You don’t have to travel far for a nature fix in this town.
Hikes may not be the first thing to spring to mind when you think of when planning a trip to San Francisco, but you don’t have to venture far from the city’s urban core to be rewarded with some of California’s most scenic trails. The following five offer a sample of some of the best, from vertiginous mountaintop views to mellow low-lying coastal bluffs.
Angel Island Perimeter Road
Skip the hassle (and irony) of driving to a trail, and instead take the Blue & Gold Fleet’s ferry from Pier 41 to the Bay Area’s largest island. Rising from the bay in between San Francisco and Marin County, Angel Island has a five-mile loop hike on an easy-to-moderate fire road that guides you through coastal shrubs, bay, and oak trees, as well as eerie abandoned military bunkers and hospitals.
Devil’s Slide Trail
Now you can hike a former section of Highway 1—without hitchhiking. Don’t let the ominous name fool you: The recently-opened 1.3-mile Devil’s Slide Trail snakes along a beautiful portion of the coast, just south of San Francisco. Strategically placed benches (read: views of the Pacific Ocean), observation scopes, and informative signs make it ideal for families, or just anyone looking for a short and relaxing hike.
Just a few short miles over the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most notable trails in Northern California, the Dipsea. Though it’s known for its intense annual Dipsea Race, you don’t have to be a marathoner to enjoy the views. From the Mill Valley trailhead, amble up a series of wooden staircases that ascend through a redwood grove, then stroll along the ridge overlooking Marin’s stunning coastal valleys. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can follow the 9.5-mile trail all the way to Stinson Beach.
You don’t even have to leave San Francisco’s city limits to hike Lands End, one of the city’s most popular and scenic urban hikes. Just take Muni 1 (or Uber) to the end of California Street, then trace the golf course north to the trailhead. From there it’s cliff-high views along the coast, passing shipwrecks, windblown cypress trees, and wildflowers, all the way to the historic Sutro Bath Ruins and the new Lands End Lookout Visitors center. Reward your efforts with a cocktail at the iconic Cliff House.
Mt. Diablo State Park
You’ll find one of California’s most impressive views a 45-minute drive east of San Francisco, at Mount Diablo State Park. Follow steep paths that wind up the mountain, overlooking Contra Costa County’s ranch land and valleys, past oak trees, and at the top, take a peek from the impressive observation deck. From Mt. Diablo’s summit (3,850 feet), on a clear day views extend all the way to the Farallon Islands floating in the Pacific and the Sierra Nevada mountains.