Whether you want an urban hike or a walk in the woods, San Francisco has plenty of locations to please you. Most of them will have beautiful views. Many involve climbing hills.
Difficulty Level: Dead flat
In our opinion, this is the possibly the world's best urban walk, running between the Marina and Fort Point beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Hiking west, it's bridge views all the way and coming back, it's the San Francisco city skyline. The path is dead flat and smooth, great for walking or running, used by locals and tourists alike. Park at Fort Point to make the round trip, follow the edge of the water until you reach the walking path, or follow Marina Blvd toward the Golden Gate Bridge, going straight as the road changes its name to Mason, to the parking area a short distance down. Get more details about going to Crissy Field or get a photo tour preview.
Difficulty Level: Somewhat steep with lots of stairs, but can be done downhill all the way
For some of San Francisco's most surprising scenery, take a Telegraph Hill walk. This spot is easily recognized from almost anywhere in the city by Coit Tower, which is located at the top. While it's not flat, it's easy to make it all downhill, as described below. Reverse the directions for a "high intensity" workout.
- Start in North Beach on Stockton Street. Look around and find Coit Tower.
- Walk up any street you like toward the tower. I like Lombard Street for this walk. You can also avoid the climb by taking the #39 city bus from Washington Square.
- Visit Coit Tower and take advantage of the restrooms while you're there. Pick up water from the ever-present street vendors if you need it.
- Walk across the parking area, where the street enters it, and find the steps going down. Follow them.
- It's hard to get lost from here. Follow the steps down the hill. No matter which small turn you take, you'll eventually end up at the bottom of the hill. You'll walk through an area of houses and well-manicured gardens, where sidewalks and steps replace streets. If you're a film fan, you may recognize the apartment house at 1360 Montgomery, where Lauren Bacall gave refuge to Humphrey Bogart in the movie Dark Passage.
- When you reach sea level again, you will be on Battery Street. Turn left to get to the waterfront.
Walk the Golden Gate Bridge
Difficulty level: Flat
You can look at the Golden Gate Bridge all day long, but until you actually take a walk on it, you won't really know what it's like. At mid-span you stand 220 feet above the water's surface, and passing ships below look like small toys. The distance from one vista point to another is 1.7 miles, but even a short hike (or to the middle and back) will give you a feel for the structure. It can be windier on the bridge than inland, so take an extra layer and be sure everything is secure so you don't accidentally drop it into the Bay.
Parking at the south vista point is limited and expensive, which may tempt you to rush instead of exploring. Instead of parking there, drive away from the lot (with the bridge behind you) and turn left out of the parking lot onto Lincoln. You will find a gravel lot not far down on your left. If you are approaching from the Presidio on Lincoln, the lot is just across from the two-story houses that were once the Presidio officer's quarters. More about visiting the Golden Gate Bridge
Difficulty: Steep climb
Hyde Street is another interesting urban hike with a steep climb. This is an especially good hike for photographers. Start near Ghirardelli Square at the cable car turnaround. Follow the cable car line up the hill on Hyde Street. Stop at Lombard Street to watch the craziness on the crookedest street. Return the way you came, or walk down Lombard all the way to North Beach, where you could pick up the Telegraph Hill walk.
Difficulty: Varies, with some trails fairly flat
Angel Island is across the Bay from the city of San Francisco. A climb to the top of the island rewards you with 360-degree views of the city and the bay. You can get there from San Francisco by ferry, or drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to Tiburon and catch a ferry to Angel Island from there. The ferries run much more frequently from Tiburon than from San Francisco. Angel Island Company offers a number of activities including bicycle and kayak rentals. Get more details about visiting Angel Island