City Hiking Guides

From Coastal Vistas to Redwood Retreats: Discover the Best Hikes Near San Francisco

POSTED ON June 26, 2024 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Exploring the San Francisco Bay Area offers a unique urban charm and natural beauty. Just a stone’s throw from the bustling streets of downtown San Francisco and the iconic Golden Gate Park, several hiking trails promise adventure within and beyond the San Francisco city limits. This comprehensive guide is designed to take you through the best hikes near San Francisco, catering to all skill levels and showcasing the unparalleled scenic beauty that Northern California is celebrated for. From coastal vistas that offer a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean’s expansive blue to serene trails winding through ancient redwoods, our guide aims to provide an exhaustive exploration of the great outdoors, just a short drive from the heart of the city.

Whether you’re a local looking for new routes or a traveler eager to experience the great outdoors, here’s a guide to some of the best hikes near San Francisco.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

  • Location: San Francisco Bay Area
  • Size: 82,116 acres (332.3 sq. km.)
  • Number of Hiking Trails: Over 250
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: More than 140 miles (225 km)

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area across the San Francisco Bay Area’s scenic coastlines and rugged terrain, is a haven for nature enthusiasts and history buffs alike. It provides multiple natural and cultural attractions, from the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and distant Farallon Islands to the iconic visage of the Golden Gate Bridge.

With its extensive network of trails, adventurers can traverse from the sandy expanses of Ocean Beach to the majestic redwoods near the Muir Woods Trailhead. Noteworthy spots include the Marin Headlands, offering postcard-worthy vistas of the San Francisco skyline, seen from the Marin Headlands and Fort Point, steeped in historical significance.

Here are two of the most popular trails in the area:

Tennessee Valley Trail

Tennessee Point - Best Hikes near San Francisco

  • Location: Tennessee Valley Trail, Marin County, CA
  • Distance: 3.5 miles round trip (5.6 km)
  • Hiking Duration: Approximately 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Type: Out and back

Nestled a few miles north of San Francisco, the Tennessee Valley Trail offers a serene getaway from the urban hustle. The trail, commencing at the Tennessee Valley parking lot (location), unfolds along a well-maintained dirt path. The trek is easily accessible, offering a gentle introduction to the region’s natural splendor.

Along the route, hikers are treated to a diverse landscape, including coastal scrub and wildflowers, leading to the stunning Tennessee Beach (direction). This secluded spot provides a peaceful setting for picnicking and wildlife observation. The trail’s termination at the beach offers breathtaking views of the Pacific.

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Coastal Trail

Coastal Trail

  • Location: Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  • Distance: 3 miles round trip/4.8 km (direction)
  • Hiking Duration: Approximately 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Out and back

The Coastal Trail in San Francisco offers an unparalleled outdoor experience along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, embodying the essence of the California Coastal Trail, a 1,200-mile (1,930 km) route that stretches from the southern border of Mexico to Oregon in the north.

This specific segment, beginning at Baker Beach (map) and extending to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge (map) is celebrated for its breathtaking views and relatively easy terrain, making it accessible for hikers of all levels.

Throughout the hike, participants are treated to a visual feast, including expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and up-close vistas of one of the United States’ most famous landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge. This stretch of the trail provides a unique opportunity to engage with the region’s natural beauty without venturing far from the urban environment of the Bay Area.

Lands End Trail

Saturo Baths

  • Location: Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  • Distance: 3.4 miles (5.4 km)
  • Hiking Duration: 1.5 to 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Here is the trail map

The Lands End Trail offers an accessible yet profoundly scenic urban hiking experience, closely hugging the shoreline with unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge and beautiful Marin Headlands across the bay. Recognized as one of the most picturesque easy hikes in San Francisco, the path starts at the Lands End Lookout and meanders through the history-rich areas of Sea Cliff, past the mesmerizing Lands End Labyrinth, and towards the tranquil shores of China Beach.

