San Francisco is an underrated outdoor destination. From redwood forests to stunning coastal views, the Bay Area offers plenty of different trail options no matter what kind of landscape you prefer to explore. Many of the best hikes around the city offer incredible views, with some stunning lookouts and lofty peaks offering panoramas of the city and bay area. 

There are also walks which cater for a range of different experience and fitness levels with some suitable for families as well as other more challenging trails for serious hikers. Here are the best hikes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

What you need to know about hiking around San Francisco

  • Some of these trails are multiuse, meaning that cyclists and trail runners might be sharing the nature with you. Be alert to oncoming foot traffic and stick to one side of the trail to avoid accidents.
  • Most trails covered in this article are well maintained with good signage managed by local park authorities, however, you should also carry some sort of map or GPS system on your phone to ensure you don’t get lost.
  • The temperate climate in California means that these hikes are generally open all year round.
  • You should ensure that you carry all the daypack essentials with you for any of these day hikes. For the more challenging trails, especially, it’s a good idea to carry food, water, sun protection and first aid.
  • Most of these trails are dog friendly, although they must be on a leash. The exceptions to this are in the Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Point Reyes National Seashore and Mitchell Canyon. Pay attention to signage relating to pets and dogs at the trailheads.
  • These trails are generally free to use, although some parking fees may apply such as a $10 fee for parking at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park headquarters and $5 for parking inside the Redwoods Regional Park

Best day hikes around San Francisco

Presidio of San Francisco

The Presidio of San Francisco is the 1500-acre northern tip of the city center. It’s an iconic area which connects to the Golden Gate Bridge. The park area features plenty of hiking trails where you can get up close to the bridge as well as some beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean coastline. It’s one of the most easily accessible park areas, you can reach it within walking distance from the city center. 

Golden Gate Promenade

Golden Gate Promenade
Photo by Bernt Rostad
  • Start/finish: Crissy Field Center (37.805996, -122.450953)
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash

If you start on the eastern side of the Presidio at the Crissy Field Center, you can follow the Golden Gate Promenade along the coast to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center for a 1.7-mile walk. This is also popular with runners and cyclists with a paved multiuse area. You’ll have beautiful city, coastal and bridge views along the path.

Batteries to Bluff Trail

Batteries To Bluff Trail
Photo by Btwashburn
  • Start/finish: Langdon Court Parking (37.803378, -122.476698)
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 449 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash

You can also explore the western side of the Presidio. From a parking lot along Lincoln Avenue, you can follow the Batteries to Bluff trail which leads to Baker Beach for a fairly easy walk. This is one of the most memorable trails you can do at sunset with some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco bay. 

Golden Gate Bridge walk

Golden Gate Bridge walk
Photo by Daniel Ramirez
  • Start/finish:
  • Distance: 3.4-miles
  • Elevation Gain:  193feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash

Walking over the Golden Gate Bridge is perhaps one of the most iconic activities to do in San Francisco. You can extend your walk in the Presidio and continue across the bridge. It spans 1.7 miles long, but you can just walk as far as you like before returning back the same way. 

It can be extremely windy and noisy, but even a short walk along the sidewalk of the bridge is a must-do experience. The view stretches right out across the water and towards the East Bay.

Land’s End Trail

Land’s End Trail
Photo by Rick
  • Start/finish: Lands’ End Eagle Point (37.786740, -122.494837)
  • Distance: 3.4-mile round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 530 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash

The Land’s End Trail is an impressive coastal trail that has great views of the rugged coastline and back towards the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a relatively short trail and mostly gradual, although there are a few short hills involved. The trail is one of the more popular ones in the Bay Area with the Land’s End viewpoint becoming a famous photo spot. This means it’s best completed mid-week or early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds.

The trailhead is not far from the city center and is easily reachable by either car or public bus.

Mount Davidson

Mount Davidson
Photo by Torbakhopper
  • Start/finish: Mount Davidson Park Entrance (37.736955, -122.453921)
  • Distance: 1-mile round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 245ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash

Mount Davidson is the highest point in San Francisco. Although the trail to reach its summit is short and not too difficult, the view makes it a worthwhile hike. The trail is rocky but easy to follow as it gradually ascends up to a large cross sitting at 927 feet. You’ll have a panoramic view of the city skyline from the viewpoint.

It generally takes less than an hour to get up to the top and back and dogs are allowed on a leash. 

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks
Photo by Elliot Margolies
  • Start/finish: Twin Peaks Carpark (37.754188, -122.447110)
  • Distance: 2.1-mile out and back
  • Elevation Gain: 270ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash

Twin Peaks is a hilltop 64-acre park with hiking trails and beautiful views over the city. It’s one of the most popular places for both locals and tourists to go for a hike and even a run or ride with multipurpose trails. It’s San Francisco’s second highest point and the place is especially spectacular at sunrise or sunset. 

You can drive close to the top of the Twin Peaks for an easier alternative. However, for a 2.1 mile walk it’s best to follow the Twin Peaks Boulevard to the top from the bottom car park. It’s heavily trafficked with runners, cyclists and cars all using the same trail, so be aware of your surroundings. You’re rewarded with 360-degree views stretching right across the bay at the top. 

