Hiking in San Francisco — The Best Urban Hiking Trails

Last Updated on 15 Feb 2021 by Ginny Vail

There are many opportunities for hiking in San Francisco because there are urban hiking trails up hills, in parks, and along the ocean and bay waterfront.


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, and waterfront, and it also has lots of parks. There are trails up hills, in parks, through the city, and along the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean waterfronts.

The trails are essential in our densely populated city. They provide us with opportunities to get away, activities to share with friends, family, our dogs, and give us fresh air and exercise. 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 customizable itineraries and also includes lists of things to do and see in San Francisco.

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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Important: Many San Francisco Muni transit options are temporarily suspended, including several in this post. It’s a very fluid situation, so please check the SF Muni website for current conditions.

This article provides the following information:

Hiking in San Francisco

Summary of details about urban trails in San Francisco like length, difficulty, and amenities.

Map with Trail Locations and Transit Stops

Map with pins marking San Francisco urban trail Locations and nearby transit stops.
Click the map to open in Google Maps.

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 details about parking and the nearest bus route, 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 article.

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.

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 wonderfully creative mosaic tiled steps; then continue up the hill 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.

Tiled Steps & Grandview Park at a Glance:

Distance
(1-way)
DifficultyAccessibleKidsDogs*BikesFood
Water
Restrooms
About 1,000 feet
(330 stairsteps)
ModerateNoYesYesNoNoNo
* Leashed, of course.

Location: At 16th Avenue and Moraga Street in the Inner Sunset District (near Golden Gate Park).

It’s only about 1000 feet (305 m) each way from the bottom of the Mosaic steps to Grandview Park at the top of Turtle Hill. But I consider it moderate because it’s almost entirely stairs. There are 3 sets of stairs, totaling 330 stairsteps.

16th Avenue Tiled Steps (Moraga 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 mural flows from the deep blue sea at the bottom to the brilliant sun at the top. The creatures are whimsical, the colors are vibrant, and the river and moon both sparkle with bits of inlaid 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.

Grandview Park

After climbing the Tiled Steps, turn right onto 15th Avenue and walk about 130 feet (40 m) to a short flight of stairs up to the next street. Turn right again and walk about 170 feet (52 m) to the zigzag wooden stairs leading up the hill to Grandview Park.

Grandview is a one-acre park at the top of a hill, known locally as Turtle Hill. It’s not the highest hill in the city, but it has the best 360-degree views. On a clear day you can see Mt. Sutro, Twin Peaks, the city skyline, San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge towers, Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Park, and the Pacific Ocean.

Getting to the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps & Grandview Park

  • Parking: Street parking only. It’s not restricted, but it’s scarce.
  • Public Transit: Take an N Judah Muni Metro (toward Ocean Beach); get off at 9th Avenue and Judah. Cross Judah to the bus stop on 9th and take the 66 Quintara bus (toward Vicente & 30th). Get off at the 16th Avenue & Moraga Street stop and you’re there.
Overlooking San Francisco and the bay from Mt. Davidson, the highest natural point in San Francisco.
At 938-feet high, Mt. Davidson is the highest natural point in San Francisco and has great views of the city and bay.

Mt. Davidson

At 938-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 uphill through a really pleasant cypress and eucalyptus 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.

Mt. Davidson at a Glance

Distance
(1-way)
DifficultyAccessibleKidsDogs*BikesFood
Water
Restrooms
1250 feetEasyNoYesYesNoNoNo
* Leashed, of course.

Location: On the south side of Mt. Davidson where Dalewood Way, Myra Way, and Lansdale Avenue come together.

Mt. Davidson is near the center of the city, and its slopes are covered on all sides by residential neighborhoods. The top 40 acres are reserved as a park and are open to the public. The main trail to the top begins on the southern side of the hill where Dalewood Way, Myra Way, and Lansdale Avenue come together.

The entrance to the trail is not marked in any way, but it’s conveniently next to a 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 dates back to the 1920s.

Getting to Mt. Davidson

  • Parking: Only on the street but not restricted.
  • Public Transit: Take any of these four Muni Metro lines (K, L, M, or T) from any downtown station to the Forest Hill Station. Then catch a 36 Teresita bus (outbound toward Chavez & Valencia) and take it to the Myra Way & Dalewood Way stop.
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. It’s one of my favorites because there’s so much to see along the way.

Mountain Lake Trail at a Glance

Distance
(1-way)
DifficultyAccessibleKidsDogs*BikesFood
Water
Restrooms
2.6 milesModerateNoYesYesPart
way
YesYes
* Leashed, of course.

