Cameryn Baker
By ,
Content Marketing Intern

If you’re living in the Bay Area, it’s only natural to be at least somewhat of a birder. You simply can’t miss these quirky creatures – Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets dot the shores of nearly every avenue to the sea. Raptors of many varieties soar through the skies on most hikes. And if you live in San Francisco like me, you can’t go anywhere without seeing a Western Gull. Here, in the cool coastal climate, the birds are plentiful. And with such striking, unique features, it’s hard not to pay attention. 

As birding season approaches, it will be easier than ever to appreciate our Bay Area birds. With the arrival of the cold season, many birds are traveling along the Pacific Flyway from the colder north to the warmer south – and some species decide to end that journey right here. With so much open space around us, they find a perfect habitat to spend their winters. 

We’re lucky to be in such close proximity to the great migration voyage of so many fascinating birds. And with accessibility to POST-protected lands and trails, we can get an even closer look during birding season. Read on to discover where to go birding this winter – whether you’re an amateur or expert!

Bair Island

1. Bair Island

Located east of downtown Redwood City and spanning over 3,000 acres, Bair Island is the largest island in the southern San Francisco Bay. Its mix of tidal channels, mudflats and salt marsh vegetation makes it a hotspot for birds of various species. Keep your eyes peeled for white pelicans, terns and endangered species like the western snowy plover and Ridgeway’s rail.

Trail details: here

Distance: 0.8 miles round trip to the closer observation platform, or 3.2 to the farther one

Elevation change: flat

Hiking time: 1 – 2 hours, depending on your route

Trail surface: Gravel

Best Season: All year

Managing agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Parking lot location: Click here for directions

2. Levee Trail

This 50-acre bayfront preserve is well-known within the local birding community. Located within the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge next to the Shoreline Amphitheater, this one-mile round trip trail always has a variety of birds hanging around. You can spot common birds such as mallard ducks, avocets and swallows as well as rarer species such as burrowing owls and great blue herons.

Trail details: here

Distance: 1-mile round trip

Elevation change: flat

Hiking time: 30 minutes

Trail surface: Gravel

Best Season: All year

Managing agency: Midpeninsula Regional Open Space

Parking lot location: Click here for directions


3. Wavecrest Open Space

This preserve is home to a gorgeous section of the California Coastal Trail and was recently transferred to the Coastside Land Trust. It is home to one of the largest concentrations of raptors in the Bay Area. There are some great trails for birdwatching, but don’t be surprised if you spot whales and dolphins off the coast as well! Dogs are also allowed on leash. Get ready to see bird species like northern harriers, red-tailed hawks and western snowy plovers that roam the beach during certain seasons.

Trail details: here

Distance: 1.5 miles

Elevation change: N/A

Hiking time: Less than an hour

Trail surface: Packed dirt, mostly exposed

Best Season: All Year

Managing agency: Coastside Land Trust

Parking lot location: Click here for directions

4. Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve

This bird sanctuary is the largest freshwater estuary on the Pacific coast between San Francisco and Monterey counties. It is absolutely teeming with life and hosts bird species like egrets, herons and cormorants, just to name a few. It’s an easy hike that takes less than an hour to make the 1.5-mile round trip. Fall tends to be the best time of the year to visit, but be sure to check if the trail is open before you make the trek.

Trail details: here

Distance: 1.5 miles round trip

Elevation change: 65 feet

Hiking time: Less than an hour

Trail surface: Uneven, dirt trail

Best Season: Fall

Managing agency: Coastside State Parks Association

Parking lot location: Click here for directions




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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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