We love San Francisco for its larger-than-life personality and penchant for all things flashy. Its weirdness and conformity-defying attitude is one we wholeheartedly relate to. As fun as exploring the city can be, sometimes, we all need a breath of fresh air.
Thankfully, the list of things to do in San Francisco doesn't end with busy streets and skyscrapers. The city houses many natural areas, offering a quiet reprieve where you can recharge and soak in the sun and beauty of the surroundings.
SF has trails suitable for all skills and abilities, from leisurely strolls to advanced trails for more seasoned hikers. We've compiled a list of the best hikes in San Francisco to enjoy, whether you call this grand city home or you're just passing through.
If you like water views and exploring beaches, check out these cool hikes around San Francisco. We love the majesty exuded by these trails along crags, rocky cliffs, and dunes, and you can't beat the views you'll discover along the way.
1. Lands End Trail – Eagles Point to Sutro Baths
One of the most stunning Northern California hikes you'll find is along Lands End Trail. This hike leads you down to the historic Sutro Baths, built to mimic the Greek bathing experience using ocean water in seven swimming pools of different temperatures.
While the baths no longer stand after a fire decimated the building, the concrete ruins make for a scenic vantage point to overlook the San Francisco Bay. It's a top pick for sunset watching if you time your hike well. There are miles of out-and-back trails to explore here while you marvel at the coastal terrain.
On clear days, you'll be able to see the Golden Gate Bridge from multiple angles, and next to the Sutro Baths is Point Lobos. This spectacular spot promises unforgettable views of the coastline and a new way to see the Sutro Baths.
2. Batteries to Bluffs Trail
The Batteries to Bluffs Trail is a shorter trail that weaves its way along the western shoreline. You'll embark from one of the two trailheads near Lincoln Boulevard and meander your way down to the rugged coastline for about 15 minutes before you reach the shore.
Along the way, slow down and experience the natural beauty. The path is dotted with native plants that come alive with color in the warmer months when the wildflowers bloom.
Keep in mind that this trail isn't dog-friendly, and it's full of stairs that may make traversing the area difficult for young children or those with limited mobility.
The trail serves as the only access point to Marshall's Beach, where you can sneak a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. This secluded beach is the most hidden in the city.
When you get there, it feels like you've left the hustle of San Francisco behind for your own private getaway. Just make sure you check the tides before planning your trek — this beach is fully submerged at high tide.
3. Fort Funston Trail
The Fort Funston Trail is a gentle loop trail that goes on for just under two miles. It's one of the more popular destinations for hiking in San Francisco — it's open all year, and dogs are welcome.
The trails are wheelchair- and stroller-friendly, attracting families and those with limited mobility who want to see the sights.
There are other trails begging to be explored in the area that are a bit more strenuous, especially if you want to weave your way down to the shore. These trails aren't as accessible, and you should be prepared for a more difficult, steep hike up and down the 200-foot-high bluffs.
You might be lucky enough to see some bank swallows during your trek. Their only known nesting sites are along this trail and in Año Nuevo. These birds raise their young during the spring, and in summer, the next generation begins its journey into the wild.
While you explore, catch a break from the rush in the numerous national parks in San Francisco.
There's something rejuvenating about surrounding yourself with the greenery and serenity of the city's parks. These trails serve as starting points for your next outdoor excursion.
4. Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach Hike
While stunning, this SF hiking trail isn't for the inexperienced. The entire Golden Gate Park Loop is about 7.5 miles long, with a 400-foot change in elevation. If this is something you're prepared to tackle, your efforts will be rewarded.
Golden Gate Park itself sprawls across 1,017 acres, and this trail weaves throughout it. The whole thing traverses from Ocean Beach in the east to the center of the park before looping back west, passing San Francisco's bison paddock, Golden Gate Pavilion, Arch of Colonial Trees, and the Rose Garden.
Since the trail is so long, we recommend starting early in the day, ideally in time to marvel at the sunrise.
5. Presidio Promenade Trail
Presidio Promenade is situated in a way that allows you to explore all sorts of must-see destinations. Starting at the east end, it takes you past the Letterman Digital Arts Center, which serves as home to the Lucasfilm headquarters and is marked by a memorable statue of Yoda.
Continuing along the rail will take you to Wayburn Redwood Grove, a conservation area dedicated to Dr. Edgar and Peggy Wayburn. This couple helped secure the preservation of open spaces, and it's thanks to them that the Golden Gate National Recreation Area encompassing these trails exists today.
Admire the Redwood trees before continuing your hike. Beyond the Redwoods is the heart of the park, which serves as a good pivot point, depending on what you plan to do next. You can explore the Presidio Visitor Center or make your way to Battery Bluff, where historic gun batteries dot the area.
Go a little further, and you'll come to Crissy Field Overlook, which provides even better coastal views. The two-mile trail eventually ends at the Golden Gate Bridge, which is a perfect pivot point to explore.
6. Lover's Lane Trail
Lover's Lane Trail may be short, but it's still a memorable one. According to legend, Spanish soldiers in the 18th century used it as a shortcut to reach Mission Dolores, where their lovers awaited.
It's just over half a mile long, consisting of paved trails, a boardwalk, and a quaint brick footbridge dating back to 1885. Meander your way through the eucalyptus, cypress, and pine trees dotting the path.
Hilltop and Panoramic Views
If you want to see the city, try hiking upward to get some stunning panoramic views of the skyline. These hikes and trails will take you to some of the highest peaks in the city, promising an aerial view of all the wonders and buildings in San Francisco.
