To those who follow my Instagram, know that we are busy folks. We can’t sit still and when we do have a free moment, we’re usually out exploring. Early last year, we discovered a love for hiking. It came at a time when we were cost-conscious (still are) and were looking for activities we could do as a family that would require little to zero money and something that would get us out of the house and moving because these kids of mine have a tremendous amount of energy that needs to be expelled or I’ll be screaming into a pillow try to expel my frustrations.
Hiking proved to be just what we needed: it’s helping us to rediscover and appreciate our home in the Bay Area, it exposes the kids to not only physical activity but to an understanding of nature and their beautiful backyard, plus it has given us a chance to unplug and just speak to each other while not trying to compete with every electronic device known to man. We’ve had some great conversations with the kids as a result of unplugging.
I can’t speak for other people’s kids but mine specifically can hang despite the first mile always being the hardest. No hike begins without some kind of eye roll, whining, groaning, wallowing, self pity and that’s just me. Just kidding. It’s Olivia. It’s always Olivia. Once she pushes through that first mile and she settles in, typically we’re good to go. Plus, the key to hiking with kids is snacks. Bring an abundance of snacks. Bribery also works extremely well. We have been known to carry ring pops and promise comic books for post-hikes if they can keep the whining to a minimum. Typically, that’s all it takes. General persuasion is what I call it.
Our most recent hike stemmed from a personal desire to visit San Francisco’s Sutro Baths. Sutro Bath’s are the remains of a once beautiful and massive indoor swimming complex located at the edge of San Francisco. Now all that remains are a few remnants of the pools that once were. We uncovered something similar on our road trip a couple years back when we were driving through Utah and came across the Saltair Pavilion. I’m not sure if it’s the swimmer in me or something else but I find these relics incredibly fascinating and eery and majestic and strange and I have this innate desire to visit all of them.
When ever we’re interested in a destination for a hike, usually I just plug in where I want to go and search for hikes surrounding that destination. I came across this fantastic write-up that gave an extremely detailed account of their hike at Land’s End that seemed like a perfect outing for this family. Typically, we look for moderate hikes from 4-6 miles. That’s typically the sweet spot for this family.
The hike starts at the Land’s End Visitor’s Center right next to the Sutro Baths and the infamous Cliff House. Land’s End is part of the National Park Service so the visitor’s center is top-notch with a fantastic gift shop and super clean bathrooms. There is a parking lot but it fills up fast. I was willing to sit and stalk people for a bit before finally scoring a spot. There is additional parking surrounding the lot so if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Another plus of starting at the visitor’s center is there is a coffee shop attached to the gift shop in case you need a little extra fuel to get going or something hot to warm your bones. It is cold foggy San Francisco after all. We somehow managed to avoid the fog during our trek but it was still damn cold.
From the lot, you can’t help but walk to the wall next to the center and stare out at the vast ocean. From here, directly down in front of your eyes, lies the remains of the Sutro Baths. The itinerary I found had us check out the Sutro Baths later in the hike but I just couldn’t resist and made it our first stop.
You can actually walk on the remains which is incredibly beautiful and at times, terrifying. As I watched Olivia and Miles traverse on a 1-2 foot wide pillar of cement, I couldn’t help but be aware of the raging ocean that was only a few feet away. The area itself has all the signs of an abundance of visitors by the graffiti on the sides of the stone, to litter, to the massive amount of visitors in the midst of full-on photo shoots. I’m amazed that we’re allowed to walk directly on the remains themselves. The adventurer in me was ecstatic and jealous that I couldn’t experience this amazing structure when it was in its prime.
Just above the baths, there is a tunnel that cuts into one of the cliffs and you can actually walk all the way through. As you walk through, you can hear the ominous roar of the ocean running just beneath you. It’s haunting and exhilarating. In the middle of the tunnel, there is a cut-out where you can actually watch the tides roll in and smash at the rocks just feet away from where you’re standing.
After we thoroughly explored the Sutro Baths, we picked up the Coastal trail that traverses along the cliffside of San Francisco. The path is very well-manicured and in parts, is actually a paved trail so if you’re a cyclist or have a child on a bike, there are parts of this trail for you. One thing to note is this is an extremely popular trail. There were tons of people and rightfully so, it’s a beautiful trail. Just make note in case you’re looking for a quieter, more secluded outing.
