It’s barely March, but your New Years resolutions already look shaky. That’s okay. Who needs to lose weight and stop smoking anyway? What you really need is an adventure!
Ever want to swim with sharks? Or leap from a plane and fly weightlessly over the world? Here’s your chance. We put together a list—a bucket list, that is. These are the most perilous recreational activities in the Bay Area. Some involve a road trip, and all of them require serious guts, but you’ll have an incredible story to tell your grandkids (and bragging rights on social media).
Everyone has at least fantasized about skydiving, but few people actually have the courage to follow through. For those who’ve flown the friendly skies, the experience proves to be one of the most memorable of their lives. Some even get hooked and make it a habit.
Skydiving is not available within the Bay Area, but there are several options relatively nearby. Below are three of the most reputable companies in the region. They are based in very different regions, however, so choose your view accordingly.
721 Neeson Road, #1, Marina, CA 93933, (831) 384-3483
It takes a few hours to wind down the Pacific coast, but it’s a beautiful drive that is well worth the trip. The best part about Skydive Monterey Bay is that they operate, fly and land closer to the ocean than any other service in California. The landing is so close to the beach that the Marina Municipal Airport is literally built on a sand dune.
If you want to soar above the sea, this is the place to go. The Santa Lucia Mountains tower over sandy beaches and farmland as far as the eyes can see. If that’s not enough, they also offer the world’s highest tandem skydive—from a whopping 18,000 feet, which translates to 90 seconds of free fall.
Photo courtesy of Kitty K.
Hangar 26, Falcon Way, Byron, CA 94514, (925) 634-7575
Just over an hour outside San Francisco and east of Mount Diablo sits the sleepy town of Byron. The airport is what you’d expect—two modest runways without so much as a control tower. The drop zone (i.e., the parachute landing spot) is at the north end.
The real magic happens at 10,000 feet in the air, as you free-fall at 120 miles an hour. Following the most thrilling minute of your life, the parachute opens, and you float in the serenity of open skies. The terrain in Contra Costa County is arid and rural, with mountains and bodies of water that break up the landscape. The views are perhaps not as spectacular as those offered by the other two companies, but Bay Area Skydiving is extremely professional and reputable.
Photo courtesy of Erica R.
220 Airport Road, Cloverdale, CA 95425, (888) 667-2259
Situated on the Russian River in Sonoma County, Cloverdale is a gateway to three of the finest wine regions in California: the Alexander Valley, the Dry Creek Valley and the Anderson Valley. Cloverdale is a quaint community with many options for wining and dining.
Conveniently located near Highway 101, Norcal Skydiving draws parachuters of all skill levels. The views are quite impressive, stretching from the Pacific and Tamales Bay all the way to the glaciers of Mount Shasta and the San Francisco skyline. Norcal Skydiving is a great option if you want to enjoy the spoils of wine country. And let’s be real—you deserve a drink after jumping out of an airplane.
Photo courtesy of Kevin G.
So you want to fly like a bird but skydiving just seems too risky? Hang gliding isn’t exactly playing it safe, but at least you’re starting on solid ground. Foot-launched flight has become quite popular and relatively safe due to modern hang-glider design innovations and comprehensive training techniques. No experience is necessary for a tandem flight, and it can be quite a relaxing experience.
The Bay Area provides some of the most picturesque glider ports in California. Fort Funston in the southwest corner of San Francisco (near SFSU) is a hang-gliding hotspot. There are several other amazing launch pads in Pacifica and Milpitas. Local hang gliding is optimal in March and October.
Photo courtesy of Hang Glide Fort Funston.
2125 Lawton Street, San Francisco, CA 94122 (408) 718-7282
Their headquarters is in San Francisco, but Big Air launches out of Fremont and Fort Funston. Owner and operator Mike Jefferson really knows his stuff. He’s been flying ultralight aircrafts since he was 15 years old and even appeared on the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters. The holiday special is still available—$225 for a tandem flight.
Image courtesy of Big Air Hang Gliding.
6722 Sapphire Street, Dublin, CA 94568, (707) 373-0964
This crew is serious about hang gliding. They have an intensive pilot program emphasizing personal instruction and step-by-step training. East Bay Hang Gliding offers single lessons as well as five-lesson and ten-lesson packages. They also offer tandem flights—$250 during the week and $300 on weekends.
Photo courtesy of East Bay Hang Gliding.
PO Box 571, Pacifica, CA 94044, (650) 451-2549
With over 1,500 flight hours logged, owner John Simpson has ample experience. Not only is he a certified advanced instructor with a spotless safety record, but also he’s a really nice guy. The training locations vary depending on the weather, but California Hang Gliding gives lessons along the San Francisco and San Mateo coastlines, and they have an additional site near San Jose. Tandem flights are available for $275, which includes a video of your hang-gliding experience.
Photo courtesy of California Hang Gliding.
