Santa Cruz Wharf (credit: Randy Yagi)
Winter in the Bay Area is quite a bit different from many other destinations in America. But despite the lack of snow and traditional winter sports, the Bay Area does have its own unique winter wonderland with a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy, some of which aren’t even on land. Here are five of the best winter outdoor adventures in the San Francisco Bay Area.
San Francisco Whale Tours
San Francisco, CA 94133
With photographs of enormous whales emerging out of the waters, sometimes right next to an astonished kayaker, whale tours have been increasingly popular in the Bay Area. San Francisco Whale Tours provides a five-hour and six-hour whale watching tour in addition to a more affordable California Coast Eco-Tour, with all departures from PIER 39. While whale watching tours can be taken from San Francisco, other Bay Area locations also provide exciting excursions most notably in Santa Cruz, where prices are significantly more affordable yet more or equally as entertaining. The season to view blue whales, humpbacks and killer whales runs approximately through November while the season to marvel at gray whales and dolphins begins in December.
3115 Porter Creek Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
An African safari can be the adventure of a lifetime, but for many people, it isn’t practical to spend thousands of dollars to visit an African destination. However, for Bay Area residents and visitors, there might be the next best thing less than a two-hour drive from San Francisco. Located in the California Wine Country about 12 miles northeast of Santa Rosa, Safari West is a 400-acre, private wildlife preserve featuring about 800 animals from 80 species. Among the animals residing on one of just a handful of accredited private zoos in the country are cheetahs, zebras, impalas, giraffes, monkeys and rhinoceros. Safari West hosts tours year round and also offers remarkably unique overnight accommodations, except in January and February.
Muir Woods (credit: Randy Yagi)
Muir Woods National Monument
1 Muir Woods Road
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Established as a national monument in 1908, Muir Woods is an excellent spot to visit, particularly in winter. The protected area is home to one of the last remaining stands of old-growth redwoods in the Bay Area and draws nearly one million people, with the vast majority of visitors coming during peak summer months. Muir Woods does have a limited amount of parking and visitors are advised to arrive early or later in the day. Another option is to take a tour bus, likely originating from downtown San Francisco or Fisherman’s Wharf, although some may not operate in winter. The park is open year round and typically opens at 8 a.m. and closes at sunset. Admission is $7 for people 16 and older and there is no parking fee.
Dipsea Trail Map (credit: Randy Yagi)
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Mill Valley, CA 94941
One very popular year-round excursion is a hike or run on all or a portion of the legendary Dipsea Trail. The trail is the location for the oldest cross-country trail race and second oldest footrace in the country – the Dipsea Race – and extends seven redwood-forested miles from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. One way for hikers and runners to complete the entire trail is to have one car parked near the trailhead in Mill Valley and other car at Stinson Beach. Others can rely on the Marin Transit’s route 61, with service to the Pantoll Ranger Station at Mount Tamalpais State Park and Stinson Beach. More information on the Dipsea Trail can be found by visiting the Dipsea Book or EveryTrail.
Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve
6800 Skyline Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94611
Most Bay Area residents have experienced at least one earthquake, but not every local knows there’s an extinct volcano residing in the East Bay. A visit to Sibley Volcanic Preserve in the Berkeley Hills about eight miles east of Oakland can make an interesting and educational winter adventure. Originally known as Round Top Regional Park in reference to the 1,763-foot volcano, the volcanic preserve is one of the three original parks established by the East Bay Regional Parks District. There is no admission or parking free and a self-guided tour of the Round Top volcanoes and detailed maps can be found online via the East Bay Parks website.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.