Archive for March, 2012

After a couple weeks with rain in the forecast all weekend, it looks like we’re going to have a nice day on Sunday. That means it’s time to plan our next hike!

Thus far, when we’re looking for a new hike, we usually go to our trusty hiking book Hiking the San Francisco Bay Area (Falcon Guide). We’re big fans of the Falcon Guide hiking books. We have three of them—Yosemite National Park and the Redwood Coast along with the Bay Area. The hike descriptions are great—lots of detail—and the directions are usually pretty detailed.

But, after more than a year of looking in the same book for new places to go hiking, we’ve about exhausted what it has to offer.

So, we put the challenge out to you: Where should we go hiking this weekend?

While in all practicality, we’re looking for hikes in the Bay Area, we’d love to hear about your favorite hikes all over the country.

The hiking book: none
The distance: 3 miles
The CityGirls rating:

This one is really less of a hike and more of a “walk a bit, eat yummy things, walk back.” But it’s our favorite walk in the city and one of our favorite things to do, so we thought we’d share it with you.

The Embarcadero

Most Saturdays, we walk from home down the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building and its (overly posh, touristy, but still pretty awesome) farmers’ market.

There’s something special about walking down the southern part of the Embarcadero, with the Bay to one side, the bridge overhead, and all the old piers. We know the Golden Gate Bridge is pretty much the icon of San Francisco, but our bridge is the Bay Bridge. The western span is really quite pretty, and it ends very close to where we live.

We walk under it on our way to the Ferry Building, and it’s pretty impressive from up close. So many cars barreling along at high speed way over our heads. And the supports are just massive.

And did we mention how pretty it is on a sunny day? Yeah, that pretty.

The Ferry Building and its Farmers’ Market

It may be a bit touristy, but we love the Ferry Building. Lots of fun foods and pretty pottery and a place called Tasty Salted Pig Parts that serves, well, the name says it all.

The Ferry Building is AM’s happy place. She likes to walk over there in the afternoon during the week to sit and read and eat a macaroon (the French kind), some cheese (from Cowgirl Creamery) or some gelatto. In fact, AM has a gelatto guy that likes to give her a discount on her gelatto and suggest new flavor combinations.

On Saturdays, the Ferry Building plays host to a farmers’ market and huge crowds. It’s a really fun farmers’ market, with lots of prepared foods like olive oils, cheese and sauerkraut and lots of food cart sorts of stands with super yummy chilaquiles, smoked salmon sandwiches and roast chicken and potatoes.

We like to go most Saturdays to sample things and get brunch or lunch. Over the winter, we’ve been buying lots of oranges to bring home and make fresh-squeezed orange juice. And taste amazing sorbets. And buy bread from Acme Bread Co. And wish that the vegetables weren’t quite so overpriced. Ah well, this isn’t Madison (home of the best farmers’ market of all time). But it is a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning.

The hiking book: none
The distance: 5.2 miles
The CityGirls rating:

With rain in the forecast and an expanding to-do list, we decided to forgo an adventure in nature and do an urban hike instead. Our destination: Bi-Rite Creamery in the Mission, by way of Folsom Street.

MMmmmm…. Bi-Rite. Home of super-rich ice cream, a perpetual line around the corner, and the best soft-serve sundaes we’ve ever had the happy chance to taste.

Folsom Street

But first, we’ve been talking for months about exploring Folsom Street. It’s got one of the highest concentrations of restaurants and bars in our area and a fierce reputation, so we had high hopes of finding a bit of fun neighborhood nearby.

Well, Folsom does have a good number of restaurants we’d like to try, like Fondue Cowboy, Basil Canteen (in part because it’s in an awesome building!), Citizen’s Band, and Sushi Groove. And, yeah, there are a handful of leather shops and gay bars. But on the whole, Folsom was a little bit of a disappointment.

Look! There’s nature in the city, too.

The Mission

The Mission is one of our favorite destinations in the city, for its food, its murals, its vibrancy, but mostly for its ice cream. We’re big fans of Bi-Rite Creamery, which does both hard and soft-serve ice cream. The main storefront, the hard ice cream, pretty much always has a line out the door, down the block and around the corner. No seriously, we were there at 9:30 p.m. on a not-particularly-warm day in February and the line was huge.

Ice cream

We’re gonna let you in on a little secret. Bi-Rite soft-serve. The soft-serve window barely has any line at all, carries salted caramel soft-serve three days a week and makes amazing sundaes. In fact, T-Bell contends that the soft-serve might be even better than the hard ice cream. (AM would argue that none of it beats Secret Breakfast ice cream at Humphry Slocombe, but that’s a post for another day.)

We had a delicious chocolate-salted caramel swirl sundae with hot fudge, caramel sauce, and spicy caramelized pecans. It was so good, we forgot to stop and take a picture before we ate it!

Instead, you’ll just have to enjoy this photo of the corner of 18th and Dolores, home of Bi-Rite Creamery. (No, that’s not Bi-Rite in the background. That’s just the most beautiful high school ever, Mission High School.)

The return leg of our urban hike took us down Harrison, with stops at lots of modern furniture stores. What can we say, we’re in the market for a desk and a chest of drawers.

You know, it would be nice if all hikes included ice cream.

