Despite its many hills (there’s 48 of them), San Francisco is a highly walkable city. To really get to know its quirky neighbourhoods, world-famous landmarks and countless parks, you really need to take to two feet. Beyond the urban sights, the bay offers sprawling redwood forests, wildlife-rich wetlands and craggy coastal views too. If you’re looking to escape the city’s hectic pace, here are seven of the best walks in San Francisco.
Most scenic walks in San Francisco
1. Lands End
Stretching from the Sutro Baths to the Golden Gate, Lands End offers miles of scenic walking trails along the bay’s rugged stretch of Pacific coastline. The basic loop trail is three miles long and takes no longer than an hour. It’s mostly flat too, so your quads will hardly feel a thing. The route winds alongside the crashing ocean, cypress trees and cliffs, with postcard-perfect views of the Golden Gate and hills of Marin. Stop off at the Eagle’s Point Overlook for an Insta-worthy snap.
If you’re looking to bask in the beauty of California’s famous redwoods, there’s no need to head all the way to the North Bay. Over on the East Bay, a few miles from downtown Oakland, Reinhardt Regional Park offers 1,844-acres of coastal redwoods and grasslands. There’s a handful of hiking trails to choose from too, ranging from the leisurely mile-long Steam Trail to a variety of off-track options for more confident hikers. Park at the Skyline Gate Staging for the best trail access. For keen wildlife watchers, there’s rare species like golden eagles and Alameda striped racers, as well as plenty of deer, rabbits and racoons.
Every year around 10 million visitors take on the Golden Gate Bridge’s 746-foot towers. This short – and oh so sweet – stroll across San Francisco’s most iconic monument offers sparkling city views without making a dent in your pedometer. It takes roughly 20-30 minutes to walk from one side of the bridge to the other. Start your hike at Crissy Field Center and stroll north along the bridge. That way you can make the most of Golden Gate Park, home to bonsai, buffalo, flowers and free music if you’re lucky. It’s also home to the de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences and the San Francisco Botanical Garden, so it’s worth making a day of it.
A short hop across from the Golden Gate is Marin Headlands – the crown jewel of the Golden Gate National Parks. Set in 2,000-acres of woodlands, pebble beaches and Jurassic park rock formations. There are dozens of hiking trails to choose from but the Point Bonita Trail and the Rodeo Lagoon Trail are two of the best. The Rodeo Valley, which winds through the heart of the Marin Headlands, is inhabited by a staggering range of birds, butterflies and bobcats. For an idyllic picnicking spot, stop off at Battery Wallace, around the corner from the Point Bonita Lighthouse. If you’re visiting at the weekend, you can take a peek around the lighthouse (which is still active) too.
5. Mori Point
For a breath of fresh air outside the city, Mori Point is an excellent option. Less than half an hour drive south of San Francisco, this 23-acre wetland park is an adventure playground for wildlife buffs. There are two trails to choose from and neither requires too much puff. The shorter half-mile trail leads straight to the Pacific Ocean, while the longer (and slightly steeper) 1.5-mile trail meanders along the coastal bluffs. If you’re lucky, you might spot whales during their winter migration here too. Unlike most of the state’s national parks, Mori Point is pet-friendly too.
6. The Presidio
The 2.7-mile hike along the Batteries to Bluffs Trail offers show-stopping ocean views. Starting at Lincoln Boulevard, the elevated trail crisscrosses springs, seeps and dramatic bluffs with plenty of opportunities for butterfly and bird watching. There’s an option to extend the walk to descend the serpentine hillside to Marshall’s Beach too. It’s not your only option in The Presidio though, the park boasts 24 miles of hiking trails. For a longer hike, try the California Coastal Trails route. Save your trip for a sunset hike if you can.
Compared with some of the heftier hikes on our list, the mileage at Mount Diablo is minuscule. But with steep slopes ascending to 2,848 ft, you don’t want to underestimate it. For a more leisurely stroll, take the 0.8 mile round trip along the Mary Bowerman Loop. Circling the summit, you’ll get to enjoy sparkling views at every turn. More confident ramblers might want to choose the full 6.8-mile ascent to the top via the Summit Trail instead. It requires some serious stamina but the views over the Sierra Nevadas, the Farallon Islands and – on a clear day – Yosemite’s Half Dome are breathtaking.