Adjusting to the Golden State // 3 Preserve Hikes in Sunny California

Long Ridge Preserve

Long Ridge Preserve

It's been three weeks since we moved to the Bay Area, and we are on our way to settling in. The other day, while taking a walk with Onur, we glanced at each other, feeling confused. The sun was shining bright, and at the same time, it felt like we were in an air-conditioned building.

It was a strange feeling, almost like sitting at a desk with a sunlamp on one side and a fan blowing in your face on the other. In Washington State, cold rain and scattered sunbreaks are the norm in February, and I don't remember it being as windy as we've been experiencing here, in the South Bay.

Our body clocks are confused. Calendars tell us that it's February while our bodies feel like they're upside down—like we're in the wrong season. The sunshine feels so good and warm, but at the same time, it's strange and hard to adjust to. Last week I bought a big, wide-brimmed sun hat—the kind with a flap that covers your neck—and found myself wearing it running errands just to protect my eyes from this new, foreign light intensity. (Of course, I got one for Onur, too.)

A bright day, and unexpected hiking companion, at Mission Peak

A bright day, and unexpected hiking companion, at Mission Peak

We still can't believe that it's sunny most days (well, except for that nutso hail storm when we first arrived—Ha!). It feels like a privilege to be here, and we're making the most of it with drives to the ocean and visits to nearby parks and preserves. Since we've moved here, a collection of open space preserves in particular has been a godsend. Stretching along the San Francisco Peninsula lies a greenbelt of 26 open space preserves managed by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

What's great about the preserves is that they're a short drive from the South Bay—most less than 45 minutes—and each have their own personalities. All 26 preserves are managed by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, covering over 60,000 acres of land and 220 miles of trails. They have rangers patrolling the trails, docent-led nature hikes, over 600 volunteers, and even full-color topographic maps at trailheads. Wow! One of my favorite resources is their New Visitors page and How to Prepare for a Hike video:

It's been easy for us to fit in a few miles at a preserve in between our moving and transition tasks, and we love how beautiful and grassy and wide open the hiking is. Some preserves give you a good workout to a summit (Monte Bello Preserve) while others have beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco, and the San Francisco Bay (Russian Ridge Preserve).

As newcomers to California, the fact that the preserves are fee-free has been a blessing too. We can pick a preserve and just go without having to think about what pass we need and how to buy one. (Of course, the preserves aren't technically free; they're mainly funded by a small portion of property tax revenues gathered within the District's boundaries.)

Free maps available at trailheads 

Free maps available at trailheads 

So, in the spirit of discovering these preserves, here are three we've visited and enjoyed. Many thanks to my publisher, Avalon Travel, for generously sending me a copy of 101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area, where I discovered these hikes.

Long Ridge Preserve

1. Peters Creek and Long Ridge Loop, Long Ridge Preserve, 4.6 miles roundrip

At Long Ridge Preserve, Onur and I loved the shady trail along Peters Creek, and how it climbed up to the lovely Wallace Stegner bench at the top of the preserve. This was our first hike in California, and it was so peaceful walking among beautiful grassy hillsides and seeing a sliver of Pacific Ocean from the ridge. Another bonus is the adorable city of Saratoga, located nearby, which made a nice post-hike stop for coffee, breakfast, and window-shopping.

2. Russian Ridge Loop, Russian Ridge Preserve, 4.4 miles roundtrip

The Russian Ridge Loop has gorgeous ridgeline hiking, with beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay, Mount Diablo, and Pacific Ocean from Borel Hill, elevation 2,572 feet. I can't wait to return in April and May for its famous wildflower display.

3. Purisima Grand Loop, Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve, 10 miles roundtrip

After hiking on the sunshiney ridgelines, I was looking for some shady relief, and chose Purisima Creek mainly to see redwoods. What was great about this hike was not only hiking among gigantic redwoods, but enjoying peek-a-boo views of the ocean, traveling through the canyons within the preserve, and spotting little signs of spring along the way.

When I asked Onur what he thought so far about California hiking, his sentiments echoed my own: It's greener than we expected, warmer than we expected, and less crowded on the trails than we expected, especially early in the morning. We loved discovering the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains via the preserves, and are excited to visit more summits, national parks, and, of course, beaches.

Happy weekend :) 

Sunrise at Montara Beach, Valentine's Day 2018