This trail features several natural and man-made landmarks, including breathtaking vistas of the Marin Headlands across the bay and the historic ruins of the Sutro Baths. Along the way, hikers can enjoy diverse environments, from coastal bluffs to cypress and eucalyptus forests, while keeping an eye out for local wildlife, particularly bird species. The trail is also dotted with numerous interpretive panels, enriching visitors’ understanding of the area’s historical significance and natural beauty.

Keep an eye out for wildlife, especially bird species like red-tailed hawks and American kestrels.

Hiking in Mount Diablo State Park – The Devil’s Mountain

Mount Diablo State Park

  • Location: East Bay, San Francisco Bay Area, CA
  • Size: 20,000+ acres
  • Number of Hiking Trails: Over 50
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: 150+ miles

Mount Diablo State Park, located approximately 40 miles (64 km) east of San Francisco in the East Bay, is a remarkable expanse of natural beauty and one of the Bay Area’s most revered outdoor destinations.

The park is celebrated for its numerous recreational activities, including hiking, biking, and wildlife observation. Among its extensive network of trails, the 0.7-mile (1.1 km) Mary Bowerman Loop Trail and the more challenging Summit Trail stand out for offering panoramic views that on clear days, extend across the San Francisco Bay to the Farallon Islands and beyond. Its signature hike is the 7.8-mile (12.5 km) round trip to the summit of Mount Diablo, which rewards hikers with stunning panoramic views from the highest peak in the Bay Area.

For those seeking an adventure, the 13-mile (21 km) round trip to the summit of North Peak promises an unforgettable experience. It begins at the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area, offering a steep climb through varied terrains including dense forests of oak and chaparral that open up to expansive vistas of Mitchell Creek and the Diablo Summit.

For a more moderate option, try the 3.6-mile (5.8 km) trek to Rock City to explore unique rock formations and caves. For a true challenge, take on the 13-mile (21 km) Grand Loop, which takes hikers through varied terrain and offers views of the San Francisco Bay, Sacramento Valley, and Sierra Nevada mountains.

On a clear day, the pinnacle vantage point allows for sightings of the San Francisco skyline, a visual treat emblematic of Northern California’s scenic splendor.

Bay Area Ridge Trail

Bay Area Ridge Trail

  • Location: Surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area, Northern California
  • Distance: Planned 550 miles/890 km (when complete)
  • Hiking Duration: Varies
  • Difficulty: Ranges from easy to challenging
  • Trail Type: Point-to-point (with loop segments)
  • (trail map)

The Bay Area Ridge Trail is an ambitious project creating a multi-use trail that encircles the entire San Francisco Bay Area along the hill and mountain ridgelines. This expansive network will, upon completion, traverse through every county in the Bay Area, offering unparalleled access to natural landscapes and panoramic views, starting notably from the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

Intended for hikers, equestrians, cyclists, and outdoor enthusiasts alike, the trail serves as a recreational asset and a green corridor connecting parks, preserves, and public spaces.

Currently, the trail encompasses a variety of terrain, from gentle walks to challenging climbs, providing a diverse range of outdoor experiences. It winds through the region’s rich mix of ecosystems, showcasing Northern California’s unique natural beauty and biodiversity.

Certain completed sections offer breathtaking vistas of the Bay Area, including sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, verdant valleys, and urban landscapes. Strategic points along the trail, such as the Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve and Mount Tamalpais State Park, highlight the trail’s unique offering of accessible wilderness and outdoor adventure within proximity to urban areas.

When fully realized, San Francisco alone will boast 20 miles (32 kilometers) of this scenic trail, making it a significant addition to the city’s green space.

Muir Woods National Monument – The Redwood Rangers’ Paradise

Muir Woods National Monument - Best Hikes near San Francisco

Muir Woods National Monument is a sanctuary of old growth and coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), located just a short distance north of San Francisco in Marin County. These ancient giants, some of which date back over 1,200 years, create a cathedral-like ambiance that’s both humbling and inspiring.

About 240 acres of the park are designated as old-growth forests, showcasing an ecological environment that has remained largely undisturbed over the centuries. Visitors to Muir Woods can enjoy the tranquility of Cathedral Grove, marvel at the enormity of the trees in Bohemian Grove, or explore the educational exhibits at the visitor center.

