Easy Coastal Hiking Trails in Northern California

These relatively flat, easy trails lead to the wild Pacific and reward with unbeatable views.

Bluffs at sunrise in Point Reyes National Seashore, image
Perch on a bluff overlooking the Pacific while taking a break from hiking in the Point Reyes National Seashore area.
Jerry S / Shutterstock

Sometimes all you want is an easy stroll to refresh your spirits. These four gorgeous coastal trails offer a quiet escape. So put on a pair of walking shoes, ditch the car, and check out these paths that lead to panoramas that will take your breath away.

Bear Valley Trail, Point Reyes National Seashore

8.2 miles round-trip

Begin this popular trek at the Bear Valley Trailhead, just beyond the Bear Valley Visitor Center at the south end of the parking lot. Meander your way through a Douglas fir forest, keeping an eye out for deer as you follow ambling creeks. The verdant, shaded path eventually opens out to coastal chaparral and grassland, with the final stretch leading to a protruding headland and precipitous bluffs. Before heading back, stay a while at this spectacular vantage point, which reveals a pristine shoreline and bluffs stretching in both directions, and listen to the sound of crashing waves.

Tennessee Valley Trail, Mill Valley

3.4 miles round-trip

Pack a picnic and pick up the trail to Tennessee Beach at the trailhead parking lot, located at the end of Tennessee Valley Road. Tucked in the lush Marin Headlands, the family-friendly path winds between rolling hills. The countryside provides dramatic coastal vistas and ample opportunities to spot deer, coyotes, and bobcats. At the end of the trail, you can relax on a beach. If the tide is low enough, you may even catch a glimpse of the anchor and engine of the SS Tennessee, a steamship that hit a reef near the Golden Gate Bridge in 1853.

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

7 miles round-trip

Located on the westernmost border of San Francisco, adjacent to Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach has long been a refuge for residents needing a break from the city. This long wide ribbon of sand runs from Fort Funston to historic Cliff House, taking you along the tops of the dunes and offering sweeping sunset views. During your seaside stroll, be on the lookout for the hull of the shipwrecked King Philip and for groups of snowy plovers, a threatened bird species that lives by the shore for most of the year. To reach Ocean Beach, drive west on Geary Boulevard until it curves left and downhill onto Great Highway. You can find parking in one of three areas: on the south end at Sloat Boulevard, across from Golden Gate Park, or near the Cliff House.

Old Cove Landing Trail at Wilder Ranch, Santa Cruz

2.5 miles round-trip

To partake in this easy hike, drive on Highway 1 until you reach the signed turnoff for Wilder Ranch State Park (north of Santa Cruz), and then follow the road to its end. The park has over 34 miles of trails spread across 7,000 coastal acres. The Old Cove Landing Trail is one of the most popular—and for good reason. The path skirts the bluffs between the ocean and the park’s brussels sprouts fields, boasting breathtaking panoramas of Wilder Beach, and ultimately leading to a small cove, where schooners pulled in to anchor and load lumber in the late 1800s. Near the cove is a large flat rock where harbor seals bask at low tide, and if you continue your descent, you’ll discover a sea cave filled with ferns.


This blog post was first published in September 2014 and updated in February 2019.