Archive for February, 2012

The hiking book: Hiking the San Francisco Bay Area
The distance:
a leisurely 3 miles
The CityGirls rating:

With one direction of the Bay Bridge closed this weekend, we stayed close to home for our hike this weekend to avoid any crazy bridge traffic.

Lucky for us, there are all sorts of great hikes right in San Francisco, including our destination for this post, Land’s End and the Sutro Baths in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. For the most part, this was really more of a stroll than a hike, as evidenced by the myriad women in heels, babies in strollers and toddlers on the run that shared the path with us.

It’s a beautiful hike, in spite of the crowds, with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the ocean and the Marin Headlands across the mouth of the bay. Though it’s in the city, the beach along Lands End is, for a small stretch, as beautifully wild and rocky as anywhere along the northern California Coast. Well, at least until you turn around and see the manicured lawns and huge houses right behind you.

One of the hidden treasures of this hike is the Land’s End labyrinth. On a cliff at the edge of the continent, this labyrinth is outlined with loose stones demarcating its well-worn footpaths. On some days, we’re sure that this is a peaceful, greatly spiritual labyrinth. There are a number of small tokens at the center indicating its importance to many who have walked it.

We walked the labyrinth to the sound of the fog horn from the Point Bonita Lighthouse, though the sense of peace was severely shattered by the four-year-old who thought the labyrinth was the best playground ever. Oh well, we knew we weren’t getting solitude on this hike.

Our hike ended with a view of the ruins of the Sutro Baths, now a bath for birds rather than people. In its heyday, the Sutro Baths were the world’s largest set of indoor swimming pools. There was a freshwater pool and six saltwater pools that could be filled by the incoming tide or through the use of pumps. Today, all that’s left are a few retaining walls and one stone structure that is severely akimbo. Oh, and the hordes of tourists swarming over the remnants.

It’s a beautiful piece of the coast, with lots of interesting history that we want to learn more about.

Have we told you about our new Camelbak backpacks? In a word, they’re awesome. In the era BC (that’s Before Camelbaks), we faced a dilemma whenever we went for a hike. Do we carry a single backpack and trade it back and forth throughout the hike? Or do we each bring a backpack with maybe three things inside and two waterbottles in the side pockets?

On top of that, hiking makes us thirsty girls, and even with two waterbottles apiece, we sometimes worry about running out of water on our longer hikes.

Enter the Camelbak backpacks. Now, we know that Camelbaks are not a new thing. You’re probably sitting there reading this, thinking, “Yeah, I knew those CityGirls weren’t real hikers. All the real hikers carry Camelbaks.”

We’ve used Camelbaks and Platypuses before, particularly when backpacking, but we only had a small one, and we would still end up with the backpack dilemma. But our new Camelbaks came as part of lightweight backpacks just the right size for a day hike and with a 3 liter capacity. Now that’s a lot of water! Enough water that, even on our recent hike up Mt. Tam, we still had some left at the end of the trip. And somehow, the Camelbak backpacks make 3 liters of water feel only half as heavy as carrying two 1 liter bottles in a regular backpack. Genius.

We also like having dedicated hiking backpacks so that we don’t have to clean out all our school- and work-related stuff from our backpacks and replace it with hiking stuff every time we go for a hike. Now, we keep our hiking basics in our hiking backpacks so they’re always ready to go, and we never forget the first aid kit.

In case you’re curious, we both have the Camelbak Blowfish, 3-liter version. AM’s is black and T-Bell’s is red. Yep, we’re sickeningly cute and match-y when we go hiking.

The distance: 2 miles

The CityGirls rating: 7

The hiking book: a brief mention in Off the Beaten Path Northern California plus a bit of Internet searching

Last weekend was less of a hiking weekend and more of a sitting-outside-in-beautiful-weather-drinking-wine weekend. We know, our life is hard.

We made our now-annual wintertime trek to the wine country just north of San Francisco for a weekend of sun, relaxing, and wine. This year, like last, we were in and around Calistoga, a small and still rather quaint town in the northern part of Napa Valley.

Fine weather and fine wines at Bennett Lane Winery

Calistoga is known more for its hot springs and mineral waters (yes, this is where the Calistoga water comes from) than its wines, which mostly means that its excellent wineries are a little less crowded and a lot less kitschy than their better-known counterparts lower in the valley.

This isn’t a blog about wine tasting, though, so we’ll just give you the highlights. Our current favorite, Envy Wines, continued to impress us with pretty much all of their wines. The guys pouring wine at Lava Vine are hilarious and they make damn good Port. Bennett Lane has a beautiful garden outside their tasting room where we love to sit and enjoy their excellent wines; we just wish they were a little more in our price range.

And then there’s Sterling Vineyards. Oh, Sterling, with your aerial tram, your souvenir wine glasses, and your resoundingly mediocre wines. A tourist trap that we wouldn’t waste our money on, but we decided to give it a try since it was included on our Winter in the Wineries passport. Good thing the view from the terrace was nice.

Anyway, after drinking our fill on Saturday and enjoying a brief soak in the hotel’s mineral water hot tub, we decided a short hike Sunday morning was in order.

Which brings us to the hike up Mount Saint Helena, just a bit north of Calistoga.  It’s a five-mile hike to the peak, but we went a bit more than a mile up before heading back. We still got some great views at that height.

The trail was pretty easy for a mountain, though the little info we were able to find suggested that it gets more strenuous further up. Mount Saint Helena also seemed to be a popular rock climbing site — we saw quite a few people with climbing gear on the trail. The trail was relatively busy, but still didn’t feel overcrowded. And the views were stunning.

This one is definitely a hike to do in the winter on a sunny day — we hear it gets ridiculously hot in the summertime, and the weather was perfect for a hike at the end of January.

We’re putting this one on the list to come back and hike all the way to the top.