You don’t have to travel far for a nature fix in this town.

By Jenna Scatena and Evie Carrick
Updated July 20, 2020
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Credit: Scott Chernis

Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.

When you think of San Francisco, cable cars, Alcatraz Island, and the Golden Gate Bridge probably come to mind first, but the city’s year-round temperate climate and hilly terrain naturally lend themselves to great hiking (often with ocean or bay views). And the options only get more remarkable when you zoom out to the general Bay Area, home to coastal cliffs, towering redwoods, and lush landscapes. The best part is that everything is within a short drive (or even walk) from the city’s core, making a quick day hike a breeze.

It doesn’t matter if you’re ready to summit the area’s highest peak (Mount Diablo at 3,849 feet), or just have time for an easy one-mile loop, as there’s something for everyone in these unassuming California hills. These San Francisco and Bay Area hiking trails offer accessibility and come in a diverse range of difficulty levels without skimping on stunning views.

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Devil’s Slide Trail

Don’t let the ominous name fool you: The 1.3-mile Devil’s Slide Trail snakes along a beautiful portion of the coast just south of San Francisco on what was once part of Highway 1. Strategically placed benches (read: views of the Pacific Ocean), observation scopes, and informative signs make it ideal for families or anyone looking for a short and relaxing hike with coastal views.

Dipsea Trail

Just a few short miles over the Golden Gate Bridge lies one of the most notable trails in Northern California: the Dipsea. Though it’s known for its intense annual Dipsea Race — the oldest trail race in America — you don’t have to be a trail runner to make the trek or enjoy the views. From the city of Mill Valley, amble up a series of staircases that ascend through a redwood grove, then stroll along the ridge overlooking stunning coastal valleys. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can follow the seven-and-a-half-mile trail all the way to Stinson Beach and reward yourself with a beachside cocktail.

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Lands End Trail

You don’t even have to leave San Francisco’s city limits to hike Lands End Trail, one of the city’s most popular and scenic urban hikes. Just take Muni 1 (or an Uber) to the end of California Street, then trace the golf course north to the trailhead. From there, you’ll experience the wildest, rockiest corner of the city as you traverse cliffs running along the coast. At the tip of Lands End, you’ll hit Point Lobos. Keep an eye out for shipwrecks, windblown cypress trees, and wildflowers on your way to the historic Sutro Baths. Finally, reward your efforts with a to-go treat from the iconic Cliff House.

Donner Creek Loop Trail

Travel less than 45 miles east of San Francisco and you’ll run into the stunning, 20,000-acre Mount Diablo State Park. With over 70 trails, there’s enough hiking here to keep you busy for days. If you’re looking for a moderate day hike, Donner Creek Loop Trail is hard to beat. The trail will lead you past cascades toppling off the peaks of Mount Diablo over the course of a moderate 5.1-mile loop.

Mount Sutro Loop

Just south of Golden Gate Park and the University of San Francisco, and smack dab in the middle of the city, sits Mount Sutro. On this moderate two-mile trail, you’ll find plenty of students and San Franciscans who come for a quick respite from the bustle of the city. You can hop on the loop from several points, but for the best experience, we recommend starting your journey along the Historic Trail at the intersection of 17th and Stanyan.

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Baker Beach Trail to Golden Gate Bridge

If it’s your first time visiting San Francisco, you won’t want to miss a stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge. To make the excursion a bit more interesting, start your day at Baker Beach and head north toward the looming bridge. The 6.3-mile out-and-back trail is popular, so to avoid the crowds — and get a tourist-free selfie — we suggest starting early.

French, Bridle and Stream Trail Loop

Just east of Oakland sits Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park, home to the East Bay’s largest remaining natural stand of coastal redwood. There are more than 50 trails to explore in the park, but one of the best is the French, Bridle and Stream Trail Loop, a 9.1-mile stretch that boasts views of the East Bay hills and a landscape full of iconic, towering redwoods. If you have time, pack a baguette and bottle of wine and enjoy a French-style picnic at one of the many picnic areas along the way.

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Mount Diablo

If you’re up for the challenge, head to Mount Diablo State Park and make your way to Mitchell Creek to start the 13.1-mile journey up Mount Diablo on the Mitchell Canyon Trail. Mitchell Canyon Trail meets Meridian Ridge Trail and then Juniper Trail before linking up with Summit Trail, which will take you to the top of Diablo. Prepare for some serious elevation gain, but from your vantage point at 3,849 feet, you can see all the way to the Farallon Islands and Sierra Nevada mountain range on a clear day.

Sawyer Camp Trail

Head south of the city, along Interstate 280, and you’ll come across Sawyer Camp Trail, which is part of the longer Crystal Springs Regional Trail. Sawyer Camp is clearly marked and paved, making it great for newbie hikers, families, and folks looking for a wheelchair-accessible excursion. The trail passes by two bodies of water — San Andreas Lake and Upper Crystal Springs Reservoir — along the 11.3 mile out-and-back trail.

Quarry Park Loop Trail

Just over 25 miles south of San Francisco, hikers will come upon El Granada. From here, you can watch surfers at the iconic Mavericks Beach before heading into the hills on the Quarry Park Loop Trail. The moderate hike is a four-mile loop that’s best visited during the spring, when colorful wildflowers carpet the area.

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Candlestick Point 

Candlestick Point State Recreation Area is a protected strip of land in the San Francisco Bay that’s home to the scenic Candlestick Point trail. The park makes a quick escape from the city easy, without sacrificing views or terrain. Along the 1.6-mile bay hike, you’ll get panoramic views of some of the area’s best sights — including downtown, the East Bay hills, and San Bruno Mountain — as you pass through an impressive mix of wetlands, beaches, and grasslands.

Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail

If you’re looking for an easy hike along the coast, it’s hard to top the Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail (also called the Coastside Trail). The 7.6-mile out-and-back hike runs from El Granada and Pillar Point to Half Moon Bay and Poplar Beach — although you can also hike it in reverse. Don’t be afraid to make a pit stop at one of the beaches you’ll pass, or sit atop a bluff and enjoy a cooling breeze from the ocean.