So, you’re thinking about going hiking (woohoo!), but you have no idea what you might need to survive your encounter with (gasp!) nature. Don’t you worry, the CityGirls are here with a list of our essential hiking gear. We know, you feel better about life already.

What do I need when I go hiking?

First and foremost, lots of water. Bring more than you think you need.

And what’s the best way to carry that water? A lightweight backpack such as our much-loved Camelbak backpacks.

A first aid kit. We have a pre-assembled hiker first aid kit from REI that we supercharged with some extra stuff. But if we had to pare it down to just the basics, here’s what first aid guru T-Bell would have:

  • band-aids – a variety of sizes
  • gauze
  • an elastic bandage roll
  • ibuprofen
  • tweezers
  • sterilizing wipes
  • gloves
  • duct tape
  • safety pins

Good hiking shoes. Please, please don’t go hiking in flip-flops or heels. Please? For us? You wouldn’t believe the number of people we pass on the trail wearing skimpy flip-flops. Seriously, how can that be at all comfortable?

A bandanna. Or maybe two. Except maybe duct tape, a bandanna is the most multipurpose piece of equipment you can take hiking, camping or backpacking. How is this square of cloth useful, you ask? Well. Let us count the ways.

  1. You can wear it on your head to keep your hair off your face.
  2. You can use it to wipe sweat off your face.
  3. You can dunk it in that pretty little stream and drape it around your neck to cool down in hot weather.
  4. You can spread it out on a handy log or rock as a miniature tablecloth or “crumb catcher” when you stop for lunch.
  5. When the plastic bit on your backpack strap is rubbing against the inside of your arm, you can wrap it around the strap to keep your arm happy and protected.
  6. You can tie it around your neck to keep it from getting sunburned.
  7. Have we convinced you yet?

If you’re fair-skinned like T-Bell, sunscreen is always a good idea.

Trail snacks. May not be necessary on shorter hikes, but really, when is necessity the driving force behind snacking?

A map. We were talking to a hiking friend yesterday who hikes Mt. Tam regularly, and she told us that she stops to give directions to lost hikers every time she’s out hiking. Sometimes more than once on a hike.

Okay, you’re ready to go hiking now. Have fun. Be safe. Drink lots of water. We’re just so proud of you, going hiking all on your own like a big boy! Or girl. Or kitty. (We don’t like to discriminate ’round here.)

We here at The CityGirls Go Hiking are big xkcd fans, and we just had to share today’s gem. We need a book like that.

Thanks for the reminder to get outside and enjoy life, xkcd.

The hiking book: Hiking the San Francisco Bay Area
The distance:
5 miles
The CityGirls rating:

We went on an absolutely beautiful hike over the weekend with our friends S&J. We were up in the foothills north of Mt. Tam at Alpine Lake and Bon Tempe Lake, a couple reservoirs for the Marin Municipal Water District. It was a sunny, crisp, but warm winter day of the kind that we still marvel at after years of Midwestern winters.

The hike starts out by crossing the dam between the two lakes. There’s a spillway for when the upper lake (Bon Tempe) gets too full, but we were stumped by the lack of any other means for water to flow from Bon Temple Lake down into Alpine Lake.

The mystery was solved as our trail headed around Alpine Lake. Turns out, the water is pumped from Alpine Lake into Bon Tempe instead of flowing the other way. This pumping system also adds a little something to scenic Alpine Lake—the lovely pipe and buoys arcing through the lake. Ahhh, nature.

But really, apart from the buzz of the pumping station and the view of the pipe and buoys in the lake, this is a very peaceful, secluded, quiet trail. We felt like we were truly out in the wilderness—in a good way. We passed quite a few other hikers on the trail, but it never felt crowded.

One of the fun parts of hiking with S&J is their interest in noticing and identifying the flora and fauna along the trail. While we saw a great variety of plants and small animals, the most exciting was the fetid adder’s tongue, a small black and white flower with mottled gray and green leaves. It was the leaves that first caught our eye before we noticed the delicately gorgeous flowers. The flowers were only in bloom along a short stretch of trail along the lake where it was cool, damp, and relatively dark.

Though S&J were pretty good at identifying plants, none of us knew the flower when we first saw it, but we happened upon some locals out trail running later in the hike, and S was so excited to tell them about the flowers we had seen.

Sure enough, one man knew just the flowers we were describing and told us all about them, including their excellent name. Turns out they only bloom for about two weeks in late winter, so we count ourselves lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.

The hike wound its way through a surprising number of biomes, from lakeshore populated by water birds and dense forest with a carpet of ferns to manzanita barren and an open, scrub-covered hilltop with views across the bays.

(What’s a manzanita barren, you ask? Yeah, we were wondering that too when we read the description in the hiking book. For your edification, it appears to be a transitional area between forest and open hilltop populated exclusively by the twisty, peeling, red-hued manzanita.)

As we left the manzanita barren for the open hilltop, we emerged to sweeping views of the North Bay and Mt. Tam. We made sure to point out to S&J the east peak of Mt. Tam and say, “We’ve been there!” Of course, as they live in the Bay Area, S&J had been there too, but they drove to the top and we hiked, so we still got to feel hardcore.

All in all, this was a lovely hike with some lovely people on a lovely day. We’ll definitely be back.