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.
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This article provides the following information:
- Trails at a glance — a chart listing the trails and their features
- Parking and public transit details for each trail
- Map with trail locations and transit stops
- General information about public transit in San Francisco
- Best time to go
- 16th Avenue Tiled Steps & Grandview Park
- Mount Davidson
- Mountain Lake Trail (in the Presidio)
- Lands End Trail
- Golden Gate Promenade (through Crissy Field)
- Ecology Trail (in the Presidio)
- Barbary Coast Trail (through the heart of the City)
- Golden Gate Park Trek (from Stanyan to the Ocean)
Hiking in San Francisco
Map with Trail Locations and Transit Stops
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 this article Getting Around San Francisco on Public Transit.
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.
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)||330 stair steps|
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.
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. The steps are right there.
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)||1250 feet|
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.
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.
Mountain Lake Trail
Mountain Lake Trail is one of several trails in Presidio National Park. It’s one of my favorites because there are interesting sights to see and explore along the way.
Mountain Lake Trail at a Glance
|Distance (1-way)||2.6 miles|
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 seven 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 Sculpture: Andy Goldsworthy’s peaceful 1200-foot path edged with eucalyptus logs laid end-to-end in a curved pattern.
- Inspiration Point: A stone plaza overlooking Tennessee Hollow with a nice view of San Francisco Bay.
- Presidio Wall 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.
- Dune restoration project: Here the trail meanders through an open area on a boardwalk.
- Baker Beach: A great Pacific Ocean beach with a terrific view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
For more information about the seven sights above, see our Mountain Lake Presidio Trail article. In addition to the information here, it has:
- A lot more photos
- A map with the trail plotted and sights and transit stops pinned
- More detail about the seven visit worthy sights to explore along the trail
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. Except for the west end, you can always see West Pacific Avenue or the Presidio Golf Course.
Good Things to Know
- Restrooms: There are restrooms at Baker Beach at the west end of the trail and along the trail there are restrooms at both Mountain Lake Park Playground and Presidio Wall Playground.
- Food plus Restrooms: The Presidio Café serves good food and has really nice restrooms. 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: On the west end, there’s a large, free lot at Baker Beach. Along the trail, 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 or Presidio Avenue) and get off at Presidio Avenue. Walk 7-blocks to the Broadway Gate at Broadway and Lyon. In normal times, the 43 Masonic bus would loop through the Presidio on its way to Fort Mason and would get you closer to Broadway Gate. But is has been temporarily shortened and ends at Presidio Avenue and California.
- 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.
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)||1.5 miles|
|Difficulty||Easy to moderate|
|Food, water||Visitor Center only|
|Restrooms||Visitor Center only|
Location: Lincoln Park on the Pacific Ocean coastline in 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 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.
Golden Gate Promenade
The Golden Gate Promenade is a wide, flat trail along the edge of San Francisco Bay. It has 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)||1.8 miles|
Location: The trail 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
- 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.
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 Crissy Field: Take the #30 Stockton bus toward Crissy Field. The bus makes 2 stops on Mason Street along the southern edge of Crissy Field. The final stop is in the Sports Basement parking lot (across Mason from Crissy Marsh). You can also take a #30 Stockton bus outbound to Broderick. Get off at Broderick and Jefferson and walk one block west on Jefferson to Baker. You’ll find yourself in front of the Palace of Fine Arts. Follow Baker Street toward the Bay. Continue through Little Marina Green and turn left on the Promenade.
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
|Difficulty||Moderate to difficult|
|Bikes||Lower trail only|
|Food, water||Main Post only|
|Restrooms||Main Post only|
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.
Getting to the Ecology Trail
- 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 off of Arguello Blvd. It has 22 spaces and a 4-hour time limit.
On weekdays during non-commute hours, you can take the PresidiGo Downtown Shuttle between a stop near the SF Transit Center and the Presidio. It’s fast, comfortable and free. It isn’t currently running on weekends and it’s only available during commute hours to people who live and/or work in the Presidio.
