The natural beauty of the San Francisco Bay has attracted hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts for as long as anyone can remember. Whether looking for a physical challenge or a vantage point for sweeping views, hiking in the San Francisco Bay Area is filled with rewards. Lace up those hiking boots and grab your Hydroflask, its time get up to speed on the best hikes near San Francisco.
San Francisco Hiking
Preparation for Hiking in San Francisco
1. Wear Layers
Due to very mild area climate, wearing layers is advisable for many of the best hikes around the San Francisco Bay Area. During mid-summer, the average temperature San Francisco is only about 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Surprisingly, San Francisco’s warmest temperatures and clearest skies occur from September to November.
2. Bring Water and Snacks
If your hiking adventures are taking you into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area or the Marin Headlands, prepare to carry water with you.
3. Be Prepared to Pack in and Pack out
While many parks and hiking areas provide garbage services, you may have to hike from your picnic or break spot to dispose of your discards. Be prepared to pack out what you’ve packed in for at least part of the way.
4. Read Signs at Trailheads
Hiking in and around San Francisco is typically very safe. There may be important information at trailheads such as alerts for poison oak – an itchy hiking foe in California. There may also be warnings about the presence of other wildlife in the area.
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The Best City Hikes in San Francisco
Before we venture out into natural or rugged terrain, let’s start with some city hikes. Here are the best hikes in San Francisco Bay for taking in the city itself from a different vantage point. Some of these routes will not only have you forgetting how close you are to an urban center; they’ll prepare you for hiking local recreation areas.
Explore more of the city. Here are the top 10 things to do in San Francisco with kids.
1. The Filbert Street Steps to Telegraph Hill
This not only one of the best hikes around the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s one of the most unique urban hikes around.
The Filbert Street steps were borne out of San Francisco’s hilly geography. It’s one of many city streets that turns into stairs before morphing back into a regular street.The steep narrow staircase stretches through beautiful gardens and neatly landscaped cottages that date back to the early 1900s.
There are many resting places along the way to spot the famous “wild parrots.” A flock of once domesticated birds, the parrots are still known to make appearances in the area. They’re harmless and add a nice feature to an already quirky city landscape.
2. Glen Canyon Park
This city hike will definitely get you off the tourist track. Glen Canyon is a 70-mile recreation area tucked between the residential neighborhoods of Glen Park and Diamond Heights. The park is home to a stunning amount of wildlife when you consider how close it is to urban life. Many hikers have reported spotting great horned owls, hawks, and coyotes while walking the canyon loop of San Francisco park.
3. Twin Peaks
This San Francisco city hike is a stunning one. In short, it is the best hike around the San Francisco Bay Area for those seeking a 360-degree view inside the San Francisco city limits!
Hikers will find themselves 925 feet above sea level after climbing this easy half-mile trail, an elevation increase of 400 feet. You’ll feel like you’ve conquered the world when you see downtown San Francisco right at your feet!
4. Mount Davidson
If height is your thing, then this is the best San Francisco city hike for you! The Mount Davidson trail loop will take you to the highest point in the city.
At 927 feet, hikers enjoy panoramic views of the downtown area, Twin Peaks and San Bruno Mountain. Another unique feature on this hike is a 103-foot cross sitting atop the hill. It commemorates the Armenian Genocide in the Turkish Empire.
5. Presidio Trails
Some of the best hiking in San Francisco is on the 24 miles of hiking trails on the Presidio grounds. This includes a 2.7-mile trail that is accessible for all abilities and modes of transportation, including bikes, strollers and wheelchairs.
Many of the Presidio’s trails also make history, nature and art accessible to visitors. A three-mile trail takes visitors past British artist Andy Goldsworthy’s four park installations; “Spire”, “Wood Line”, “Earth Wall”, and “Tree Fall”.
The Ecology Trail reveals a diverse array of habitats over the mile-long trek. Lovers Lane is the oldest footpath in the park. Today a picturesque pathway, it was originally used by Spanish soldiers and missionaries to make their way from the Main Post to Mission Dolores.
Explore more of the San Francisco Presidio: 9 Great Things to do at Presidio Park of San Francisco [with kids!]
The Best Hikes Near San Francisco with Great Views of the Golden Gate Bridge
As the old song goes, “San Francisco, open your Golden Gate!” San Francisco’s most famous landmark is open and viewable from many directions. These are the best hikes around the San Francisco Bay for getting another view of that magnificent span!
1. Land’s End Trail, Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
NOTE: Land’s End Lookout is currently closed due to advice from the CDC. Check the NPS website for the latest.
