Golden Gate Promenade — Best Walk in San Francisco

Overlooking the Golden Gate Promenade, a great waterfront trail running through Crissy Field along San Francisco Bay.

Why would you choose to take a hike when you’re in such a vibrant city with so many other things to do and see? There are several reasons: the Golden Gate Promenade has beautiful views, fresh air, sunshine, beaches, picnic areas, and exercise opportunities. On a clear day, there are gorgeous views in every direction: the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, Crissy Field Marsh, and the San Francisco skyline.

The Golden Gate Promenade is an easy-to-walk trail on the edge of San Francisco Bay. The wide, flat, Promenade is smooth enough to walk, jog, bike, or push a stroller. It’s also dog friendly and wheelchair accessible, and it’s easy on the budget because it’s all free.

For another great San Francisco trail with great views, visit our related post: Lands End Hike.

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Overlooking Crissy Field with the Golden Gate Promenade running through it and the San Francisco skyline in the background.
Overlooking the east end of Crissy Field, the Golden Gate Promenade, and the San Francisco skyline.

Bits of History and Points of Interest Along the Promenade

The 2-mile Promenade runs through Crissy Field between historic Fort Point, under the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marina District, near the Palace of Fine Arts. Fort Point, Crissy Field, and the Promenade are all part or Presidio National Park. Yes, the Presidio really is a National Park, and, if it were on any other continent, it would likely be a World Heritage site too.

Presidio National Park

Strategically positioned at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, the Presidio served as a military installation for 218 years. The Spanish built a garrison on the site in 1776.

After winning its independence from Spain, Mexico took control of the garrison in 1822. In 1846, the U.S. Army seized it from Mexico and occupied it until 1994. Now the 1,500-acre site, located inside the city limits of San Francisco, is Presidio National Park.

In retrospect, it’s fortunate that the army occupied this 1500-acre site for 148 years. Otherwise, it would have become another San Francisco neighborhood completely covered with housing. And although the Army built more than 700 buildings, they built them in clusters keeping much of the acreage in its natural state.

The Presidio is operated by a Trust that manages the rehabilitation of the old Army buildings and then leases them as private businesses and residences. The Trust recycles the income back into the park to preserve its natural spaces and rehab more buildings. The Walt Disney Family Museum now occupies a former barracks building, and Lucas Films was built on the site of the old Letterman Hospital complex.

Unlike most National Parks, there’s no entry fee. The park is free because it’s financially self-sufficient.

Fort Point

One of the best views of Golden Gate Bridge with Historic Fort Point tucked under the bridge’s southern footing and the fog rolling in.
Iconic Golden Gate Bridge photo with its graceful arch over Historic Fort Point.

Just 3 years after seizing the garrison from Mexico, gold was discovered in California — the rush was on. People from around the country and around the world began streaming through the Golden Gate to get to the gold fields. The U.S. Army began building Fort Point to protect the entrance to San Francisco Bay.

The Army constructed the granite and brick fort between 1853 and 1861, just in time for the start of the Civil War. The point of land chosen for the fort was strategically perfect but elevation-wise, was way too high. The Army blasted the 90-foot (27 m) high cliff away until it was merely 15-feet (4.6 m) above sea level. This allowed the fort to be closer to water level making it possible to place artillery where cannonballs could skip over the water striking enemy ships at their waterline.

Even in the 1920s, when the golden Gate Bridge was being designed and engineered, Fort Point was considered so historically significant that rather than demolish it to accommodate the bridge’s southern footing, a special span was created so the bridge would arch over Fort Point.

Warming Hut Park Store and Café

The Warming Hut occupies a renovated former Army storehouse that was built in 1909. The Hut provides much-appreciated sandwiches, salads, soup, bakery items, hot and cold drinks, and, thankfully, restrooms. It also has a selection of gifts, gear, and locally made souvenirs. It’s near the west end of the Promenade by Torpedo Wharf.

Torpedo Wharf and San Francisco Bay along the Golden Gate Promenade.
Torpedo Wharf and San Francisco Bay along the Promenade.

In the photo below, notice that the sign calls the trail “Crissy Field Promenade” instead of “Golden Gate Promenade.” It’s the same trail. Both names are used, but “Golden Gate Promenade” is used more often on signage and maps.

Warming Hut Park Store and Café on the west end of the Golden Gate Promenade.
The Warming Hut Park Store and Café, on the west end of the Golden Gate Promenade, has food, drink, and, thankfully, restrooms.

NOAA Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center

The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is responsible for protecting 3,295 miles off the California Coast. Its tasks include research, conservation, education, and protection of sanctuary waters.

The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is part of the National Ocean Service (NOS), which is a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The visitor center offers educational resources about wildlife and conservation. The picturesque building it occupies is a historic former Coast Guard station.

The former historic Coast Guard Station on Crissy Field is now the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center.
The picturesque former Coast Guard Station is now the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center.

Crissy Field

In 1915, the Panama–Pacific International Exposition was held in San Francisco, and many of the structures built for the Expo were built on the dunes along the waterfront. It was a World’s Fair, which celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and symbolized San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake.

In World Wars I and II, the waterfront became the airfield for the Presidio Army base and was named Crissy Field. When the army left, it was a dilapidated, asphalt-covered mess.

