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Exploring The Bay Area's Best Waterfalls

By: Tyler Drake + Save to a List

The Bay Area has a reputation for having it all, but a surprising number of people still don't realize how many amazing waterfalls are within easy striking distance. Grab some friends, hop in a car, and discover the majestic beauty of the Bay's best waterfalls.

McWay Falls

If you’re heading down to Big Sur, be sure to include a stop at one of California's most iconic waterfalls. The trail to access this 80 foot beach waterfall (officially considered a “tidefall”) is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and is a quick ½-mile hike from the parking area. The views won’t disappoint, so be sure to pack your camera. Learn more.

Inside tip: Look for free, and often less crowded parking along the west side of Highway 1. It’s an easy walk down to the trail from there.

Alamere Falls

This amazing 40 foot beach waterfall should be at the top of your list. It features a relatively easy 8.4-mile roundtrip hike that includes sweeping coastal views, forests, and a fun swimming hole along the way, so you can’t go wrong. The view from the beach looking up at the falls is surreal. It’s hard to believe something so cool exists just a short drive from San Francisco. Learn more.

Inside tip: Make sure you pack some water, a snack, and your camera. There is a short, tricky scramble from the upper falls down to the beach, so take your time and watch your step.

Cataract Falls

If you like the soft sounds of running streams, cascading waterfalls, and being surrounded by a lush forest of redwoods, then this hike is for you. This is an absolutely gorgeous 5-mile roundtrip hike that meanders along Cataract Creek, past a seemingly neverending series of cascading falls, and ends with an amazing view of Alpine Lake. Learn more.

Inside Tip: You can pack a bite and enjoy it at the picnic table at the top of the trail, or head back into Fairfax and stop at Gestalt Haus for beers and sausage.

Big Basin

Considered one of the more adventurous and beautiful day hikes in the Bay Area, the 11-mile Berry Creek Falls Loop actually features three beautiful waterfalls: Berry Creek Falls (70 feet), Silver Falls (60 feet), and Golden Cascade (30 feet). In addition to the falls, you’ll trek through beautiful redwoods and along meandering creeks. As you’d expect, it’s basically heaven. Learn more.

Inside Tip: For a great post-hike reward, head over to the Davenport Cafe Bar & Grill for a bite, then walk next door for some wine tasting at the Bonny Doon Vineyards Tasting Room.

Russian Gulch

Russian Gulch State Park’s beautiful 36 foot waterfall is worthy of a day trip on its own, but we recommend planning an overnight stay (at least) at one of our favorite coastal campgrounds in the Bay Area. Nestled between its waterfall, trails, and rugged beach, this campsite provides easy access to swimming, fishing, diving, hiking, kayaking, and biking. Learn more.

Inside Tip: Be sure to check out the Devil’s Punch Bowl, a large collapsed sea cave with churning water. If you have access to a kayak, you can explore some cool sea caves along the coast.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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