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Living in the Bay Area we have access to so many amazing hikes and outdoor spaces! We have our favorite hikes we return to over & over again, but since we’ve been spending a lot more time at home we have been eager to try out some new ones.
Here are some of our tried & true favorites plus some new discoveries that will most-definitely become old favorites! All of these hikes are easy to moderate in difficulty and are great for kids. A lot of them are dog friendly and I’ve noted those.
I’ve listed the hikes below from North (Daly City) to South (Los Altos). There are many hikes I didn’t list, but these are the ones that usually come to mind when others ask me for a good hike on the Peninsula. I also threw in some of our favorite places to fuel up post-hike! I’d love to know what you think! Please comment below with any of your favorite hikes or post-hike restaurants that you think should be on this list!
Daly City – Dog Friendly
We found ourselves at Mussel Rock Trail simply because it is dog friendly, but WOW this is one of my favorite places now! The trail is more like an easy walk. The paths meander around in many different directions for about 2 miles which we didn’t love (we typically like an out-and-back or loop), but the views were incredible! This is a popular launch spot for hang gliders and it was thrilling to watch them flying around us. Plus the views were spectacular – Perhaps I should have, but I didn’t realize Daly City had beaches!
The trail ends at a bluff above the beach. The kids wanted to climb down to the beach and we saw this path camouflaged into the rocks. It was steep but we were able to hold on to the rocks and some make-shift tree branch railings to help us down.
The beach was huge and not crowded at all. Our kids ran all up and down the beach through the surf with our dog. While my husband and I sat on a nearby log watching them, we saw a huge whale breach in the water. I’m pretty sure it was a Humpback whale given the time of year, but that’s just my best guess!
By the time we left the trail, there were at least 20 hang gliders above us. It was so fun to watch them twist and twirl around in the air. Their colorful sails really popped against the gray sky too!
Pacifica – Dog Friendly
Devil’s Slide Trail in Pacifica is unique in that it has been converted from an old segment of Highway 1. It’s a wide paved trail (2.6 miles out-and-back) that allows dogs, bikes, and equestrians. There are quite a few overlooks along the way as well as signage describing the history, geography, and wildlife.
Parking can be tough as there is a relatively small lot at either end of the trail. The southern lot is slightly larger and starting here means you’ll start uphill and finish downhill (usually our preference!). Having said that, we typically start from the northern lot and the uphill really isn’t that bad on the way back.
San Bruno Mountain
If you’re looking for spectacular views of the entire Bay Area then check out Saddle Loop Trail on San Bruno Mountain! On a clear day it’s possible to see south past the airport, Mt. Diablo in the East Bay, the Bay Bridge, downtown SF, Marin Headlands all the way to the Pacific Ocean! And if you’re a plane geek like me, then you’ll enjoy the large planes taking off from SFO and flying directly overhead.
We like to hike Saddle Trail to Old Guadalupe Trail which is 2.7 miles and finishes under a canopy of trees. The trails are wide and well-marked. There are options to make the hike a little shorter or much longer. We want to try the more challenging Summit Loop at some point too.
There is no shade on the trail until you reach the Old Guadalupe Trail and then you hike under a gorgeous canopy of trees!
Sawyer Camp Trail
Sawyer Camp Trail is one of three segments that make up the Crystal Springs Regional Trail: Crystal Springs, Sawyer Camp, and San Andreas. The Crystal Springs segment runs along Canada Road from Woodside north to where it connects to the Sawyer Camp segment at the intersection of Crystal Springs Road and Skyline (Hwy 35). This is where I pick up the paved trail and is the 0.0 mile marker. The Sawyer Camp segment runs 6 miles along a paved trail to Hillcrest Road in Hillsborough where it connects with the last segment, San Andreas, from Hillcrest Road to Skyline in San Bruno.
Sawyer Camp is my go-to place to run, but you’ll also find many walkers, bikers, kids on scooters, and an occasional equestrian. This segment is definitely the most crowded of the three. It’s 12-miles out & back paved with half-mile markers and restrooms which runs alongside the Fault Lakes near 280. There is only one water fountain near the 6-mile turnaround. I never count on that working so I always bring my own water!
