Saint Hilary Church Open Space Nature Preserve
In the search for more Bay Area day trips during the quarantine, we discovered a gem that I had no idea existed! Surprisingly, we had never been to the Old Saint Hilary’s Open Space Preserve. It is a 122 acre Marin County Park which overlooks the Bay. The spectacular panoramic views from the peaks of the hill, include all three bridges; The Golden Gate, the Richmond, and the Bay Bridge.
To access the trail head, enter Old Saint Hilary’s Open Space Nature Preserve into your GPS. From Hwy 101 in Mill Valley, take the exit for Tiburon Blvd (Hwy 131) east 3.5 miles. Turn left onto Lyford Dr, right onto Vistazo West St, and follow to the end (dead end). The directions will take you through the gorgeous Tiburon neighborhood to Vistazo St., West Belvedere. We found parking on the street very close to the trail. Apparently, parking is not always that easy, so be mindful and respectful of the lucky people who live in the neighborhood. The Heathcliff Fire Road trail, or the northern part of the preserve, is accessed from Vistazo St. From the Heathcliff Fire Road trail, as a hiker, you can descend to the southern part of the preserve, the Vistazo Fire Road trail, which will lead you to the church parking area.
This is a great spot, close to home, for easy hiking, views, and history. The nature preserve is not only known for the perfect panoramic views of the entire Bay, but also for its unusual and rare wildflowers, the most famous being the Tiburon Jewelflower. It is an endangered flower in the mustard seed family and blooms May through June. While we missed that season, we did see lovely yellow flowers in the soft and windswept grasses.
The area’s history is fascinating. I recommend you read up about the transformation of the land from the Miwok tribes, to the Mexican land grant purchased by an immigrant from Ireland, who later married the daughter of the Mexican commander of the Presidio. Their daughter married a Canadian, and together they allowed the archdiocese of San Francisco to build a church on the property in 1888 for the local workers to attend. In the 1960’s when the Carpenter Gothic building had been neglected, the people of Belvedere and Tiburon formed a trust to protect the church and its surroundings. It is now a protected and well taken care of spot for everyone to enjoy. We live in such an interesting community!
My Carrie-On Notes
Prepare for wind! While the hiking is not rigorous, your visit may take you a couple of hours. So, as is always the advice when venturing out and about in the Bay, bring layers! And don’t expect to find a public restroom. We were not successful in finding the trail leading down to the church, so we actually headed back to the car and drove to the church. The trails were quiet and we only encountered a few other hikers and runners. However, the church area was a little more populated. Therefore, we did not go inside and only lingered on the property for a short time. Apparently, it is a very popular place for weddings. I imagine the photo ops would be incredible!
We added a little bonus to our day which was to stop at our favorite juicer, Sun Life Organics in the Larkspur Landing, Marin Country, shopping area. If you have never had a Sun Life Mint Chocolate Chip smoothie, can you even say you have lived? I don’t think so. We are big fans of the Sun Life Organics stores, originally from Malibu. We waited five months into the quarantine for the grand opening at Larkspur! Heaven on earth never tasted so good!
Let us know if you make it to Saint Hilary's. Enjoy your day in the Bay!