What impressed me most about San Francisco was the abundance of natural beauty in a city of about a million people (over 7 million in the greater San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland area).
I was in San Francisco for a conference, and was fortunate to meet with friends a day before the conference began. Together we enjoyed a marvelous trip to beautiful natural areas in Marin County just across the Golden Gate Bridge from the city.
Golden Gate Bridge
The drive across the iconic bridge offered stunning views of the Bay (including Alcatraz), the city, and the surrounding hills. Amazingly, right by the highway, along the salt marches of Richardson Bay, were small flocks of avocets and other shorebirds.
Our first stop was Muir Woods National Monument, one of the world’s last stands of old-growth redwood forest. There we hiked through Cathedral Grove and along the Bootjack trail and Redwood creek. The trees in the valley were enormous! Their size rivals the Sitka Spruce and Douglas Fir I have seen in Vancouver and on the Olympic Peninsula. The woods were lovely and as we hiked we saw ravens, ruby-crowned kinglets, winter wrens, dark-eyed juncos and, impressively, a varied thrush (of course we saw that in the parking lot on the way out).
Next stop was the top of Hawk Hill in the Golden Gate National Recreation area. There we were rewarded with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city gleaming white behind it. All around us as we walked were very tame white crowned sparrows, juncos, ruby crowned kinglets and harriers soaring overhead. From Hawk Hill we drove around Bonita Cove towards the Point Bonita lighthouse. To my delight, along the short path to the lighthouse we saw harbor seals, gray pelicans, black oystercatchers, many gulls, double-crested cormorants and even loons. The waves of the Pacific crashed against the rocks as the sun began sinking into the horizon. It was awe-inspiring.
View over the Pacific near Bonita Cove
In the evening, we headed back across the Golden Gate Bridge and to the west end of the city where we parked near Ocean Beach to view the ruins of the Sutro baths. Though the building housing the baths burned down in 1966, the foundations and a small lagoon remain. Within the lagoon we saw a river otter! Wildlife just appears at every turn in this city!
Throughout the rest of my stay, sight-seeing was squeezed into a busy conference schedule. I walked much of the city and have posted some photos below.
Sunset in the Golden Gate Park
Grove of trees in the Golden Gate Park, like something straight out of Tolkien’s Shire.