Lands End Coastal Trail

The 3.4-mile Lands End Coastal Trail in San Francisco is a destination for both tourists and locals. With postcard-perfect views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands, and access to a hidden labyrinth perched high on the cliff there’s no question why this trail is so popular.

The trail begins at Sutro Baths and is usually done as an out-and-back hike. However, I prefer doing the hike as a loop. And if you want a little adventure, you can end your hike exploring the hidden octagon house and the abandoned battery.

Best View of the Golden Gate Bridge

This trail is all about the views. People flock here for the outstanding view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but I think the views of the Marin Headlands are just as beautiful. On a hazy day the headlands across the bay look like an impressionist painting.

Starting at Sutro Baths and heading to Mile Rock Beach, the first section of this trail might require a little patience. While the first part of the trail is flat and wide, it is often crowded with tourists, couples walking hand-in-hand, or families out for a slow stroll. Most people are only here for the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and won’t make it further than the second overlook. Be patient and know that while the crowds may thin the views will continue to be incredible.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Lands End Trail

Detailed Description of Lands End Hike

Start your hike at the Lands End Lookout visitor center parking lot. Pickup the trail at the large semi-circle entrance with stairs at the far side of the lot. Follow signs for the Coastal Trail to Mile Rock Beach and the Overlook.

After about 300 feet you’ll reach a trail leading down to Sutro Baths. If you haven’t explored Sutro Baths it is worth the short detour.

View of Sutro Baths from the San Francisco Lands End Trail

If you don’t want to visit Sutro Baths stay straight on the Coastal Trail and shortly after passing the Sutro detour you’ll reach another trail junction. Continue straight on the Coastal Trail and follow the trail as it merges with a wider dirt trail.

You’ll start getting fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge almost immediately. This portion of the trail can get crowded, but many people don’t venture much further so if the viewpoint is crowded don’t worry, there’s another viewpoint coming up shortly.

After passing the second viewpoint the trail begins to narrow and gets a little rocky. You’ll pass a few other trail junctions along this stretch, but keep straight on the Coastal trail. When you arrive at a large junction with the bike path stay left here and follow signs for Mile Rock. (If you happen to be on a bike you need to go right here unless you want to carry your bike up and down lots of stairs!)

Shortly after the junction with the bike trail you’ll see a long set of wood stairs off to your left. This junction doesn’t have a trailhead marker, but if you look on the fence you’ll see a sign for Mile Rock Beach. Take the stairs down to the beach. When the first staircase ends, continue left to go down a second set of stairs and under a large tree. When the beach is in sight and you’ve come to break in the stairs head right and take the unmarked trail that hugs the side of the cliff.

This trail leads you to a hidden cliffside labyrinth that overlooks the ocean and Mile Rock Beach. The labyrinth was created by artist Eduardo Aguilera in 2003 and it is tended by Eduardo and local residents. This labyrinth is a local treasure, please be respectful and do not reposition the stones.

The hidden labyrinth at Lands End in San Francisco

After enjoying the labyrinth, backtrack just a bit and take the unmarked trail to the left that goes further up the cliff. This path is short, but steep and slippery. When you get to the top of the path enjoy the view of the labyrinth from above and follow the path at the top of the cliff that leads back toward the stairs. When the path splits take the path to the left to get back to the stairs.

Climb back up the stairs and make a left on the Coastal Trail. Follow the trail up another long set of stairs, resting on the benches if you need to. At the top of the stairs you’ll drop down into a Eucalyptus grove before the path flattens out and you’re surrounded by Cypress trees again.

A set of wooden stairs at the Lands End hike in San Francisco

In this small valley the path narrows. In the spring the path is lined with flowering berry bushes, calla lilies, and red-orange cobra lilies. From this point on you’ll start to get a new perspective of the bridge and the coastline, and views of the large homes in the Sea Cliff neighborhood.

You’ll pass one more lookout before the trail ends at El Camino Del Mar. Make a right on the sidewalk (follow the sign for the bike path) and follow the sidewalk towards the Legion of Honor art museum. As you walk the golf course will be on your right and the street on your left. Stay on this path until it dead-ends into the Legion of Honor parking lot. As you approach the Legion of Honor you’ll pass the Peace Monument on your right. At the intersection with the Legion of Honor you’ll see the Holocaust Memorial on your left and a memorial to the Japanese naval ship, Kanrin Maru, on your right.

