San Francisco’s Top 5 Outdoor & Wildlife Experiences
By: Mike Jerrard
San Francisco is known for its iconic fire engine red Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars but beneath the ever present fog you can find some of the states best wildlife locations. Outdoor adventures abound where one can witness a great variety of plants and animals without traveling far from the city lights.
Named the “Devil’s Teeth” by sailors, the Farallon Islands lie some 30 miles west of the infamous Golden Gate and is home to the world’s only metropolitan city population of Great White Sharks. Add numerous species of whale and the largest colony of nesting seabirds in the lower 48 states and you have an incredible wildlife experience at your disposal.
Although the islands themselves are off limits to us bipedal creatures, they can be seen at a respectful distance by way of boat tours. Some 400+ birds call the islands home as do seals and sea lions.
This once nuclear waste dumping site is now thankfully a protected national wildlife refuge and natural treasure.
For those wanting even more adventure out of the islands, from September through November you can take the plunge and cage dive to witness the ocean’s top apex predator the Great White Shark.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Nature lovers couldn’t ask for much more out of a place than Point Reyes. Rich in history and even more so in wildlife, it is a mix of numerous habitats giving rise to a great diversity of flora and fauna. Birdwatchers will be in heaven given the fact that almost have of all the species in North America have been spotted here.
Geology fans can hike the Earthquake Trail to explore the San Andreas fault zone while animal lovers have the choice of multiple trails which allows for the viewing of everything from elephant seals to a herd of around 400 elk. History buffs can follow in the footsteps of the great explorer Sir Francis Drake who is thought to have come ashore here.
California Academy of Science
One of the world’s largest natural history museums and one of the United State’s newest after its reconstruction, The California Academy of Science is a naturalists playground. Located in beautiful Golden Gate Park, it offers visitors over 26 million specimens in its museum along with a 90 foot glass dome encasing a rainforest experience. Here one can experience the lush tropics of Borneo, Madagascar, and Costa Rica all in a day.
The Steinhart Aqaurium along with the Morrison Planetarium adds an incredible icing to an already incredible cake.
Other highlights include a towering T-Rex skeleton, a massive blue whale skeleton (the largest animal in the world), and the incredible albino alligator named Claude.
Blue Morpho Butterfly, CAS Color of Life, & Jellyfish photos by: Torbakhopper
Alcatraz is known for its inescapable prison set aside for the worst of criminals. Its ironic that tourists flock to the island when those who were sent not that long ago would do anything to get off the rock. Birds however have been finding refuge here for long before the prisoners ever came and continue to raise their families to this day.
In fact the island was named by Spanish explorers The Island of Pelicans or “alcatraces.” Visitors who tire of viewing the inmates cells can head outside to witness the mating, nesting, and parenting of numerous colonial nesting birds such as egrets, night herons, cormorants, gulls, and guillemots.
Angel Island State Park
Offering some of the best views of the Bay Area, Angel Island is one of the Bay’s largest islands just behind Alameda. Originally used by native tribes as a hunting and gathering hotspot, it was also used as a supply stop for those first to map the Bay Area. The United States has used the island for everything including a quarantine station, immigration inspection and detention, military forts, and cattle ranching.
Access is by private boat or public ferry and although it may be a bit more of a tame outdoor wildlife experience it is a calming retreat from downtown. It offers many hiking and biking trails and perfect places to have a picnic. Those wishing to camp on the island are encouraged to book well in advance due to popularity.