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Sutro baths historical place in famous Land's End with views to Pacific Ocean
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The best places to hike in the Bay Area

We trekked across the bay and back to find the best places to hike in the Bay Area

Written by
Shoshi Parks
&
Matt Charnock
Contributor
Erika Mailman
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The San Francisco Bay Area is known for its fantastic hiking, whether in the hushed quiet of redwood forests, across open terrain with spectacular views of the bay or the ocean, or even just an exhilarating saunter across the incredibly windy Golden Gate Bridge (if your hat’s not tight, you’ll lose it).

From San Francisco to Oakland to Marin, here are the best places to hike in the Bay Area, to get your blood moving and your heart soaring. Getting out in nature with a brisk pace is truly one of the best ways to lift your spirits.

RECOMMENDED: The best wildflower hikes in the Bay Area

Best places to hike in the Bay Area

Lands End offers all the drama of windswept cypresses and cliff faces descending into the crashing ocean. Start at the parking lot by the Lands End Lookout (with a visitor center and café open Friday through Monday) near the ruins of the Sutro Baths – which are worth hiking down to for a quick ramble – and take the Coastal Trail heading east. The path involves steep staircases and brings you along the coastline to the Eagle’s Point Overlook, where you’ll catch incredible vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Length: 1.7 miles

Difficulty: moderate

Trailhead: Lands End Lookout, 680 Point Lobos Avenue 

Pets: Dogs allowed on-leash or within sight/voice control

Bernal Heights Summit rivals Twin Peaks as the best vantage point for a 360-degree view of the city. You’ll be surrounded by dry grassland most of the year, but after the winter rains, the hill is covered in lush greenery and wildflowers, like shooting stars, checkerblooms and native purple needlegrass. For hiking, the park provides a paved limited-access road and many different dirt trails that wind around the hill and lead to the summit – or you can try many of the residential side streets’s dirt trails: just keep heading up.

Length: There’s a 1 mile loop in the park

Difficulty: easy

Trailhead: Start at Bernal Heights Park, 3400-3416 Folsom St, or follow ad-hoc trails from various spots around the base of the hill

Pets: Dogs allowed off leash 

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  • Things to do
  • San Francisco

This 66-acre park sits along a deep canyon, with trails crossing Islais Creek, one of San Francisco’s last free-flowing creeks. The canyon has naturally forested slopes, rock outcroppings and seasonal wildflowers. There’s a wide array of trails forming a 3.7 mile network; try the 1.2 mile “Creek to Peaks" trail, which starts along Islais Creek and heads towards Twin Peaks with city and bay vistas. Be wary of coyotes as night falls. And don't forget to look up: birds migrate here all the way from South America! 

Length: 1.2 miles

Difficulty: easy, with some spots becoming muddy in the rainy season

Trailhead: Bosworth Street and O'Shaughnessy Blvd

Pets: Dogs allowed on leash

A short hop across the Golden Gate Bridge will take you to the Marin Headlands, a veritable nature-lover’s playground. The Headlands are criss-crossed with trails of varying difficulty and terrain; you can choose to hug the cliffside along Jurassic rock formations, tread across trails through chapparal, or stroll along protected pebble beaches. There are also four remarkable historical sites here. Two routes are not to be missed: the Point Bonita Lighthouse Trail and the Rodeo Lagoon Loop.

Point Bonita Lighthouse Trail
Distance: 0.5 miles
Difficulty: steep and precarious sections, not recommended for wheelchairs
Trailhead: Point Bonita, Sausalito
Pets: Dogs not allowed

Rodeo Lagoon Loop
Distance: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: easy
Trailhead: Marin Headlands Visitor Center, 948 Fort Barry
Pets: Dogs not allowed due to sensitive species in the lagoon

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This 1,833-acre park in the Oakland hills boasts 150-foot coast redwoods that were planted to replace those logged during the Gold Rush to build the Bay Area’s structures. Trails wind through thick groves of these fragrant giant trees and make you feel completely removed from city life. There are several gates to the park; the parking fee of $5 per car and $2 per dog is only applied at the Redwood Gate. The large parking lot at the Skyline Gate Staging Area is an easy choice to start your hike. From here, follow the West Ridge Trail from the lot’s south side, then turn left onto the Tres Sendas Trail, which crosses Redwood Creek right before you turn left on the Stream Trail to return to the beginning.

