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13 Best Hikes in San Francisco and Bay Area

Here is a guide to the best hikes in San Francisco and Bay Area. Mountain, beaches, redwoods, the ocean - San Francisco has it all.
Taking images of San Francisco
Kace Rodriguez | unsplash.com

Squeezed between the ocean and the mountains, the San Francisco area is one of the most scenic in the country. It offers access to various viewpoints, natural parks, and mountain peaks.

You can watch sea life, hike through the ancient redwoods, and climb peaks all in one day. A lifetime may not be enough to explore every nook and cranny that Bay Area offers.

We compiled a list of the best hikes in the San Francisco area to help you narrow down the search and save time.

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1. Mount Diablo Grand Loop Trail

View from Mount Diablo. Best Hikes in San Francisco and Bay Area.
Photo: Marc Dalmulder / CC BY 2.0
  • Highlight: Breathtaking, 360-degrees views from Mt Diablo Peak.
  • Type: Loop
  • Trail Length: 6.2 miles/ 10 km
  • Elevation Gain: 1,800 ft / 550 m
  • Time to Complete: 3h 45min
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Parking: At Diablo Valley Overlook
  • Distance from San Francisco: 45 miles (1h 20min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Mount Diablo Grand Loop Trail is a challenging hike in one of California’s quieter state parks. The trail loops around Mount Diablo before the steep ascent to the peak, from which you get panoramic views of the Bay Area to the west and the Sierra Nevada to the east.

Although Mount Diablo isn’t the highest mountain in California – just 3,849 ft (1,173 meters), it is a strenuous hike suited to more seasoned hikers, especially on a hot summer day.

If you are hiking with kids or small dogs, it’s better to attempt this trail during mild weather. The park is open year-round, and wintertime provides for some of the best views with snow-covered peaks all around.

If you don’t want to hike, it is possible to get to the summit by car. The drive is very scenic, with a few overlook areas on the way. And yes, this is cheating; you will feel a lot more rewarded on the peak if you’ve done it on your own two.

2. Mount Sutro to Twin Peaks Loop

View from Mount Davidson.
  • Highlight: A breath of wilderness in the middle of San Francisco with fantastic views of the city.
  • Type: Loop
  • Trail Length: 3.8 miles / 6.1 km
  • Elevation Gain: 856 ft / 261 m
  • Time to Complete: 2 h
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: With restriction, on Stanyan St.
  • Distance from San Francisco: 0 miles
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Mount Sutro to Twin Peaks trail is an urban escape in the middle of San Francisco. The area is popular with locals and visitors alike. For the former, the route is a place to exercise, walk four-legged friends, and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. And tourists come here to get a birds-eye view over San Francisco.

Sometimes, the hike can get muddy and windy but generally is a pleasant stroll. Being a dog and family-friendly place, it is suitable for most people. Just make sure to bring some water and take it easy on the ascents.

The only downside of this hike is difficult navigation. There are many turns one must do to stay on the loop. For this, the AllTrails app is the best solution.

3. Lands End Trail

Golden Gate Bridge from Lands End Trail - the best hike in San Francisco
  • Highlight: Soaring views of the ocean and Marin Headlands with Golden Gate Bridge on the backdrop.
  • Type: Loop
  • Trail Length: 3.4 miles / 5.5 km
  • Elevation Gain: 538 ft / 164 m
  • Time to Complete: 1h 30 min
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Parking: El Camino Del Mar Parking Lot
  • Distance from San Francisco: 0
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Land’s End Trail is probably the best hike within San Francisco boundaries. It provides access to a variety of landmarks, beaches, and overlooks. Although the trail is only 3.4 miles, you can spend the whole day here without visiting the same place twice.

The trail is situated in the northwestern corner of SF. You can start the hike at El Camino Del Mar Parking Lot, follow the trail west to the historical Sutro Baths before turning east onto the coastal trail. There are many overlooks along the way that shouldn’t be missed, like Point Lobos, Deadman’s Point, and Eagles Point.

One of the hike’s highlights is the Land’s End Labyrinth – a man-made maze made of pebbles on the edge of the cliff. Also, don’t forget to look out to the ocean. There is a chance of spotting whales, seals, and other sea life.

