Start the day with a proper hike. Fill your lungs with clean air, leave the city behind you and find a different outlook. This is the regular reset we all need – no crampons required.
San Francisco’s hills and nearby forests are good for two reasons: to take a break from city life and, when necessary, to escape the elements. A good-weather day offers the opportunity to climb a myriad of smaller hills within the city limits – the moniker “Seven Hills of San Francisco” sells the city well short. Easy options include Corona Heights Park (pictured), which offers stunning views from its peak and sits in the heart of the city. And on a bad-weather day (any unfortunate tourist caught out on a cold and foggy San Francisco day wearing shorts and a T-shirt knows what I’m talking about), one only has to head across the Golden Gate Bridge to leave the city’s peculiar peninsula-induced weather system behind and enter the miraculously warmer climes that make northern California such an attraction.
On the other side of the strait is Muir Woods, a national park that’s filled with the skyscraper-sized redwood trees that this region is famous for. The casual walker can enjoy some quiet contemplation along the wood-paved paths near the entrance (the redwoods make great listeners), while the more adventurous can hike up through the forest. You’ll find yourself rewarded at the top when you break through the trees and look down at Stinson Beach below, and across the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The beauty of a good hike is that it stays with you. I indulged in the Muir Woods walk for the first time more than a decade ago but I remember reaching the top and breaking through those trees as though it was yesterday. I’ve returned multiple times since but, let’s face it, you never forget your first time. Sure, a beach holiday will stick with you too but – this might be the mountain-loving Austrian in me talking – I find that the fresh air that comes from a good hill walk is something you can almost taste, or even escape to if you close your eyes on a rainy day back at your home or place of work. Just don’t let the boss catch you daydreaming.
But even daydreams need fresh material to draw on. So during the winter I head to the Alpine mountains of my birth nation for some skiing – I find the breeze and mountain air as rejuvenating as the sport itself – while in the summer I aim to criss-cross the national parks of my second home, the US. You’ll find me back there this summer, seeking that soul-cleansing hike that we all deserve (and should be promising ourselves) as a way of clearing the air and starting anew after a tumultuous 2020.