Bay Area Holiday Hike - Christmas Tree Farm - Nicks Cove


Season's Greenings

It's beginning to look a lot like the great outdoors this holiday season. Whether it's hiking under mistletoe, cutting a Christmas tree along the coast, or escaping to a tranquil wonderland, here are three ways to get into the spirit. Joy to the wild!

Briones Regional Park mistletoe hike

Kissing Trail

Uh oh, who's under the mistletoe?! Anyone who hikes a certain 4.8-mile (round-trip) trail in the East Bay's Briones Regional Park. The holiday-smooching staple is prevalent on a section of this rolling hike that goes through open hills, oak and eucalyptus groves, and offers expansive views stretching from Mount Diablo to the Delta. Starting from the Alhambra Creek staging area, climb the Diablo View Trail as it makes its way up to an open grassy hill. At a signed junction that reads, "Not a Through Trail," fork left and enter a canopy of coast live oak, valley oak, and blue oak. Upon emerging, take the Spengler Trail and descend under a thick canopy of bays, bigleaf maples, and buckeyes. When the path splits, take the high road climbing through a forested canyon. Keep an eye overhead for the holiday highlight: mistletoe. Large bushels of evergreen oval leaves grow off the baring winter oak, sometimes ornamented with waxy white berries. Pucker up! Descend the Old Briones Road Trail, which edges a steep canyon and overlooks the park's highest peak, Briones Crest. Approaching a parking lot, tuck left to follow a singletrack trail (an unmarked continuation of Old Briones Road Trail). Merge with the Pine Tree Trail—lined by Monterey and Coulter pines—before reaching the hike's homestretch on Orchard Trail. This final, animated leg features a hillside inhabited by hundreds of squirrels and bluebirds vying for seeds and nuts. Sealed with a kiss!

From Highway 4 in Martinez, take the Alhambra Ave. exit and go a half-mile south to Alhambra Valley Rd. Turn right and continue 1.2 miles to Reliez Valley Rd. Turn left and go 0.5-mile to the Alhambra Creek Valley entrance. Turn right and follow the entrance road about a mile to the parking area. The park charges $3 to park and $2 per dog. Dog-friendly!

Nicks Cove and Cottages Point Reyes

In the Nick of Time

If you're going to splurge on an overnight escape, there are a few must-haves... say, a rustic/upscale cottage, a pristine waterfront setting, a Michelin-recommended on-site restaurant, and a private beach cove with a fire pit. Yes, Virginia, there is such a place, and it's just an hour north of San Francisco. Nick's Cove Restaurant, Oyster Bar and Cottages in Tomales Bay is a hideaway haven. A clutch of 12 waterfront cottages and a circa 1930s roadhouse restaurant make up this coastal Marin charmer. Five of the cottages are right on the water, complete with wood-burning stoves, heated marble floors, and a mix of rural and contemporary décor. All have patios with bay views stretching to the camel-hump hills of Tomales Point. Take a stroll along the public pier (currently decorated in holiday lights), which leads to a lone boat shack where you can warm up next to a wood-burning fire stove. Nick's Cove Restaurant exudes hunting-lodge chic with newly installed seating in front of the big stone fireplace, game trophies mounted on the walls, and plenty of wood paneling. The wine list is long and interesting, and the food ranges from the signature Bodega Bay Clam Chowder to Wood-Roasted Ribeye and Tomales Bay Cioppino. Take a Dad's Egg Nog Semifreddo (seasonal) dessert out to the boat shack; the winter months are the quieter season in these parts, so you're likely to have the place to yourself. Or head to the small beach and relax at the fire pit while roasting s'mores. Starting in January, Nick's Cove will be serving up its own package of handcrafted marshmallows, buttery graham crackers, and super-fine Belgium chocolate—yummm. Splurgetastic!

Point Reyes Outdoors launches kayak trips right out of Nick's Cove.

Nick's Cove and Cottages, 23240 Hwy 1, Marshall; 415-663-1033. Cottages start at $225 mid-week and $325 on weekends. Dog-friendly!

Rancho Siempre Verde Christmas Tree Farm

Tree Me

Sure, you can pick up a pre-cut Christmas tree at your local grocery store, but remember those old Norman Rockwell paintings of kids tramping around the forest in search of the perfect fir? That scene comes to life on the San Mateo Coast at Rancho Siempre Verde, a U-Cut Christmas tree farm that's been bringing friends and families together for the past 40 years. Plastic Santas aren't part of the bling here, but this rural farm isn't short on holiday hoopla. A billowing bonfire is a gathering point for roasting marshmallows, wreath-making classes are offered on-site, and a hilltop picnic area overlooking the ocean is charmed by 40-foot-tall giant swings that sway to even bigger views of the Pacific and acres of Christmas trees below. (Swing solo or pair up—we saw up to 4 people on one.) The farm's festive charms add plenty of spirit to the main attraction: trees. Douglas firs, Monterey pines, and Sequoias are a few popular choices found here, though many are in need of a little nip and tuck. Those seeking smaller trees should have easier pickings. Otherwise, patience and a keen eye while strolling the rows are helpful.

Rancho Siempre Verde is located at 2250 Cabrillo Hwy. (Hwy. 1), 25 miles south of Half Moon Bay. All trees are $60. They'll help you load and tie the tree of your choice to your car. Dog-friendly!

Next Up, New Zealand

Maybe you've seen the movies featuring its Middle Earth landscape. Or heard friends speaking in hushed voices about magical islands where you can walk through rainforests, up pristine glaciers, and across golden beaches. New Zealand is a wild frontier of natural beauty, genuinely friendly locals, and an outdoors scene that's completely accessible. If it's on your list of "might be nice to do," then move it up to "must-do!" The best months to visit are coming right up, and direct flights leave daily from San Francisco!

Lace up the boots, mate! You don't hike in New Zealand; you tramp! Where to start? One of the Great Walks: Travel along the tops of mountains on the famed hut-to-hut Routeburn Track—named one of the top 10 hikes in the world.

Kayak the turquoise waters of Abel Tasman National Park, paddling through a marine reserve that's home to dolphins and a seal colony. The gold-sand beaches are pretty sweet, too.

Explore one of Fiordland National Park's nine sounds. Most famous is Milford (a boat ride through it is not to be missed). For those who really want to get away, there's the more remote and ethereal Doubtful Sound.

Tramp or mountain bike New Zealand's first National Park, Tongariro, best known as Mordor and Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and home to one of the world's best day walks, Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Whale-watch in the morning, wine-taste in the afternoon, and don't miss the water taxi to your waterfront lodge in the Marlborough region.

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