Trip Ideas - 11 min read

10 Best San Francisco Hikes (Unique Trails & Views!)

Alex Frick

Alex Frick, Updated October 30, 2022

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The allure of San Francisco is undeniable. Known for its culture and world-class cuisine, San Francisco is a melting pot for people from around the globe. With recognizable landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco is a pop-up book brought to life.

However, the brilliance does not begin with the skyline, the bay, or even the high-arching rides in iconic cable cars, the grandeur of the Bay Area is in its remarkable natural environment.

From overlooking ocean cliffs to towering redwood trees, hiking around San Francisco offers some of the most unique trail opportunities that will undoubtedly make your time in the city truly memorable.

1. The Lands End Trail

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From downtown San Francisco, take I80 E over the Bay Bridge towards Oakland and drive for 7.0 miles and take exit 8B towards I-580. Stay on I-580 for 2.1 milegols and take exit 19B to merge onto CA-24 E toward Walnut Creek. Continue on CA-24 E for 6.9 miles and take exit 9 toward Orinda/Moraga.

At the junction, take a left onto Camino Pablo and drive for 2.3 miles before making another left onto Wildcat Canyon Road. Drive for 2.5 miles and make a right into the Inspiration Point Parking Area.

The hike to Land’s End Point is an incredibly scenic and beautifully unique hike through the Sutro District of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This moderate hike is not very long, but with all the features and highlights, this 3-mile could easily consume your entire afternoon.

Before beginning your hike, check out the Sutro Baths downhill from the parking area. These Sutro Baths are large, privately owned public swimming pools on the ocean’s edge – overlooking the bay.

The hike twist and turns through miles along well-maintained paths skirting the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, you will encounter multiple turn-offs and off-shoots that lead you to expansive overlooks and peaceful beaches.

Continue until reaching Land’s End Point, a beautiful overlooking view over the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge as your backdrop.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 3.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 538 Feet

2.  Across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito Trail

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From downtown San Francisco, drive north on Franklin Street for 1.9 miles and make a left onto Lombard Street. Continue on Lombard St for 1.0 miles before the road becomes US-101/Presidio Parkway and continue for 1.8 miles. Take exit 439 toward Presidio/Golden Gate and take an immediate left into the main parking area for crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Walking the length of the Golden Gate Bridge is an absolute must for any first-time visitors to San Francisco. The path across this architectural masterpiece brings you to where the Pacific Ocean enters San Francisco.

There are two paths across the bridge – the west side is reserved for bike traffic, while the east side only allows pedestrian foot traffic.

Traveler beware! – Even on the warmest afternoons, prepare for a cold journey. As you continue along the bridge, the relentless force of the Pacific Ocean will bombard you with never-ending gusts of powerful ocean winds. You can find temporary relief from the stiff breeze along the bridge posts before reaching the southern shores of Marin County.

You may return one of two ways. You can simply turn around and walk the four miles back to the parking area. Or… you could enjoy the quaint and beautiful coastal views of the Sausalito Wharf before returning via the Sausalito Ferry.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 4.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 203 Feet

Related Read: Best Time To Visit San Francisco

3. Angel Island Perimeter Loop

Credit: Desolation Hiker / Flickr

From downtown San Francisco, drive northeast on Mission Street for 1.8 miles and make a left onto The Embarcado South. Park here and take either the Pier 39 or Pier 41 Ferry to Angel Island.

Tickets can be purchased at either pier for $15 for adults, $14 for seniors, $13 for kids ages 6-12, and $5 for kids ages 3-5.

This beautiful and popular trail is located in the heart of San Francisco Bay and is a multi-purpose path used for cycling and hiking.

Angel Island is a small island that has rare views of San Francisco and the entire Bay Area, allowing for exclusive vistas from unique vantage points. The ferry will drop you off near the trailhead near Ayala Cove.

The entire trail is paved asphalt and loops around the scenic perimeter of Angel Island. The trail gentle rolls in elevation throughout leading you around the island, apart from a few steeper climbs.

Before returning on the ferry, be sure to investigate Ayala Cove. In addition to spectacular views, you enjoy one of the coastal cafes or taverns before your return journey.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 6.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 495 Feet

4. Fox, Tennessee Valley Trail, and Coastal Trail Loop

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From North San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge/US-101 N and drive for 5.6 miles and take exit 445B for CA-1 toward Mill Valley. Continue on CA-1 for 0.8 miles and turn left onto Tennessee Valley Road. Stay on Tennessee Valley Road for 1.7 miles and the parking area will be on your left.

In the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, this path connects Fox, Coastal, and Tennessee Valley trails into a beautiful Northern Californian loop. The hike takes you high into the redwoods, along majestic ocean vistas, and impressive beaches along the Pacific Ocean.

The trail begins at the Tennessee Valley Trailhead and begins climbing immediately. By the time you reach the overlooking ridge, you will have completed the major of the elevation gain.

The pathway is made of a well-maintained dirt path that leads you through valleys of redwoods, shouldered by wildflowers and the fluttering wings of coastal butterflies. There is little to no shade throughout long sections of the hike, so prepare yourself with proper skin protection.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 4.1 Miles
Elevation Gain: 859 Feet

Related Read: 15 Best Romantic Getaways in California

5. Tomales Point

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From San Rafael, Follow Sir Francis Drake Boulevard for 17.6 miles and make a left onto Bear Valley Road. Stay on Bear Valley Road for 2.3 miles before making a slight left back onto Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Drive for another 14.6 miles and take a slight right to the Tomales Point trailhead.