The weekends get crowded so I usually aim to start my run by 9am. On any given weekend morning you’ll see many runners of all different levels including some of the local high school teams. If I go early enough I’ll often see more deer than humans! I’ve logged more miles on this trail than any other in the Bay Area. This is definitely my happy place!
Belmont – Dog Friendly
Our favorite hike at Waterdog Lake is the Lake Road Trail to Berry Trail down to Waterdog Lake and then around the lake on the Waterdog Loop Trail back to Lake Road Trail. Total mileage is between 2-3 miles and it’s a fairly easy walk, but we like it for the lake and usually spend at least 30 minutes there with our dog. There are many other trails that traverse throughout the open space. We’ve recently started hiking the harder trails in Hidden Canyon accessed on Hastings Drive in Belmont.
There’s a narrow beach area at the lake to run around on. There are usually a handful of other dogs at the lake. Our dog is still warming up to the idea of water despite my daughter’s best efforts to get her in.
After a hike at Waterdog Lake, we like to stop at Waterdog Tavern, naturally! Don’t let the fact that it’s located in a strip mall deter you, because it doesn’t feel that way once you go in! The indoor restaurant is light and open with a ton of windows looking down below to their outdoor eating area which is first come first served and used to be a nursery! There are a ton of trees, a stream, and lots of picnic tables, plus dogs are welcome at the outside tables! The drink menu is 4x as large as the food menu! I typically get the Moscow Mule and the salad sampler – they also have fried chicken, a burger and lots of sandwiches. My kids think their Mac n Cheese is the best!
San Carlos – Dog Friendly
Pulgas Ridge is located in San Carlos and is dog friendly. Our favorite loop (just under 3 miles) starts on the Cordilleras Trail to Polly Geraci and then back down on the Dick Bishop Trail. There is also a large off-leash dog area (note: that it is not fenced in). The trails are well-marked and there are beautiful wildflowers in the spring.
My favorite part of the trail is walking through the oaks on the Dick Bishop trail. I always find it particularly peaceful!
We have been on every single trail in Edgewood Park countless times! We usually always do a loop starting on Sylvan Trail to either Live Oak or Ridgeview and then return back on Franciscan or Edgewood Trail – depending on which way you go it’s about 2-3 miles. This is the one open space where we’ve actually seen a Mountain Lion (from a distance!).
The first mile is uphill through oak trees with some views of the bay and surrounding hills. Then it opens up to rolling hills and open space. Over the top of the hill below you can see all the cars flying down the 280 freeway.
This is a very popular park and we hike it year-round. In the summer it’s dry and brown, and in the winter it’s green with some running streams and small waterfalls. We’ve hiked here with the kids since our oldest was in a Baby Bjorn!
After hiking at Pulgas Ridge or Edgewood, head to the nearby Emerald Hills neighborhood in Redwood City for recovery food! We think Sancho’s Taqueria has the best burritos in the area (this is after years of research eating burritos around the peninsula) and there’s also The Canyon Inn across the street which is not fancy and that’s what the locals like about it. They’ve got burgers, sandwiches, melts, the best fries, Mexican food, and lots of beer! There is plenty of seating, sports memorabilia on the walls, TVs, and arcade games for kids.
Palo Alto – Dog Friendly
One of the first dog friendly trails we found was in Coal Creek Preserve off Skyline Boulevard just north of Page Mill Road. We like Cloud’s Rest Trail to Meadow Trail (approx 2.2 miles), but it also connects to another loop with Crazy Pete’s Road & Coal Road. All of these trails are dog friendly, but the rest of the Preserve is not.
The views from the top of Cloud’s Rest Trail are incredible! On a clear day (like below) you can see all the way from San Francisco to San Jose and everything in between!
The trail descends down the hill into a shady oak grove. There were creeks to jump over (in winter) and many fallen trees to admire.
