Whether you live in the Bay Area or are visiting it for a vacation this winter, there is no denying that the general ambience of the place is immensely inspiring.
Ready to enjoy all of the gorgeous views that San Francisco has to offer while on the best horseback riding trails?
Sun-drenched days with an underlying chill and misty evenings all come together to make you feel invincible. At a time like this, you may wonder how you can make these unforgettable days even better.
The answer lies in man’s other best friend, horses.
Our dogs are our loyal companions, but horses have been partners in our evolution. From being our earliest form of travel to our load-bearers, they have now rewarded us with their companionship.
They regularly answer the call of our wild spirits with theirs and show us places we could not access without them.
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The joy and beauty of horse-riding is a relatively unknown activity offered in the Bay Area. There are several horse farms all over Northern California, and there are options to enjoy for every kind of rider.
So today, let's discover the best horseback riding trails in San Francisco:
Garrod Farms, Saratoga
A personal favorite of mine, Garrod Farms, has been a Bay Area stalwart for over 120 years.
Accessible by car at an hour’s driving distance from San Francisco and half an hour’s driving distance from San Jose, this farm is within convenient driving distance for all kinds of equestrian activities.
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Garrod farms offers horse boarding, horse-riding lessons, riding camps, trail, and vineyard rides with wine tasting.
In addition to its illustrious history, this farm is home to beautiful horses with some of the best temperaments and health. At Garrod Farms, you can learn from some expert equestrians and enjoy a trail ride with stunning views.
A trail ride is the perfect option for riders of every level of expertise and is also my absolute favorite thing about being an equestrian.
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Hiking a trail and riding it are distinctly different matters. When you ride a trail, you enjoy true companionship because the horse takes you through parts you may never be able to do on foot, and you are free to enjoy the view as your loyal escort takes you around safely.
The Garrod Farms ride goes through the Seven Springs Trail, which offers delicious views of Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay, going so far as Mount Diablo and Santa Cruz mountains.
Garrod farms tends to be extremely busy, so it is best to book your ride at least six weeks ahead. You may now be wondering what you should wear.
If you are not yet a keen equestrian with the appropriate gear, you can wear comfortable jeans, a shirt, a gilet, flat-heeled boots, and leather gloves.
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It would be best to make sure that your clothes have a comfortable amount of stretch and do not restrict your movements.
Your boots should be well-fitted so they do not slip, and they should be flat so they do not hurt the horse.
Gloves are necessary for winter rides on this trail as the cold breeze can make your hands stiff and impact your ability to navigate the reigns. The farm provides helmets, so you needn’t worry about taking one along.
Sea Horse Ranch, Half Moon Bay
Another personal favorite of mine, Sea Horse Ranch, is located in the magical township of Half Moon Bay.
It is extremely straightforward to get to only a half an hour drive from San Francisco and roughly a forty-five-minute drive from San Jose. They offer some pretty lucrative riding packages ranging from an hour-long trail ride to a two-hour long trail and coastal ride.
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In addition, they have incredibly competent staff who are fearless riders. Seahorse Ranch only does the Western saddle, so if you’re an English saddle rider, you may want to mentally prepare yourself for the switch.
Of the three kinds of rides they offer, I prefer and recommend the early bird trail and beach ride the most.
The equestrian part of this trail goes through misty fields full of wild fennel and deer. About half an hour into the trail comes this section where you go through a gorgeous bit where the trail dips downwards, surrounding you with walls of earth on both sides and a roof of trees.
No part of this trail is ordinary, and walking a beach is no comparison to riding on one. Sandpipers, Seagulls, and migrating birds will flirt with your horse, showing you a side to their personality you wouldn’t see without the horse.
The best part of this trail is that it begins at 8 AM, and by the time you finish at 10 AM, you will still have the rest of your day to enjoy the festivities of the day.
Owing to the trail rides being run every day, they have more availability than you might expect. The same attire applies for this ride too, closed-toe boots, jeans, shirt, gilet, gloves, and a helmet provided by the ranch. Saddle up and ride away on your very own magical horse this holiday season!
