San Francisco

Where to Go Wild on San Francisco’s Urban Trails

You simply must get outdoors on your next trip to San Francisco. (Photo: Getty Images)

Getting the most out of your trip to San Francisco is all about balance. While you clearly want to hang out in iconic San Francisco neighborhoods like Chinatown and Haight-Ashbury, you’ll miss out if you don’t spend time in the city’s great outdoors. Here are a few fresh-air forays you can take just minutes from San Fran’s concrete jungle.

Begin at Lands End

It’s hard to believe you can take a city bus from urban San Francisco to neighborhoods with such a wild, rocky coastal feel, but that’s Lands End. Access to trails are less than 10 minutes from the Legion of Honor Museum. Set off from the modern, green-built Lands End Lookout Visitors’ Center, where you can get a coffee and peer over Seal Rocks and mist-clad Monterey pines.

From the center, hike or run the famed Coastal Trail, which is initially wide and paved before narrowing and turning into a dirt path that leads to dramatic 200-foot cliffs. Waves crash and foghorns sound as you make your way 1.5 miles to an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the stone labyrinth at Eagle Point. At this time of year, you may be lucky enough to see journeying humpback or gray whales.

The details: If you’re carless in ‘Frisco, pick up a MUNI schedule to locate where you can catch a #18, 38, or 38L bus for Lands End.

Hike to Hawk Hill

Get a chance to see how the spot got its name since autumn is the perfect time of year to hike Hawk Hill on the north side of the bay in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Migrating hawks and other raptors flock here in the fall, taking advantage of the strong maritime winds to stay aloft while looking for prey. For humans, though, the real draw is the 360-degree panorama encompassing the city, a famously orange bridge and the Marin Headlands. The Hawk Hill Trail is a dirt loop just over half a mile and takes only 30 minutes to complete.

The details: The best times to see hawks are between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., September through November. Bring binoculars!

See the Other Golden Gate

It’s safe to say you’re never at a loss for things to do in Golden Gate Park, adjacent to the San Francisco neighborhoods of Sunset and Richmond. The Japanese Tea Garden is a must, but don’t overlook the trails in this 1,000-acre-plus park. Make your way to Stow Lake and cross either Rustic or Roman Bridge to Strawberry Hill. On this little island oasis, there’s a waterfall and Chinese pagoda, particularly pretty when surrounded by fall foliage.

The details: Before or after your walk, enjoy Stow Lake from the water in a four-person rowboat ($13 an hour) or pedal boat ($17 an hour).