Hiking in San Francisco — The Best Urban Hiking Trails

Grandview Park, perched on top of a Turtle Hill in the middle of the city, has the best views in San Francisco.

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.

Tiled panels on the risers of the Moraga Street steps in San Francisco, create an amazing Sea to Sun mural.
Mosaic tile panels on the risers of the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps create a beautiful Sea to Sun mural.

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Hiking in San Francisco — Trails at a Glance

HikesDistance
(1-way)
DifficultyAccessibleKidsDogs*BikesFood WaterRestrooms
16th Ave. Steps & Grandview ParkAbout 1,000 feetModerateNoYesYesNoNoNo
Mt. Davidson1250 feetEasyNoYesYesNoNoNo
Mountain Lake2.6 milesModerateNoYesYesPart wayyesyes
Golden Gate Promenade2 milesEasyYesYesYesYesYesYes
Lands End Trail1.5 milesEasy to ModeratePart wayYesYesPart wayYesYes
* Leashed, of course, and during Coyote pupping season (April 1 to Fall), portions of some trails may be closed to dogs.

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.

View from Grandview Park overlooking Golden Gate Park and the ocean; the park sits atop one of the San Francisco Hills.
Grandview Park sits atop Turtle Hill and has 360-degree views of San Francisco, the Bay, and Pacific Ocean.

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.

This hike is located in San Francisco’s Sunset District, and is near the center of the city. It’s only about 1000-feet (305 m) each way, but I consider it moderate because there are 3 sets of stairs, with 330 stairsteps in all.

Grandview is a tiny park at the top of a 666-foot (203 m) high hill. The trail wraps around the crown of the hill providing great 360-degree views of the city and beyond. The best way to get to the park is to climb the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, and, as you can see from the photos, the Sea to Sun themed mosaic, on the stair’s risers, is fantastic.

16th Avenue Tiled Steps

The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, are a work of art on what was once an ordinary block-long concrete staircase. The Sea to Sun themed mosaic mural flows from the deep blue sea at the bottom to the brilliant sun at the top. The colors are vibrant, the creatures are whimsical, the sparkling river flows from the mountains to the sea, and the moon shines with inlaid bits of mirror. It’s magical.

Gorgeous Sea to Sun mural created with mosaic tile panels on the risers of San Francisco’s 16th Avenue tiled steps.
Mosaic tile risers create a stunning mural on the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps; the close-ups reveal details of the Sea to Sun mural.

It all started in 2003, when a group of neighbors in the Golden Gate Heights neighborhood decided to transform their neighborhood’s ordinary concrete steps into a work of art. They pooled their time, talent, and money and designed and crafted what must have been hundreds of hand made tiles. They then formed the tiles into gorgeous glazed mosaic panels and installed them on the risers of the staircase’s 163 steps.

Officially, they are called the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, but they are also referred to as the Moraga Steps, or simply the mosaic stairs or steps.

Grandview Park

Grandview Park is one-acre park at the top of one of San Francisco’s hills. It’s not the highest hill in the city, but it has the best 360-degree views. On a clear day, walk around the trail that circles the crown of the hill and you’ll see Mt. Sutro, Twin Peaks, the city skyline, San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge towers, Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Park, the Pacific Ocean, Seal Rock, and more.

A lone green park bench sits in Grandview Park atop Turtle Hill; the park has 360-degree views of San Francisco and beyond.
After walking up the mosaic steps and two additional stairways (about 330 steps in all) you’ll find this green bench (the sole amenity) and great 360-degree views.

The peak, locally called Turtle Hill, is a remnant of the dune islands that once covered the area. It’s composed of sedimentary rock called Franciscan chert formed in an ancient tropical seabed. It’s also home to native flora and butterflies. The park is small and the only amenity is one park bench, but the views are amazing.

