1. Take a Boat to Angel Island
Angel Island State Park is a mountainous island rising up out of the waters of San Francisco Bay, and features a myriad activities from hiking and biking to historic exhibits about the island’s unsavory past as an immigration detainment center. To get to this extra-special state park – so close to home that you can see Sausalito, San Francisco and even Oakland from your campsite – you’ll need to get nautical. Hop aboard a ferry in San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda, or Tiburon to get dropped off at the Angel Island dock.
Once you arrive at Angel Island, you can hike or bike to your campsite. No campsites available? Make it a day trip: hop on the ferry and then hike or bike around the island (and don’t forget picnic and grilling supplies). If you have access to a boat, you can arrive at Angel Island on your own – whether by sailboat or kayak. Given the location, it’s essential to book campsites on Angel Island ahead of time through the state park reservation system.
Related: Top Eco-Friendly Camping Gear
2. Bike to Kirby Cove
If you want a true San Francisco Bay experience, what could be more authentic than sleeping almost directly under the Golden Gate Bridge? What’s even more fun is the ability to cycle to the Kirby Cove campground, which is tucked into the side of the Marin Headlands cliffs alongside a tiny beach.
To get there, bike across the west side of the Golden Gate Bridge (bikes only), up the first half of the challenging Headlands road, then take a left (carefully) down a steep hill past a locked gate and onto a gravel road all the way down to Kirby Cove. If that trail sounds too adventurous for you, you can also take the 76X MUNI bus from downtown San Francisco all the way to the access road – door to door service. Reservations here can be hard to snag so plan in advance. Watch out – if it’s foggy, you’re extra close to the loud foghorns, and marauding raccoons are out looking for food every night, regardless of the weather. If you can’t get a camping reservation, you can still walk or bike down to enjoy the view or fish from the beach.
3. Take a Bus to Hike Anthony Chabot
You’ll find Anthony Chabot Park a few miles south of Oakland, in the hills over the bay. This East Bay park beckons with miles of hiking and biking trails, as well as a pleasant campground alongside a sparkling lake.
Pack like you’re backpacking since you’ll need to hike in! To get there, take a BART train to the San Leandro stop then hop on AC Transit bus Number 89. You’ll get off right by the park, but the campground’s on the other side of Lake Chabot. To reach the campground, get on the Honker Bay Trail, then hike a little more than a mile around the lake until you reach the campground. Once you’re there, relax, rest, and cast your fishing pole into the waters of Lake Chabot. Want to get out on the water? You can rent small boats here – kayaks, paddle boats, and more! Don’t forget to reserve in advance.
4. Urban Backpacking at Hawk Hill
Can you believe you can actually go backpacking and camp out under the stars, yet still see the lights of San Francisco glittering in the distance? Well, you can, because Hawk Hill Campground is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. It’s a two to three mile hike in to the camping area (depending on which trailhead you choose) and you’ll need to bring everything you need in your backpack – tent, sleeping bag, food, flashlight, water, and warm clothes. Camp stoves are allowed, so you can cook up a delicious hot meal for dinner before drifting off in your cozy tent. Imagine waking up in a sea of swirling fog, listening to the wind sweep through the trees, and then returning to the city in time for lunch.
If you’ve got your backpack packed, all you need to do is hop on the MUNI 76Xbus and ride over to the Marin Headlands to get dropped off at the trailhead, all for $2.25. Don’t forget to call the Golden Gate National Recreation Visitor’s Center to make a reservation for the campground in advance.
5. Ride the Bus to the Top of Mount Tamalpais
If you’re ready for a big adventure, head up to to the slopes of Mount Tamalpais for an exciting trip by ferry and bus to reach the evergreen-shaded Pantoll Campground. Get yourself to the dock in San Francisco or Oakland and hop on a ferry over to Sausalito. Then, you’ll want to board the West Marin Stagecoach Route 61, which stops directly at the Pantoll Campground and Ranger Station. If you’ve got time to kill while you’re waiting for the bus, enjoy an ice cream on the Sausalito waterfront.
Once you’re there and you’ve set up your campsite, there are a plethora of beautiful hikes around Mount Tamalpais that leave right from the campground. Within 20 minutes, you can find yourself in a variety of habitats from open scrub and grassy meadows to redwood forests and cool canyons.
Feeling really energetic? You can actually ride your bicycle from San Francisco or Marin all the way up to the Pantoll campground on a popular (and hilly) weekend cycling route. If you’re planning to bike, you might want to have friends meet you there with the camping gear and an extra cold drink or two. Don’t miss the spectacular sunsets, particularly on a foggy day when the mountain rises above the marine layer below. Campsites are first-come, first-serve, so a weekday or early in the weekend is your best bet.
Lead image (modified) via Shutterstock; all others by Emily Peckenham for Inhabitat, unless otherwise noted