Land’s End area encapsulates San Francisco’s theme very well – roaring ocean, sweeping views, salty air, and of course, the Golden Gate Bridge on the backdrop.

4. Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail

Half Moon Bay at sunset. Best beach hike in San Francisco area.
  • Highlight: Easy, partially paved trail with sweeping ocean views, which offers plenty of activities for families.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Length: 9.4 miles / 15.1 km
  • Elevation Gain: 164 ft / 50 m
  • Time to Complete: 4h
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Parking: Poplar Beach Parking Lot
  • Distance from San Francisco: 30 miles (45 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail is one of the best beach hikes in the San Francisco area. Most of the route is paved and allows you to walk along the coastline in either direction. You can make this hike as long or as short as you like.

There are many activities you can do here. Cycling, horseback riding, wildlife watching, playing on the beach, and running are just some of them.

Also, the area is a legendary surfing hotspot. The movie Chasing Mavericks was filmed in this location which boasts some of the highest waves in the continental US. You can watch surfers all day or even have a go yourself; there are many surfing schools along the beach.

Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail is a perfect family getaway. But like all coastal walks, it can get pretty chilly and windy, so pack an extra layer or two.

5. Muir Woods Trails

  • Highlight: Hike under the canopy of ancient redwoods – some of the largest and tallest trees on the planet.
  • Type: Loop/ Out and Back
  • Trail Length: Varies from 0.5 to 10 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Varies
  • Time to Complete: from 0.5h to 8h
  • Difficulty: Easy/ Moderate
  • Parking: Muir Woods Visitor Center Parking (reservation required).
  • Distance from San Francisco: 17 miles (40 min)
  • Dog Friendly: No

Muir Woods is one of the best places to see redwoods near San Francisco. This magical forest is managed by National Park Service and offers multiple trails ranging from half a mile to 10 miles in length. A lot of the paths here are paved, which creates a range of easy hiking options.

Muir Woods is famous for its coastal redwood trees. These giants are some of the oldest and tallest trees on the planet, with surprisingly soft bark. The tallest redwood in the forest is 258 feet (79 m), nearly the height of the Statue of Liberty. The oldest tree in the park is about 1,200 years old, barely half of the redwood’s average lifespan.

Walking among these giants is an awe-inspiring experience. The raw natural energy of the woods makes you feel humble and calm, which is a welcome change if you’re trying to escape the city chaos.

To visit Muir Woods, you have to reserve parking in advance at https://gomuirwoods.com/. In addition to that, you must pay an entrance fee of $15 per adult. However, on some holidays, the entrance fee is waived. For the complete list of free-to-visit days, see the NPS page.

6. Cataract Trail

Cataract Falls at the base of Mountain Tamalpais.
Photo: Heidi De Vries / CC BY 2.0
  • Highlight: Cataract Falls – a series of waterfalls at the base of Mt Tamalpais.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Length: 2.8 miles / 4.5 km
  • Elevation Gain: 1056 ft / 322 m
  • Time to Complete: 2h
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Cataract Trailhead on Fairfax – Bolinas Road
  • Distance from San Francisco: 30 miles (1h 15min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Cataract Trail is frequently described as a hidden gem of the Bay Area. It is a short but steep hike through the moss-covered woods.

The path starts at Alpine Lake and takes you along the Cataract Creek to the roaring cascades – Cataract Falls. The ascent has steep climbs and can be relatively challenging, but the falls are worth the effort.

Cataract Trail is one of the greener and wetter hikes around San Francisco. Hence, it is the perfect option for hot summer months as you can hide under the forest canopy and cool your feet in a creek along the way.

The trail can be easily incorporated into a much longer hike to make a loop via other creeks in the area. From the falls, take High Marsh Trail, then left on Kent Trail, and left again on Helen Markt Trail to get back to the trailhead. The loop is 7.7 miles long and will take around five hours to complete.

Parking is limited at the trailhead so arrive early, especially on weekends.

7. Mori Ridge Trail

  • Highlight: Sweeping, 360-degrees views of the ocean and the bay.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Length: 4.6 miles/ 7.4 km
  • Elevation Gain: 1,086 ft / 331 m
  • Time to Complete: 3h 30min
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: On Mori Ridge Road
  • Distance from San Francisco: 17 miles (25 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Mori Ridge Trail is a short but steep hike to the mountain range that separates the ocean from San Francisco bay. It is fairly exposed, with just a few trees to hide from the sun. Hence, it is better attempted in the early mornings or mild weather. Bring plenty of water regardless.