A gem of the Bay Area, the Point Reyes National Seashore is a natural treasure. The out-and-back Tomales Point trail follows along rocky coastlines before reaching the northernmost point of the Point Reyes Peninsula, the incredible panoramic seaside views of Tomales Point.

There are several manufactured offshoots that are not well maintained and can be overgrown. Try to stay on the established path throughout the journey.

Point Reyes is also a protected Tule Elk Preserve, leaving the trail may disturb their natural habitat. You are likely to encounter them along the way, try not to approach them as they can be dangerous.

Once reaching the end of the peninsula, you will marvel at the amazing scenery of the Pacific Ocean, Tomales Bay, and Bodega Bay.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 9.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,177 Feet

6. Coastal and Miwok Trail Loop

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From North San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge/US-101 N and drive for 5.6 miles and take exit 445B for CA-1 toward Mill Valley. Continue on CA-1 for 0.8 miles and turn left onto Tennessee Valley Road. Stay on Tennessee Valley Road for 1.7 miles and the parking area will be on your left.

The Coastal and Miwok Trail Loop, also known as the South Headlands Loop, is a moderate to difficult trail in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The trail follows along the shores of the Pacific Ocean on the gentle Coastal Trail before turning upwards on the Miwok Trail.

The Miwok Trail is a slow-going hike that switchbacks from the sea-level floor to the ridges of the Tennessee Valley. The path has clear views through the valley, offering unique wildlife viewing opportunities as the Miwok Trail is a common place to spot bobcats, coyotes, hawks, and other unique coastal wildlife.

Once reaching the east side of the hill, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco from this unique overlooking vantage point.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 6.7 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,397 Feet

7. Kirby Cove

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From North San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge/US-101 N and drive for 2.0 miles and take exit 442 toward Alexander Avenue. Take a left onto Alexander Avenue and drive for 0.2 miles and make a right onto Conzelman Road, followed by an immediate left into the parking lot for the trailhead to Kirby Cove.

Kirby Cove is a secluded trail hidden in a wooden canyon along the coastline of the Marin Headlands. The beautiful cove delivers remarkable views of the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco from a vantage point that must be experienced to believe.

This short hike brings you along a wonderfully scenic ridge that leads you to Kirby Cove, a quiet hidden beach tucked away along the coast.

Be sure to explore any and all offshoots from the main path, this trail is full of hidden gems and secret corners of this unique landscape that will certainly leave you with memories for a lifetime.

T&T Tip: At the parking lot, look for a locked white gate. Walk past it and continue downhill until you find the beach. Coming from the tall trees overlooking the cove is a series of rope swings facing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 3.0 Miles
Elevation Gain: 561 Feet

Related Read: 15 Best California Beaches for Families

8. Cataract Falls

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From North San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge/US-101 N and drive for 10.2 miles and take exit 450B toward San Anselmo. Take the merge lane for 0.4 miles before joining Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Continue for 5.2 miles and turn left on Pacheco Avenue followed by an immediate right onto Broadway. Make a quick left onto Bolinas Road and drive for 8.1 miles and the parking area will be a turnout on the right side of the road.

Cataract Falls is a high-arching and cascading waterfall that is a true sight to be seen. The hike to the shores of the furious waterfall is a lush and beautiful walk through the vibrant green forests of Northern California and is one of the most popular trails in the Bay Area.

Best visited after heavy rainfall, the powerful Cataract Falls drown out the sounds of the surrounding area leaving you with a feeling of tranquility and bliss. Be sure to bring trekking poles, the turbulent waterfall may leave the trail slick along the rocky surface of the trail.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 2.8 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,056

9. Fern Creek, Lost, and Canopy Loop

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From North San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge/US-101 N and drive for 5.6 miles and take exit 445B for CA-1 toward Mill Valley. Continue on CA-1 N for 3.4 miles and make a right onto Panoramic Highway. Drive for another 0.8 miles and turn left onto Muir Woods Road. Continue for 1.5 miles and the trailhead parking area will be on your right.

This easy-to-moderate hike through the John Muir Wilderness is a wonderful journey under the shade of one of the world’s tallest redwood forests. This interpretive trail has many interesting opportunities to gain experience about the nature around you.

With informative signage as well as carefully placed cross-sections of ancient redwood trees, visitors can understand the science of tree ring dating and carbon dating.

This short hike has many highlights, but towards the end of the loop, there is a fallen Douglas fir tree that at one point stood over 220 feet! Be sure to capture the moment with the ancient tree for a proper scale of the enormity of this giant tree.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 3.1 Miles
Elevation Gain: 616 Feet

Related Read: 29 Top Treehouse Rentals in California

10. Inspiration Point to Wildcat Peak

Credit: Visit Berkeley / Facebook

From San Francisco, take I-80 E across the Bay Bridge for 6.3 miles and take the right three lanes to take exit 8B towards I-580 E. Continue for 0.7 miles and take exit 19B to merge onto CA-24 toward Walnut Creek. Stay on CA-24 for 2.5 miles and take exit 9 toward Orinda/Moraga. After 0.3 miles, take a left turn onto Camino Pablo and drive for 2.3 miles and make another left onto Wildcat Canyon Road. After 2.5 miles, turn right into the parking area for Inspiration Point.

The out-and-back hike to Inspiration Point is a comfortable and easily accessible journey leading to stunning overlooks across the lush and serene Tilden Regional Park. The trail is an old service road and is a level and wide trail surface that is popular for hikers, bikers, and equestrians.

The trail does intensify in elevation as you approach Inspiration Point, but the effort is rewarding with beautiful panoramic views of the green and beautiful rolling hills of magnificent Northern California.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 4.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 492 Feet

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