10 Great Seaside City Hikes

Even bustling coastal cities provide places to get away for a fun time on foot. Here's where to find them.

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We want to enjoy the best of both worlds: the city and the sea. That's why we've been looking for fun seaside hikes in urban areas. Most of these strolls by the shore are on the easy side. But you can always kick up the pace for more of a workout.

Discovery Park, Seattle, WA
Just beyond the Space Needle, just above Puget Sound, Discovery Park boasts the best urban hiking in Seattle. The 534-acre area has incredible views for a reason: The military once operated Fort Lawton on this site to watch over the city. These days the old barracks and expansive fields break up the verdant forests that patch the park. Trails weave through these trees, across meadows, and down bluffs to driftwood-strewn beaches. As a bonus, you can watch the sun set over the snow-covered Olympic Mountains; 206/684-4075 or www.cityofseattle.net/parks.

Marin Headlands, near San Francisco, CA
Only in San Francisco can you caffeinate on Clement Street, hike on coastal headlands, and end the day with dinner in Chinatown. Some of the finest shoreside hikes in the world await just minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Stunning views of the Pacific, the city, and San Francisco Bay erupt beyond the green hills. Trails such as Coast, Miwok, and Tennessee Valley lead hikers of all abilities to open ridges or rugged beaches; 415/331-1540 or www.nps.gov/goga/mahe.

Venice Boardwalk, Venice, CA
Everything people love and hate about Southern California exhibits itself along this two-mile concrete path. The Los Angeles-area enclave, just south of Santa Monica, began as a developer's dream. A century ago, tobacco magnate Abbot Kinney dredged 16 miles of canals through a marsh to create the "Venice of America." After several cycles in and out of fashion over the years, the area has become probably the most diverse corner of L.A. Bodybuilders, basketball players, skaters, local eccentrics, and wide-eyed tourists mingle with varying degrees of wariness, fascination, and, for the most part, friendliness. Souvenir shops, restaurants, and some lovely homes line the boardwalk on the nonsand side. Despite all the distractions, the sight of sunset over the Pacific reminds you why everybody came here in the first place; 310/399-2775 or www.venicebeach.com.

Bayside Trail, San Diego, CA
This one can be a little steep, but it's only a mile long (one way). And the glorious views of San Diego and the ocean are worth it. You begin at the visitor center for Cabrillo National Monument, on the tip of Point Loma (a finger of land that curves protectively around San Diego from the north). The trail takes you to Old Point Loma Lighthouse, then meanders past the remains of various coastal defenses before it dead-ends. So you turn around and retrace your steps, enjoying the Pacific panoramas. Listen for barking sea lions and moaning foghorns; 619/222-8211 or www.nps.gov/cabr.

Shoreline Boulevard/Ocean Drive, Corpus Christi, TX
Sidewalks and bike paths run 11 miles along Corpus Christi Bay, from the Art Museum of South Texas to the north gate of Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. Along the way you find the downtown seawall (designed by Gutzon Borglum, who sculpted the presidential monument on Mount Rushmore), parks, marinas, exercise stations, grand homes, lots of seabirds, and, on Wednesday evenings, sailboat races on the bay; 800/766-2322 or www.caller2.com/lovecc/10212002/singlepa/15231.html.

Bayshore Boulevard, Tampa, FL
On one side, a busy street. On the other, the placid waters of Hillsborough Bay. All around you, buff bodies jogging, roller-skating, biking, or just parading. That's Bayshore Boulevard, where the world's longest continuous sidewalk (as the local tourism folks like to point out) runs four and a half miles south from downtown Tampa. The balustrade that winds along the shoreline includes alcoves with benches where you can sit and watch the show; 812/223-1111.

The Broadwalk, Hollywood, FL
Strip malls and towering condos sprawl along the South Florida coast from Miami to Fort Lauderdale. In between lies Hollywood, a low-key, low-rise place where a 2.2-mile paved promenade called The Broadwalk runs along a lovely stretch of beach. Sunrise over the Atlantic rewards early-morning strollers. Later, the day brings people-watching and dining and shopping options to tempt you from the path. And in the evening, perhaps a concert or theater production; 800/231-5562 or www.visithollywood.org/recreation/beaches.html.

First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, VA
Just north of the city's Atlantic beaches, where the ocean meets the Chesapeake Bay, First Landing State Park contains nine trails totaling 19 miles. For such a compact area, you get a wide variety of terrain: bald cypress swamps draped in Spanish moss, dunes with views of the water, marshes, forests, and, yes, beaches. The diversity derives from the fact that this is the northernmost point on the East Coast where both subtropical and temperate plants thrive. The park's name commemorates the fact that, in 1607, this became the first New World landing site for a ship that carried 104 English colonists. They would go on to found Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America; 800/933-PARK or www.dcr.state.va.us/parks/1stland.htm#Trails.

West Side of Manhattan, New York, NY
Pathways line virtually the entire Hudson River side of Manhattan, from Battery Park all the way north into the Bronx. Almost any segment reveals great architecture, glimpses of the island's history, and surprising amounts of green space. Piers bristle into the river in Lower Manhattan, including Piers 88, 90, and 92, where cruise ships dock. Farther north, you can explore Riverside Park, created by the designers of the more famous Central Park. You also pass the Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge and The Cloisters, which houses the Metropolitan Museum of Art's medieval collections. Boats and ships on the Hudson put on an ever-changing show; 212/791-2530, www.hudsonriverpark.org or www.nycgovparks.org.

Back Cove Trail, Portland, ME
Look down to see spry shorebirds prospecting for a meal. Look up for pretty views of the Portland skyline. Look around to connect with fellow hikers, runners, dog walkers, bicyclists, and other seekers of fresh air and exercise. This trail, surfaced in stone dust, loops for three and a half miles around Back Cove northwest of downtown. That location, and the soothing water vistas, make it popular even after dark (it's lighted). Benches provide rest for the weary; 207/775-2411 or www.trails.org.

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