At the ridge, the route blends with over trails that lead to the peak. From here, the views are sweeping; you can see the endless ocean to the west and quiet San Francisco Bay to the east. Although it is a strenuous hike, these vistas are worth the sweat.

If you still have energy after the descent, Mori Point, across Highway 1, is worth exploring as well. This ocean overlook is one of the nicest sunset spots around. You can watch the roaring waves, breath in the salty air, and wait for the sky to turn crimson.

8. Dipsea Trail

View from the Dipsea Trail - the best hike in San Francisco area.
  • Highlight: The ultimate, all-in-one trail with steps, redwoods, forests, valleys, and views that terminates on the ocean beach.
  • Type: Point to point (shuttle required)
  • Trail Length: 12 miles/ 19.3 km
  • Elevation Gain: 2,037 ft / 621 m
  • Time to Complete: 8h 30min
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Parking: On Cascade Drive in Mill Valley
  • Distance from San Francisco: 15 miles (35 min)
  • Dog Friendly: No

Dipsea trail is probably the top route in the Bay area. If you have to pick just one hike around San Francisco, the Dipsea trail is a clear winner.

It starts on the outskirts of Mill Valley with a set of stairs, then cuts through the sequoias of Muir Woods, climbs to the Veteran’s Bench for spectacular vistas before descending through Mount Tamalpais State Park to the Stinson Beach.

It is indeed an all-in-one trail. What can be more rewarding than dipping your toes into the cool ocean at the end of the grueling hike?

The only challenge is arranging a shuttle, as walking both ways in one day can be extreme. If you don’t have access to a second car or hiking alone, a bus from Stinson beach can take you back. It’s a 30-minute ride followed by 25 min descent back to the car.

9. Angel Island – North Ridge and Sunset Trails

Photo: Andrew Kearns / CC BY 2.0
  • Highlight: Ferry ride and panoramic views of Bay Area.
  • Type: Loop
  • Trail Length: 4.8 miles/ 7.7 km
  • Elevation Gain: 777 ft / 237 m
  • Time to Complete: 2h 30min
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Parking: Access by Ferry from SF or Tiburon
  • Distance from San Francisco: 2 miles
  • Dog Friendly: No

Angel Island used to harbor military installations and immigration centers. Nowadays, the whole island is a state park with multiple trails, beaches, and campgrounds.

North Ridge and Sunset trails combine into a loop that runs through the island’s northern part via its highest peak – Mount Livermore. It is a pleasant stroll with gentle uphills and panoramic views over the Bay Area.

To access the park, you should take a ferry from Pier 41 in SF or Tiburon on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. One day is enough to explore the island and get a good feel for it.

However, there are plenty of activities to do here. You can hire segways, scooters, kayaks, bring your own bicycle, and easily spend a weekend here. Camping is available at multiple campgrounds around the island.

10. Kirby Cove Trail

Iconic view of the Golden Gate bridge from Kirby Cove Trail. The best hike in San Francisco for Golden Gate bridge.
  • Highlight: The best trail for iconic views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands.
  • Type: Out and back
  • Trail Length: 3 miles/ 4.8 km
  • Elevation Gain: 561 ft / 171 m
  • Time to Complete: 2h
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Parking: At Vista Golden Gate on Conzelman Road or at Headlands Trailhead on Conzelman Road
  • Distance from San Francisco: 8 miles (20 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Kirby Cove Trail is the best hike in Marin Headlands to get the famous views of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you like photography and want to add this engineering marvel to your collection, this is the place for you.

Kirby Cove Trail, also known as Kirby Cove Road, is a short easy hike with gentle ascents that shouldn’t take more than 2 hours to complete.

The recommended parking is at Vista Golden Gate on Conzelman Road. However, there are just a few parking spaces here, and it gets swamped quickly. Hence, the second-best option is at Headlands Trailhead on Conzelman Road; this will add 15 minutes to your walk.

The trail terminates at Kirby Beach – a lovely sandy cove with a view of the bridge and San Francisco in the distance. You can watch the ships squeeze under the Golden Gate as they sail in and out of Portland.

