Bay Area Bucket List for 2016

Happy New Year! What big plans do you have for 2016? Here at Bay Area Families Outside, we don’t go in for resolutions so much as trying to figure out some fun adventures. To bring this sense of adventure to you, we offer you our Bay Area Bucket List for 2016. (Not going to lie– we borrowed the concept from Outside Magazine— but our list requires no international travel and is much less expensive. We promise.) We also encourage you to create your own bucket list, but if you are looking for some inspiration, we offer 12 Bay Area bucket adventures– one for each month of the year.

IMG_3975January: Snowshoeing

OK, we’re starting off with an outside-of-the-Bay-Area idea, but as you may recall from our post on day-trips to the snow, it’s possible to get out there without an overnight. Snowshoeing is one of the easiest ways to get out and have a winter wilderness adventure. Rent snowshoes before you leave to maximize your ability to have a full day in the snow. Stop and listen to the silence. Look for some animal prints in the snow. Bring extra changes of clothes. (Cost= snowshoe rental/borrowing ($25/person?), gas money.)

cropped-img_4878.jpgFebruary: Whale Watching

February and March are the best time to see grey whales along the coast of Northern California. While you could absolutely book yourself and your family on a whale watching cruise, they run upwards of $100/person. You might not get as close to the whales, but you can definitely see them from the coast. Big Sur, Pigeon Point and Point Reyes are all good places to see whales. (Last May, we were just sitting on Limantour Beach when a whale very clearly went by– it surfaced, blew out some air and gave everyone a lovely view of its fins, multiple times.) (Cost= free from the beach.)

IMG_0531March: Climb a Peak

So you don’t need to Go Big or Go Home. You can find a small peak. Or even a big hill, if your hikers are small enough. But find something that you can climb up to the top of and do some surveying of the landscape. There is nothing that quite beats the feeling of climbing up to the top of things. It gives us tangible proof of our strength: we started there and climbed to HERE. Clearly the most well-known in the Bay Area are Mount Tamalpais and Mount Diablo. You don’t need to climb from the bottom to feel like a rockstar, though. For Mt Tam, you can start at the Mountain Home Inn, take Hogback to Hoo-Koo-E-Koo, jump on Old Railroad Grade for a second, then take Vic Haun to Temelpa. It’s about 3 miles to the top– a tough three miles, but doable with some strong hikers. For Mount Diablo, start at Juniper Campground and then take Juniper trail up to the summit (about two miles to the top). Also very popular is Mission Peak in Fremont–probably 3-4 miles of tough hiking to the summit as well.

If you’re looking for some smaller peaks though, your best bet is to find a map of your local park that includes elevation and then just pick the highest spot. Here’s a great Wikipedia list of all the summits of the Bay Area. As you can see, you have some options. (Cost=free.)

IMG_3044April: Walk Amongst the Wildflowers

Bay Nature put together this list of wildflower walks in the Bay Area, but do not feel constrained– I have come across carpets of wildflowers in Sunol, in Marin, in Tilden, at Briones Reservoir, on Mt. Diablo, and in Garin. April is a beautiful month for flowers all around the Bay. Take a picnic and find yourself a sunny spot to channel Ferdinand the Bull and sit and smell the flowers. (Cost=free)

May: Quick Camping Trip

While there is much to be said about the camping trip that requires multiple car loads, and allows for leisurely days, a quick overnight camping trip can feel like you’ve really unplugged, even when you may only be gone for less than 24 hours. Some of the most popular campsites in the Bay Area are on Mt Tamalpais (Bootjack, Pantoll, Steep Ravine), but there are several lesser-known gems that don’t fill up as fast and thus offer more ability to take a last-minute trip. Mount Diablo’s Juniper Campground offers spectacular sunsets, and may still have wildflowers carpeting the hill that meets Deer Flat Fire Road. Try one of the Santa Clara County Parks (Joseph Grant, Mt. Madonna and Uvas Canyon, for example). Fremont Peak State Park is a bit longer of a drive, but still under two hours. Look for a post in the next month on becoming a brilliant last-minute one-night camping expert. (Cost=varies, but usually $30 or less/night.)

June: Hike or Ride (some of) a Through Trail!

A through-trail refers to a continuous trail that goes “through” (ha!) multiple areas. (The Pacific Crest Trail or the John Muir Trail, for two famous examples in California.) The Bay Area has two big through trails– the Bay Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail (although the California Coastal Trail is also near us!). The Bay Trail currently has 343 miles open to the public, with 500 eventually planned so that there will be a continuous trail around the Bay. The Bay Trail is open to bikes and pedestrians, so if you have kiddos who enjoy bikes, it’s a great option– very flat as well. The Ridge Trail has 360 miles of trails completed, with over 550+ planned. While you certainly don’t need to complete the entire trail, it’s pretty gratifying to get out a map and start highlighting completed sections of the trail. (The Bay Area Ridge Trail has a downloadable Excel spreadsheet that you can use to keep track of your completed miles, if you are the kind of person who appreciates a good Excel spreadsheet.) Even if you only get 2-3 outings in a year, it can both give an idea of how big the Bay Area is, and underscore that even in the big Bay Area, it’s possible to cover a fair amount of ground on your own power. (Cost=free)

IMG_5267July: Find the Water

So this is the one suggestion that might be a little costly–or compared to the other suggestions, that is. For July, get out on the water. For older kids, doing a night kayak (try Blue Waters, on Tomales Bay) & seeing the bioluminescence is AMAZING. (Seriously, one of the best trips we did last year was a bioluminescence night kayak. This should be on everyone’s bucket list.) Here’s a longer list of various kayak rental options and locations in the Bay Area.