Length: approximately 4 miles

Difficulty: moderate, with steep sections

Trailhead: Skyline Gate Staging Area, 8490 Skyline Blvd, Oakland

Pets: Dogs allowed 

The magic of Muir Woods is that it’s the only remaining old-growth coastal redwood forest in the Bay Area — and one of the last on Earth. These are the tallest of all living things, and Muir Woods’s most epic tree is a crane-your-head-back-to-see-it 258 feet. The cool hush of this ancient forest where the average age of a tree is 600-80 years old (the eldest being 1,200 years old) is life affirming, while the park’s Redwood Creek is one of the last California streams with a native stock of salmon. Walk along six miles of trails: a half-hour loop, a one-hour loop, and a 1.5-hour loop, as well as longer hikes extending in Mount Tamalpais State Park. 

Distance: Various trail lengths

Difficulty: easy on the loops, strenuous on the canyon and hillside trails

Trailhead: Visitor Center at 1 Muir Woods Rd, Mill Valley

Pets: Pets not allowed 

Note: Loops are wheelchair and stroller accessible

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On a bright, sunlit day, the Golden Gate Bridge is a disarming sight, an elegant feat of engineering straddling the steel blue expanse of the Bay. But why admire it from a distance, when you can get up close and personal? Start at Crissy Field Center (at the eastern end of the beach) and head west along the Golden Gate Promenade. You’ll get pushed along by the stiff wind and be a mere metal fence away from multiple lanes of car traffic, but in return you’ll get great views of San Francisco, the rolling hills of Marin and Sausalito, the prison fortress atop Alcatraz, the beauty of Angel Island, and the busy sailboats and container ships.

Distance: 3.4 miles one way

Difficulty: easy

Trailhead: Crissy Field Center, 1199 East Beach

Pets: No pets allowed 

The Presidio has numerous paths traversing its lush, wooded environs, but the Batteries to Bluffs Trail can’t be beat for the sheer drama of its scenery, and you may even see dolphins with this shoreline hike overlooking the ocean below. Check out this trail at sunset for incredible vistas, and enjoy the seasonal native dune plants and wildflowers. You’ll cross hidden springs as you trek to Battery Crosby, which is a historic gun battery dating to 1900. If you wish, take the extra winding trail down to Marshall’s Beach, known as San Francisco’s most hidden beach.

Length: 0.7 mile

Difficulty: moderate to difficult

Trailhead: Look for the Batteries to Bluffs sign on Lincoln Boulevard on the stretch between Pershing Drive and Kobbe Avenue, subtly marked by red pavement striping

Pets: Pets not allowed 

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The first issue is getting here: The state park is an island located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Also a historic site, Angel Island served as immigration and deportation center for mostly Chinese immigrants in the 1800s. Today, you can hike up to the summit of Mount Caroline Livermore, the highest point on the island at 788 feet, reachable via a six-mile loop trail with incredible vistas and picnic tables. As far as 360-degree views go, the summit of Mount Livermore might just be the ultimate one. Once you’ve reached the top, you can take in three bridges (Golden Gate, Bay, and Richmond-San Rafael), the other islands (including Alcatraz), Oakland, Tiburon, Sausalito and San Francisco. 

Length: 6 miles

Difficulty: moderate

Trailhead: Angel Island Ferry Terminal

Pets: Pets not allowed 

Oakland’s beautiful hills once held many creeks that fed into Lake Merritt. Today, most of those creeks have been culverted, but Sausal Creek still remains free-flowing, and a trail that winds along it provides a nice hike. You can go roundtrip, or do a one-way trek knowing that public transit services both ends of the trail. Start at Dimond Park and locate the creek trail near the park’s recreation center. Jump on it until it emerges at El Centro Avenue at the entrance to Dimond Canyon Trail, which you will follow along the edge of the creek. Although you’re never far from a neighborhood, this trail feels surprisingly remote and gives you all the nature feels you need. You’ll come to the pretty, arched Leimert Bridge and follow directions to continue on up the hill to finally reach Monterey Boulevard in the Montclair district.

Length: 4 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: moderate

Trailhead: Dimond Park Recreation Center, 3860 Hanly Rd, Oakland

Pets: Dogs allowed on leash

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