Between its quirky neighborhoods, rich cultural history, and thriving culinary scene, the charms of San Francisco are many and well-known. But to really know the Bay Area, a hike is in order. Within a short drive of the city are craggy Pacific promontories, serene redwood forests, wetlands teeming with wildlife, and many other distinct topographies. These nine trails within a short drive of San Francisco will get you to the heart of the region’s natural beauty. Here are the best hikes in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to Condé Nast Traveler.
Read on for our complete San Francisco destination guide.
Editor’s note: Given the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hours and accessibility of parks are fluid and subject to change. We advise you to contact them directly for updated safety guidelines and hours of operation before visiting.
Few cities can rival San Francisco for a sense of expansive nature within the city limits. At SF’s far northwest corner, Lands End has miles of trails that hug the rugged Pacific coast. Sunny days yield views far out into the ocean and north to the hills of Marin, with Golden Gate views worthy of a postcard. More frequent foggy days are no less beautiful, shrouding groves of cypress and eucalyptus in a moody fine mist. Start by descending the steps to the Sutro Baths, the ruins of a 19th-century ocean-fed bathhouse, before scaling the stairs back up and winding your way north. Looking to make a full day in this part of the city? Exit the Lands End trails on the east side, stroll through the ritzy Seacliff neighborhood, and head north to the numerous trails of the Presidio, which eventually connect all the way to the Golden Gate.
Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park
A redwood escape, with minimal driving, Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park feels remote but is just a few miles from downtown Oakland. These 1,833 acres are home to a forest of coastal redwoods, wildlife-rich grasslands, and rare bird life. The paved path of the mile-long Stream Trail takes you through the heart of Redwood Canyon at any skill or accessibility level, while more ambitious hikers have a wealth of trails to choose from in this well-marked, well-connected network.
Tomales Point Trail at Point Reyes National Seashore
The Point Reyes area boasts one must-visit after another: the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse, the wild Pacific crashing onto the shoreline, and the charming shops and eateries at Point Reyes Station, to name a few. It’s also home to Tomales Point Trail, one of the most spectacular coastal hikes in a state rich with them. The nearly 10-mile round-trip hike, with the ocean on one side and Tomales Bay on the other, is mostly-flat and cuts through the Tule Elk Reserve—the proud creatures grazing in front of the mighty Pacific is an unforgettable sight. Even if the elk aren’t out, you’re likely to catch sight of coyotes, foxes, and hawks, too.
Mount Diablo State Park
While not as striking a vista as Mount Tam in Marin, Mount Diablo ascends much higher at 3,848 feet, looming over the East Bay. Its slopes appear gradual from a distance, but a full 6.8-mile ascent to the top via the Summit Trail is best attempted by serious hikers. The steep climb from the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area earns you views stretching far beyond the Bay Area itself—the Farallon Islands past the Golden Gate, the Sierra Nevadas to the east, and even Yosemite’s Half Dome. The summit can be reached by car, but arriving on foot is much more rewarding.
Angel Island State Park
Half of the appeal of hiking Angel Island, in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, is the journey there—a scenic ferry ride from Fisherman’s Wharf or the Marin town of Tiburon. The island’s history is long and complicated, having served as an early 20th-century immigration station, quarantine facility, and a US Army base. But the island’s natural wonders are worth a visit in and of themselves. For the ultimate Bay Area views, follow the North Ridge Trail, which snakes its way up the 788-ft Mount Livermore in a 5.9-mile loop through pines, oaks, and dramatic wildflowers.
While hardly a Bay Area secret—in fact, it’s the world’s most-visited redwood destination—Muir Woods remains transportive: a mist-cloaked national monument with more than a century of history, starring hundreds of coastal redwoods or Sequoia sempervirens, the tallest known tree species. A leisurely hour stroll takes you through the famed Cathedral Grove and Bohemian Grove, with centuries-old towering giants inviting silence and contemplation. Wooden boardwalks and paved paths keep much of the park wheelchair- and stroller-accessible. Just don’t expect to have the trees to yourself; crowds are commonplace, and as a result, advance parking reservations are mandatory.
China Camp State Park
With the wild Pacific coastline and tranquil redwood groves so accessible, the area’s bayside hikes might be less appreciated. But the network of trails along the intertidal marshlands of the San Pablo Bay has its own spectacular beauty, one of salt-kissed breezes and vibrant wetlands, of slinking coyotes and bobcats, and of wildly diverse bird life. The 7-mile Shoreline-Bayview loop meanders along the water before a gentle ascent into the hills, with spectacular views the whole way. Leave time to explore China Camp Village itself, the remains of a late 19th-century shrimp fishing camp that remained remarkably intact.
For a short and pretty hike that won’t take up the better part of a day, Mori Point is ideal. Less than half an hour drive south of San Francisco in coastal Pacifica, the 32-acre wetland park has both a half-mile flat trail and a steeper 1.5-mile loop. The former leads straight to the Pacific, while the longer makes its way up to the coastal bluffs, from which you might spot whales during their winter migration, hillsides of wildflowers in the spring, and all manner of bird life. Unlike many state and national parks, Mori Point is dog-friendly, so your pup gets a day out, too. As with all Bay Area coastal hikes, you should pack an extra layer, no matter how warm it is inland.
Mount Tamalpais State Park
Mount Tam, as it’s known locally, dominates the Marin County landscape. And the state park that shares its name features every kind of topography northern California is known for, with more than 200 miles of trails stretching all the way to the Pacific. Seasoned hikers can see many of the greatest hits on the 7.8-mile Matt Davis and Steep Ravine Trail Loop. Starting from the Pantoll Ranger Station you’ll encounter shady oak forests, iconically Californian rolling hills with ocean views, seasonal waterfalls, and venerable redwoods, ultimately descending to coastal Highway 1 near the sandy shores of Stinson Beach. Enjoy the ocean breeze before the second half of the loop, following the Dipsea Trail to the Steep Ravine. Alternatively, start at Stinson Beach and Pantoll will be a convenient halfway break point.
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