However, Del Valle Reservoir, Lake Chabot and other inland lakes have even more options for water fun. You can rent paddle boats, or motorized boats, or even stand up paddle boards at Del Valle. Stevens Creek Reservoir is on our list for 2016– just remember to pack lots of sunscreen & bring water with you! (Cost=varies–from $20-50/hr, depending on how many people you have, time, etc.)

IMG_9845August: Backpacking

It’s true that it can get a little hot in the hills around the Bay Area during summer, but it’s the perfect time to sleep outside, and it’s also the best time to go backpacking in the Sierras. The Bay Area has several backpacking options. Some of the best-known (and probably most comfortable for August) are the sites at Point Reyes. These are great beginner backpacking options– Sky Camp is 1.4 miles from the trailhead, and the longest hike in (to Wildcat Camp) is 5.5 miles. Portola Redwoods State Park has a beautiful site (Slate Creek Trail Camp) just under 3 miles in. (Plan ahead though– this site can fill up fast!) Other good summer backpacking options are Butano State Park, Pescadero Creek County Park or Big Basin Redwoods State Park. (Cost=varies but usually $30 or under.)

September: Tarantulas!

September and October are prime-time for tarantulas in the Bay Area. Head out to the East Bay and South Bay hills–Del Valle, Pleasanton Ridge, Mount Diablo, Sunol Regional Wilderness, Morgan Territory, Joseph D. Grant County Park, and Henry Coe are all good tarantula-finding areas. Tarantulas look big and scary but are gentle when left alone on the trail– they just want to get wherever they are headed to. Henry Coe has an annual Tarantula Fest on October 1st, 2016. It involves BBQ, guided nature hikes, nature activities for kids and geocaching opportunities. (Cost= free to hike.)

October: Take a Guided Hike

The Bay Area is filled with organizations dying to get you out on the trails, and a LOT of those organizations are trying to get you out on the trails for FREE. Let’s be clear– there are also organizations willing to take your money, and that can be great– especially when it involves s’mores and a campfire that you don’t have to prep. However, there are multitudes of organizations that lead hikes for the younger set. We went on a great hike with Marin County Parks’ Children in Nature program–they even gave a small magnifying glass to every child! One unfortunate thing about many of the guided hikes for kids is they tend to be scheduled for people who don’t work 9-5 jobs–that is, they’re during the day, mid-week. However, Solano Land Trust has family hikes once a month on Saturdays; East Bay Regional Parks has about a gagillion offerings, the vast majority of them free; LandPaths (Sonoma County) has a family day once a month that looks fantastic (try it and let us know how it is). Guided hikes greatly increase the likelihood of whining-free hiking (because who wants to whine in front of people they don’t know?), and that’s never a bad thing. (Cost=free)

IMG_9264November: Give back to your trails!

It’s true. We live in a place with so many, many trails that are available to us either free or at a parking cost (less than $10/car). We challenge you to find a day this year to give some time to an organization that helps keep the trails you love healthy and open for you to use. The Bay Area Ridge Trail, along with REI, hosts the REI Ridge Trail Service Day on the 1st Saturday in November. However, there are probably multiple opportunities to help out at trails right out your back door. Bay Area Hiker put together a fantastic list of organizations that you could look through to find a way to support your local trails. (Cost=free.)

December: Citizen Science!

We here at Bay Area Families Outside have recently become obsessed with Citizen Science projects. For December, participate in a Citizen Science project! These projects ask you, the citizen, to become involved with helping to document and/or track species or various natural phenomena (like the King Tides Project, for example). Citizen Science projects bring kids to actual science work– not just reading about bugs or birds in a textbook. California Academy of Sciences has ongoing projects that you can contribute to, or iNaturalist, a site that sometimes links to projects with Cal Academy but also has many other options for tracking or learning about various organisms. You can create your own life list of organisms seen, or ask for help identifying something, look up a project in your area or create your OWN project. If all that doesn’t whet your appetite for Citizen Science, the matriarch or patriarch of all Citizen Science projects occurs in December– the great Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Be warned, however– you must pre-register for the Christmas Bird Count, so if you decide to go with tradition, plan ahead. (Cost=free.)

There you have it, families. Twelve months of exciting Bay Area Outdoor Adventures for you and your family. We encourage you to go off-list, however, and make up your own adventures. The important thing is to get outside and experience our local wonders. It’s a big beautiful Bay Area out there!!

(A smug note: Eight of these twelve adventures are free. Two are $30 or less. Only 2 might cost your family more than $100. Adventuring is for us all, my friends!!)

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2 thoughts on “Bay Area Bucket List for 2016

  1. What a great idea!

    My wife and I recently discovered your blog and we really love it! We’re an outdoorsy family from Berkeley and always looking for new ideas and inspiration. There are so many wonderful things to do. In college I was a backpacking counselor in Colorado and that role remains as Dad now, taking the kids out for adventures (and making sure they are prepared). Over the 2014-2015 winter I took some time off work and spent many days hiking and photographing in Point Reyes – I loved seeing and getting to know a single area in depth.

    In fact, we’re trying to figure out what to do today as a final yahoo before the break ends.

    Thanks for creating this blog!


    • Thanks for the compliment. We love sharing our stories and ideas. Glad to hear you’ve carried your backpacking leadership training over into the paternal dimension. It’s one of the most rewarding things to see the kids get excited about being outside. Hope you decided upon something grand as the winter break finale. Happy Trails!


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