Best Natural Areas near San Francisco?

It’s a long day hike if you want you go from Mt. Tam all the way to the Visitor’s Center in Muir Woods and back. It’s about 4.5 miles one way from the Rock Springs Picnic Area (which has no parking fee) to the Muir Woods Visitor’s Center, and there is a significant elevation difference, so going back uphill on the way back can be pretty strenuous. You can shorten it a little if you start at the Bootjack parking lot, but there is a fee to park there (probably less than it costs to get in on the Muir Woods side, though). The plus side is coming in from that direction, there are very few people until the last mile or so before the Visitor’s Center. The area immediately around the Muir Woods Visitor’s Center can be quite crowded. It’s much nicer where there aren’t so many people. You can always decide to cut the hike a little shorter and turn around before you get all the way to the bottom, too.

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See above (originally posted in the topic, Nature Inspired Comics)

Are there any good places to find California quail out of the areas I’ve suggested? Are there any other specialty birds in the area? (aside from the condor, which I’ll probably have to pass on due to lack of time)

Also, I’ve just remembered that the vicinity of Monterey has some very unique relict plant habitats. Aside from the Lone Cypress, are there any other important plant habitats to see there, especially for endemic species?

This is a map showing quail obs around SF. You can change the map focus to other areas. Generally, they like foothills with lots of shrub cover, since they are mostly ground dwellers. Look up the distinctive Chi-ca-go cry they have as you may be more likely to hear them before seeing them .

Awesome, thanks!

Would it be possible to cover Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais, at least part of Golden Gate Recreation Area, and Ring Mountain in a single day? (Muir Woods goes first, then maybe Ring Mountain, then the other two). Primary focus would be rare/unique plants, maybe some birds too. I would like to know any other potential rare plant sites in the area as well.

Can you also find salamanders just hanging out under logs in CA as well, or are they a bit harder to find?

Also, any tips for finding oak titmouse, hermit warbler, and wrentit?

I think you’re grossly underestimating the amount of time you’re going to spend in Bay Area traffic… Take @tiwane’s advice and spend more time at fewer places.

Certainly you can find salamanders under logs. Taricha species you can often find in streams. You can also find them in wet moss and leaf litter, especially in the redwood forests. I also learned a while back that they’ll even make their home inside chanterelle mushrooms. San Mateo Co. is my go to area for salamanders. Butano State Park is especially nice for salamander spotting.

Thanks, I really was cramming too much in. I should have enough time to spread that out over some other days, though I’ll see.
Would Bay Area traffic be as major a factor if I left to any destination super early in the morning, and if so at what time would it be worth leaving?

The earlier the better usually. Parking for popular destinations like Golden Gate Recreation Area or the more popular trails at Point Reyes National Seashore can be full by 10:00 AM on weekends.

Thanks! So would leaving around 7:30 - 8 be good enough to avoid the crowds? Or would it already be too crowded by then?
In any case, East Coast jet lag might really help out…

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Another question, but are there really many plant species found on Mt. Tamalpais that I wouldn’t be able to find at Muir Woods, Point Reyes, Mt. Diablo, Golden Gate NRA, or Ring Mountain? If that’s the case, I’ll probably leave it out of the trip, although I was already planning as such.

Also, my current plan is Muir Woods and Ring Mountain on one day, then Mt. Diablo, Golden Gate NRA, and Point Reyes each get their own days. Is that a more reasonable timeline?

As someone just getting back from a trip to California I can say in confidence that you will not be able to see it all, so I would recommend picking a few and being happy with what you’re able to see. It may be helpful to plan your trip in terms of time you would like to spend at each place, rather than trying to see every unique/endemic species.

I would highly recommend Mount Diablo, you could easily spend a full day or half day there, but it is a little out of the way so I wouldn’t expect to be able to do much else either way.

By the way, at Ring Mountain the best area for Tiburon Mariposa Lily is the Phyllis Ellman Trail. They are quite dense there and should be about peak bloom when you are there. The rest of the trails are nice but the Ellman trail in particular is best for observing plants with serpentine affinity. That is definitely worth the visit alone and should couple with other places you were considering nearby nicely.

I am not a Californian, but to me your current timeline sounds pretty reasonable. I would hop around hotels if you can to cut down on driving back and forth, but really point Reyes is the only spot relatively out of the way.


Thanks! A new problem has arisen though: I have discussed with my parents, and as it turns out, we’re staying in San Jose, not San Francisco, thus necessitating much more driving time for reaching almost all the locations. However, we are about 30 mins closer to Pinnacles NP, and it has basically the same driving time as Mt. Diablo, which makes me wonder if I could swap out a Mt. Diablo day trip with a Pinnacles day trip instead, especially as Pinnacles has the condors. Would that be a wise decision?

No clue, sorry! for my trip I only hit the places mentioned. Others maybe be able to help, and sorry for throwing you under the bus but I think @teellbee might be knowledgeable of the area. I think you’ll find that anywhere you settle on will be very enjoyable, especially if you’re not from anywhere nearby. With all the elevation changes and dramatic coastlines, a lot is packed into very small geographical areas.

Yes, I used to live in San Jose. You will be closer to Henry Cowell state park for the old growth redwood forest. This is still pretty close to the peninsula coastal areas and tide pools, like Fitzgerald Marine reserve and other coastal environments, including bayland marshes. There are quite a lot of open space preserves: Peninsula Open Space, Santa Clara Valley Open Space have with publicly accessible spaces.

There used to be some good whale watching tours in Santa Cruz, Moss Landung , and Monterey. I am not up to speed with the post-Covid whale boat practices, though.

As you say, you will be closer to Monterey .

I could tell you where a newt pond can be found.

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Thanks! As it turns out though, the hotel bookings are still super fluid and everything’s up to air, but I’ll keep everything in mind!

Once your itinerary forms up, you may find iNat’s search URLs useful to find hot spots for species you’ve targeted.

There’s a Tutorial (in 2 parts)

Thanks! Is there also a way to search by species density? Might help me plan the most biodiverse areas to search for.

Also, are there any albino redwoods at Muir Woods? I know they’re at Henry Cowell (which is also less crowded), and I could just go there, but Muir Woods is located closer to Ring Mountain and I want an excuse to look for the Tiburon Mariposa Lily and experience a coastal grassland habitat, so I’ll probably head there instead. Some websites seem to indicate that there are albinos right on the main trail, but I’ve heard very little documentation of this, and since they aren’t a distinct species, I don’t think I can specifically search for them on iNat.

Um, probably? … check those tutorials to see if you find something useful.

Perhaps a docent lead event would be of interest? Here are some options:

Not sure if your exact dates match, but there are a couple of BioBlitz events coming up:

SCC OSA has some docent lead hikes coming up:

Also, their education program administer , Teri Rogoway, is wonderful. If there is enough lead time, she may set up a private docent-led hike for a sm group
in one of the open spaces.

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