The Land’s End Trail reveals sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands in the distance. You’ll marvel at the natural windswept landscape and jagged cliffs forgetting the proximity of San Francisco’s urban center.
Bonus Stop: Baker Beach is at the end of the trail, keep walking past the Sea Cliff neighborhood to find it. You will be rewarded with a famous panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll recognize it right away, it has appeared in many postcards and personal portraiture.
2. Presidio Batteries to Bluffs Trail, Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
This city hike offers a little bit of everything; an elevated view of the Pacific Ocean, dramatic bluffs, rocky shore as well as gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Depending on the season, hikers can spot dolphins in the ocean or butterflies and birds on the trail. The kids will enjoy exploring Battery Crosby, a historic gun battery.
3. The Golden Gate Bridge, Difficulty: Easy
There is nothing like standing on the Golden Gate Bridge itself and soaking in her majestic presence. When the famous Bay Area fog doesn’t conceal the view, bridge hikers enjoy stunning vistas of the San Francisco city skyline just beyond Alcatraz. The most unique view from the Golden Gate Bridge platform is the bird’s eye look into the Civil War era Fort Point beneath it. Vista points on both sides of the bridge make it easy to stop and take in the abundant scenery.
4. Kirby Cove in Fort Barry, Sausalito, Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Enjoy uninterrupted views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay on this hike. Consider it a great reward for working your way down the steep trail through a grove of Cypress, Eucalyptus and Pine trees.
Hopefully you’ll still feel it was worth it when you when you must climb back up! Be prepared to pack in and pack out water and snacks. There are no facilities out here for procuring them or disposing of their wrappings.
5. Angel Island, Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
You’ll need to hop a ferry to make this hike. The reward is catching the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the city skyline from a vantage point you can’t get anywhere else!
The Sunset Trail takes hikers to the top of Mount Livermore, the island’s highest point. The first part of the hike is easy. If your hiking party consists of varying levels of ability, there are picnic tables on the summit. Power hikers can break off here to complete the tougher part of then return to rejoin the group.
The Best Hikes Near San Francisco in the Marin Headlands
Just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, the landscape becomes a little more untamed. These are the best hikes near San Francisco for those with a desire for a more rugged experience. Enjoy sweeping views of the bay and beyond. Some of these trails also reveal little trail markers of history.
1. Tennessee Valley Trail, Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
A relatively easy hike, the Tennessee Valley trail is largely flat. Though there are minimal hills to climb, there’s still a maximum amount of views to enjoy. This hike ends on a sandy beach. If you can coordinate your visit with a low tide, you may catch a glimpse of the shipwrecked SS Tennessee.
2. Point Bonita, Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
You’ll encounter both flat and steep pavement, steps, a cave and a footbridge on this trek. There are rewards for taking on this challenge besides the sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Hikers enjoy stunning natural scenery, a sweeping look into the Bay, and a sight unlike any other – a charming little lighthouse that appears to be balanced on a rocky cliff.
3. Mount Tamalpais, Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
There are a few ways to hike up “Mt. Tam.” The shortest and easiest among them is the Plank Walk Trail. It’s barely over a half mile round trip but it climbs over 250 feet. It’s an easy hike to do with kids.
If you prefer a little more of a walk, tack the Verna Dunshee loop onto the beginning of the hike. Whether you do one or both trails, the reward is the same; stunning views of San Francisco, Northern Marin, and the East Bay.
The Marin Headlands are a great day trip from the City by the Bay! Check out other Family-Friendly Day Trips from San Francisco.
Hiking in Muir Woods National Monument
NOTE: Muir Woods is currently closed due to advice from the CDC. Check the NPS website for the latest.
Muir Woods is a National Monument protecting redwood trees 40 minutes north of San Francisco. The Canopy View Trail not only gets hikers up close and personal with old-growth redwoods, it gets above them. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, then you haven’t spent much time around the giant trees.
This is truly a magical hike! A gradual uphill wander through tranquil forest leads hikers to a trailhead where you’ll continue your climb another 1.3 miles. You’ll be at almost 1,000 feet before descending through deep forests and back into the redwoods.
Learn more about the array of National Parks Near San Francisco.
Hiking in Mill Valley
The Dipsea Trail has everything you want in a physical challenge and then some. This not a hike for younger kids but, one that teens can likely handle.
The views are extraordinary and there are lots of them; the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Mt. Tamalpais, and Stinson Beach! Hikers cross a creek, see Redwood trees, take the famous Dipsea Stairs and experience the Steep Ravine.
What will you have at the end it? Well aside from stunning photos, you’ll have bragging rights!
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