The Bay Area is famous for its amazing hiking spots, featuring diverse and stunning landscapes from hills to coastlines. These abundant trails are a dream for anyone who’s keen on open-air treks or walks. That said, if hiking isn’t for you, don’t sweat it! Our scenic wonders make stunning backdrops for all sorts of outdoor fun.

Here at POST, we believe everyone should have equal access to nature, for recreation and our physical and mental health. That’s why we’ve created this list of alternative activities that immerse you in the Great Outdoors without requiring hiking boots. 

Whether it’s saddling up, dipping an oar or wielding a paintbrush, we’ve gathered plenty of ideas for you to get some sunshine and fresh air. And there’s no need to worry about lack of experience — though embarking on an unfamiliar adventure can be daunting, there are many benefits to trying something new. You’ll open the door to thrilling discoveries, healthy introspection and a fresh perspective. 

Check out our suggestions, read our tips and see which new experience calls you outside!

Three people enjoy a peaceful horseback ride through the great outdoors


Yes, the Bay Area’s views are impressive, but from atop a horse? They’re even better. Fun for experts and beginners alike, this activity has many rewards. Since the horse takes care of the walking, you can give your feet a rest. Connecting with an animal as large and strong as a horse is fulfilling, and winning a nuzzle or a nudge is like receiving kisses from a happy dog. Plus, the back-and-forth rocking movement of a leisurely ride can be soothing. Of course, if you’re a new rider you’ll need instruction and practice once you’re saddled up. 

Beginner-Friendly Locations

Sea Horse Ranch, Half Moon Bay – Get swept away by ocean views on this safe, informative guided tour that’s suitable for all experience levels. Reservations required.

Garrod Farms, Saratoga – Enjoy horseback rides and riding lessons at this functioning winery. Adults can round out their day with some vino and small bites on the patio.

Beginner aims bow and arrow at archery target in outdoor range


Instead of walking miles on a hike, plant your feet firmly and get to know the bow and arrow. An accessible, appealing sport, archery is a centuries-long tradition with psychological benefits. It can help you relax, since you must be calm, in control and attentive while aiming. Archery also builds confidence and resilience, as improving your skill takes practice and patience. No matter your prior experience, there are several spots across the peninsula to try pulling it back and letting it fly. Bring your Katniss Everdeen dreams to life!

Beginner-Friendly Locations

Stevens Creek Archery Range, Cupertino – This range is home to the Bowhunters Unlimited archery club, a great organization that offers lessons to beginners, with equipment rentals included.

Kings Mountain Archery Course, Redwood City – Take a beginner’s archery lesson or try out target practice at this small, beautiful wooded range.

Group of people examine animal tracks on dirt ground


Do you ever wonder about the traces wild animals leave behind while moving across the landscape? Maybe you’ve been intrigued by some shapely scat in the redwoods, or a trail of webbed footprints on the beach. If so, you might enjoy doing a bit of outdoor detective work as a recreational wildlife tracker! Knowing each animal’s prints, stride length and gait patterns can give you a glimpse of who’s been passing through. It’s a rewarding way to connect with nature, learn new skills and deepen your appreciation for local critters. Plus, you can link up with other enthusiasts to share your observations.

Beginner-Friendly Locations

Join the Bay Area Tracking Club to hone new skills with trackers of all ages (kids welcome!) and experience levels. Free monthly outings offer chances to spot signs of bobcats, pumas, coyotes, mice, birds and more. Tracking campouts take place a few times per year.

Kayaking in easy waters


You love views of the bay and sea, but have you experienced them from the water? Kayaking is an awesome, adventurous activity that can be calming or exhilarating, depending on what you’re looking for. It can be a gentle, quiet paddle through a still lake, or a thrilling, fast-flowing tear through white waters. But no matter how intense your route, kayaking is great exercise, especially for your core. Get out there and test the waters!

Beginner-Friendly Locations 

Stevens Creek Reservoir, Saratoga – Bring a kayak or rent one from Outback Adventures! You’ll feel nature’s power in this secluded reservoir, surrounded by greenery.

Half Moon Bay Kayak Co, Half Moon Bay – Paddle in the protected Pillar Point Harbor or brave the waters of the open Pacific.

A family examines the tidepools on a beautiful day


With tidepooling, you can easily see the wonders of the natural world up close! Tidepools are shallow, isolated pockets of saltwater found in rocky, coastal areas. At a glance, tidepools may just look like ocean puddles. But up close, you’ll find an entire world — mussels, crabs, urchins, barnacles, and even sea stars or small fish — call these pools home. In the Bay Area, there are plenty of tidepools for us to explore. The optimal (and safest) time to engage in this activity is during low tide, so remember to check your area’s tide tables before heading out. Don’t forget, these living creatures are trying their best to survive and thrive. While it’s safe to look, don’t touch!

Beginner-Friendly Locations

Bean Hollow State Beach, Pescadero – Not only will you find beautiful views of California’s rugged coastline, but also very active tidepools. Look out for sea urchins, sea stars, sea anemones and more!

Natural Bridges, Santa Cruz – At low tide, the tide pools at Natural Bridges teem with thousands of colorful critters. This is a great location to seek them out!

Two people use binoculars to watch birds


The Bay Area is along the Pacific Flyway that birds use to migrate, so there’s no shortage of feathered friends passing through. To go birding, you just need to look and listen. It helps to have binoculars, but your own two eyes will do. There are so many varieties of birds with unique characteristics, so this can be a lifelong hobby. Plus, it’s a great way to appreciate some of the very cool creatures who call this place home (at least temporarily).

Beginner-Friendly Locations

Bair Island, Redwood City – Look out for the endangered Ridgway’s rail, plus pelicans, egrets, terns and stilts. (NOTE: This location doubles as a kayaking spot.)

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco – This vast park welcomes red-tailed hawks, great blue herons, western gulls, brown creepers and more! For the easiest birdwatching, visit Blue Heron Lake at the park’s center. 

A beginner plein air paints the landscape in front of them


You don’t have to be Monet to get outside and paint a pond. Plein air painting is the practice of painting outdoors, in the open air, exposed to the elements. The idea is to capture the scenery’s details in their natural state, depending on the weather, season and other factors. The Bay Area is an ideal spot to exercise your creative muscles and give open air painting a try. Picnic tables can serve as a perfect place to set up your canvas. It’s best to pack light, with a small canvas or paper and some basic equipment. 

Read here for a deeper dive on getting started, materials needed and tips on perfecting your setup. You can try painting outside anywhere that nature inspires you – whether it’s along the California coastal trail in Half Moon Bay or at the community garden in your city.

If you prefer painting alongside others, find a time to meet up with this Bay Area Plein Air Painting Group.

POST volunteers work together to remove invasive plants


One of the most fulfilling ways to engage in outdoor activities is by volunteering through local environmental organizations. From pulling out invasive species to replanting redwoods, there are tons of ways to get outdoors as a volunteer. Alongside incredible local partners like Grassroots Ecology, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful and San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, POST hosts volunteer opportunities you can sign up for each month. 

In addition to POST’s offerings, there are plenty of ways to pitch in through other local organizations as well, whether you’re interested in urban farming, beach clean ups, native plants or something else entirely!


In a region with as many open spaces as ours, it’s thrilling to try a variety of activities! You might just find a new favorite pastime and meet kindred spirits too.

About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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