Location: on the southern edge of Presidio National park between Broadway Gate and Baker Beach.

Mountain Lake Trail deserves an A+ for the variety of interesting things to see along or near the trail. It passes by these visit worthy sights:

  • Lyon Street Steps: Broadway Gate is at the top of the Lyon Street steps; it’s a scenic stairway with a well-manicured garden and nice view of the bay.
  • Wood Line: Andy Goldsworthy’s peaceful 1200-foot path edged with eucalyptus logs laid end-to-end in a curved pattern.
  • Julius Kahn Playground Garden: It’s a jungle created by Nick Soumie, a very talented gardener for the Parks and Recreation Department.
  • Mountain Lake: One of 3 remaining natural lakes in the city. It recently underwent a massive restoration project.
  • Habitat restoration project: Here the trail meanders through an open area on a raised boardwalk.
  • Baker Beach: A great Pacific Ocean beach with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Baker Beach seen on one of the Presidio Trails with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Ever popular Baker Beach with the fog starting to roll in.

The trail is mostly gravel and mostly flat with some hilly parts on the west end. Signage marking the trail is hit and miss; you may get off the trail, but you can’t get lost. You’ll always be within sight of West Pacific Avenue or a major landmark like the Presidio Golf Course.

Good Things to Know

  • Bathrooms: There are bathrooms at Baker Beach at the west end of the trail and at the Mountain Lake Park Playground and at the Julius Kahn Playground.
  • Food plus Bathrooms: The Presidio Café serves good 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.

Getting to Mountain Lake Trail

  • 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 to Broadway Gate (east end): Take a 1 California bus (toward 33rd Avenue) and get off at Presidio Avenue. Walk 7-blocks to the Broadway Gate at Broadway and Lyon. If you’re saving energy for the 2.6-mile hike, trim 4-blocks off the walk by catching a 43 Masonic on Presidio Avenue and riding to Jackson.
  • Public Transit to Baker Beach (west end): Take a 1 California or a 38 or 38R Geary bus to 25th Avenue. On 25th Avenue, take a 29 Sunset bus inbound to Baker Beach.
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

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.

Lands End Trail at a Glance

Distance
(1-way)
DifficultyAccessibleKidsDogs*BikesFood
Water
Restrooms
1.5 milesEasy to
Moderate
Part wayYesYesPart
way
Visitor
Center
Only
Visitor
Center
Only
* Leashed, of course.

Location: In Lincoln Park is on the western edge of San Francisco:
Southwest Trailhead is at the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center (680 Point Lobos Avenue).
Northeast Trailhead is at 32nd Avenue and El Camino Del Mar (where El Camino Del Mar enters Lincoln Park).

It’s More than enough that this is a great hike with beautiful views, but there is much more to the Lands End story. So we’ve created an article just for Lands End with a short video, more photos, and everything here plus and all of the following:

  • Trail conditions
  • Mile Rock Beach and Lands End Labyrinth
  • Options for hiking the Lands End Trail (one-way, round trip or shortcut)
  • Why it’s called Lands End
  • Is it a National Park, a City Park, or a Coastal Trail?.
  • Bits of Lands End history
  • About the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center

Getting to Lands End Trail

Southwest Trailhead Parking & Public Transit

  • Parking: Parking at or near the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center is free, but it’s limited to 4-hours and fills up early on weekends. There are 3 lots: the Visitor Center lot, the Point Lobos Avenue lot (across from the Visitor Center), and the Fort Miley lot (at the USS San Francisco Memorial).
  • Public Transit: Take the 38R Geary bus (toward Lands End). Get off at 48th and Point Lobos (it’s the last stop); cross Point Lobos and you’ll see the Visitor Center and the trail. The 38R Geary bus goes from the SF (downtown) Transit Center, travels along Market Street and Geary Boulevard to 48th.

Northeast Trailhead Parking & Public Transit

  • Parking: Street Parking only. Parking on El Camino Del Mar and 32nd Avenue is not restricted (no meters, hour limits, or permit requirements), but it’s scarce.
  • Public Transit: Take a 1 California bus (toward Geary & 33rd), and get off on 32nd Avenue at California. Walk north on 32nd Avenue to El Camino Del Mar and turn left. The trail sign is directly ahead. The 1 California bus begins on Sacramento Street at Embarcadero Center.
Stairs through a wooded area between Painted Rock and Eagle’s Point at Lands End San Francisco.
Stairs winding through a wooded area between Painted Rock and Eagle’s Point on the Lands End 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

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

Golden Gate Promenade at a Glance

Distance
(1-way)
DifficultyAccessibleKidsDogs*BikesFood
Water
Restrooms
2 milesEasyYesYesYesYesYesYes
* Leashed, of course.

