CA - In Bay Area park, sea and sky are antidote to winter blues

I savor every second I’m home in the Bay Area. I disconnect from my hectic life in Washington and trade it for uninterrupted time with family and friends, enormous $1 avocados at the farmers market, and as many hikes and beach trips as possible. I was due for a visit to Lands End, the rugged oceanside park within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the 82,027-acre expanse that includes many of the Bay Area’s most jaw-dropping landmarks and vistas. Exercise, trees and ocean views sounded like the perfect antidote to the East Coast winter. I was in dire need of some “vitamin sea.”

Hugging San Francisco’s northwest shore, Lands End offers an unobstructed view of the iconic structure that draws so many visitors from around the world — the Golden Gate Bridge. And seeing it here doesn’t require elbowing your way through the crowds at Baker Beach or Fort Point. The site’s trails weave through the forests and beaches that abut the steep cliffs and sharp rocks that form a natural “gate” for the ships that sail into San Francisco Bay. Hiking here is a way to feel a little wild again, even in the quintessential 21st-century city.

After a late and leisurely breakfast at home, my mom; my younger brother, Erhan; and I set off toward San Francisco on Interstate 280. Erhan deejayed as we wound through the South Bay’s green foothills and cypress forests until Ocean Beach unfurled before us, a shimmering canvas of blue water and pale sand dotted with joggers. Lands End is usually less crowded than some of the other local spots, but on this sunny but brisk Saturday, the main parking lot was full. Erhan, a regular here, maneuvered us to another one around the corner past the Lands End Lookout, the beginning of the park that includes restrooms, a cafe, visitor center and bookstore.

We decided to follow the Coastal Trail, an easy, 1.7-mile route that follows the rail bed of the railroad that operated here in the 1880s and takes visitors through tunnels of trees and past scenic outlooks. It’s not a strenuous hike, but we had dressed in running attire to contend with the rocky and uneven parts of the path (the area has experienced landslides). We paused at Point Lobos, named for the sea lions, Orlobos marinos, that sometimes sun themselves on the rocks below — though, sadly, not today.

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