You don’t have to go all the way to Muir Woods, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, or Big Basin to stand in awe under redwoods. While the big three are your best bet to see old-growth forests, there are plenty of lower key, second-growth groves to explore throughout the Bay Area. Even better, most of these spots are free, have easy parking, and are gloriously uncrowded.
Old Mill Park, Mill Valley
Located just a few blocks from town center, Old Mill Park is sheltered by coast redwoods to create an ideal spot for a picnic. The particularly popular Redwood Grove picnic area is set amid a fairy ring of trees that grew around the now decomposed base of a tree that had a circumference of 20 feet. The park has approximately 50 fairy rings among its more than 400 redwoods, most of which hover around 200 feet tall. A sun-speckled playground and several swing sets draw children, and a reconstruction of the original namesake sawmill, which in the 1840s and ’50s provided lumber for the Presidio in San Francisco, is set picturesquely beside a shallow stream.
Transamerica Redwood Park, San Francisco
A redwood grove in the middle of San Francisco’s skyscrapers? Yes, indeed! Situated on the east side of the Transamerica Pyramid, this urban park is privately owned and locked up each night. The 56 trees that make up the half-acre grove sprang from nursery-grown sprouts planted in 1957. They are slowly stretching up, and the tallest now reaches about 100 feet. Benches invite respite, and sculptures of children at play add whimsy.
Redwood Regional Park, Oakland
Redwood Regional Park is what’s left of the dense old-growth redwood forest that was long ago harvested to build homes in San Francisco after the Gold Rush. The 100-year-old trees have since sprung up stretch to 150 feet and make up the largest group of redwoods in the East Bay. The park is also home to the only fish ladder in the Bay Area where rainbow trout spawn. The popular, mostly paved Stream Trail follows Redwood Creek and offers views of redwood groves and meadows.
Mather Redwood Grove, Berkeley
Located behind the college campus in the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, the five-acre Mather Redwood Grove is a little-known treasure. It is situated across the street from the main gardens and requires a gate code to enter. (Simply request access when you pay admission.) Planted in 1932 by the Works Progress Administration, the grove contains 474 coast redwoods. Back in the main garden’s Asian Area, you can see all three types of redwood: the coast redwood, which is the world’s tallest tree species; the giant sequoia, which is the largest living thing on Earth; and the dawn, which was thought to be extinct until 1943 when it was re-discovered in China.
Redwood Grove Nature Preserve, Los Altos
Tucked into a residential area, Redwood Grove Nature Preserve is a surprise of a park. To the left of the entrance, a boardwalk follows a creek through the 150-tree grove that was planted as saplings in the 1920s, then turns into the more rustic Hillside Trail. To the right of the entrance, a short trail leads to larger Shoup Park, which is equipped with a creekside party area and children’s playground. Approach the park via North San Antonio Road to see many tall redwoods lining the road.
Looking for redwoods on a grander scale or a park with more amenities? There are more than 45 state parks with the giants sprinkled throughout California. Visit them for free this year, on the second Saturday of each month, thanks to California’s Save the Redwoods League. Passes must be reserved in advance.