Conveniently, there is a campground at Kirby Cove for those who want to photograph the bridge in all light conditions. Sunset and nighttime shots of Golden Gate are particularly stunning.

11. Coastal Trail – Marin Headlands

Bonita Point Lighthouse, Marin Headlands' best landmark.
Photo: Jane Angch CC BY 2.0
  • Highlight: Point Bonita Lighthouse and sweeping ocean views.
  • Type: Out and back
  • Trail Length: 9 miles/ 14.5 km
  • Elevation Gain: 1,020 ft / 311 m
  • Time to Complete: 5h
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: At Coastal Trail Parking, corner of McCullough Road and Conzelman Road
  • Distance from San Francisco: 10 miles (25 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Coastal Trail in Marin Headlands is for those who want to explore the area more thoroughly than just drive through the main sights. It is a quieter trail with little traffic that leads to a busy touristy spot.

The trail starts in the middle of the ridge and cuts through the Marin Headlands, then climbs to Headlands Lookout – one of the trail’s main highlights, which offers a panoramic view of the area and the Golden Gate Bridge. The trail then descends to a touristy Point Bonita area with many viewpoints and attractions.

Point Bonita is famous for its gorgeous lighthouse connected by the suspension bridge to the mainland. The views are sweeping, and the air is salty here; how much more romantic can it get.

If the 9-mile hike is too much for you, you can get to Point Bonita by car. But don’t miss this bucket list location.

12. Rocky Ridge and Elderberry Loop

Photo: Harald Deischinger / CC BY 2.0
  • Highlight: A quiet, less popular area away from the chaos of SF. Blooming flowers in spring.
  • Type: Loop
  • Trail Length: 4.7 miles/ 7.6 km
  • Elevation Gain: 1,112 ft / 339 m
  • Time to Complete: 2h 30min
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: At the end of Bollinger Canyon Rd
  • Distance from San Francisco: 40 miles (50 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

Rocky Ridge and Elderberry Loop is the hike in Las Trampas Regional Wilderness Park. The area is a tranquil, beautiful spot away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. If you are looking for a few hours of solitude, this is the place to go.

The trail is best visited in spring, when countless flowers bloom with every color imaginable. At any other time of the year, hikers will find sweeping panoramic views of the ocean and surrounding mountains, including Mount Diablo peak.

The area is great for dog walkers, families, and cyclists. There are benches and picnic spots along the way for quick breaks.

Also, there are plenty of other trails in the area that can extend to the hike. For example, if you want to explore further, you can connect Devil’s Hole Trail to the Rocky Ridge Trail to add a few extra miles.

13. East Bay Skyline Trail

Sunset over the San Francisco. The best hike for ultra running in Bay Area
  • Highlight: A two-day challenge with Bay Area panorama.
  • Type: Point to point
  • Trail Length: 32.9 miles/ 52.9 km
  • Elevation Gain: 5,725 ft / 1,745 m
  • Time to Complete: 2 – 3 days
  • Difficulty: Extreme
  • Parking: At Alvarado Staging Area, Richmond
  • Distance from San Francisco: 18.5 miles (30 min)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes

East Bay Skyline Trail is one of the many National Recreation Trails in the United States. It starts at Richmond, follows the mountain ridge east of the bay, and terminates at Castro Valley.

The hike runs through six different parks and is almost 33 miles long, which is out of reach for most.

Such distance is perfect for athletes who are pushing beyond the marathon’s length, and of course, the trail is screaming to be run. The fastest known time to complete the route is just 3 hours 59 minutes which is extreme.

But for most of us, the trail can be broken down into sections or completed in a long weekend. Most of the route runs in the shade, and panoramic views of the Bay Area are certainly not to be missed.

For more details about this hike, see the East Bay Parks page.

Final Thoughts

It doesn’t matter if you are a family with small kids or an experienced trail runner; Bay Area has you covered. From the ocean vistas to the redwoods to the mountain peaks, we are spoiled for choice here.

Hopefully, the list of the best hikes in San Francisco and the Bay Area above gave you ideas and inspiration for the coming weeks.

Also, check out our guide on Henry W. Coe State Park. It’s the largest state park in Northern California just 1.5 hours away from SF.

More Outdoors Inspiration: Funny and Motivational Hiking Quotes.

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