San Francisco’s six best hiking trails
With more than 220 green spaces in San Francisco, it’s easy to escape the City by the Bay without ever really leaving it. To fully appreciate this city’s wild beauty and quirky charms (and to walk off the Crodough calories from Johnny Doughnuts), explore these easily accessible and breathtaking hikes—from the tallest natural point in San Francisco to the spot locals insist has the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
1. Kirby Cove
Distance: 2 miles
Neighborhood: Fort Barry, Sausalito
Kirby Cove location
It’s a rare thing to have the Golden Gate Bridge all to yourself. After traipsing through a thicket of cypress, eucalyptus and pine trees in the Marin Headlands, you’ll reach a picnic-perfect beach at Kirby Cove and a newly installed tree swing that’ll inspire your inner child. As you rock back and forth alongside the crashing waves, enjoy uninterrupted views of the bridge and San Francisco Bay.
2. Lands End Trail
Distance: 3.5 miles round trip
Neighborhood: Sea Cliff
Lands End Trail location
This cliffside hike in the northwest corner of San Francisco is known for the Sutro Baths ruins (once the world’s largest indoor swimming complex that could accommodate 10,000 bathers), but the pièce de résistance is the stone Eagle Point Labyrinth by artist Eduardo Aguilera that lies at the bottom of a sandy stairway, beyond blooming meadows and World War II memorials. After marveling at the handmade stone maze, visit the Lincoln Park Steps, San Francisco’s newest mosaic stairway, located just a few blocks away.
3. Andy Goldsworthy’s Artworks in the Presidio
Distance: 2.7 miles
Andy Goldsworthy Art location
British artist and environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy has gained worldwide recognition for his nature-inspired installations comprised of earthly elements like rocks, ice and branches. You can see four of his most recent large-scale artworks in San Francisco’s Presidio—”the city’s best hiking neighborhood with more than 25 trails,” says Alexandra Kenin, founder of Urban Hiker SF and author of Urban Trails: San Francisco. The Presidio designed a handy map for you to visit all four artworks: the 1,200-foot-long Wood Line, 100-foot-tall Spire, Tree Fall and Earth Wall.
4. The Steep Ravine Trail
Distance: 4 miles
Neighborhood: Mill Valley
Steep Ravine Trail location
Crowd-free hikes around San Francisco don’t get much cooler than this spectacular out-and-back hike in Mount Tamalpais State Park. From the Pantoll Campground parking lot, you’ll travel down into a lush, old-growth redwood forest, over bridges and along a cascading brook, until you reach the beautiful Webb Creek waterfall and adjacent 14-rung wooden ladder leaning against a giant, mossy boulder. After climbing the ladder, stare up at the redwood trees that seem to go on forever (while resting your legs before the steep two-mile trek back).
5. Mount Davidson
Distance: 1.3 miles
Mount Davidson location
At 927 feet, the summit of Mount Davidson is the tallest natural point in San Francisco. “No small feat for a city with over 40 hills,” says Kenin. After roaming through the 40-acre park’s dense eucalyptus forest, you’ll be met with a grassy expanse and panoramic views of San Bruno Mountain, downtown San Francisco and Twin Peaks. Mount Davidson’s signature feature is the 103-foot cross that sits atop the hill and commemorates the Armenian Genocide in the Turkish Ottoman Empire. (Fun fact: the cross is featured in a dramatic ransom scene in the movie Dirty Harry.)
6. Mussel Rock Park
Neighborhood: Daly City
Mussel Rock Park location
If you’ve never done a hike that ended with a jump off a cliff, here’s your big chance. The Mussel Rock Park nature preserve stretches along the stunning San Mateo County Coast and features blooming hillsides and a man-made rock arch on the beach. After soaking up the glistening ocean and rugged coastline from the ground, take to the skies with paragliding for an unforgettable outdoor adventure.