Location: It follows the San Francisco Bay waterfront between Baker Street, in the Marina District, and Fort Point, under the Golden Gate Bridge.

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 article has more photos and covers these subjects:

  • Bits of history and points of interest along the Promenade
  • Presidio Trails Map and PresidiGo Shuttle schedule and routes
  • Additional parking and public transit options

Don’t miss it. The Golden Gate Promenade has a lot to offer: beautiful views, interesting history, birdwatching, picnic areas, fresh air, exercise — and it’s all 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.

Getting to the Golden Gate Promenade

  • Parking: The best option is the large lot near the east end of Crissy Field. It’s free and there are no time limits. The entrance is on Mason Street. There’s a smaller lot behind the Warming Hut; it’s free during the week, but not on weekends.
  • Public Transit to the East End: 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.
  • Public Transit to the West End: Take the #28 – 19th Avenue Muni bus (from Van Ness at Northpoint) to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center and follow the trail downhill to the bottom. Fort Point is to the left; the Warming Hut is to the right..
Dense wooded area along the Ecology Trail in Presidio National Park.
The Ecology Trail meanders through dense woods.

Ecology Trail

It’s called the Ecology Trail because it goes through a variety of habitats. It meanders through dense woods with eucalyptus, Monterey pine and cypress, and the largest redwood grove in the park.

Shortly before reaching Inspiration Point, the trail passes by Tennessee Hollow with serpentine grasslands and, in spring, a variety of native wildflowers like the endangered Presidio Clarkia.

Inspiration Point provides an expansive view of the Presidio and the bay beyond: including Alcatraz and Angel Island. It’s topped with a stone plaza and has lots of places to sit and take in the view.

Ecology Trail at a Glance

Distance
(1-way)
DifficultyAccessibleKidsDogs*BikesFood
Water
Restrooms
0.7 milesModerate
to
Difficult
NoYesYesLower
Trail
Only
Main
Post
Only
Main
Post
Only
* Leashed, of course.

Location: The trailhead is behind the Inn at the Presidio on the Main Post; is ends near Arguello Gate.

The trail is 1.4-miles (2.3 km) round trip. It’s wide and reasonably smooth but it is hilly, which explains the park’s moderate to difficult rating.

If the dense woods make you start to wonder if you’re lost, remember the trail is roughly parallel to and only about 400-feet from Arguello Blvd. You feel like you’re in the woods, but you’re never far from civilization.

The trail ends near Arguello Gate on the southern edge of the Presidio. Near the end, it passes by Inspiration Point. Climb the stairs up to the Plaza and take in the view.

You can return to the Main Post on the upper trial, or you can follow the signs toward El Polin Spring and pick up the lower Ecology Trail. The lower trail is not as well developed and signage is sparse, but it does turn the trek into a loop. The lower trail joins the upper trail near the Main Post end.

Sign with trail details near the near the beginning of the Ecology Trail in Presidio National Park in San Francisco.
Sign near the Ecology trailhead. The trail length on the sign (1.4 miles) is roundtrip.

Getting to the Ecology Trail

Parking

  • There’s a large parking lot on the main post by the parade ground and smaller lots scattered around the park. Most have time limits posted and some require payment. Check the signage and, if payment is required, look for a Pay-and-Display machine.
  • There is also a small, free parking lot at Inspiration Point.

Public Transit

The 43 Masonic Muni bus is the only Muni bus that goes to the Main Post in the Presidio. It loops through the Presidio and stops near the Visitors Center on its route between Munich & Geneva and Fort Mason. The trick is to get to a place along the 43 Masonic route, so you can catch it. Here are two Options:

  • Option 1 — Catch the 43 Masonic (toward Munich & Geneva) along Laguna between the Fort Mason entrance and Lombard or along Lombard Street.
  • Option 2 — Take a 1 California bus (toward 33rd Avenue) to Presidio Avenue. Then catch the 43 Masonic (toward Fort Mason) on Presidio Avenue at California. The 1 California bus begins at Embarcadero Center and travels west on Sacramento Street through Chinatown, up Nob Hill, and continues west on California.
  • Return trip — The 43 Masonic toward Fort Mason crosses Chestnut where you can connect with a 30 Stockton bus. The 43 Masonic (toward Munich & Geneva) crosses California where you can connect with a 1 California bus.

There is also a free and fast PresidiGo Shuttle between downtown and the Presidio, and it’s available to the general public during non-commute hours. For details, get the PresidiGo route map and schedule.

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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 six trials included here now are great hikes. So pack up your Day Bag and take a hike.

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