You don’t have to go all the way to Muir Woods, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, or Big Basin to stand in awe under redwoods. While the big three are your best bet to see old-growth forests, there are plenty of lower key, second-growth groves to explore throughout the Bay Area. Even better, most of these spots are free, have easy parking, and are gloriously uncrowded.
Old Mill Park, Mill Valley
Located just a few blocks from town center, Old Mill Park is sheltered by coast redwoods to create an ideal spot for a picnic. The particularly popular Redwood Grove picnic area is set amid a fairy ring of trees that grew around the now decomposed base of a tree that had a circumference of 20 feet. The park has approximately 50 fairy rings among its more than 400 redwoods, most of which hover around 200 feet tall. A sun-speckled playground and several swing sets draw children, and a reconstruction of the original namesake sawmill, which in the 1840s and ’50s provided lumber for the Presidio in San Francisco, is set picturesquely beside a shallow stream.
Transamerica Redwood Park, San Francisco
A redwood grove in the middle of San Francisco’s skyscrapers? Yes, indeed! Situated on the east side of the Transamerica Pyramid, this urban park is privately owned and locked up each night. The 56 trees that make up the half-acre grove sprang from nursery-grown sprouts planted in 1957. They are slowly stretching up, and the tallest now reaches about 100 feet. Benches invite respite, and sculptures of children at play add whimsy.
Redwood Regional Park, Oakland
Redwood Regional Park is what’s left of the dense old-growth redwood forest that was long ago harvested to build homes in San Francisco after the Gold Rush. The 100-year-old trees have since sprung up stretch to 150 feet and make up the largest group of redwoods in the East Bay. The park is also home to the only fish ladder in the Bay Area where rainbow trout spawn. The popular, mostly paved Stream Trail follows Redwood Creek and offers views of redwood groves and meadows.