Chaparral Corporation, Various Bay Area locations
The only thing better than a farm run by expert equestrians is three locations run by expert equestrians! Chaparral Corporation has a presence in San Francisco, Woodside, and Milpitas, tripling the fun and availability.
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All three locations run lessons, trail rides, and camps, so there is plenty to choose from. Chaparral Corporation’s trail ride through Golden Gate Park is a rare and prestigious treat as there has been no horse-riding in the park since 2001. It only came back in 2019, so this is about as much a novelty as it can be.
A 1000-acre expanse, Golden Gate Park is home to some fantastic trails, bridle paths, a stunningly beautiful lake, a rose garden, and wooded areas that drown out the city as soon as you step into them.
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When you ride through the park, you become a part of the park’s esteemed equestrian history. Golden Gate Park used to operate public stables for 130 years before they closed in 2001.
In the twenty years that followed, there were numerous attempts to revive equestrian activities in the park, all of which came to nothing.
Finally, in 2019, a pilot program brought back man’s other best friend, and now you can enjoy riding through the park.
As you go through the winding wooded paths and floral gardens, remember that this privilege of having your horse take you around has been fought for and won for you by the entire city!
Pro Tip: As this is a trail ride within the city, you could skip the gloves, but the rest of your attire remains the same. Helmets will be provided as always.
Point Reyes Arabian Adventures, Marin County
Most people only envision the South Bay and the Peninsula when they think of the Bay Area. However, the Bay Area also includes the incredibly beautiful Marin County.
Marin is the smallest Bay Area county, but it is unbelievably rich in natural beauty and landscape. Marin County is home to the Muir Woods, Point Reyes National Seashore, Angel Island, Mount Tamalpais, and so much more.
Point Reyes Arabian Adventures has been providing exciting equestrian adventures for over twenty years. Located at an hour’s drive from San Francisco and a two-hour drive away from San Jose, they offer lessons and trail rides for both children and adults.
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This is a pretty unique offering as most riding packages will not include children in their trail rides. Their trail ride options are also the most diverse I have ever seen, covering bay view trails, forest trails through the redwood forests, mountain lake rides, and even an all-day ride of six hours!
Riding through the Redwoods would be my choice for the holidays. Nothing says exploration better than being astride an Arabian steed, going through a forest trail surrounded by giant Redwood trees and heavy forest cover with the smell of wet wood and moss hanging in the air.
Pro Tip: The temperatures in Marin County tend to be lower, so you don’t want to skip the gilet and gloves and will probably be grateful for the helmet.
Alko Equestrian Center, Napa Valley
You hear Napa Valley, and you think wine, don’t you? Well, you are absolutely correct! We are going to dive into the world of grapes, wine, and everything nice. Nestled amongst Coombsville hills, Rapp Ranch and Shadybrook Estate Winery have come together to offer experiences like no other in the area.
In the 50 years of its existence, this estate has alternated between being a horse ranch and winery before settling into the balance that you will get to enjoy today.
This estate offers four options for trail rides, two of which include a wine tasting experience. My personal recommendation would lean towards the fifty-minute trail ride with a twenty-minute tour of the estate or the two-and-a-half-hour trail ride and wine tasting experience, especially if this is your first time at the ranch.
These two options may sound excessive, especially in terms of the cost but you won’t be back at Napa Valley every day so treat it as a rare treat.
As an experienced equestrian, I will always recommend the longer experiences as it can take a while to get comfortable with navigating the horse and managing the reigns.
Although you are stuck with jeans and long boots for your visit here, you can definitely skip the gloves as the terrain will be extremely gentle and the weather mild. A helmet will be mandatory and provided as always but you may wish to prepare for helmet hair for the pictures you will take during the wine tasting.
There you have it folks! The top five horseback riding trails in San Francisco and where to find them.
You may choose to do one or two, or better yet all of them! Just writing about them has tempted me into booking my first ride of the season.
What Horseback Riding Trails in San Francisco Did We Miss?
Any must-visit horseback riding trails in San Francisco that we missed? Share with everyone in the comments below!