The park contains a series of well-marked trails, including a 0.5-hour loop, a 1-hour loop, and a 1.5-hour loop. Other trails like the Fern Creek Trail extend into the surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park.

The main trail, known as the Ocean View Loop, provides a moderate ascent with frequent benches along the route to take in the views. It’s also where you’ll find yourself in the company of immense redwood trees, some of which reach about 380 feet (116 meters). For a more extended adventure, consider the 5-mile (8 km) Dipsea-Steep Ravine-Muir Woods Loop, with its waterfalls and diverse flora.

Fern Creek Trail

Fern Creek Trail - Best Hikes near San Francisco

  • Location: Mount Tamalpais State Park, California
  • Distance: 1 mile/1.6 km (direction)
  • Hiking Duration: 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: out and back

Fern Creek Trail serves as an inviting introduction to the natural splendor of Mount Tamalpais State Park, located just a few miles north of San Francisco. This trail starts at the Alice Eastwood Campground (location) and offers hikers an accessible path through a serene forest dominated by towering coastal redwoods.

The trail is a gateway to further exploration, connecting to the Lost Trail and Canopy View Trail, leading adventurers toward the East Peak of Mount Tamalpais.

The route is renowned for its gentle incline and the immersive experience it offers in the park’s ancient redwoods environment. Hikers on the Fern Creek Trail are enveloped by a canopy of redwoods, creating a tranquil ambiance that’s both rejuvenating and visually stunning.

As a critical access point into the broader trails of Mount Tamalpais State Park, it ensures that visitors of all skill levels can experience the majesty of the coastal redwoods and the panoramic vistas that lie just beyond.

Mount Tamalpais State Park – The Bay Area’s Backyard

Mount Tamalpais State Park

  • Location: Marin County, CA
  • Size: 25,000 acres (101 sq. km.)
  • Number of Hiking Trails: undefined
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: More than 200 miles (322 km)

Mount Tamalpais State Park, situated just north of San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge, is a paradise for hikers, bikers, and nature lovers. Nicknamed “Mt. Tam,” Mount Tamalpais is the highest peak in the Marin Hills at 2,571 feet  (784 meters), and a central fixture in the Bay Area’s hiking landscape.

The park’s varied landscapes, ranging from dense forests to open grasslands, host a rich biodiversity and offer stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, the San Francisco Bay, and the surrounding valleys.

The park’s summit, the East Peak of Mount Tamalpais, offers breathtaking 360-degree views of the Farallon Islands, Mount Diablo, and even the Sierra Nevada on exceptionally clear days. Other notable attractions within the park include the Cataract Falls and West Peak Loop which feature lush landscapes, flowing streams, and vibrant wildflower displays in the spring. Mount Tamalpais State Park serves as an easily accessible outdoor retreat for those seeking an escape into nature without venturing far from the urban hustle.

The most popular trail, the 7.2-mile (11.5 km) out-and-back to the East Peak, starts at the Pantoll Ranger Station and leads to the mountain’s summit, where on clear days, hikers are rewarded with sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.

Dipsea Trail

The famous ladder of Mount Tamalpais State Park on Steep Ravine Trail

  • Location: Mill Valley to Stinson Beach, California
  • Distance: 7.5 miles/12.1 km (direction)
  • Hiking Duration: 4-5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
  • Trail Type: Point-to-point

The Dipsea Trail is a historic and scenic route that stitches together the varied landscapes of the Marin County coastline in California. Starting in the quaint town of Mill Valley, the trail ascends steeply, rewarding hikers with views from a ridge of Mt. Tamalpais before winding through the lush, ancient redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument. Its path encompasses a variety of terrains and environments, culminating in a descent to the beautiful shores of Stinson Beach.

Approximately two miles into the hike, the trail intersects with Fern Creek (direction), offering a convenient rest point with stunning views. This trail appeals to those seeking a challenging hike and an immersive natural excursion.

