Destination: Mt. Tamalpais
Overall rating: ****
Rating for kids: ***
Rating for seniors: ***
What's the attraction: Framed by the Pacific Ocean and covered by thick clusters of Redwoods and Oak Woodlands, Mt. Tamalpais is among the most scenic destinations in the Bay Area. It's just north of San Francisco in Marin County, about 100 miles west of Lodi. On a clear day atop Mt. Tam, as it's often called, visitors can see the Farallon Islands 25 miles out to sea. The tips of San Francisco's skyscrapers are visible on all but the foggiest days, along with views of the mountain's gently sloping hills, the ocean, the bay, Mt. Diablo and several East Bay cities.
What to do: Whether you're looking for a challenging trek to the mountain's 2,571-foot peak, or just want to drive near the top to soak in the wild environs and inspiring views, Mt. Tam has a lot to offer. Among the most popular hikes is along the Dipsea Trail which winds up the mountain, through dense and cool redwood forests, down several steep ravines and eventually down to Stinson Beach. You can park off Panoramic Highway (follow signs for Muir Woods) and hike through the hills down to the beach, or start at Stinson Beach and hike up.
Either way, it's a moderately challenging 7-mile round trip hike that takes about four hours. Alternatively, you can drive to within about a third of a mile from the top in just minutes; just follow signs for the summit. More than just its views, the mountain and encompassing state park provide picnicking, nature study, historic landmarks, biking, camping, horseback riding, overnight cabins, historic inns plus kayaking, surfing and swimming at nearby Stinson Beach. For more details on what to do and how, visit http://www.mttam.net">http://www.mttam.net.
Cost: Parking and hiking are free. Check individual activities for specific costs.
How to get there: Mt. Tam is north of San Francisco's Golden Gate. From Highway 101 take Highway 1 to the Stinson Beach exit and follow signs up the mountain. The mountain, located in Mt. Tamalpais State Park, is open daily from 7 a.m. to sunset year round.
Spring and summer can be warm, though thick layers of fog can rest atop and below the mountain late in the day year round. Wearing layered clothing is recommended. For more information, contact the park at (415) 388-2070 or visit http://www.parks.ca.gov">http://www.parks.ca.gov.