cocktails we had a zesty gazpacho made from strawberries, chili, almond and basil. Afterwards we shared the grilled Spanish octopus served with tapenade, green garlic aioli and other sides.  The fried green tomato BLT came with fries cooked in duck fat. Trying to remember the benefits gained from hiking, we passed on the sticky toffee pudding.

Patty Burness

I travel the world as a culinary and wine tourism specialist and bring the best of a destination up close and personal to readers. ...(Read More)

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