Point Reyes National Seashore – The Wild West Coast

Point Reyes Lighthouse, Point Reyes National Seashore, California,

  • Location: Point Reyes, California
  • Size: Over 71,000 acres (287.4 sq. km.)
  • Number of Hiking Trails: NA
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: Approximately 240 kilometers (150 miles)
  • Explore available trails and essential visitor information on the Maps page.

Point Reyes National Seashore, located on the Point Reyes Peninsula, is a quintessential representation of the rugged, unspoiled California coast in Marine County. Its diverse trails of approximately 80 miles (129 km) of shoreline, including dozens of miles of sandy beach which park visitors may explore range from neophyte-friendly paths to serious terrain.

The Bear Valley Visitor Center serves as the gateway to the park, providing trail maps and essential information for a rewarding adventure. Notable points of interest include the iconic Point Reyes Lighthouse, the Tule Elk Reserve, and the Cypress Tree Tunnel. Hiking here means encounters with Tule elk, whale watching (in season), and appreciating the area’s remote beauty.

One must-do trek is the 1.8-mile (2.9 km) Chimney Rock Trail, which guides hikers to the cliffs, boasting spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Equally impressive is the 10.8-mile (17.4 km) Bear Valley Trail to Arch Rock, with its wildflowers and, if you’re lucky, a herd of Tule elk grazing along the way.

Tomales Point Trail

Tomales Point Trail - Best Hikes near San Francisco

  • Location: Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore, California
  • Distance: 9.4 miles (15.1 km) round trip
  • Hiking Duration: 3-5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Type: Out and back

The Tomales Point Trail is a remarkable trek providing hikers with an immersive experience in one of the most breathtaking coastal areas of California. This moderate out and back trail invites adventurers to explore the northernmost part of the Point Reyes Peninsula, offering a unique blend of coastal terrains, wildlife sightings, and expansive approximately

Hikers are treated to an array of sights and activities along the trail, including the opportunity to observe Tule elk herds in their natural habitat. The path meanders through grassy meadows, and along high coastal bluffs, with the Pacific Ocean’s vast expanse as a constant backdrop.

Approximately a quarter of a mile from the trailhead, explorers can catch glimpses of the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse, an iconic beacon for sailors navigating treacherous waters. This trail heralded as one of Northern California’s amazing hikes, offers an unforgettable outdoor experience, seamlessly blending the wild, rugged beauty of the coast with a sense of solitude and discovery.

Presidio of San Francisco –  Where Nature and History Coalesce

Presidio of San Francisco

Located within the city limits of San Francisco, the Presidio of San Francisco is an urban oasis that’s home to some of the most scenic hiking trails in the Bay Area. Once a military base, this cherished parkland now offers visitors a chance to explore its rich history while enjoying its natural wonders.

The 4-mile (6.4 km) Golden Gate Promenade is a popular route that allows hikers to view the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. For a more challenging hike, try the 2.5-mile (4.0 km) Bay Area Ridge Trail which offers sweeping views of the city skyline and San Francisco Bay.

Cycling enthusiasts are also well catered for, with 14 miles (22 km) of paved roads and select unpaved trails designed to challenge and delight. Among these, cyclists and hikers alike can explore portions of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail.

Other trail options include the Presidio Promenade, Coastal Trail, and Ecology Trail.

Lovers’ Lane at the Presidio

Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line - Best Hikes near San Francisco

  • Location: Lovers’ Lane at the Presidio, San Francisco, California
  • Distance: 0.6 miles/1.0 kilometers (direction)
  • Hiking Duration: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Type: Out and back

Lovers’ Lane at the Presidio offers a unique blend of historical charm and natural beauty, marking it as one of San Francisco’s hidden gems. The trail allows hikers to choose between starting in the south near Presidio Gate (map) or north at Presidio Boulevard and Barnard Avenue (map), providing an enjoyable experience of uphill and downhill walking. Visitors are surrounded by a serene forest of eucalyptus, cypress, and pines, planted by the Army in the late 19th century along the eastern side of the path. This creates a rich, verdant backdrop throughout the hike.

