10 Best Urban Hikes in San Francisco
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With its hidden stairways and pedestrian paths and its secret dirt trails, San Francisco is a walker’s paradise. This list covers my top 10 urban hikes in San Francisco. The walks range from a short but challenging 1-mile walk along the Inner Sunset’s pretty mosaic stairways to a 17-mile hike across San Francisco from the far southeast corner of the city to the Golden Gate Bridge in the northwest side of the city.
On a San Francisco urban hike you’ll discover some of the best neighborhoods and hidden corners of San Francisco. Some of these city hikes utilize dirt trails and will make you feel like you’re away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
What to Bring on a San Francisco Urban Hike
The beauty of an urban hike in SF is that you won’t need to worry about getting lost in the woods for days on end. There will always be a corner store or a restaurant within a few miles of you. If you want to look like a true San Franciscan, you should pack a reusable water bottle (unnecessary single use plastic bottles are so passé) and a lightweight puffy jacket or fleece in your backpack. We are also fans of comfortable sneakers because a casual stroll in San Francisco can involve some serious hill climbing.
I would also remember to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat because San Franciscans are so accustomed to foggy days we make a big deal of it when the sun actually breaks through the clouds. Lastly, bring your sense of adventure because you never know when you might happen upon a block party, farmers market, or other public event along the route.
San Francisco Urban Hikes
Ferry Building to Coit Tower
I affectionately call this route the Piers to Pasta walk. If you’re a foodie you can make this into a walking food tour by sampling the great eats in the Ferry Building and in North Beach. If you walk this route on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday be sure to check out the Ferry Building’s Farmers Market.
This 2 mile walk starts at the Ferry Building and meanders around the piers along the Embarcadero before climbing the Filbert Street and Greenwich Street stairs up to Coit Tower. During this walk you might see dolphins playing in the Bay, the famous parrots of Telegraph Hill squawking in the stairway gardens, and on a clear day you’ll get great views of the Bay and Alcatraz.
Distance: 2 miles (see map and full blog post here)
Parking: Parking near the Ferry Building is metered. It is highly recommended that you take public transportation for this hike.
Public Transportation: Take BART or San Francisco’s underground MUNI line (J, K, L, M, N, and T lines all stop at the station) to the Embarcadero Station. The MUNI F, 9, 14, 2 and 6 routes also stop at the Ferry Building.
Inner Sunset Mosaic Stairs to Grandview Park
San Francisco has over 900 public staircases, but as of January 2023 only 15 of these staircases are mosaic staircases. During this short, 1-mile walk you’ll climb up two mosaic staircases and you’ll be treated with stunning 360-degree views of San Francisco from the top of Grandview Park. This walk is short enough to do after work, and it would make a romantic date for an active couple. With unobstructed ocean views, the top of Grandview Park is a great place to watch the sunset.
Distance: 1 mile (See the full guide for this urban hike here.)
Parking: Street parking is available in the Inner Sunset neighborhood (2 hour parking limits during the week) near the staring point at Kirkham and 16th Avenue.
Public Transportation: The N-Judah stops at 16th Avenue and Judah, one block from the start of the walk. MUNI bus 66 stops at 16th and Moraga.
Glen Park to Dolores Park Urban Hike
This 3-mile San Francisco urban hike begins at the Glen Park BART station and leads walkers along hidden pedestrian paths, up and down 8 staircases, and through three lesser known open spaces before ending with a scenic view of downtown from Dolores Park.
After walking the steep hills and staircases in the Glen Park, Diamond Heights and Noe Valley neighborhoods you’ll definitely work up an appetite for a post-hike picnic in Dolores Park or a famous Mission burrito.
Distance: 3.13 miles. (See the entire urban hiking guide here.)
Parking: Because this isn’t a loop hike it is recommended to take public transportation.
Public Transportation: The hike begins in Glen Park near the Glen Park BART station and MUNI lines 52, 44, 35, 36 and 23.
This 17-mile urban walk starts in the southeast corner of San Francisco and ends in the northwest. The trail runs through hidden parks and pedestrian ways, over tiled stairways, and in community gardens.
If you are ambitious and want a challenge you can complete the trail in a single day. Or you can take your time and complete the park in sections and explore each neighborhood along the way.
Distance: 17 miles (see route guides here.)
Parking: Since this is a 17-mile one-way walk it is recommended that you take public transportation to and from your starting point.
Public Transportation: This blog post details all of the public transportation options along the route.
Glen Canyon Park
When you’re walking through Glen Canyon it is easy to forget that you are in the middle of the city. Many people stick to the fire road that runs through the canyon, but I prefer the narrow trails. During this short, dog-friendly hike you’ll duck under tunnels of Bay trees, climb stairs to meander through the grasslands, and take in the views from the craggy rock outcroppings.
