For centuries, “the city” has been widely considered the pinnacle of human civilization because it offers the best in man-made marvels like arts and entertainment, architecture and dining experiences There are tons of reasons to recommend life in the city, especially in one as vibrant as San Francisco. However, even the most cosmopolitan among us need to sometimes escape the claustrophobia of modern city life and explore the surrounding nature.
San Francisco has a wealth of natural wonders within driving distance, including some picturesque waterfall hikes worth a day trip for those who seek adventure on a small scale.
1. Alamere Falls, Point Reyes: 35 miles from SF
Probably the most famous waterfall near San Francisco, Alamere Falls can be accessed from the Palomarin Trailhead, a medium-grade eight-mile round-trip hike. The trail travels along the Marin coastline and offers incredible views of the Farallon Islands—icing on top of the waterfall cake. The ocean-feeding waterfall flows down into a pristine, secluded beach. Take caution if you venture down, though: The trail to the beach is steep and may be slippery..
2. Mount Diablo: 20 miles from SF
In recent years, Mount Diablo has received uncharacteristic snowfall on its peaks. In the spring and summer, the snow melts and provides the creeks and streams with an heavy waterflow and muddy trails, which add up to waterfalls. Our favorites can be found on the Mount Diablo Loop Trail, a six-mile loop, that begins at the Regency Gate in the East Bay town of Clayton.
3. Berry Creek Falls: 57 miles from SF
A scenic drive down the coast on Highway 1 is Big Basin State Park. Three incredible waterfalls await those up for a challenging hike. To reach the best views, follow the Sunset Trail and take a left onto the Berry Creek Falls Trail, followed by another left onto the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. The hike is a ten-mile loop that travels through gorgeous redwood groves and up some pretty steep inclines, so be sure to bring water and trail mix.
4. McWay Falls: 155 miles from SF
In addition to Alamere Falls, McWay Falls is California’s only other ocean-feeding waterfall. Though you can’t access the beach at its base, this waterfall is one of the most idyllic sights in the state and totally worth the trek. The views of crystal-clear water, the beach and rocky cliffs are a satisfying reward for the hike that’s surprisingly comfortable; in fact, it’s the easiest on our list to access, only a half-mile round trip hike from the trailhead.
5. Peters Creek Falls: 50 miles from SF
Arguably the most difficult to find on our list, Peters Creek Falls is not on any of the trail maps, and the waterfall can really only be accessed from an unmarked trail that shoots out from the main Peters Creek trail. Those up for an adventure—and maybe up for getting a little lost in the search for a visual treasure—should opt for this waterfall hike. Even if the quest fails, the main trail winds through some of the oldest redwoods in California, making it well worth the trip even without the waterfall vista. Good luck and happy trails!