While hiking the Lands End Coastal Trail you'll pass by the Holocaust Memorial outside of the Legion of Honor

When the sidewalk ends and the road splits head to the left and follow signs for the Terrace Level Entrance. Follow the sidewalk slightly uphill. The sidewalk ends at the disabled parking area at the side entrance to the museum, but your should keep going straight and head towards the public restrooms at the end of the street. Pick up the sidewalk again at the restrooms and make a left to follow the path around the restroom outbuildings. When the trail splits, stay right and follow signs for the VA Medical Center.

Go over a small bridge and pass a picnic area on your left. Just past the picnic area, and just before you reach Fort Miley (white building with green trim) take the unmarked path on your right onto the VA Medical Center campus.

In the spring wildflowers line the trails at San Francisco Lands End.

Make an immediate right at the end of the trail and follow the sidewalk. Near the sign for Hoptel Lodging 10 the sidewalk will bend to the left and head toward a picnic area. Pick-up the Battle of the Bulge Trail near the picnic area. This short trail will lead you back to the parking lot.

When you reach the parking area make a left and walk through the yellow gate. Then, follow signs for the Coastal Trail and El Camino Del Mar Trail. Go down a short set of stairs and take the wider path to the left. Stay straight at the next junction, following signs for the USS SF Memorial. This part of the trail has patches of poison oak so watch what you brush up against.

As you near the memorial the path widens into a road. Walk past the gate and follow the sidewalk on the right to reach the USS SF Memorial.

From here you have a decision to make. If you still have energy and want to do a little exploring, walk across the parking lot and take the wide dirt trail to the ropes course. From the ropes course you can make your way off-trail to find the abandoned octagon house that is hidden in the trees. From the octagon house look for some small trails that lead up the hill to the often forgotten, Fort Miley batteries popular with skateboarders and graffiti artists. Exploring this abandoned battery is one of my favorite hidden spots in the area.

Looking down on the first view point for the view of Golden Gate Bridge on the Lands End trail

If you’re done exploring for the day and want to return to your car take the stairs from the overlook area next to the USS SF Memorial back down to the Coastal Trail. Make a left at the bottom of the stairs and retrace your steps from the beginning of this hike.

The Trailhead

Located next to the parking lot and Lands End Visitor Center at 680 Point Lobos Avenue, San Francisco, the trailhead begins on the path above Sutro Baths.

The Route

This loop follows the Lands End Coastal Trail and then wraps past the Legion of Honor, through Fort Miley, and past the USS SF Memorial before meeting the Coastal Trail again.

Take the Coastal Trail for .6 mile until you reach the Mile Rock Beach trail junction. Follow the stairs down to Mile Rock Beach and then take an unmarked path to the labyrinth. After enjoying the views take another unmarked trail back to the stairs and return to the Coastal Trail. (See details above for more details on the unmarked paths.)

Stay on the Coastal Trail until you reach El Camino Del Mar. Make a right on El Camino Del Mar and follow the sidewalk past the Legion of Honor. Use an unmarked path to walk behind the Legion of Honor and toward the VA Medical Center. Follow signs for the VA Medical Center and after passing a picnic area on your left, take the unmarked path on your right.

When you've reached the VA Medical Center make a right and follow the sidewalk to a picnic area. Take the Battle of the Bulge trail until it meets a parking area. Make a left, walk through a gate, and follow signs for El Camino Del Mar and the Coastal Trail. Stay straight on the trail and follow signs for USS SF Memorial. At the memorial take the stairs down to the Coastal Trail and retrace your steps back to the beginning.

Other Details

Trail Safety

Like all outdoor pursuits, hiking can be dangerous. It is up to you to assess your fitness level and education yourself about any potential dangers. While I try to regularly update these hiking guides, you should always research trail conditions before heading out.

Being prepared means arriving at the trailhead with water and some basic provisions. Each and every time I hit the trail I bring a backpack with more water than I think I need, a small first aid kit, and a snack. I also share my itinerary and plans with friends or family and I carry an InReach so I can summon help if needed. If you want to know what I carry in my pack during day hikes check out my blog post about essential gear for day hikers.

Stay safe, enjoy the trail, and soak up the magic of nature!

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