Take a Hike

Communing with nature, fresh air, sunshine, exercise — who doesn’t love all of these things? Perhaps those of us who live in urban areas appreciate them even more. Luckily, San Francisco has some great trails that allow us to do just that. Here are a few favorites:

1) Lands End Trailhead (FX01-6-629)

Lands End section of the Coastal Trail

The California Coastal Trail meanders along the coast from the Oregon border to Mexico – a trek of some 1200 miles. The trail passes along San Francisco’s Pacific shoreline from the Golden Gate Bridge to just south of Fort Funston. Our favorite part of this trail is the Lands End section, which goes from the Lands End North trailhead (at 32nd Avenue and El Camino del Mar) to the parking lot near the Sutro Bath ruins. Along the way, it skirts around the edge of Lincoln Park, passing by Eagles’ Point, Lands End, the USS SF Memorial Overlook, and Point Lobos.

2) Lands End-GG Bridge (FX01-6-357)

The first half-mile or so is a rustic dirt trail with some ups and downs and a couple of wooden stairways. It winds through densely wooded areas with occasional open areas and lookouts that afford stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, rugged cliffs, and rocky beaches. As you near the southern end, it becomes a wide, paved walkway that passes through a meadow and, finally, to the parking lot next to the old Sutro Baths.  From here it’s just a short walk to Cliff House.

3) Lands End (FX01-6-370)

At a leisurely pace, with photo ops along the way, this 1.7-mile hike can easily be done in about 90 minutes. At the southern end, we like to stop at Cliff House for a pint of Stella and their excellent fruit and cheese plate appetizer.

Golden Gate Promenade

The Golden Gate Promenade runs along the northern shoreline from the Golden Gate Bridge to Aquatic Park (next to Fisherman’s Wharf). This 4-mile walkway passes through Fort Point, Crissy Field (with its newly restored sand dunes and tidal marsh), the Marina Green, a yacht harbor, and Fort Mason. The Promenade is mostly flat and is easy to walk (or run or bike). On a clear day, the views of the bay, the bridge, and the city are amazing.

4) GG Prom-Tidal Marsh (FZ28-2-275)
5) GG Prom-GG View (FX01-1-366)


6) Ecology Trail (FZ28-2-212)

Presidio Ecology Trail

This one-mile hike begins near the Presidio Visitors Center and ends at Inspiration Point near the Presidio golf course. It’s a wide easy trail that wanders (mostly uphill) through a heavily wooded area with redwood, pine, cypress, and eucalyptus trees. Shortly before reaching Inspiration Point, the trail passes by Tennessee Hollow, the site where many San Franciscans camped after their homes were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

Inspiration Point is topped with a stone plaza that provides an expansive view of the Presidio and the bay beyond: including Alcatraz and Angel Island.

7) Inspire. Point (FZ28-2-232)

The Presidio was a military post for 218 years. First established by the Spanish in 1776, it was taken over by Mexico in 1822 and by the United States in 1846. In 1994, the military base was closed and the land turned over to the National Park Service. This 1,491-acre piece of land sits strategically at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. In addition to its beautiful coastline, beaches, and wooded areas, the Presidio also has many historic buildings.

The Officer's Club is the oldest building in the Presidio. It’s believed that some of its adobe walls date back to late 1700s or early 1800s, when this was a Spanish garrison. Normally, the Presidio's Visitor Center is located here, but the club is undergoing a major rehabilitation and will not be open again until late 2012. 

The Ecology trail is only one of a dozen trails in the Presidio. To see other Presidio trails, click here to download a map.


Mount Davidson

8) Mt Davidson-City View (FZ28-2-351)

At a whopping 925 feet, Mount Davidson is the highest natural point in San Francisco. Its slopes are covered with residential neighborhoods, but, thankfully, the top 40 acres have been preserved as a park and are open to the public. There are no facilities. In fact, we didn’t even find a sign, but there are multiple trails leading to the top. The #36 Teresita bus drops you just a few feet from one of the trails. It’s uphill all the way, but it’s less than half a mile – so it’s an easy walk. 

In addition to the walk through the small but lovely cypress and eucalyptus forest, there are two reasons to go to the top of Mount Davidson: the view and the cross. The view is sweeping and stunning. You overlook the entire city and much of San Francisco Bay and beyond. You can see Oakland and Mt. Diablo and much more. At the summit, an enormous 103-foot concrete cross stands at one end of a small open area. The cross is a popular site for sunrise Easter services and has been since the 1920s.

9) Mt Davidson Cross (FZ28-2-340)

Both Mount Davidson and the cross have a long and interesting history.


Giving credit where credit is due:

We learned about the Mount Davidson and Presidio Ecology treks from Urban Outings columns in the 96 Hours section of the San Francisco Chronicle. If you’d like to see more from Urban Outings, go to this Greenbelt Alliance website. Googling Urban Outings will take you someplace else entirely – or so I’ve heard.

© Virginia E. Vail 2012