As you begin to make your way down the trail, you’ll notice a large number of people gathering at the edge and as you approach, you’ll notice it’s because of the amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are plenty of views of the Golden Gate Bridge from this trail which is most likely another reason this trail is so popular. I’ve seen the bridge plenty of times but never from the angle from which I was viewing it. Absolutely stunning.
Along the trail, you’ll spot signs for Mile Rock Beach. Follow the trail unless you hate stairs. It’s a steep descent and after the hundredth or so stair, you realize at some point, you’re going to have to go back up. If you don’t mind, keep going because from here, you’ll find more incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the amazing meditation labyrinth which the children loved. They spent a good fifteen minutes walking through the labyrinth and with a back drop of the Bay and the GG Bridge, you couldn’t help but take a step back and enjoy the view.
From here, there are paths that take you straight down to Mile Rock Beach which is a shore with, you guessed it, an abundance of large river rocks which people like to pile up into towers. Ok, I do too. We took this opportunity to rest our feet a bit and have a snack. We do have to climb those stairs after all and I need substance before such strenuous activity. Beer and trail mix? Yes, please!
Once you muster the energy and the will to climb those steep steps, you’ll find yourself back at the Coastal trail. Continue in the direction you were headed. You’ll make your way through lush landscapes that include wild ivy, Eucalyptus trees and other incredible full greenery that you just don’t normally see when you’re hiking through the Bay Area hills. At times, I thought I was walking through a jungle. There is one more set of steep stairs on the trail that you do have to climb if you want to continue on the Coastal Trail. Take them because the views are magnificent.
The Coastal trail ends at Camino Del Mar Street which is home to San Francisco’s mansions. I wasn’t familiar with this neighborhood and didn’t realize there were mansions of San Francisco. Oh my gawd! They are incredible and massive. Nothing makes you feel more out of place than perusing a multi-million dollar neighborhood while donning hiking gear and caring the musk of moderate physical activity while all the while catching glimpses of impressive courtyards through privacy gates. Yes, I witnessed several people taking photos of people’s front yards with lenses pressed against those gates. Impressive nonetheless. Anyone want to loan me $16 million for this cliffside cottage?
Continue down Camino Del Mar and you’ll spot a sign for a public beach. Follow the sign to a large parking lot which is the lot for China Beach. There isn’t a lot here. It’s a beach that the kids can stretch their legs at but it was mostly fishermen when we arrived.
When you’re ready to leave China Beach, you have the option to continue down Camino Del Mar which will take you to Baker Beach or you have the option to head back. We decided to begin our return back to the beginning. We don’t like back-tracking, so we opted to follow Camino Del Mar back in the direction of the visitor’s center instead of returning on the Coastal Trail. Camino Del Mar takes you past a golf course and past the Legion of Honor. Follow the road until it dead ends and you’ll pick up another trail. Follow the signs for the U.S. War Memorial. From there, you can take a steep set of stairs down which leads you near the entrance of the Coastal Trail.
We returned to the visitor’s center so I could show the kids what the Sutro Baths looked like before it met its demise. Ryan received his first stamp in his National Parks Passport – a present he received this past Christmas so he can collect stamps from all the parks we visit. We collect pins and patches too from the various parks but it’s kinda cool to have this souvenir.
We were advised we could receive another stamp from the Cliff House so we made the short walk down the hill to receive our coveted reward. There is a bar/bistro here that we attempted to score a drink from but the bistro was closed for the moment to prepare for the dinner service so we decided to pass for this trip. From here, you have a great view of the impressive Ocean Beach which has its own history. It’s sad to think that there used to be an amusement park similar to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk there and is now nothing but a sea of mediocre condominiums.
From start to finish, including all the exploring at the various stops, it averaged out to be around 6 miles. The kids loved the hike and frequently would shout out, THIS IS AMAZING, which would cause several passersby to say, yeah, it is! I love the hikes that take you into backcountry but these hikes that have historical points of interest and things to uncover, are great and necessary as well. I’m sure I never would have been able to explain the history of the Sutro Baths to the kids without them actually getting to see it and explore it first hand. Gather around children as I explain to you the history of enclosed swimming complexes of yesteryear. Yeah, no, not happening.
It was a fantastic hike. Well worth the drive to San Francisco. A must visit trail if you have friends/family in town and want to show them great views of the Golden Gate Bridge or you’re a local and love where you live. I have a love/hate relationship with the Bay Area but hikes like these remind me why I live here and endure the daily stresses.