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Nestled in the breathtaking hills of San Francisco lies the hidden gem of Stinson Beach. What’s the most thrilling way to reach it? A 7.5-mile hike across the longest race in America. The Dipsea is a vacation for the mind, a challenge for the body and food for the soul. Whatever the season or skillset, any brave woman or man should accept the challenge… and the salty reward at the end. Read on for the treasure map.
Pack an adequate amount of food (think PB&J and energy bars) and ample water in a Nalgene-type bottle or Camelbak-style bladder, found at REI stores. Hikers can refill their supply (and cool their face) at a freshwater fountain mid-hike, and a restroom is located at the start and finish. On the trail, plenty of “open-air” stops are found for when nature calls (read: pack toilet paper). Hand sanitizer is a welcome friend. Other items may include a cell phone, a flashlight (just in case), and a whistle (just to look official— but fear not, the only wild animals to be expected are fellow hikers). Wear sunscreen, even on overcast days, all-weather clothing, and a sturdy pair of hiking boots or tennis shoes with good tread. Most importantly — to some — bring a camera, as Insta-worthy photo-ops abound. Hikers may want proof that they stood, looking woodsy, silhouetted in front of the Golden Gate like the cover of Backpacker Magazine.
Drive to the charming town of Mill Valley, find free and easy parking around Old Mill Elementary School, and it’s off to the races! The start of the race is to the right of and just beyond the restrooms. Look for the first staircase.
Old Mill Elementary School, 352 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley, CA +(1) 415 389-7727
The journey through the Muir Woods Trail and Mount Tamalpais State Park starts with a stairway to heaven, or three. Hikers dominate three flights of steps, as much ground as a fifty-story building, but fear not — the rest of the hike is relaxing. Climbers can check out plaques mounted to the steps to honor Dipsea winners from years past and beloved racers who passed. They are also a great excuse to stop and take a break (‘I’m just looking at the plaques,’ and cue heavy breathing). Once hikers reach the last step, they’re unofficially deemed official Dipsea champions. Remember: it’s not a race (but it can be: here’s how to apply). A great tip is to focus on the scenic beauty only found in Northern California; it requires all five senses and is best experienced when savored.
For the duration of the hike, well-marked Dipsea signs abound, in addition to important signs that lead to Stinson Beach. It takes talent to get lost, but some adventurers have wanderlust and find they must rely on the trail etiquette of fellow hikers to find their way. This is okay. It’s all part of the adventure.
Trailblazers find themselves at journey’s end in the dreamy town of Stinson Beach. Follow the signs to the beach, a friendly tip from a local, or a quick GPS to the Sand Dollar Restaurant. It’s vital for hikers to replenish themselves with well-deserved delights, and Stinson Beach has plenty. Hikers turn into beach bums when met with zesty burritos, fresh fish tacos, beer, burgers… and margaritas, of course, just to replenish salt loss. The seaside town is one of the saltiest kept secrets in the Bay Area. It boasts white sandy beaches, radiant sunsets, views of San Francisco, great recreation, and, of course, relaxation.
Sand Dollar Restaurant, 3458 CA-1, Stinson Beach, CA +(1) 415 868-0434
It’s called the Dipsea for a reason. While the origins of the name technically remain unknown, its inspiration could be that racers dip their toes in the sea at the finish line (hard to resist). Whatever the rhyme or reason, the fun doesn’t stop there. Vacationers (or locals who had too much fun or sun) are invited to stay the night.
Sneak away to an idyllic bed and breakfast or camp at nearby grounds, like Steep Ravine Environmental Campground or the five-star rated Mount Tamalpais State Park. If it’s home you pine for, bus stops are conveniently located around Stinson Beach. The bus route is posted at each stop and can run as late as 10 or 11pm on some nights, especially in summer season. Get off at the Mill Valley stop, and voilà — A trip worth hiking for.
West Marin Stage Coach, Stinson Beach, CA +(1) 415 526-3239
By Heather Silveira
Heather is a San Francisco Bay Area native, writer, traveler, people lover and live-life-to-the-fullest enthusiast. Her mission is to open readers’ eyes to life outside their own backyards; to life beyond self. She graduated from Chapman University with a B.A. in communication studies and psychology and a minor in public relations. Learn more at Of Love And Wisdom.