The 8 Best Hikes In San Francisco
Without a doubt, San Francisco is one of the United States' great cities. As well as being a hub of both culture and counterculture, the city has been a center of immigration for over a century, which has contributed to a rich and vibrant culinary scene. As if that wasn't enough, San Francisco is blessed with a truly stunning natural setting. With the glittering waters of San Francisco Bay in front of it and stunning mountains behind, this jewel of the West Coast manages to be both a fascinating metropolis to explore and an excellent place to go hiking.
San Francisco hiking trails cover a range of different terrains. Whether you want to go for an interesting stroll through the city or would rather test yourself with a strenuous hike through mountain terrain, San Francisco hikes offer outdoor adventures to suit everyone. Plus, whether you choose urban hikes or backcountry adventures, hiking is one of the best free things to do in San Francisco, a city not exactly known for being budget-friendly.
Before you head off to explore the best hikes in San Francisco, it's a good idea to drop off your unneeded bags with our San Francisco luggage storage. By partnering with local businesses in cities and around the world, Bounce makes it easy to find a safe and convenient place to store your unneeded bags while you enjoy yourself.
Our Top Hiking Trail Picks in San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge
Downtown San Francisco is a fantastic place to explore on foot. Take a walk along the Embarcadero and visit Fisherman's Wharf, and you'll get a chance to see one of the city's top tourist attractions while exploring at your own pace. Alternatively, if you like to be at the heart of the action, a walk through the area surrounding Union Square is unbeatable for soaking up the big city atmosphere.
However, not many cities are blessed with an easy walking trail that can compare to the Golden Gate Bridge. This iconic landmark of the city is perhaps best enjoyed on foot, and offers incredible views of San Francisco and the Bay Area. While traffic on the bridge can sometimes be busy, the sidewalks are well protected. Most people start at the Welcome Center at the bridge's south end. From there, it's a 1.7-mile walk to the other end, where you'll find spectacular views from the surrounding hills. If the walk back to your starting point is too much, you can jump on the hop-on hop-off bus that stops at both ends of the bridge. Or, if you want to get more miles behind you, you can explore the many hiking trails in the hills of the North end. Either way, walking the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the best San Francisco hikes you can do and offers the perfect way to get better acquainted with the San Francisco Bay Area.
If walking across the Golden Gate Bridge has only whetted your appetite for more, the Marin Headlands at the bridge's north end are the perfect place for more exploration. This hilly peninsula offers stunning views of San Francisco, the bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge, along with historical monuments of World War II defenses and several hiking trails. Part of the larger Golden Gate Recreation Area, the Marin Headlands offer an encounter with nature you wouldn't expect to find just outside the city limits.
In particular, the Tennessee Valley Trail offers an incredible outdoor adventure. The trail covers 1.7 miles, making for a round-trip of 3.4 miles, and leads to the isolated Tennessee beach. The beach took its name from the SS Tennessee which was shipwrecked in the area, and if you visit at low tide, you may catch a glimpse of this intriguing local landmark rising from the water. It's easily one of the best hikes in San Francisco.
Golden Gate Park
The Marin Headlands prove you don't need to go far from San Francisco to enjoy some incredible hiking trails. In case you needed more evidence, consider Golden Gate Park. No one would ever accuse this urban park of being an unspoiled wilderness. However, it is a great place to stretch your legs within the city, and offers plenty of hiking trails that will let you enjoy the best of what the city has to offer. Some trails, such as the Beaver Trail and the Black Bear Trail, are restricted to hikers only, while others, including the Buffalo and Blue Grouse trails, are shared with bikers and horseback riders. As well as hiking trails, Golden Gate Park has a boating lake, a polo field, a disc golf course, and a butterfly house, among many other attractions. So while it may not be a true taste of the wilderness, it is a great place to explore when visiting San Francisco, and you could spend a day or more here quite easily.
To get to the park, check out our guide on how to get around San Francisco.
Angel Island State Park
Located out in the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island is beloved by San Francisco locals, but not as well visited by tourists as it probably should be. Located north of the more famous Alcatraz, Angel Island is reachable by ferry from the San Francisco Ferry Building. Visiting Angel Island will make you feel like you've traveled far away. The island was once a center for Chinese immigration to San Francisco but nowadays is a hiking paradise. Some of the best hikes in San Francisco are on the island, including the North Ridge Trail which climbs up Mount Livermore to give you stunning views of the bay and the city. With an elevation gain of 788 feet, this is a strenuous hike best left to those in good physical condition, but it will reward the avid hiker with the panoramic vista at the top. If you prefer something a little easier, the 5.5-mile perimeter trail travels on a paved road around the entire island, making for a pleasant and relatively easy San Francisco hike.
