Hiking the coastal trails in San Francisco

posted in: Hiking, USA | 22

We have to admit that we were quite surprised with the amount of hiking trails there are in San Francisco and we couldn’t miss the chance to do a route ourselves, to check out more of the natural side of the city and away from the chaos and traffic from Downtown. One morning we decided to do a 10km (6 mile) walk from Crissy Fields, walking westwards along the coastline via Golden Gate Bridge and Lands End until we arrived at our accommodation on Ocean Beach. What a walk we had and beautiful views we saw. This was our walk and what we saw on the way.

The beach at Crissy Fields

Crissy Fields was the ideal starting place for us. First thing in the morning, the sun shining down on San Francisco bay, Alcatraz island and the Golden Gate Bridge, the views from here were amazing. This park was once a former U.S. army airfield up until 1972 and then taken over by the National Park service some time later where they found lots of hazardous materials being dumped by the army. After the major clean up, it is now a huge open space with green parks, cycle tracks, trail paths, easy access to the beach and viewing points all along the seafront. Whilst walking along the trail towards the west, every angle we looked, the two iconic landmarks were seen as well as other beauties in the area.

The Golden Gate Bridge as seen from Crissy Fields
We had to get at least one photo of us next to this famous landmark
The Golden Gate Bridge can be seen mostly from any advantage point in the city and around the bay
We stood above the area known as Crissy Fields and took in the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point (the building underneath the bridge). The steel arch above Fort Point is to protect the historic building.

We then had a coffee break at the north-western point of the park in a cafe known as the ‘Warming hut’ which is more of a gift shop but the small cafe was very welcomed. This was probably the first time we enjoyed a decent cup of tea in the United States with a breakfast snack. A great opportunity to refresh in the washrooms as well before heading out and completing the hike. By this point we only did around 1.3 miles so there was quite a fair way to go. Just behind the warming hut is Fort Point which lies underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. This fort was built during the Civil War many moons ago but was never used in battle. In fact, San Francisco has never been attacked (apart from many earthquakes which come along now and again).

From the Golden Gate Bridge we followed these signs southwards towards Lands End

Backtracking to the warming hut and heading up a set of steps (where many more fantastic views of the bay and the bridge come into view), the ‘Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center’ is found at the summit. However we bypassed this and followed the California Coastal Trail which headed southwards. The trail follows the side of ‘Lincoln Boulevard’ but still pretty and calm to walk along with its many trees and ocean views. Below us there was a few trail paths leading to the battery’s (small defensive forts) which dot along this part of the coastline. The trail eventually bends away from the road and down the hillside to the beach down below.

One of the defensive buildings which is very close to the Golden Gate Welcome Center
California Coastal Trail near Lincoln Boulevard
A view overlooking the point between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco bay. Below is the trail path which links up all the batteries (forts).
California Coastal Trail near Lincoln Boulevard
California Coastal Trail near Lincoln Boulevard
California Coastal Trail near Lincoln Boulevard

There are two beaches joined together to which nobody knows where they start of finish, however they are world renowned for its awesome surfing location and sun tanning spot. Marshall’s beach and Baker’s beach is also known for its rugged terrain, a great place to get views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the ocean side and to check out the local birdlife.

The California Coastal Trail leading down to Marshall’s and Baker’s beaches
The Golden Gate Bridge gets another photo, this time a view from the Pacific Ocean
Surfers at Marshall’s Beach
The California Coastal Trail then leaves Baker’s Beach at the south end alongside the car park and leads to a set of stairs which goes into the housing estate at the top of the hill
Look how sandy those beaches are!

Leaving the beach, the trail goes through a housing estate (not just any estate, these houses here are worth a few dollars’) before entering the Lands End park at the eastern end. This was probably our favourite part of the hike we did, a proper wild and windy trail and in places there were stunning views to be had. We saw lots of wildflowers (even in the coldness of winter!), hillsides of cypress and some sights along the way. We were told we could see shipwrecks in the sea as well but to be honest, none were to be seen (unless we were going blind of course!)        

Lands End park
A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Lands End park
Lands End park
Lands End park
Lands End park
The further we walked away from the bridge, the view was the same result…AWESOME!
Lands End park
Lands End park

One of the best parts of Lands End park is to take a trail path to the Labyrinth. Now it isn’t signposted the labyrinth but follow signs for Mile Rock Beach. This path leads down to a very small (and rocky) beach but one side of the beach, someone and somehow, a labyrinth has been created and no one knows why, who and how? People today like to walk around the labyrinth but one no touches the stones. Are they cursed? Who knows. One of our favourite view points was directly above the labyrinth where a great aerial view can be taken in but we were still getting fantastic views of the rugged coastline and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Mile Rock Beach
Labyrinth
Labyrinth
Lands End Park
Lands End Park

Backtracking along the trail path (which is a nice tasty hill climb) and turning right at the top, we followed the path through woodland before coming out the western end of the park. Here lies the Sutro Baths which were built in the late 19th century which were opened to the public and once held seven saltwater swimming pools. Now it’s in ruins but a splendid place to wander around and take in the sun going down beyond the horizon. Above the ruins is the Lookout Cafe (a great place to use the washrooms) but we didn’t stop here for a drink. We walked slightly down the road a bit (around 150 meters) to Louis, an old fashioned American diner which has excellent breakfast dishes served most of the day. Despite having a good tasting food and beer (which is tradition to have after a long walk of course), the views over the ocean is another reason we recommend eating here. It maybe a small place but once seated, the experience is wonderful.

