I had been looking forward to hiking part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail in San Francisco, and decided one day to simply go do it. I selected the southernmost segment, from the hang glider viewing deck in Ft Funston to Stern Grove. It turned out to be a terrific day to explore in San Francisco, and I saw several unexpected things along the way, including a spectacular sunset.
Roughly half of the route is within park areas, beginning with Ft Funston, which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and passing by Lake Merced on the way to Pine Lake Park and Stern Grove, which are contiguous San Francisco city parks.
The start of the hike is the main Ft Funston parking area, built on top of former Nike missile silos, and not far from the hang glider viewing deck. I first went out to the viewing deck, where I was treated to great views of San Pedro Point to the south, the Farallon Islands to the west, and Mt Tamalpais to the north.
A little over half a mile from the parking area and just past Battery Davis there is a multi-trail junction. From here the Ridge Trail goes down the steep side of the dune toward Skyline Blvd just south of the intersection with John Muir Drive.
This Ridge Trail segment is relatively flat, since it does not involve any of the main hills in San Francisco.
The route continues along Skyline Blvd for almost 1 mile, passing next to Lake Merced. I was pleasantly surprised to notice, first one, then two more, long boats with crews of perhaps 16 youths – they were far enough away that it was difficult to count individuals. I realized that they reminded me of dragon boats I’d seen in Taiwan during business trips there. After some research I concluded that they were practicing for an upcoming dragon boat race.
The Ridge Trail route passes briefly through a neighborhood with rows of pastel colored houses.
Near the south end of the Sunset Blvd Parkway I saw a distinctive tree, unlike any I’d ever seen before. At first glance it simply has an unusual branch structure with a bit of lean away from the ocean, as many trees do along the Pacific coast. As I got closer, I noticed knobby texture covering the surface of the branches. This texture turned out to be pine-cone-like structures, and the large branches were covered with them. I have not succeeded at identifying the type of tree.
After a short 2-block jog east on Wawona, the Ridge Trail route enters Pine Lake Park. This is a very pleasant city park with a popular dog play area in one of several meadows along a narrow canyon.
Past the meadows, the path continues into the adjacent Stern Grove park. Near the famous outdoor performance stage there is a beautiful grove of redwood trees. At the base of the north canyon wall is the Trocadero Inn, which was a popular hotel from the early 1890’s until Prohibition and later refurbished in the 1980’s.
I intended to turn around at the end of the official Ridge Trail segment, which as at a park entrance at Wawona St and 21st Ave. I actually exited at 19th Ave, however, and made a small exploration just outside the park before returning to Ft Funston (note the small loop at the upper right of my GPS track). Since I’d driven past Stern Grove many times on my way to or from Marin County but never been in the park before, this small excursion helped connect my different perspectives.
As I returned to Ft Funston I realized that I would probably arrive shortly before sunset, and it might be interesting to actually watch the sun set into the Pacific, since the immediate coast was clear of the usual coastal fog. As it turned out, I started walking south along the bluff overlooking the ocean about 35 minutes before sunset. Like many others, I stepped off the trail to enjoy the views. This one is looking south along the San Mateo County coast toward San Pedro Point and San Pedro Rock, a few miles south of Pacifica.
I love watching waves come in on the beach and can watch for hours, enjoying an almost hypnotic feeling. This was a somewhat unusual perspective, looking straight down at the beach about 120 feet below. I stopped here for at least 10 minutes, fascinated with the sun, waves, sky, and lighting.
As the sun got lower in the sky, there were beautiful reflections from the waves.
I continued to the hang glider viewing deck to watch the actual sunset. I noted from my photo time stamps that it took about 4 minutes for the sun to disappear below the horizon for the actual sunset. After that, the clouds got even more strikingly colorful than they had been. This picture was taken about 10 minutes after (the midpoint of the) sunset.
As the lighting faded, I returned the short distance to my car, savoring the wonderful visual memories.