One of the best things about the Bay Area is its natural beauty and the many opportunities to escape the busy bustle of the city for a refreshing few hours amongst tall trees and breathtaking views. While you’re in town staying at HI San Francisco hostels, you might not have a car to take you up to the majestic Muir Woods or the network of trails in the Marin Headlands, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to miss out on rejuvenating nature time. Hiking in San Francisco isn’t just walking the hilly city blocks, there are also places where you can watch the waves of the Pacific from a scenic spot and feel lost under towers of trees. Bring good shoes, warm layers, plenty of water and snacks, and maybe a few fellow travelers you recruited over breakfast, and explore some of the best hikes in San Francisco.
Lands End Trail
This trail is not exactly a well-kept secret, but that’s because it’s pretty essential if you’re a hiker visiting San Francisco. Starting near the Sutro Baths at the city’s most western edge, the Lands End trail is a fairly easy walk with a few steep climbs, and it boasts excellent Golden Gate Bridge views, a little beach, and several stunning overlooks towards the Marin Headlands along the way. Make your turning point at the Lands End Labyrinth near Mile Rock Beach (about a mile into the trail from Sutro Baths), or continue on to the end of the park at Eagles Point.
Get there: The Muni #38L bus will get you there in about 20 minutes (the regular #38 takes about 45 minutes) from HI SF Downtown or HI SF City Center hostels.
For a steeper hike, you can do a quick loop in the Mount Sutro Open Space preserve, a quiet little island of eucalyptus and pine groves just south of Golden Gate Park. There are a number of looping trails that will take you right into the park and make you feel like you’ve been transported far outside the city, although you might see the Sutro Tower peeking out at some points. Take the aptly named Mystery Trail for a bit of magic, especially if it’s a typically foggy San Francisco kind of day.
Get there: Take the N Ocean Beach underground metro train from Powell Street or Civic Center near HI SF Downtown or HI SF City Center hostels respectively and get off at Carl Street. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the stop to the park.
If you’re willing to go the distance for a really good hike without the crowds (especially if you’re visiting on a weekend), take the BART all the way down to Daly City and the steep sandy trails at Fort Funston. The former military outpost attracts hang-gliders soaring from the cliff-top park and locals letting their dogs frolic on the beach. The ocean breeze keeps it cool all year, and the miles of trails will reward you with amazing views at the top and old fort ruins along the way.
Get there: Take the BART to Daly City, then get on the 57 bus to Lakeshore Plaza and get out at the John Muir stop. It should take about 40 minutes from the hostels.
For a gentle but steady walk that hits a lot of highlights, from giant redwoods and bay views to charming houses and nature-based art installations, set aside some time to explore the loops of trails in the Presidio. Start at the Inspiration Point lookout and take the Ecology Trail to walk under redwood and eucalyptus trees and along flat sunny patches lined with shrubs. Once you reach Andy Goldsworthy’s “Spire,” a towering sculpture made of Monterey cypress trunks, you can loop back to the starting point to make it a solid three-mile hike.
Get there: It takes about half an hour to get to Inspiration Point from the downtown hostels taking the 38 or 38R Muni bus.
HI USA Tip: If you’ve got a hankering for heartier hikes, it’s worth including a stay at HI Marin Headlands to your San Francisco trip, or if biking’s more your style, check out some awesome bike routes in the city.