7. Twin Peaks Hike
The summit of Twin Peaks is one of the highest points in San Francisco, standing at 922 feet in elevation, and it's a tourist favorite for views of the city.
It's possible to take a bus or drive to the north peak. However, if you hike the trails, you'll be immersed in presettlement San Francisco.
It's a little over two miles to reach the summit, and it's mostly a gentle hike. Dogs are welcome on leashes, and paved roads allow for bikers, parents with strollers, and people with wheelchairs to make their way to the top.
The winding trails take you through grassland and coastal scrub, where you might catch sight of an endangered Mission blue butterfly, a quarter-sized blue butterfly seen flitting from lupine to lupine. This is the only place they can be seen in the city, which makes it a treat.
8. Mount Sutro Hike
Mount Sutro is home to numerous trails shaded with cypress, pine, and eucalyptus trees planted by Adolph Sutro, the same man who oversaw the creation of the Sutro Baths. While it's one of the highest points accessible by trail in San Francisco, it's not particularly popular.
This is partly because the forest blocks many of the views hikers crave. You won't have a good vantage point to see the city, but you'll be treated to stunning sights of wildlife and greenery that can be a breath of fresh air amid the towering skyscrapers of the city proper.
This trail has multiple access points. Since it loops around, you can choose the one that's most convenient for you. Keep in mind that the trail can get quite steep in places, so make sure you wear your hiking boots and plan accordingly.
9. Mount Davidson Hike
The only point in San Francisco higher than the summit of Twin Peaks is Mount Davidson, reaching 938 feet. It's recognizable from the distance by the massive concrete cross atop its peak, and on the west, it's dotted with eucalyptus forests.
To the east, however, coastal scrub and grassland prevail, waving gently in the wind. This forest is thanks to — you guessed it — Adolph Sutro, who once owned 1/20 of the city's land.
The mountain is home to numerous unmarked trails, some with steep steps constructed from wood planks, so be careful as you traverse it.
If you want to hike in privacy or less crowded places, these lesser-known gems are the perfect solutions. With views of forests, cliffs, and sprawling meadows, you can escape the concrete and journey into these hidden secret spaces for a secluded ambiance that can make you forget you're in one of the largest cities in the country.
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10. Glen Canyon Park
Approximately 3.7 miles of trails create a network through Glen Canyon Park, just waiting to be explored. Over 60 acres of wilderness make up a flash of greenery within the city proper, and the melodies of birds can drown out the urban soundtrack, creating a rural ambiance.
Traverse the winding trails to explore shrublands and grasslands as you hike around the canyon. For a longer break from the city, you can head toward Twin Peaks.
11. Bernal Heights Park
Bernal Heights Park is another breathtaking vantage point offering a 360-degree view of the city from its peak. Bernal Hill itself is a natural refuge area, and while there's a paved road up to its summit, it has limited access.
Dirt trails snake their way around the hill to the top, where you can overlook windswept slopes and leave the stressors of urban life behind for a few short hours.
While the summer months see the hills transformed into what looks like dead, burnt grass, the springtime blooms of wildflowers paint a beautiful landscape worth the hike.
12. Lake Merced Park
Lake Merced Park sits on the southernmost edge of the city near San Francisco State University and features one of the only freshwater lakes in the area. With over 600 acres to explore, it offers boating, fishing, and golf courses amid its walking trails.
Serving as a stopping point for many migratory birds, the lake is protected and maintained, although there's a walking path surrounding it. The eucalyptus trees create a stunning view, even on foggy days.
13. Bayview Park
A trail loops throughout Bayview Park that begins and ends to the east of Key Avenue. The park is home to a diverse range of plants and animals, with everything from eucalyptus and oak groves to grassy areas and coastal scrub.
It's a treasure trove for nature lovers to explore, and you may be greeted by owls, hawks, or even a snake along your adventure.
14. Angel Island Hike
Angel Island is one of our favorite hiking destinations because it offers guided hikes for groups of 25 or more, and you can't beat the spectacular views or touch of history you'll experience on the island.
Even if you decide to set out on your own, you've got several hiking options. The 5.5-mile Perimeter Trail shows expanses of the San Francisco Bay by bike or on foot, and on a clear day, you can see Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Bay Bridge all from one point.
Hiking up to Mt. Livermore lets you see all of Angel Island and the surrounding Bay Area, but it takes you up a nearly 800-foot elevation gain in just over three miles and is a more rugged route — but it's full of natural wonders.
Immigration Station Trail takes you to the USIS Museum, which shows where immigrants once traveled to enter the United States. You can explore the detention areas to appreciate a little piece of history.
Relish in the Natural Sights of San Francisco on These Hiking Trails
Most people wouldn't think of an urban hub as being home to countless trails, but this city manages to be a haven for those who love to get out into the great outdoors.
The range of vibrant scenery experienced during the best hikes in and around San Francisco is as awe-inspiring as we aspire to make our shows.
Many of these sites are like traveling through time, catching a glimpse of what the lands looked like before the city stood tall and proud. Embark on a journey through winding trails and paths and listen for the stories whispered by nature as it thrives within the city.
While waiting for our next shows in San Francisco, let nature be your entertainment. See the myriad of birds swoop and soar through the air like our acrobats. Watch the sunset over the city, painting it with dazzling colors and evoking a swell of emotion that we aim to rival with our performances.
Exploring the city's trails by day and catching one of our breathtaking performances at night sounds like a breathtakingly good time!
The next time we're in San Francisco, we hope to see you on the trails and in the audience as we weave a spellbinding tale that will leave you on the edge of your seat.