A view with food
Good food after a long hike was very much needed
Overlooking the Sutro Baths

Leaving the diner we passed the Cliff House (another place to get some decent food I been told) and followed the road around the cliffside to Ocean Beach. The view before us was amazing. To the left was Golden Gate Park with its two windmills, the road with a path running alongside it full of skateboarders, artists and people playing music via their boombox and then of course, the sandy beach and sea. Nothing could beat this and for us, a typical view which represents California. Sun, sea and sand! It was the perfect view for the end of a perfect hike.

Overlooking Ocean Beach
Perfect way to end a day…if your a surfer!
The sun setting over Ocean Beach
Sunset from Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach

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22 Responses

  1. Beautiful photos! This trail has a little bit of everything from beach views, to nature crashing in around you, to iconic landmarks. Love it!

  2. Hi Danik,

    Great shot at the bridge. Breakfast looks proper too. I dig this type of scene; nice city but plenty of nature to explore. Wherever I decide to travel long term I need that natural element. Or I go batty. Even when in cities like Istanbul and NYC I have large parks to enjoy because I need to see some green once in a while.

    Ryan

  3. San Francisco has something for everyone. I really enjoyed the city when I went years ago. We had a great time in golden gate park. Did you get a chance to see that park?

  4. Been to San Fran a few times and never considered hiking there but this post has me convinced that I need to go back! Lands End Park and the California Costal Trail look amazing! And you got some amazing photos of the bridge. The weather looked great as well. How long did it take for the whole hike and dinner?

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience hiking coastal San Francisco. The food looked really yummy. I really loved your photographs, especially the bridge and sunset shots.

  6. What a great view you found on your walk! Love that Golden Gate Bridge, it’s such an icon. And thanks for the heads up about the Cali Coastal Trail! We’ll have to spend some time on that on a future visit to SFO. Pinned for future reference.

  7. Ah the serenity!!

    That looks amazing. I have only been to NYC in the USA, but San Francisco has always been on my radar. One day!

    The food looks delicious too.

  8. I’ve been a couple of times to SF and I know that the landscape around is very beautiful. Never crossed the bridge, though. I like the way your pictures are documenting how you are getting farther: the bridge is getting smaller and smaller ? Good idea for the next stay in the Bay Area

  9. A few years ago we drove the coast around San Francisco and north, so stunning. We stopped frequently and walked some of the trails. Your post brings back memories 🙂

  10. This is the kind of hiking I like to do with an abundance of scenic views along the way. The labyrinth is especially interesting. Made out of rocks, it seems almost from an ancient time!

  11. I need to save this. I went to San Fran briefly to fly out. Didn’t get to explore. Will have to go back and especially check this out. Looks like some amazing views. A meal with those views are great too!

  12. I’m going to be saving this since I plan to head to the west coast this year. And always looking for hiking guides!

  13. When I visited San Fran, it was crazy to me how much serenity and pristine nature there was woven inside and around the city. This post highlights exactly that, though we didn’t get to check out the coastal trails to the extent that you did. It looks so amazing and this post has brought much regret into my life. Sidenote: yes — the birdwatching at Baker Beach is phenomenal.

  14. So excited I found this post!! I just arrived here in the bay today and I did not have any plans! Love your shots of Golden Gate!

  15. Great pictures especially the shot of the sunset and the bridge from Crissy fields. San Fransico surely seems to have some nice hiking options and this trail is just beautiful. It has a great beach and bridge views. Food too looks tempting and I too feel like having some now.

  16. I’m visiting San Francisco for the first time next month and this will certainly come in handy. I haven’t planned anything. Thanks for doing the work for me 😉

  17. I love seeing the natural beauty of a place that’s more famous for its city! I love hiking, so I’d be all about hitting these trails while in the city. I also love that little labyrinth. It’s so cute and fun-looking.

  18. I didn’t realize there was so much hiking that could be done in San Francisco! I love how many photos you included in your post; it really helped to visualize everything. I especially love your sunset photos!

  19. Really awesome to see nature is so well preserved around such a big city! I would certainly love to hike there, and I had never realized there are beautiful sandy beaches where you can have the Golden Gate in the background, really cool picture opportunities!!

  20. Great views of the city! Although we visit San Francisco quite often, we’ve never hiked there due to time. We need to do this one though! Love when there are good views all along the path!

  21. I agree with you that it is surprising how many quiet, serene places there are in the midst of the city. Many years ago, I walked over the Golden Gate Bridge to the visitor’s center, which were both teeming with people. But, I continued on to Land’s End and found peace and quiet in the midst of the bustling city nearby. Fantastic post and amazing photos.

  22. What a fabulous walk. I am visiting San Fran again in July and I want to do some awesome walks. This seems perfect (and SO good to know I can get a decent cup of tea en route).

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