Getting There: Map, Parking, & Public Transit

The stairs and park are located in the Golden Gate Heights neighborhood in the Inner Sunset District. There are three stairways, totaling 330 steps, to get from the bottom of the mosaic stairs to the top of Grandview Park.

After climbing the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, continue to Grandview Park. At the top of the stairs, turn right onto 15th Avenue and walk about 130 feet (40 m) to the much shorter, much less interesting, flight of stairs up to the next street. Turn right again and walk about 170 feet (52 m) to the zigzag wooden stairs leading to Grandview Park at the top of the hill.

Map of Grandview Park & 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
Image of interactive trail map for the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps and Grandview Park in San Francisco.
Open in Google Maps.
Parking

The only parking available is on the neighborhood streets. Parking’s not restricted, but it’s scarce.

Public Transit

Here are the specific routes to get you to Grandview Park and the Mosaic Steps. The bus stop at the mosaic stairs is shown on the map above. To view all of the stops, especially the connection from N Judah to the 66 Quintara, click the link below the map and it will take you to the full interactive Google map.

From downtown, take an N Judah Muni Metro (outbound toward Ocean Beach); get off at 9th Avenue and Judah. From there, take the 66 Quintara bus (outbound toward Vicente & 30th) and get off at the 16th Avenue & Moraga Street stop. Moraga Street ends at 16thAvenue; the stairs are where Moraga Street would be if the hill were not so steep.

Overlooking San Francisco and the bay from Mt. Davidson, the highest natural point in San Francisco.
At 925-feet high, Mt. Davidson is the highest natural point in San Francisco and has great views of the city and bay.

Mt. Davidson

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.

The trail from the park entrance to the top is about 1250-feet (380 m), and although it’s mostly uphill, it’s an easy hike through the woods. The trail entrance is where Dalewood Way, Myra Way, and Lansdale Avenue come together.

The entrance to the trail is not marked in any way, but it’s next to the 36 Teresita bus stop. A short way up the trail, there’s a generic city park sign. Otherwise, there’s no signage of any kind to let you know you’re in Mt. Davidson Park or on the trail to the top.

The historic 103-foot high white concrete Mt. Davidson cross at the top of the highest peak in San Francisco.
The impressive 103-foot-high cross on Mt. Davidson.
History and Controversy

Of course having a cross on public land became controversial. How do you handle having a beautiful and historical cross on public land and still maintain separation between the church and state?

It wasn’t easy, but San Francisco’s voters solved the dilemma in 1997 by passing Proposition F. It allowed the city to hold an auction and sell the top of Mt. Davidson Park to a private organization. The Council of Armenian American Organizations won and purchased the top 0.38 acres of the 40-acre park.

The Armenian council is now the steward of the top of Mt. Davidson, and they help maintain and preserve it. Easter sunrise services are held there, as they have been since the 1920s, and the cross is also now a memorial to the 1915 Armenian Genocide. This 15-minute video tells the story: Mt. Davidson: San Francisco’s Hidden Treasure.

The trail up Mt. Davidson winds through densely wooded areas with eucalyptus, cypress, and other trees.
The trail up Mt. Davidson winds through peaceful, wooded areas.

Getting There: Map, Parking, & Public Transit

Mt. Davidson is near the center of the city. Its slopes are covered on all sides by residential neighborhoods, but the top 40 acres are reserved as a park and are open to the public.

Map of Mt. Davidson
Image of interactive trail map for Mount Davidson, San Francisco.
Open in Google Maps.
Parking

Only on the street but not restricted.

Public Transit

Here are the specific routes to get you to Mt. Davidson. The bus stop at the trail entrance is marked on the map above. 

Take any of these four Muni Metro lines (K, L, M, or T) from any downtown station to the Forest Hill station. At the Forest Hill station catch a 36 Teresita bus (outbound toward Chavez & Valencia) and take it to the Myra Way & Dalewood Way stop.

The entrance to Mt. Davidson Park is just a few feet from the stop. It’s a really nice uphill stroll through a cypress and eucalyptus forest.

