15 Outdoor Spots You Won't Believe Exist in the Heart of San Francisco
San Francisco is an undeniably awesome city. Thanks to its quirky, effervescent culture, dynamic food scene, and the copious amount of steep hills — 43 to be exact — you could spend days on end exploring and barely scratch the surface of discovery. Although this pocket of Northern California does encompass an alluring urban jungle — not to mention streets upon streets of elegant Victorian homes — it's the area's natural scenery that keeps people coming back for more. With the Pacific Ocean on one side and mountain ranges sprawling across the bay, San Francisco is one of the most admired gold mines across America when it comes to outdoor activity.
So whether you're looking to wrap your arms around an enormous redwood tree, catch waves along the coast, or hike with hopes of witnessing jaw-dropping views, ahead are 15 of the most scenic places to do whatever your adventurous spirit desires the next time you're in the Bay Area. And the best part? All of these fresh-air excursions are easily accessible — even for the carless folk like myself — and budget-friendly.
Although Angel Island is hard to miss when gazing upon the San Francisco Bay, very few people are even aware of all the treasures it bestows. Let's see: there's the miles of hiking trails, sweeping panoramic views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and the city's skyline, and — of course — lots and lots of refreshing air.
And get this: unless you own a boat or kayak, you'll have to hop aboard a ferry from Pier 41 in San Francisco. Now, is that not the the perfect excuse to sail across the Bay or what?
Back before San Francisco was San Francisco, much of the peninsula was hidden by windswept layers of sand. (Think: massive, mountain-like sand dunes.) These days, the largest of these bluffs still remaining can be found on the most western edge of the city in an area known as Fort Funston.
Adored for its rolling dunes, steep cliffs, and vast coastline, this outdoor oasis makes a serene spot for anyone in search of a scenic stroll. And because the entire beach is dog-friendly, expect to find lots of wagging tails playing in the cold water during your visit!
Whether you're a lover of art, history, or simply adore being outdoors, you'll find something to appreciate in The Presidio. This 1,500-acre park is packed with forested trails and picturesque overlooks, making it one of the most popular recreation hubs in the city. And because it was once a former military post, it has an interesting national heritage.
One place in particular to check out when in this area is Lovers' Lane. Not only is this the oldest footpath throughout the entire park, but it is also the gateway to Wood Line, the zigzagging art installation pictured above.
Yearning to curl your toes in the sand and take in views of the Golden Gate Bridge? If so, be sure to make your way down to Marshall's Beach. Although you'll have to hike down a rather long pathway of stairs to gain access, the trek will be worth it, as this secluded slice of shoreline is one of the most tranquil places you'll find within city limits.
My advice? Plan your visit around sunrise for an extra-spectacular experience.
Glen Canyon Park
Nestled in between residential neighborhoods lies another peaceful pocket of nature: Glen Canyon Park. Encompassing over 70 acres of lush terrain, there's no question this park is one of the best kept secrets in all of San Francisco. That is, until now. (Sorry, local residents!) Thanks to its extensive network of hiking trails and wide array of wildlife, this natural sanctuary serves as a delightful escape for any outdoor enthusiast.
Did you know the world's largest indoor swimming complex is located in San Francisco? It's true. Well, technically, the ruins of the largest indoor swimming complex, but you get the idea. While it was originally built in 1896, the Sutro Baths unfortunately burned down 70 years later in 1966. As much of a tragedy as this was back then, today, the haunting ruins are a fascinating area to explore and provide one of the most beautiful natural settings in all of the city.
Lands End Trail
If you happen to be exploring the historic Sutro Baths, be sure not to miss the iconic Lands End Trail. Offering a series of magnificent views at every turn, this 3.5-mile loop trail is a must for any newcomer, hands down. Whether you want to feast your eyes on the craggy coastline, the Pacific Ocean, or the gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge, you'll have a plethora of opportunities to do so here.
Speaking of the Golden Gate Bridge, once you cross it, you'll immediately find a treasure trove of outdoor activity in the Marin Headlands.
While this unique landscape is famous for its views of the Bay Area — especially of the bridge — it is also adored for its incredible hiking and biking trails. And thanks to the area's rugged cliffs and steep hills, the Headlands is the perfect place to go if you're aiming to tone those glutes!
Remember how I mentioned the Headlands is home to some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge? Case in point with Battery Spencer. Perched high on top of a massive bluff, this historic overlook — which was once a prime spot for protecting the San Francisco Bay during World War II — provides an eye-popping panorama.
Another can't-miss destination in the Marin Headlands is Kirby Cove. After making your descent down a steep, mile-long trail — starting at the parking area of Battery Spencer — you'll be greeted with a coarse-sand beach, along with more jaw-dropping views. Did I mention there's even a rope swing?
Craving even more scenic overlooks of the Golden Gate Bridge? Look no further than Hawk Hill. This 923-foot peak located in the Marin Headlands will not disappoint. You can embark on the various foot trails throughout the area after taking in the views.
Furthermore, if your visit falls during the months of September and October, chances are you'll be able to witness hundreds of hawks crossing the channel below, as this is the peak of the migration season.
Point Bonita Lighthouse
Whether or not you're a lighthouse fanatic, the Point Bonita Lighthouse is yet another Marin must see. Originally built in 1855, this lighthouse has long been referred to as the "Crown of the Bay" and is still in active use today.
While it is maintained by the United States Coast Guard, the National Park Service provides access to visitors. If you're interested in discovering Point Bonita for yourself, be sure to plan ahead, as it's only open on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays.
Seeking to hug some of the oldest, tallest trees in the world? Thanks to Muir Woods located only a few miles north of San Francisco, you can do exactly that. Here, you will find a protected patch of redwoods, all awaiting to be discovered.
Yet as magical as these towering trees can be, arrive early for the most serene experience. Due to this area's ever-growing popularity and limited parking, it doesn't take long before the clusters of crowds peel away even the thinnest layer of solitude.
Situated three miles west of Muir Woods is the cove of Muir Beach. Home to overlooks and a captivating coastline — as well as a network of hiking trails for all skill levels — it doesn't take long to realize why this area is beloved by so many locals.
If you come this way, be sure to pack a picnic, as the relaxed seashore makes for a lovely spot to roll out a blanket and spend the afternoon.
Rising above the rolling hills of the coast range, there is no doubt Mount Tamalpais is one of the most iconic landmarks in all of the Bay Area. With 6,300 acres of activity, this state park — which is often referred to as Mt. Tam — is an outdoor-lover's dream. Really, no matter how many times you come to explore, you'll always find more to discover.