Visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area will no doubt stroll through Fisherman's Wharf, climb Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill and view the Pacific Ocean from Cliff House.
While these sights are worthy, most don't provide the views or experience available at the countless miles of hiking just outside of the city. With a few exceptions, most of these hikes can be reached with a short drive and are open year-round.
Lace your boots and learn more about hikes in the region at the San Francisco Bay Area Hiker: www.bahiker.com. The site, started by avid Bay Area hiker and trail guide Jane Huber, contains a list of hikes, tips on the best views and helpful hints.
Take a quick drive from downtown San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands, which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, www.nps.gov/goga/marin-headlands.htm. The park contains miles of excellent hiking trails, many with postcard views of San Francisco. Some of the better views can be obscured by thick fog common in the region so check the weather before you head out.
Venture a touch farther into Marin County and visit Muir Woods www.nps.gov/muwo the site of a pivotal scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." The park is home to tall redwoods as well as miles of excellent and not-too difficult hikes.
Hikers looking for a better workout should check out nearby Mount Tampalpais www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=471. The 2,571-foot peak can be accessed by numerous different hiking trails, some of which traverse the entire mountain and drop into Stinson Beach stinsonbeachonline.com.
The Dipsea Trail www.visitmuirwoods.com/trails.htm is especially popular among locals and the site of numerous trail runs. It's even inspired some long- distance runners to run the course twice www.doubledipsea.com.
Dedicated hikers should drive farther north into wine country to Mount St. Helena in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=472. The author spent his honeymoon in the region in the late 19th century and on a clear day the views are impressive.
Don't forget about the East Bay, home to many well-kept parks and lightly trafficked trails: www.ebparks.org. Mount Diablo contains some of the Bay Area's most challenging hikes, including a loop that takes a day to complete: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=517. Hikes ranging from easy walks to daylong treks are listed here: www.mdia.org/hiking.htm.
If you're looking for a peerless view in the South Bay near San Jose, visit Mission Peak Preserve. A local hiker details everything from the topography to the view here: www.mishalov.net/missionpeak-31may04/missionpeak-31may04.html.
Santa Cruz boasts many excellent and remote trails. A good starting point is Santa Cruz State Parks www.santacruzstateparks.org or the Big Basin Redwoods www.bigbasin.org. Big Basin is California's oldest state park and contains several challenging walks.
Hikers looking for overnight ventures can plan a trip using GORP's guide to Bay Area backpacking gorp.away.com/gorp/location/ca/wwsanfran.htm. The 20-plus mile Ohlone Trail, detailed in a Web journal here, lomaprieta.sierraclub.org/BPS/reports/TRohlone2004.html, is also a draw for many backpackers.
If you are looking for a more urban setting after spending a day or two hiking outside of the city, try a walking tour of Chinatown www.allaboutchinatown.com or the Dashiell Hammett walking tour www.donherron.com/tour.html which covers sites trafficked by the noir writer and San Francisco resident.