The PresidiGo Downtown Shuttle is actually my favorite way to get to the Presidio Main Post during midday on weekdays. For stop locations and other details, get the PresidiGo route map and schedule.
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 Fort Mason and Munich and Geneva. Here are two (of many possible) places you can catch a 43 Masonic Bus to the Presidio: 1) between the Fort Mason entrance and Lombard or along Lombard Street or 2) On Presidio Avenue at California. Both of these bus stops are pinned on the google map.
Barbary Coast Trail
No matter where your interests lie, whether it’s food, drink, shopping, interesting sights, architecture, history, or simply exercise — the Barbary Coast Trail has it all. The trail goes through the heart of San Francisco, and along the way, wanders through interesting neighborhoods with connections to historically significant events.
The trail passes through Union Square, Chinatown, the original waterfront (Barbary Coast), North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Aquatic Park. These neighborhoods were influenced and shaped by the 1849 gold rush, the 1906 earthquake and fire, and wave upon wave of immigrants.
Barbary Coast Trail at a Glance
|Distance (1-way)||3.8 miles|
Location: The main trail begins at the Old San Francisco Mint at 5th and Mission and ends in Aquatic Park by the Wharf. The trail meanders for 3.8 miles through Union Square, Chinatown, the original waterfront (Barbary Coast), North Beach, and the Wharf.
There is so much to the Barbary Coast Trail that we’ve covered it in greater detail in this article: Barbary Coast Trail, a self-guided walking tour of San Francisco. The full article has:
- lots more photos
- a link to a Google map with the trail plotted and sites pinned
- brief descriptions of points of interest along the trail
- bits of history
Follow the Bronze Medallions on the Barbary Coast Trail
The trail is marked with about 180 bronze medallions embedded in the sidewalks. They are about 1-foot in diameter and are usually located on the sidewalk at street corners. The arrows point the way.
Ways to take the Barbary Coast Trail
The main trail, through the aforementioned neighborhoods, can be taken in either direction and can be done a bit at time. Taking it a bit at a time leaves more time to make stops along the way to explore, eat, or shop.
There is also an upper trail to use for a round trip. It combines a trip on the Powell-Hyde cable car with a stop on Nob Hill.
On the Nob Hill stop, visit Grace Cathedral and Huntington Park, and then wander by the Flood Mansion and Fairmont Hotel. The Fairmont is home to the Tonga Room, the Grand Kahuna of Tiki Bars, which serves fruity drinks with little umbrellas. (alas, it’s only open evenings).
Getting to the Barbary Coast Trail
Parking is San Francisco is expensive and even more so at the Wharf.
Parking near the Old U. S. Mint: There are public parking garages at:
Parking at the Wharf:
- Pier 39
- Use a parking App like SpotHero
Tip: Do Not leave valuables in your car.
To the Old U.S. Mint:
- Ride a Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason cable car to Market and walk 1.5 blocks to 5th and Mission.
- Ride an historic streetcar to Market at 5th and walk 1 block to 5th and Mission.
- Take a #14 Mission Muni bus to 5th and Mission. The #14 travels along Mission Street between the Mission District and Spear Street near the Ferry Building.
To the Waterfront (Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf):
- The Muni #49 Van Ness-Mission bus goes to and from the Wharf via Van Ness Avenue and North Point.
- The Muni #30 Stockton bus stops on Columbus near Bay Street. The #30 travels between the Cal Train Station and the Marina District (Broderick and/or Crissy Field.
Trek Through Golden Gate Park from End-to-End
Golden Gate Park is a gorgeous place filled with gardens, lakes, meadows, groves of trees, two waterfalls, and even a small herd of bison. There are numerous paths winding around and through the park’s 1,017 acres making it a great place for a hike. The trek we recommend here follows paths along either side of John F. Kennedy Drive and goes through the full length of the park.
Golden Gate Park Trail at a Glance
|Distance (1-way)||3.4 miles|
John F. Kennedy Drive begins at the park’s east end on Stanyan Street and gently winds west to the Great Highway and Pacific Ocean. The entire length of JFK Drive has wide, paved paths on both sides of the road. This entire trek is on either or both of these paths.