Adjacent to Lovers’ Lane, hikers can explore Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line, an intriguing art installation made of felled tree trunks laid end-to-end in a zigzag pattern; a creative landscape that invites visitors for an unconventional art walk. Additionally, the path features a historical aspect as it crosses a brick footbridge in MacArthur Meadow. This bridge, constructed around 1885, is a picturesque connection to a newer bridge that guides you over a creek from El Polin Spring, through the lush MacArthur Meadow.

Batteries to Bluffs Trail

Batteries to Bluffs Trail - Best Hikes near San Francisco

  • Location: Batteries to Bluffs Trail, San Francisco, California
  • Distance: 0.7 miles/1.1 kilometers (direction)
  • Hiking Duration: Approximately 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Type: Out and back

The Batteries to Bluffs Trail is a scenic route that meanders along the rugged coastline of San Francisco, offering unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean and the Marin Headlands. The trail, known for its breathtaking vistas, allows hikers to immerse themselves in the area’s natural beauty.

Starting from either of the two trailheads near Lincoln Boulevard, part of the California Coastal Trail, adventurers are greeted with a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the coastal bluffs, and the rocky shore below.

One of the trail’s most notable features includes the 470 stairs, adding a moderate challenge to the otherwise serene walk. This path also provides exclusive access to Marshall’s Beach, a less frequented spot perfect for those looking to escape the city’s hustle and bustle.

The trail’s connection to Baker Beach is facilitated by the Sand Ladder, a unique and steep segment that offers hikers a memorable experience.

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Angel Island State Park –  The Ellis Island of the West

Angel Island State Park

  • Location: San Francisco Bay, California
  • Size: 755 acres (3.057 sq. km.)
  • Number of Hiking Trails: about 5
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: approximately 20 miles (32 km)

Angel Island State Park is known for its historical significance and unrivaled 360-degree panoramas of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the Bay Bridge, and the surrounding Bay Area.

The park’s extensive network of trails invites adventurers and history enthusiasts alike. The Sunset Trail offers a notable nearly 6-mile (9.6 km) round-trip hike that ascends to Mount Livermore, the island’s zenith, providing awe-inspiring views of the entire Bay Area from its peak, Mount Livermore, the highest point on the island.

Beyond its natural beauty and hiking opportunities, Angel Island is steeped in history, earning its nickname as the “Ellis Island of the West.” It served as a pivotal immigration station, processing hundreds of thousands of immigrants from around the world.

The Perimeter Road Trail is a moderate 5-mile loop encircling the island, providing scenic views of the San Francisco Bay and city skyline. For a more challenging option, try the Mt. Livermore Summit Trail, a 2.5-mile hike that leads to the highest point on Angel Island for breathtaking views of the surrounding area.

Lower Great Highway Trail

Lower Great Highway Trail

  • Location: Lower Great Highway Trail, San Francisco, California
  • Distance: 3.5 miles (5.6 km)
  • Hiking Duration: 1 – 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Point-to-point

The Lower Great Highway Trail presents a beachfront recreational route notable for skirting the historic remnants of the Sutro Baths, a 19th-century swimming complex. This trail combines the charm of San Francisco’s past with its present by providing a scenic path that stretches from the bustling city to the tranquil Ocean Beach. For more information on the Sutro Baths, visit NPS’ page on the Sutro Historic District.

This virtually car-free trail meanders through Golden Gate Park, utilizing JFK Promenade and parts of MLK Drive, thus connecting the city to Ocean Beach and the broader Great Highway. It serves as a multi-use path, accommodating both walkers and trail runners and when open, its promenade offers a spacious avenue for recreational activities along San Francisco’s western shoreline. Refer to SF Rec and Park’s Golden Gate Park page for more trail and park access details.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the outstanding hiking opportunities near San Francisco. Each trail promises a connection with nature and a chance to escape into the beauty of the Northern California landscape.

Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll or an all-day trek, the Bay Area has a trail with your name on it. Take a hike, breathe in the fresh air, and discover the natural wonders that await just beyond the Golden Gate.

You can also find other destinations to visit in our city hiking guides.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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