You can walk through Glen Canyon as part of a longer hike to Twin Peaks (see trail guide below), or you can just do a short loop through the canyon and then follow the Greenway to the Village and browse some of cute shops.
Parking: Easy street parking in the neighborhood near the park entrance.
Public Transportation: Glen Canyon BART station or MUNI routes 52, 44, 35, 36 and 23 stop near the park.
Lands End and Sutro Baths Hike
Lands End is a must-do hike for tourists and locals. With postcard-perfect views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands, access to a hidden labyrinth perched high on a cliff, and the famous Sutro Bath ruins, the Lands End Coastal Trail is one of my favorite hikes in San Francisco.
This 4.5 mile loop is dog-friendly, so grab fido and hit the trail after work. After hiking the Lands End loop take the stairs down the Sutro Baths and watch the sunset from the Point Lobos Lookout. As the sun dips below the horizon, look to the other side of the Bay to see the flashing light of the Point Bonita Lighthouse.
Parking: Lands End has a free parking lot and metered parking along the street. Car break-ins happen frequently in the area so don’t leave any valuables in your vehicle.
Public Transportation: Catch the 38-Geary bus from downtown or Union Square. The bus arrives every 15 minutes.
San Francisco Presidio and Baker Beach Ramble
Presidio Park has 24 miles of hiking trails that run across beaches, skirt historic batteries, and wind through Eucalyptus and Cypress forests. The Presidio is nearly 1500 acres and every inch of it is absolutely beautiful! When I designed this hike I found it impossible to choose just one section of this park to highlight. This dog-friendly 8-mile hike showcases many of mt favorite sights in the park.
The route begins and ends at the top of the Lyon Street Stairs. You’ll walk along Baker Beach, San Francisco’s only nude beach; visit Andy Goldsworthy’s famous Woodline and Spire sculptures; and get amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge while winding along dramatic oceanside bluffs. And if you have the energy you can walk the scenic Lyon Street Stairs before or after the hike.
Distance: 8.4 miles (See the full Presidio hiking guide here.)
Parking: There is plentiful street parking at the Lyon Street Stairs at the intersection of Lyon and Broadway. Street parking has a 2-hour time limit on Monday to Friday.
Public Transportation: MUNI routes 2, 22, 24, and 43 all drop off within a few blocks of the hike’s starting point.
Philosopher’s Way in John McLaren Park
It may be San Francisco’s third largest park, but John McLaren Park seems to be one of the lesser visited parks in the city. Which is really too bad because this park has some amazing views and offers great wildlife sightings. As you’re hiking this 2.7 mile trail keep an eye out for coyotes and hawks.
Along the trail you’ll pass 14 “musing stations” with large stone markers that are engraved with quotations to help walkers think about the landscape and reflect on their place in the environment. On a clear day the viewpoints along the trail offers glimpses of Mount Diablo to the East, San Bruno Mountain in the South, and Angel Island and Mount Tamalpais to the North.
Distance: 2.7 miles
Parking: Free parking is available in the lot near the intersection of Mansell Street and Visitacion Avenue.
Public Transportation: MUNI lines 8, 9, 29, 52, and 54 run near the park.
If you live in the southern part of San Francisco you probably know Bernal Heights Park. But do you really know Bernal? All of the hidden stairways and green corridors that lead to the summit are almost as pretty as the view from the peak. This dog friendly hike explores the hidden pathways and stairways that lead to the peak along with neighboring Holly Park and the community farm in St. Mary’s Park.
Distance: 1 mile
Parking: Park in the neighborhood
Public Transportation: BART to 24th Street
Located in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Angel Island has stunning views in every direction. A trip to Angel Island is the perfect day trip. The day begins with an early morning ferry ride to the island. Hike around the island on the paved 6.2 mile Perimeter Loop or take the more rugged 5 mile hike up to the Mount Livermore, the highest point on the island. Bring a bagged lunch and enjoy wide open 360-degree views. The views from the summit are possibly the best views in the entire Bay Area.
After lunch finish your hike and return to the ferry terminal. Enjoy a beer or a coffee while sitting on the deck at the Angel Island Café while you wait for the return ferry to San Francisco.
If you want to spend a weekend on the island consider snagging a campsite for a fun backpack trip.
Distance: 5 miles or 6.2 miles
Parking: Park at one of the paid parking lots near Pier 39 and walk to the ferry terminal at Pier 41 to catch the ferry to the island.
Public Transportation: Take the MUNI F train to Embarcadero and Stockton Street; MUNI bus lines 47, 8, 8X, and 39 also stop near Pier 41.
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