Woodside – Dog Friendly
Schilling Lake Trail is in Thornewood Preserve and actually isn’t one of my favorite hikes. The reason I’m including it is because it’s dog friendly and sometimes those can be hard to find. The trail is relatively short (1.5 miles round trip). The trail winds down the hill to a moss/algae covered lake that’s not swimmable for humans or dogs. There are lots of logs and tree trunks to climb on which our kids have enjoyed in the past.
We actually tried to go here recently so I could get a picture, but the tiny parking lot was filled so we left and went to Coal Creek instead. It’s easy to miss the entrance off Woodside Road as you wind up towards Skyline. It looks like a driveway, but there is a brick wall on either side with Thornewood Preserve written on it. The parking lot itself holds no more than 10 cars and there is no space for street parking – even on Woodside Road.
I wouldn’t go out of my way to hike here, but if you live locally and want a new dog friendly trail then I would definitely give this one a try!
One of my favorite restaurants on the peninsula is Alice’s in Woodside. This is a very popular spot for good reason. First, it’s one of the only restaurants on Skyline, it has lots of outdoor deck seating in the middle of the redwoods, and a large grass area for kids to run around – plus the food is great! We usually try to avoid eating here between 10am-2pm on a weekend because of the crowds. Alice’s is a dog-friendly restaurant.
Another great option is the Alpine Inn in Portola Valley. It was founded in 1852 as Casa de Tableta and is the second oldest continually running tavern in California. It was bought in 2018 and revitalized. The huge outdoor patio has a lot of shaded tables, service is quick and the burgers, sandwiches, and pizzas are delicious!
The Stanford Dish Loop, better known as “The Dish” or as our kids called it “The Dish and the Spoon”, is a popular trail located in Palo Alto above Stanford University. The 3.6 mile paved trail winds along the rolling hills with views of Stanford, Hoover Tower, the bay, many oak trees and the Satellite Dish for which the trail is named. It’s great for runners, walkers and strollers, but no scooters or bikes. We tended to do this trail more often when the kids were young because it was an easy place to take our double jogger. There are a couple short steep climbs, but our kids would just hop in the stroller when it got tough and we’d get quite the workout pushing them! There is minimal shade on this trail so we prefer it in the cooler months.
One of our favorite places to eat after hiking the Dish is the Peninsula Creamery in downtown Palo Alto. They serve breakfast and lunch (we always get the burgers!), but mostly we go there for the milkshakes!!
Rancho San Antonio
My friend, who grew up in Los Altos, introduced me to Rancho San Antonio when we were in college. Her dad used to run through these trails almost every day! We don’t come here as often as we used to, but I love this preserve! We typically hike a loop (Coyote Trail -> Wildcat Loop Trail -> High Meadow -> Lower Meadow Trail) which is about 4.5 miles. One of the highlights for us, when the kids were young, was stopping at Deer Hollow Farm to look at all the animals. If you want to head straight for the farm, follow the trails above in reverse and it’s a nice flat walk to get there. Lower Meadow trail is wide and flat and great for bikes too.
Must-Have Hiking Gear
We aim to hike as light as possible, but there is some essential gear that we always take with us.
- These collapsible water bowls for our dog are perfect. They are lightweight, take up almost no space in our bag, and are extremely affordable and durable.
- We always hike with Camelbaks like this one which holds 85oz of water, lots of snacks, extra layers, dog bowls, plus secure pockets for our keys & money. They come in all sizes for casual day-hikers with minimal gear like us to more robust sizes to handle more gear.
- I recently started hiking with these Merrell waterproof hiking shoes. I bought them as a lightweight durable option for our trip to Kenya and have continued to wear them hiking ever since.
- Mike enjoys trail running and wears his trail runners when he hikes – he currently wears Hoka similar to these.
I hope you enjoy these hikes as much as we do! I plan to add another post with some of our favorite hikes in Marin – many of which I’ve been doing since I was a kid. If you do any of these hikes let me know what you think! And please comment below with any of your favorite Peninsula or Bay Area hikes plus any post-hike restaurants that you think should be on this list!