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June 19, 2018

Five scenic hikes in San Francisco

Suzanne Sng gets some exercise while enjoying the fantastic views in California’s Bay Area

Suzanne Sng

THE words “hike” and “holiday” do not usually appear in the same sentence, at least not for me. Not only do I lack the gear, I also lack the fitness level and, to be honest, I’m plain lazy.

When on vacation, I prefer to take it easy. What I do enjoy, however, are gorgeous panoramic views, wide open skies, crisp fresh air, mild exertion and rewarding myself with a huge meal after the fact.

While in the western part of the United States, I discovered these hikes ranging between 1.6km and 11km within driving distance of San Francisco, all doable with regular running shoes.

Stanford Dish

Named for the towering radio telescope in the Stanford foothills — with the renowned university nearby worth a visit — the Stanford Dish trail is a popular 6km loop.

From San Francisco, it is a 40-minute drive to the starting point.

You might huff and puff up some steep slopes, but you will be duly rewarded with views of the university town below.

On a clear day, you can even see San Jose, San Francisco and the East Bay.

Although there are posted wildlife advisories about mountain lions, coyotes and wild turkeys, the most dangerous animals I encountered were naughty squirrels and a harmless grass snake.

I took 90 minutes to complete the loop, including mandatory stops for Instagram breaks.

Point Lobos

The drive to Point Lobos from San Francisco may take two hours, but the stunning scenery en route makes the time fly by.

The renowned Highway 1 hugs the rugged coastline to Monterey, where the sprawling Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is located.

A number of easy walks are all shorter than 1.6km each and will reward you with magnificent ocean views and perhaps a sea-otter sighting.

The Cypress Grove Trail, Bird Island Trail and Sea Lion Point Trail (wheelchair-accessible) are highly recommended and each will not take more than 30 minutes.

For a longer ramble, try the Granite Point Trail (2.1km, one hour), which involves some stairs that lead to a viewing point where you may spot whales and dolphins.

No matter which path you choose, you are highly unlikely to break a sweat. In fact, bring along a jacket as the ocean breeze can get chilly.

Lands End

The most accessible hiking trail from San Francisco is Lands End, about 20 minutes by car from Union Square.

It is a pleasant walk on well-paved trails along the coast and boasts some of the best views in the Bay Area.

Get a map from the visitor centre, which overlooks the Sutro Baths, the world’s largest indoor swimming complex when it opened in 1896. It now lies in ruins, but visitors can explore it.

Take in the fresh sea air and sandy beaches, as well as views of the sheer cliffs and rocky coastline.

On a clear day, sailboats and daredevil surfers dot the water. Across the bay, you see the Marin Headlands and a sight that never fails to take my breath away — the Golden Gate Bridge.

You can choose to hike all the way to it (13km) or turn back at Eagles Point after getting your fill of the views.

Mission Peak

Slightly more challenging but still manageable is Mission Peak in Fremont, about an hour’s drive from San Francisco.

There are two main routes up the peak. I picked the easier one starting from Ohlone College, even though it is slightly longer (about 11.2km), as it offers more shade and gentler inclines.

The hike starts innocuously, with curious cattle grazing and gazing as you amble past. Mind the cow pats underfoot, even as you admire the wildflowers and vast open skies.

The going starts to get tough when you round a bend and see the summit, yet every step does not seem to bring it any closer.

The final stretch involves a scramble up a rock face to get to the top. There, a greasy totem pole awaits.

This pole was put up by a sculptor in 1990 and contains a traditional Native American crystal charmstone, a bottle of Zinfandel and five time capsules.

There was a queue to take photos with the iconic 1.8m-tall pole. I joined the line, of course. Taking a photo with it was an “I was here” moment — I felt like I deserved to brag about my two-hour uphill hike.

Big Basin

To see the famed giant California redwood, also known as sequoia, head to Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz, a 90-minute drive from San Francisco.

As California’s oldest state park, it has 130km of trails through virgin forests and trees that stretch so high into the sky it was impossible to photograph them in one frame on my phone. Standing in the dappled sunlight underneath the towering 5,000-year-old trees, my jaw dropped and I was awed into silence.

Hikes here range from easy to strenuous. I picked the two-hour 6.5km Sequoia Trail, which not only takes in the redwoods, but also the exquisite Sempervirens Falls.

GUIDELINES

There are two direct flights from Singapore to San Francisco, on Singapore Airlines and United Airlines. Using San Francisco as your base, you can easily access these hiking trails by car. Driving times vary from 20 minutes to two hours.

■ Apply sunscreen generously, as the California sun can be relentless. Wear a hat and suitable shoes. Pack water and snacks. 

■ Do not feed the wildlife or approach them. Do not stray off the paved trail and avoid hiking alone at dawn or dusk.

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