Wooded area at the top of Mt. Davidson with large eucalyptus, cypress, and other trees.
The hike up Mt. Davidson begins with a short hike through the Mt. Davidson Park woods and ends with great views of the city.
A view of Mountain Lake from Mountain Lake Trail, one of the San Francisco Presidio hikes.
The Mountain Lake Trail meanders part way around Mountain Lake in Presidio National Park.

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.

The trail follows along the southern edge of Presidio National Park from Broadway Gate to Baker Beach. It’s 2.6-miles (4.1 km) long, mostly flat and easy. Parts of the trail are paved but much of it is dirt with gravel or sand. There are some uphill and downhill parts, and some stairs, but most of it is level.

Signage marking the trail is great in some parts, but not so great in others. You may get off the trail, but you really can’t get lost. You’ll always be within sight of West Pacific Avenue or a major landmark like the Presidio Golf Course or one of the playgrounds.

Mountain Lake Trail passes by or near these visit worthy sights:

Lyon Street Steps

If you begin (or end) the trail at the Presidio Broadway Gate, be sure and stop for the great view at the top of the Lyon Street steps. The steps go through a well manicured garden and overlook the Marina District and bay in the distance. It’s a favorite photo op.

Wood Line

This 1,200-foot sculpture, by artist Andy Goldsworthy, is a line of eucalyptus logs laid end-to-end on the forest floor. The line of logs are curved into a stream of s-curves through a grove of eucalyptus trees. Yes, eucalyptus trees are non-native and a fire hazard, but the trees and sculpture create a peaceful and pleasant path.

Wood Line is a sculpture of logs set in a zigzag pattern forming a serene 1,200-foot path through a eucalyptus grove.
Wood Line, by the Mountain Lake Trail’s east end in the Presidio, is a 1,200-foot sculpture by artist Andy Goldsworthy.
Garden at Julius Kahn Playground

If you’re a garden lover, this garden alone makes the trail worth hiking. Nick Soumie, a very talented gardener for the Parks and Recreation Department, has, over the last couple of decades, transformed the space along Julius Kahn Playground between the street and trail into a remarkable garden. It’s a dense jungle with a huge variety of shrubs and flowers.

Views of a jungle of flowers and plants seen in an amazing garden on a Presidio trail along the Julius Kahn Playground.
It’s a jungle in there! This is a small sample of the huge variety of plants and flowers in the garden bordering Julius Kahn Playground.
Mountain Lake

One of only 3 remaining natural lakes in San Francisco, Mountain Lake was, until a few years ago, anything but natural. For thousands of years, it provided fresh water for the local inhabitants, but from the 1800s on, it was terribly abused. It was a dumping ground for unwanted pets and construction projects, including the Highway 1 approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. Overtime, its size and depth were dramatically reduced, and it was horribly polluted and overrun with invasive plants and non-native fish, turtles, and frogs.

The restoration: Beginning in 2012, the lake underwent a huge remediation and restoration project. The cleanup included removing 17,500 cubic yards of contaminated sediment. The remaining native fish, turtles, and frogs were rescued and sent to new homes; the non-native species of plants and critters were removed. Once cleaned, a sophisticated filtration system was installed, keeping the water clean and clear; 14,000 native plants were planted and native fish, frogs, and turtles are being reintroduced.
Mountain Lake Trail is on a wooden boardwalk where it passes through a Presidio habitat restoration project.
Between Mountain Lake and Baker Beach, Mountain Lake Trail passes through a habitat restoration project on a wooden boardwalk.

Getting There: Map, Parking, & Public Transit

Map of Mountain Lake Trail
Image of interactive trail map for Mountain Lake Trail in San Francisco.
Open in Google Maps.
Parking

There’s not a lot of it, but there is free parking on parts of West Pacific Avenue. It’s 3-hour parking between Presidio Avenue and Arguello Blvd., and 2-hour parking across from the Presidio Golf Course.

