The Best Hikes in San Francisco and Beyond
San Francisco's year-round temperate climate and forty-plus hills make the city a hiker's paradise. The rest of the Bay Area is no different. Natural wonders like towering redwoods, impermeable cliffs, and lush valleys are all within a short drive of the city. Here are our picks for the best hikes in San Francisco and beyond.
San Francisco City Hikes
If you're ready to go beyond regular walking tours and actually hike through San Francisco, we've got options for you. You can start right in the center of the city with Twin Peaks. Climbing the easy half-mile trail increases your elevation by 400 feet, putting you a total of 925 feet above sea level. This is the place to check out the best 360-degree view inside city limits. Twin Peaks is easily accessible through public transportation. If you take Muni Metro K, L, or M trains to the Castro St. station, the trailhead is just a few blocks away.
Another option is the 1.5-mile Mount Davidson Trail loop, which takes you to the highest point in the city. Mount Davidson is home to a San Francisco landmark, the historical Mount Davidson Cross. This icon stands 103 feet tall, so it can be seen from most points in the city. It is here that the Annual Easter Sunrise Service has been held since 1923. The simplest way to get to Mount Davidson is by public transportation. Take BART from downtown to the Glen Park station, then the 38 Muni bus to the corner of Dalewood Way and Myra Way.
If you want to take a hike that circles an entire island without ever leaving city limits, take the Angel Island - Tiburon Ferry or the Blue & Gold Angel Island Ferry to Angel Island State Park. See the San Francisco skyline from a brand-new vantage point as you trek the five-mile loop.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Hikers come from all over the country to enjoy the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. Within this expansive park, which spans both the Marin and San Francisco sides of the Golden Gate, there are trails that cater to every interest and ability.
One of the most popular is the Land’s End Trail, which is ideal for hikers of moderate ability. On the northwest tip of San Francisco, this four-mile path takes you to spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you prefer a hike on more stable ground, the Golden Gate Promenade is partially paved. You can walk from Fort Point to Aquatic Park along the 3.5-mile path, stopping frequently for photos on the waterfront.
Summer is the perfect time to explore the Presidio Trails. You can enjoy 24 miles of hiking trails on the Presidio grounds. Try the three-mile trail that takes you past four of Andy Goldsworthy’s acclaimed sculptural installations: "Spire", "Wood Line", "Earth Wall", and "Tree Fall". The Presidio’s location on the Pacific Flyway, a heavily-trafficked migratory route for birds, makes hiking in the park especially exciting for birdwatchers.
Hikers looking for bigger challenges may wish to explore other sections of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. Try the 1.2-mile Ocean View Trail through the Muir Woods National Monument. The path wanders among old-growth redwoods, then takes you up where you can see the 600 to 800-year-old trees from above. For a route that loops, turn onto Lost Trail, then follow Fern Creek Trail, which takes you back to the start.
Hikers traveling with younger family members or those looking for a less strenuous hike will enjoy the Tennessee Valley Trail. This 1.7-mile path (3.4 miles round-trip) stretches from the parking area to Tennessee Beach. If you time your arrival just right, you may catch a glimpse of the shipwrecked SS Tennessee, revealed by the outgoing tides.
If you are prepared for rough terrain, follow the half-mile trail that ends at Point Bonita Lighthouse. If you plan to go inside the lighthouse, be advised that hours are quite limited. Currently, the site is open to visitors on Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Experienced hikers can trek from the ocean to Montara Mountain’s peak, which goes from sea level to 2,000 in approximately one mile.
Hikes Beyond the Bridge
In the East Bay, you'll find Mount Diablo State Park, which is named for the 3,849-foot peak that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding hills and valleys. There are hiking trails appropriate for every level of ability, but the truly spectacular views are only available to those willing to take on a challenge.
One of the most popular options is the Donner Creek Loop Trail, a five-mile trek that passes by Donner Creek Falls. For a longer hike, try the Mount Diablo Grand Loop Trail, which includes approximately seven miles of inclines and declines. The most experienced hikers prefer the 13-mile loop from Mitchell Creek to Diablo Summit. This one takes you all the way to the top, a total elevation gain of 3,585 feet.
North of the city in Marin, Mount Tamalpais State Park offers a network of trails ranging from easy to moderate levels of difficulty. Some trails are just over two miles long, while others span a full 16 miles. Visitors hike, bike, jog, and picnic throughout the park year round, making it one of the area’s most popular attractions.
If you have the time and you are up for a challenge, you can climb to the mountain’s 2,571-foot peak. From the top, you can see the Farallon Islands, which are 25 miles out to sea. When conditions are just right, some hikers have glimpsed the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains, which are more than 150 miles away.