Urban hiking seems like an oxymoron, but hiking in San Francisco is actually a thing. Thanks to its topography and geography, San Francisco has lots of hills, lots of waterfront, and more parkland per square mile than any other city in America. It has trails up hills, in parks, through the city, and along the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean waterfronts.
The trails provide us with fresh air, exercise, opportunities to get away, activities to share with friends, family, and dogs, and lessons in history, geology, flora, and fauna. The trails also provide amazing photo ops for us wannabe photographers.
For more things to do in the city, visit our San Francisco Itineraries post. It has 1, 2, and 3-day suggested itineraries and also includes lists of things to do to help you customize an itinerary to fit your interests. The lists include major sights, parks and gardens, performing arts, museums, interesting neighborhoods, and more.
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Hiking in San Francisco — Trails at a Glance
|16th Ave. Steps & Grandview Park||About 1,000 feet||Moderate||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|Mt. Davidson||1250 feet||Easy||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|Mountain Lake||2.6 miles||Moderate||No||Yes||Yes||Part way||yes||yes|
|Golden Gate Promenade||2 miles||Easy||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Lands End Trail||1.5 miles||Easy to Moderate||Part way||Yes||Yes||Part way||Yes||Yes|
Getting to and from the Trails on Public Transit
There are lots of hiking options in San Francisco, but there’s not a lot of parking, so consider taking public transit. It’s easy; it’s inexpensive and many trails have public transit near both ends, making it convenient to hike a trail in one direction.
The section for each trail includes a map and specific details about parking and the nearest bus route and public transit stops, but if you’re not familiar with San Francisco’s public transit system, you will likely need more general information like fares, ways to pay, apps, and maps. We have all of those details covered in our San Francisco Excursions on Public Transit post, including:
- Fares, ways to pay, apps, and maps
- Public transit options in San Francisco
- Routes and instructions for getting to these popular sights: Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Palace of Fine Arts.
Best Time to Go
The weather is generally better in the spring and consistently best in the fall. If it’s rainy (winter), trails will be muddy and slippery, and if it’s foggy (summer) or rainy, the views won’t be great.
Fortunately, there are nice sunny days scattered throughout the entire year, you just can’t predict when. Regardless of when you choose to go hiking in San Francisco, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for anything.
16th Avenue Tiled Steps & Grandview Park
There are two parts to this trek: first, climb the magical mosaic tiled steps; then continue up to Grandview Park with it’s amazing 360-degree views. The steps and the park are each worth the journey. Combining them into one outing make this a really special hike.
It’s a great trek for children too — just turn the stairs into a safari and see how many whimsical creatures they can find on the tiles. Then see if they can spot the endangered and elusive green hairstreak butterfly in Grandview Park.
At 925-feet high, Mt. Davidson is the highest natural point in San Francisco, and for some of us, that’s reason enough to hike to the top. But there’s more. The trail wanders through a really pleasant wooded area, and at the top you’re treated to sweeping views of the city and a 103-foot concrete cross with an interesting history.
Mountain Lake Trail
Mountain Lake Trail is one of several trails in Presidio National Park, and it deserves an A+ for its variety. It has views of eucalyptus and cypress groves, a gorgeous garden at Julius Kahn Playground, the Presidio Golf Course, Mountain Lake, and a restored habitat area with a raised boardwalk, and Baker Beach.
Golden Gate Promenade
This easy, flat 2-mile (3.2 km) trail runs through Crissy Field from near the Palace of Fine Arts to Fort Point. It has gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay, and city skyline.
Lands End Trail
Beautiful views of the rugged coastline and entrance to San Francisco Bay. Easy to moderate 1.5 miles (2.4 km) one-way with varying trail conditions.
The Presidio is one of San Francisco’s hidden gems and my favorite section of the city. Today it’s a national park, but once served as an army base. Inside the Presidio, you’ll find numerous museums, restaurants, and scenic hiking trails. You’ll also find some spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, Pacific Ocean, and iconic city skyline.
This post is an evolving bucket list of urban hiking trails in San Francisco. More trials will be added overtime, but the five trials included here now are great hikes. So pack up your Day Bag and take a hike.