This classic extreme sport may have peaked in popularity in the ’90s, but it’s still an attraction for thrill seekers around the world. The Bay Area has some go-to spots for bungee jumping, and although it’s legal when done in the appropriate setting with the proper equipment and permits, the bridge locations are highly guarded industry secrets. Depending on which company you choose, bungee jumping can be a precarious operation. The two companies featured below are well respected and highly rated.
1415 Webster Street, Unit 801, Alameda, CA 94501, (510) 521-5867
Icarus coordinates legit bungee jumping expeditions within five hours of San Francisco. Of the 14 bridges that they visit, the closest bridge is around a two-hour drive from the city. Due to rapidly changing conditions, the jumping location isn’t determined until the Wednesday before the scheduled jump. They do several trips every month, and the jumps usually take place in the early morning.
Photo courtesy of Icarus Bungee.
Bridges, trees, rocks, you name it—the folks at Bungee Adventures want to leap from it. They select some of the most remote and breathtaking wilderness locations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that overlook snowcapped summits and dense forests. They offer 100-foot bridge jumps for $99 and 200-foot tree jumps for $149. If you’re feeling really wild, take the 300-foot plunge from a giant rock for $299.
Photo courtesy of Bungee Adventures.
Merely 30 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, the Farallon Islands are swarming with one of the world’s largest populations of great white sharks. Here’s your chance to get chummy with the Pacific’s fiercest predator.
Farallon trips take place only from September through November, which coincides with the migration of elephant seals. Voyages take a full day, and you’ll walk away with a tan and a full stomach, but there’s certainly no guarantee that you’ll see a shark. That particular area is a marine sanctuary, so the use of live bait is not permitted. As a result, the companies have to use foam dummy seals to attract the sharks. It’s not nearly as effective, which makes the whole thing a crapshoot.
2095 Jerrold Avenue #100, San Francisco, CA 94124, (415) 642-7378
Departing from Fisherman’s Wharf, Incredible Adventures is an established company that offers many types of tours throughout Northern California. They charge $825 for cage diving or $475 for topside observation from the boat. FYI: the water is very cold, and visibility is limited.
Photo courtesy of Ben.
4000 Pimlico Drive, Pleasanton, CA 94588, (510) 808-4499
Based out of Emeryville, Great White Adventures is a smaller company in the East Bay that also travels to the Farallon Islands. A one-day cage dive is $775, and a topside observation is $375. Despite being significantly cheaper than its competitors, Great White Adventures has less than stellar Yelp reviews, especially when it comes to customer service and the quality of their amenities.
We wanted to include BASE jumping in this article, but finding a way to do it isn’t as simple as making a reservation. BASE jumpers are highly experienced parachuters and wingsuit flyers, comprising a very select group of daredevils. Their passion is classified as an illegal activity in most jurisdictions (with the exception of Moab, Utah, and Twin Falls, Idaho). BASE jumpers are basically the street artists of the extreme sporting world: they’re constantly on the run from forest rangers and police officers alike.
It’s a particularly difficult feat to pull off in the city, although it has been successfully attempted. Most BASE-jumping locations are sheer cliffs, large towers or expansive bridges in remote areas. Two of the best spots are El Capitan in Yosemite and Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, both of which have been the site of accidental deaths. Some argue that legalizing the sport would help regulate its activity. Doing so would also reduce the tension between law enforcement and BASE jumpers, which often results in hasty decisions and greater risks.
If you want to try something adventurous but you’re not ready to stray far from the earth, the city is surprisingly good for rock climbing. Beyond the typical indoor gyms—which make for good practice—San Francisco is home to many natural bouldering destinations. Some of the secret spots include Lands End, Cliff House in Ocean Beach and the 14th Avenue Buttresses in Golden Gate Heights. There are also a lot of beautiful climbing options in the East Bay, especially at Mt. Diablo State Park around Pine Canyon.
Photo courtesy of Mountain Project of Mount Diablo.
Tucked away behind Market Street in the heart of the Castro, this 45-foot-tall wall is both stunning and challenging. The rock is polished to perfection and smooth as butter; on a sunny day, you can see your reflection. But don’t bother trying your hand at Beaver Street Wall when it’s foggy and damp, as the glassy sheets become far too slick, and the grip is beyond dicey.
The trick is to take a route along the center crack, which provides a better climbing surface. You can even top-rope this spot, which is pretty unique. Plus, you can really take your time here and enjoy the surroundings. You’ll need rope, proper footwear, chalk and a harness.
Glen Canyon, one of the most impressive outdoor spaces nestled in San Francisco, is another ecological treasure. Plus, it’s just an easy 10-minute walk from the Glen Park BART station in Diamond Heights.
Scenic trails meander through grasslands and along a creek, leading to numerous boulders, overhangs, buttresses and cliffs. Glen Canyon is a climber’s paradise because nearly everything is scalable within the park (except for the Dead Cat Rocks). It should be noted that absolutely no bolts are allowed. If you require a top rope, you must bring your own slings and a rack.