On the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, you'll find the former military installation and park known as The Presidio. This is one of the most popular parks in the city, and for good reason. You'll find more than 24 miles of hiking trails winding through the park, with a mixture of easy trails for beginners and fairly strenuous hikes for more advanced walkers. The Batteries to Bluffs trail will show you former gun placements designed to defend the city during World War II, while the Presidio Ecology Trail will help you understand more about the animals and plants of the area. There's also a three-mile trail that will take you past several outdoor sculptures so you can admire San Francisco's artistic heritage while getting some exercise.
Best of all, the Presidio is easy to reach from the city, and easy to return so you can fuel up after a morning walk. Check out our guide to the best brunch in San Francisco for some tasty post-hike treats.
Lands End Trail
In San Francisco, views of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge aren't hard to find. Still, if you're looking for that iconic bridge photo, the Lands End Trail might be one of the best places to get it. Once you see the rocky coastal scenery along this trail, you'll find it hard to believe you're still within San Francisco city limits. The trail winds its way along coastal cliffs for 3 1/2 miles, and thanks to the occasionally uncertain footing is rated as moderate in difficulty. You can reach the trailhead on bus line 38 from downtown San Francisco, making this one of the easiest ways to encounter the California wilderness without leaving the city. If you visit in the spring, keep an eye out for the abundant wildflowers that grow along the windswept cliffs.
Glen Canyon Park
Right in the heart of the city, you'll find 66 acres set aside to preserve one of the last free-running springs in San Francisco. Glen Canyon Park is an oasis of wilderness in the heart of the city, and offers a 3.7-mile network of trails to explore. Formally known as the San Miguel Hills, this area has been protected from the urban development that surrounds it, and still preserves a large area of coastal forest and wildflowers that show what the area was like before the city of San Francisco was ever founded. The trails here are popular with hikers and mountain bikers, especially during the summer months, so keep your eyes open and share the trails.
Mount Diablo State Park
San Francisco is so abundantly blessed with great scenery that you don't need to leave the city to enjoy some great hikes. However, if you prefer your walks a little more on the wild side, there are plenty of places in the Bay Area waiting to be explored. One of them, just over an hour by car from downtown San Francisco, is Mount Diablo State Park.
This state park covers 20,000 acres surrounding the extinct volcano of Mount Diablo. Mount Diablo itself is 3800 feet tall, and the views from the top are absolutely stunning. Many locals maintain the mountain has the best viewshed in the world, and while that's not technically true, it's certainly one of the best in the Western US. On a clear day, you'll be able to see all the way back to the city, along with the peaks of the Sierra Nevadas and distant Yosemite National Park.
Reaching the summit requires braving the 6.8-mile Summit Trail. Given the massive 2000 foot elevation gain of climbing the mountain, this is a hike for serious hikers only. However, if you just want to enjoy the view, it is also possible to drive to the summit of Mount Diablo. Additionally, the state park contains many other trails, such as Donner Creek Loop Trail, a 5-mile trek that takes in Donner Creek Falls and is more suitable for intermediate hikers.
Muir Woods National Monument
One of the true natural treasures of the San Francisco Bay Area, Muir Woods National Monument is a must-see for anyone visiting San Francisco. Although it's a substantial two-hour drive from the city, Muir Woods is well worth a visit thanks to its gorgeous redwood forests growing alongside the ocean headlands. This protected area preserves some of the largest and oldest trees in the entire United States, and just walking underneath these giants is enough to make anyone feel young.
The 1.2 mile Ocean View Trail is a great place to start, taking you through ancient trees to scenic viewpoints over the water. For those who prefer more of a challenge, the Dipsea Trail is a 9.7 mile long out-and-back beast that will challenge you with lots of elevation gains, but0 rewards you with incredible views and the serenity of the parts of the forest that few visitors make it to.
Easy Hikes in San Francisco
If you just want to stretch your legs a little on your San Francisco trip, you'll find plenty of options. An easy stroll through downtown or along Fisherman's Wharf will add a couple of miles to your pedometer without challenging you too much. Likewise, hiking the Golden Gate Bridge is accessible for just about everyone, and you'll get views you wouldn't expect from such an easy trail.
Intermediate Hikes in San Francisco
If you prefer more of a challenge, the Tennessee Valley Trail in Marin Headlands or the Perimeter Trail on Angel Island are good options. Also, the Presidio has a wide range of trails ranging from easy to hard, so you can probably find a path to suit you there. Additionally, Muir Woods National Monument outside the city has some trails that are tough enough to challenge you but not difficult enough to be daunting.
Difficult Hikes in San Francisco
If you really want to test yourself, San Francisco has plenty of options for challenging hiking trails. The North Bridge Trail up Mount Livermore on Angel Island has an elevation gain that will get your heart pumping. And Mount Diablo State Park has plenty of challenging hikes, including the Summit Trail that climbs 2000 feet up the famous mountain.