Public Transit

Here are the specific routes to get you to the Mountain Lake Trail. The bus stops are marked on the map above. 

  • To begin the trail at the Broadway Gate, take a 38 or 38R Geary bus to the Masonic/Presidio Avenue stop. Walk back to the 43 Masonic bus stop on Presidio Avenue at Geary. Take the 43 Masonic bus (Inbound toward Fort Mason) 9-blocks and get off at Jackson Street. Walk 2-blocks to the Presidio Avenue Gate or 3-blocks to the Broadway Gate by the Lyon Street Steps.
  • To begin the trail at the Baker Beach end, take a 38 or 38R Geary bus to 25th Avenue. On 25th Avenue at Geary, take a 29 Sunset bus (inbound to Baker Beach) to the end of the line at Lincoln Blvd. and Bowley Street. Cross Lincoln and walk up Pershing Drive to the trail.

Good Things to Know

  • Bathrooms: There are bathrooms at Baker Beach at the west end of the trail and at the children’s playground in Mountain Lake Park on the south side of Mountain Lake, and at the Julius Kahn Playground.
  • Food plus Bathrooms: The Presidio Café serves food and has really nice bathrooms. The Presidio Golf Course is a public course. The Café is located inside the clubhouse and is right by the trail.
Overlooking the east end of the Golden Gate Promenade along East Beach with the San Francisco skyline in the background.
The east end of the Golden Gate Promenade running through Crissy Field between East Beach and the Lagoon.

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.

The Golden Gate Promenade is a wide, flat trail along the edge of San Francisco Bay, and on a clear day there are gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Crissy Field, San Francisco Bay, beaches, and the city skyline. The 2-mile (3.2 km) Promenade is wide and smooth enough to walk, jog, bike, or push a stroller. It’s also dog friendly and wheelchair accessible.

There is so much to say about the promenade, that we’ve covered it in more detail in: Golden Gate Promenade — Best walk in San Francisco. The promenade post has more photos, a Google map, and covers these subjects:

  • Bits of History and Points of Interest Along the Promenade
  • Presidio Trails Map and PresidiGo Shuttle Schedule and Routes
  • Getting to the Golden Gate Promenade — parking and public transit options
  • Crissy Field Weather

Don’t miss it. The Golden Gate Promenade has a lot to offer — beautiful views, bits of history, fresh air, and exercise — and it’s free.

People walking along the Golden Gate Promenade through Crissy Field with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
The Golden Gate Promenade, running through Crissy Field, with great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.
Looking down on a wide, easy to walk section of Lands End Trail with the Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance.
Overlooking the Lands End Trail and beyond with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance; this section of the trail is easy to walk.

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 Lands End Trail has spectacular views of the rugged Pacific Coastline, the Golden Gate Bridge, windswept cypress trees, beaches, and wildflowers. Parts of the trail are along the coastal bluffs and parts wander through wooded areas. A short spur off the main Lands End Trail takes you to scenic Mile Rock Beach and the Lands End Labyrinth. It’s a great hike with beautiful views.

Because there’s a lot to the Lands End story, we’ve created a post just for the Lands End Hike. It includes a short video, more photos, a Google map, and covers these subjects:

  • Why is This Location Called Lands End and is it a National Park, a City Park, or a Coastal Trail?
  • Trail Conditions and time and distance
  • Mile Rock Beach and Lands End Labyrinth
  • Options for Hiking the Lands End Trail (one-way, round trip or shortcut)
  • Lands End Lookout Visitor Center
  • Bits of Lands End History
  • Parking and Public Transit Options and other Important Things to Know
Stairs through a wooded area between Painted Rock and Eagle’s Point on the Lands End Trail in Lincoln Park San Francisco.
Stairs winding through a wooded area between Painted Rock and Eagle’s Point on the Lands End Trail.

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.

says Alexa from 52 Perfect Days

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Conclusion

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.

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