This trail doesn’t have a name, but it’s certainly popular. On my recent end-to-end trek, there were always a few runners, and walkers on the paths, even though it was midday, midweek, and midwinter.
This hike goes by or through several of the most scenic parts of the park. Here are some of the sights you’ll pass by along the way.
- Conservatory of Flowers
- Tree Fern Dell (for Star Trek fans, this is the Genesis Planet where Spock’s coffin landed in Wrath of Khan)
- California Academy of Sciences, the de Young, and the SkyStar Wheel (a very short detour to the Music Concourse)
- Rose Garden
- Stow Lake and Strawberry Hill (a short detour onto Stow Lake Drive)
- Rainbow Falls
- Lloyd, Spreckels, and North Lakes
- Bison Paddock
- Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden and Dutch Windmill
- Ocean Beach and the Pacific Ocean
Two Useful Golden Gate Park Maps
- Hiking in San Francisco Google Map, has the trail through Golden Gate Park marked with a dark red line. The interesting sights along the way are marked with dark red pins. Click the pins for brief bits of information.
- Golden Gate Park Map provided by the San Francisco Parks Department. This downloadable map shows the locations of important features like restrooms, streets, and paths and also marks the locations of the park’s many attractions, points of interest, and recreational facilities.
It’s not obvious from either the official park map or Google maps, but the entire length of JFK Drive really does have wide, paved paths on both sides of the road. The road is well marked, but there’s no signage on the paths. Simply follow the path on one side of the road, switching sides whenever you wish.
The paths are nearly flat with a few slight uphill and downhill parts. They are in great condition except for one short area by North Lake where it’s cracked and buckled a bit.
Good Things to Know
JFK Drive Closed to Traffic: In normal times, JFK Drive is closed to vehicle traffic on Sundays and holidays between Stanyan and Crossover Drive. But now, in Covid-times, it’s closed to vehicles every day. It’s become JFK Promenade, and you can walk, run, dance, or bike on it.
Restrooms: There are several restrooms located on or near JFK Drive. Their locations are marked on the San Francisco Parks Golden Gate Park Map.
- Beach Chalet & Brewery: This is actually two restaurants in the same building. Beach Chalet is on the second floor overlooking the ocean. Park Chalet is on the back patio with both indoor and outdoor seating. Checkout the depression era art on the first floor. Location: 1000 Great Highway.
- Annie’s Hotdog Cart next to Spreckels Lake
Getting to Golden Gate Park
- Getting to the east end of Golden Gate Park: Take the #5 or 5R Fulton bus (toward Ocean Beach). This route begins at the Transit Center and travels along Market, McAllister, and Fulton. If you take a #5, get off on Fulton at Stanyan. If you take a #5R (rapid), get off on Parker and walk 1-block west to Stanyan. From Fulton and Stanyan, walk south on Stanyan to the park entrance where Fell Street enters the park.
- Getting back from the west end of Golden Gate Park: Catch a #5 or 5R Fulton bus (toward the Transit Center). From the intersection of the Great Hwy and JFK Drive, walk 1-block north on the Great Hwy to Fulton and then 1-block east on Fulton to the stop across from La Playa Street.
- Free Parking: is available on many streets in the park. The good news is that there are about 4700 spaces and they don’t have time limits. The bad news is that parking can be a challenge on weekends and holidays, especially when the east half of JFK Drive is closed to traffic.
- Paid Parking: is available in a large garage under the Music Concourse. There are two entrances: 1) On the northside of the park the entrance is on Fulton at 10th Avenue. 2) On the southside of the park the entrance is at Concourse Drive and Martin Luther King Drive.
This post is an evolving bucket list of urban hiking trails in San Francisco. More trials will be added overtime, but the eight trials included here now are great hikes. So pack up your Day Bag and take a hike.
About the Author
Ginny Vail is a travel writer who loves travel planning, sightseeing, photography, and videography. She’s visited all 50 states and traveled around the world. Her articles focus on discovering places to go, sights to see, and details about when and how visit them.