It took nearly 20-years, $35 million, (mostly from private donations), and thousands of volunteers to transform Crissy Field from an abandoned airfield to a pristine wetland. It was the largest community project ever undertaken in San Francisco, but it was certainly worth the effort. Now Crissy Field has a tidal marsh, a grassy meadow, sand dunes, a beach, and picnic areas.

Crissy Field with sailboats racing on the bay, people walking along the Golden Gate Promenade, and Chamisso bush lupine in bloom on the sand dunes.
Springtime in Crissy Field with sailboats racing on the bay, people walking along the Promenade, and bush lupine in bloom.

Crissy Field Marsh

Crissy Field was once a wetland and part of the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds. The restoration included adding a tidal lagoon to restore part of the marsh.

Collage of photos including a Snowy Egret, a Blue Heron, and group of Brown Pelicans in Crissy Field Marsh.
The Crissy Field Marsh attracts many birds including this Snowy Egret, Blue Heron, and group of Brown Pelicans.

East Beach at Crissy Field

East Beach is the most popular Crissy Field Beach and is a favorite spot for children and dogs to play.

Golden Gate Promenade winding between Crissy Field Beach and the lagoon with beautiful views in every direction; it’s one of the great San Francisco walks.
Golden Gate Promenade running through Crissy Field between East Beach and the Marsh.

Crissy Field Center

Crissy Field Center has classes and programs for youth to “encourage new generations to become bold leaders for thriving parks, healthy communities, and a more environmentally just society.”

Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts is not part of Presidio National Park. I’ve included it because you’re likely to walk past it or through it if you take the #30 bus to Broderick and Beach to get to the Promenade’s east end.

The Palace of Fine Arts was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition — A World’s Fair, which celebrated both the completion of the Panama Canal and San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake. The faux Roman ruin is a very popular photo op, especially for wedding photos.

The Palace of Fine Arts is a faux Roman ruin built for the 1915 World’s Fair; it’s a favorite site for wedding photos.
The Palace of Fine Arts is a favorite spot for photos. The faux Roman ruin was built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

Golden Gate Promenade Planning Information

Copy of the National Park Service Presidio map and a smartphone showing the map on its screen.
The National Park Service Presidio map can be viewed on a smartphone and/or downloaded.

Presidio Trails Map

The National Park Service provides a really useful Presidio Trails Map on their website, which you can view on your phone and/or download as a PDF. In addition to the parks trails, the map shows locations of interest, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Welcome Center, historic Fort Point, Crissy Field, and the Warming Hut. (The Palace of Fine Arts is on the map too, although it’s not part of Presidio National Park.)

Getting to the Golden Gate Promenade

My visits to the Promenade are usually one-way treks, so I prefer taking public transit, but you can also drive and park. Here are parking and public transit options:

Here are four options for parking at or near the Golden Gate Promenade:

  • Near Crissy Field Center and East Beach. It’s a free, large lot (about 300 spaces). The entrance is on Mason Street.
  • Warming Hut/West Bluff parking is free on weekdays; fee on weekends
  • Fort Point where there is a small, free lot
  • Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center lot is metered, and often full.

There are two ways to get to Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Promenade using public transit. Our Roving Vails post San Francisco Excursions Using Public Transit provides the following details and options and the Google Map below shows the locations of the bus stops:

  • Fares and ways to pay
  • Apps and maps
  • To get to the west end of the Promenade, take the #28 Muni bus to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center and follow the trail downhill to Fort Point and then to the Warming Hut.
  • To get to the east end of the Promenade, take the #30 Jefferson Loop Muni bus to the Palace of Fine Arts. From the Palace, follow Baker Street toward the Bay. Continue through Little Marina Green and turn left on the Promenade.

Image of interactive trail map for the Golden Gate Promenade in San Francisco.
Open in Google Maps
Image of interactive trail map for the Golden Gate Promenade in San Francisco.
Open in Google Maps.

Crissy Field Weather — Be Prepared

One of the big attractions to the San Francisco Bay area is the weather. In the summer, when it’s 100+ degrees inland, it can easily be 30-40 degrees cooler in San Francisco. Even warm, sunny days in the city can get really chilly, really fast if/when the fog rolls in, so bring extra layers.

Don’t forget to bring along your day trip essentials bag!

Conclusion

The Golden Gate Promenade, with its splendid views of the the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, and city skyline, has to be one of the best walks on the planet. It’s an easy walk on a wide, smooth, flat surface, and it’s absolutely free. This is one of the great things to do with your family at Christmas as well.

Visit our San Francisco Itinerary post for suggested 1, 2, and 3-Day Itineraries and bonus lists of things to do to help you create your own custom San Francisco Itinerary. And check out our Hiking in San Francisco post when you’re ready for another San Francisco walk or hike with gorgeous scenery.

4 thoughts on “Golden Gate Promenade — Best Walk in San Francisco

  1. DONNA WADDLE says:

    Hi I bought a brick in memory of my Dad. It was placed there with the others. I know they dug them up. How can I get information on where they are now?

  2. Dorene Campanile says:

    I would like to know what happened to the Bricks that were installed in the Promenade at the Golden Gate
    Bridge. My husband had a Brick place there in December 19, 1988. It was Brick # 101588, the inscription. read:

    JOHN B CAMPANILE

    Location of the Brick was P92. The last time we were there all of the Bricks were gone?

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