The Twin peaks park area is not far from the city center and is easily reachable by either car or public bus. Although, the buses do not continue to the top but you can get out at the base to do the full 2.1-mile return walk.

Angel Island

Angel Island
Photo by Russellstreet
  • Start/finish: Ferry terminal (37.868519, -122.434632)
  • Distance: 5.5-mile round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 350ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash

Angel Island is the largest landmass in the Bay Area. It offers one of the most underrated hiking adventures in the city, with incredible views over the bay in all directions. 

The island is accessible by a 12-minute public ferry ride operated every hour or by private boat. There is a five-and-a-half-mile paved road that circumnavigates the island and takes in the beautiful coastal and city views along the way. This is a popular and relatively easy walk that is suitable for families. 

For something a little more strenuous, there are designated pedestrian only trails that lead up to the summit of Mt Livermore at 788-feet. To get to the summit, take the North Ridge Summit trail from the ferry terminal and you’ll meander to the top. The 360 degree views from the island’s highest point are considered some of the best in the city.

Redwood Regional Park

Redwood Regional Park
Photo by H Grimes
  • Start/finish: Skyline Gate Staging Area (37.831708, -122.185372)
  • Distance: 2.2-miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 370 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash

The Redwood Regional Park is a popular place to enjoy the great outdoors not far from Oakland on the East Bay. It’s one of the largest intact forests of redwood trees in the country and with around 40 miles of hiking trails, it’s easy to get away from the crowds of the city. 

The Skyline Gate Staging Area is a great place to start with a few trail options to choose from. Most people complete a loop hike by picking one of either the West Ridge Trail or East Ridge Trail and then turning at the junctions until you find yourself back at Skyline Gate. But you can realistically extend your hike by following other trails deeper into the forest, as long as you have some sort of map or GPS with you so you know how to return.

The trailhead is east of Oakland and easiest to reach by car. However, there is a public bus network that runs from Oakland center to Skyline Boulevard near the park.

Mount Diablo via Mitchell Canyon

Mount Diablo via Mitchell Canyon
Photo by John Morgan
  • Start/finish: Mitchell Canyon Parking Lot (37.921165, -121.941197)
  • Distance: 14 miles round trip 
  • Elevation Gain: 3500 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Dogs: No dogs

For a challenging day hike, this ranks as one of the best in the region. The challenging hike up to the top of Mount Diablo from Mitchell Canyon offers the greatest views stretching for over 200 miles on a clear day. 

It’s best to tackle the loop counter-clockwise which has a more gradual elevation change and follows a fire road rather than a narrow trail. Start the hike early for a cooler climate and to allow yourself enough time to enjoy the view at the top. The visitor center at the summit offers a nice reward with water and toilet facilities available. Most people take around 6 hours to complete this day hike. 

If you prefer to experience this impressive peak in an easier way, you can drive to the visitor center and walk the 1-mile loop known as Mary Bowerman Loop Trail which takes in the views around the 3849-foot mountain.

The trailhead is east of the city area and only reachable by car.

Berry Creek Falls

Berry Creek Falls
Photo by Dipika Bhattacharya
  • Start/finish: State Park Headquarters (37.172839, -122.222652)
  • Distance: 10.5-miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 2150 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Dogs: No dogs

Although it’s a bit further out from San Francisco, this challenging hike to Berry Creek Falls is a great day trip in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California’s oldest state park.

The trail takes you through old redwood forest and along trickling creeks to the viewing platform of the 65-foot falls. It’s an especially popular trail for bird watchers with incredible flora and fauna to admire along the way. It’s become a popular hiking destination in the park so you might prefer to attempt it during the week or in winter to avoid the crowds.

The Big Basin Redwoods State Park is south of San Francisco and is best reached by your own car with no direct public transport.

Alamere Falls 

Alamere Falls 
Photo by Andrew Kearns
  • Start/finish: Palomarin Trailhead (37.934301, -122.747154)
  • Distance: 13 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1205 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Dogs: No dogs

Alamere Falls is a beautiful sight to behold. The tumbling waterfall cascades down a 40 foot cliff onto Wildcat Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. The unique coastal waterfall can be reached by the Coast Trail from Palomarin Trailhead.  

The trail mostly takes you through wooded scrubland until you reach the coast. The final trail to get down to the beach to view the falls is quite steep so be prepared to scramble down. Admire the rare view of a waterfall tumbling onto a beach before heading back. 

Check the tide schedule before heading out on this hike to ensure you’ll be able to get down to the beach safely. 

The Point Reyes National Seashore is north of the city center and is best reached by car with no direct public transport options to the Palomarin Trailhead.

Conclusion

Whether you’re after stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge or prefer to lose yourself in beautiful redwood forests, the San Francisco Bay Area has plenty of hiking trails for everyone. It’s beautiful location on the Pacific coast makes it a popular destination, but you can easily find plenty of unique experiences in this scenic urban area.