I love hiking in San Francisco.

Easy trail access is one of the things I love most about living in this beautiful city. It’s pretty amazing that there are multiple hiking options right here within the city limits, and all of them have epic views. I’m no expert but it seems pretty unique for a major city of over 880 thousand people to have so much access to nature.

You might be scratching your head like, “hiking in San Francisco?” and I get it. When most people think of the city, cable cars, Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge and some tasty sourdough bread at Fishermans Wharf probably come to mind first. But the fact of the matter is that the city’s temperate climate, incredibly dramatic terrain and relatively immense protected areas make for some of the best trail experiences – I would argue – in all of Northern California.

So, if you’re in the city and in need of a little outside time but don’t want to travel too far, or if you just want to see a different side of San Francisco, look no further. There are a lot of great hikes in San Francisco but here are, in my humble opinion, some of the best:

View of SF from Fort Funston

1. Fort Funston

If you’re a dog owner, chances are you’ve heard of Fort Funston. I used to joke that it’s like dog heaven. But even without a dog in tow, it’s a really nice, easy hike option. It has amazing views of the west side of the city, and with beach access looking up at picturesque cliffs, it will make you feel like you’re hours from the city.

Located just off Skyline Boulevard near Lake Merced, this area was formerly a fort used during World Wars I and II. There are still relics from its past that you can explore. Just be sure to follow all signs and avoid getting too far out on the steep cliffs that line the beach, as there have been fatalities in the past due to landslides.

Distance: 1.75-mile loop

Elevation change: 267 ft.

Hiking time: Appx 1 hour

Managing agency: National Park Service

Parking lot location: Click here for directions


Golden Gate Bridge from Land's End Trail

2. Lands End Trail

For anyone new to San Francisco, this trail is a must-do. It’s filled with history and has some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The trail is also dog friendly and is easy enough for all abilities. Since I live in the Sunset District, I like to park near the Sutro Baths and hike east towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The trail winds around the northeast corner of the city and ends near Eagles Point. There are also a few side trails you can explore that head down to rocky beaches with views of the mouth of the Bay as well as the abandoned Mile Rocks Lighthouse.

Distance: 2.75 miles out and back

Elevation change: 328 ft.

Hiking time: Approximately 2 hours

Managing agency: National Park Service

Parking lot location: Click here for directions.


Densely wooded Mt. Sutro forest

3. Mount Sutro Loop

Located in the heart of San Francisco is Mount Sutro Open Space Preserve. This urban oasis, now owned and managed by UCSF, has Monterey pines, Monterey cypress and blue gem eucalyptus. It’s a great option for those of us taking public transportation, and it has several trailheads, making it easily accessible no matter where you’re coming from.

Once on the trail, it becomes easy to forget you’re in the middle of a major city. For a city hike, it has decent elevation gains and offers great views of the bay. Bring the dogs and kids or even a mountain bike to enjoy this tucked-away open space.

Distance: Just over 2 miles

Elevation change: 959 ft.

Hiking time: Approximately 1 hour

Managing agency: UCSF

Parking lot location: Click here for directions.


View of SF from atop McLaren Park

4. Philosopher’s Way

Within John McLaren Park is the Philosopher’s Way Trail. This trail is a great option for kids and is considered an easy hike — or even just a scenic walking route. It winds around hills and makes its way to an absolutely beautiful view of the East Bay. There are two playgrounds, a dog run area and the McLaren Mountain mystery maze which is a really cool labyrinth. Follow the trail to the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater which hosts concerts and other events throughout the year. There’s so much to explore in this area — it’s a pick-your-own-adventure hike.

Distance: 2.35-mile loop

Elevation change: 660 ft.

Hiking time: Approximately 1.5 hours

Managing agency: San Francisco Recreation & Parks

Parking lot location: Click here for directions


The cross from atop Mt. Davidson

5. Mount Davidson Trail

Another trail with exceptional scenic views is Mount Davidson, which is one of the tallest points in San Francisco. Like the other trails described here, this is a dog friendly, moderate to easy loop. Come here to find wildflowers during spring and go birdwatching year-round. At the peak you’ll find the Mount Davidson cross, an enormous monument with an interesting history that now stands as a memorial for the Armenian Genocide. Come here for a nice trail run, a scenic dog walk or to get some great shots of the Mount Davidson cross.

Distance: 1.34 mi

Elevation change: 646 ft.

Hiking time: Approximately 1 hour

Managing agency: San Francisco Recreation & Parks

Parking lot location: Click here for directions


About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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