Hike in the City: The 3 Best Trails In and Around the Outer Richmond Neighborhood
The San Francisco Bay Area is home to some of the most majestic and diverse hiking and walking trails the United States has to offer. From the waterfront vistas of Point Reyes to the soaring heights of Mount Diablo, there’s no denying that the natural environment throughout the Bay Area is as unique as San Francisco itself.
But for those who don’t have the time or means of transportation to get out to the rugged wilderness, there are still plenty of opportunities to become one with nature while sticking within the city’s borders. In fact, the following three routes are accessible from the same neighborhood: the Outer Richmond.
With Ocean Beach, Lands Ends, the Presidio, and Golden Gate Park all accessible by foot, the Outer Richmond is a staycationer’s dream. Read on to learn about the Golden Gate Trail, hiking from Ocean Beach to Lands End, and hiking from Lands end to the Presidio. Come for the hiking, stay for the fun!
1. Golden Gate Park Trail — Always Something New to See
Time: 2hrs 20 min (Though you may want to budget more time for viewing the sights.)
Distance: 7 mi, loop
Highlights: Stow Lake, Fountains at the museums, Murphy Windmill
While there are countless trails and roads throughout Golden Gate Park, the simplicity of the 7 mile Golden Gate Park Trail is too often overlooked. This is a slightly modified version of the traditional route. You can really start anywhere on the loop, but we suggest starting and finishing at Spreckels Lake on 36th Ave and John F Kennedy Drive.
Head northeast up John F Kennedy Dr and you’ll quickly find yourself looping around Stow Lake and cutting through the fountains in front of the California Academy of Sciences and de Young museums. Be sure to spend some time in the incomparable Botanical Gardens if you don’t mind paying $8 for adults (or if you qualify for free entry as an SF resident), before heading back west along Martin Luther King Jr Dr.
Stay on MLK Dr. the whole time, trying your hardest to not wander into the luscious wooded areas. You’ll pass Elk Glen, Mallard, and South Lakes on your way, in addition to thousands of varieties of plants from all around the world (the only native tree to GGP is the Coast Live Oak).
After making your way to the west-most part of the park to the massive Murphy Windmill, you’ll head back northeast up John F Kennedy Dr, passing by the heavily wooded North Lake (home to some of the most devious raccoons around). You can end your tour by waving at some friendly bison in the Bison Paddock or checking out all the ducks and turtles in Spreckels Lake. You’ll be amazed that there is so much to see in Golden Gate Park, and even more amazed that you’re able to fit so much of it in one afternoon!
2. Ocean Beach to Lands End Trail — Lookouts and Instagram-Worthy Attractions
Time: Approx 1.5 hr (with 30 minutes of sight viewing)
Distance: 2.3 mi, one way
Highlights: Ocean Beach, Sutro Baths, Lands End Labyrinth, Legion of Honor
If you’re looking for something that gets you off the pavement and into the trees, your best bet is hiking from Ocean Beach to the Lands End Trail, approximately 2.3 mi, one way. (Much of the following route was inspired by the trail notes first shared by California Through My Lens.)
Believe it or not, San Francisco is a beach town. Ocean Beach is the name given to the 3.5 miles of pristine northern California coastline that touches San Francisco proper. Assuming you’d like to stay near the Richmond district, we suggest starting your hike from the sandy beaches across from the conveniently -placed Beach Chalet (where GGP meets the sea).
When you head north from there, you’ll walk across some of the most frequently visited beach areas in the Bay Area. From bonfire pits to local graffiti, volleyball nets, and a seemingly endless parking lot, this stretch of Ocean Beach was highly developed for recreational use (we wouldn’t suggest swimming throughout most of the year, though). You’ll see many surfers braving the intense swells and freezing temperatures, and probably a couple of puzzled tourists who were expecting all of California’s coastline to hold up to the Hollywood-produced stereotype. Hop back onto the pavement at Stairwell 1 before the hill starts, and make your way on up the road to the famous Cliff House (you’ll see it, we promise).
The original Cliff House was built in 1858 out of $1,500 worth of lumber that was scavenged from a ship that had crashed on the rocks below — or so the story goes. It is currently in its fifth incarnation and is home to two restaurants. It is worthy of a dine-in once in your life, but is particularly spectacular for its views and history.
Just past the Cliff House you should mosey on down a fair amount of steps to what remains of the historical Sutro Baths, one of San Francisco’s weirdest pieces of the past (and we’ve got a lot of them…). Once one of the most sought-after indoor bathing houses, Sutro Baths is just a remnant of what it used to be — but is still a sight to be enjoyed.
Head back up to the parking lot to start your way down the Lands End Trail which shortly brings you to the USS SF Memorial. While continuing down the trail, be sure to check out the remains of the Mile Rock Lighthouse at the entrance of the Bay. The trail eventually splits: head north and you’ll get the chance to head to Land’s End Point to witness one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Be sure to take a couple minutes to walk a bit off the beaten path to the Lands End Rock Labyrinth while you’re heading to the Point. It was built in 2004 and is the perfect blend of nature and meditative art. Before heading back up to the trail, take some steps down to observe the light tide at Mile Rock Beach.
You can climb back up to the trail and continue for another Golden Gate Bridge view at Eagle Point Overlook and some of the lushest greenery the Bay Area has to offer. Alternatively, you can mosey down the other arm and end up at the world-class Legion of Honor museum.
If it’s time to turn around and regain some calories at one of the many delicious local eateries in the Outer Richmond neighborhood, head back to your car. You could continue on to Baker Beach and the Presidio, but it will extend your trip an additional 3 mi and (if you parkedat the beach) you won’t easily be able to walk back to your car. If you want to continue your hike, read on below.
3. Lands End to the Presidio — Ocean, Trees, and History Galore
Time: 2 hr 20 min (with 40 minutes of sight viewing)
Distance: 4.2 mi, one way
Highlights: Baker Beach, Main Post Lawn
Now, if you didn’t want to turn around, the trail will spit you out shortly after the Eagle Point Overlook or the Legion of Honor at 32nd and El Camino Del Mar. Look around you and notice that it doesn’t feel like you’re in Kansas San Francisco anymore. Welcome to the ritzy neighborhood of Sea Cliff, home of the most expensive real estate in San Francisco.
Stay left on El Camino Del Mar to Sea Cliff Ave, where you have the opportunity to head down some steps to the fisherman-filled China Beach. Stay on Sea Cliff and turn left on 25th Ave. At the end of the block you’ll hit the back entrance to Baker Beach — where, by and large, every San Franciscan will be on those rare 85 degree days (again, we don’t suggest swimming here). Please note, the northwest half of the beach is open to nudity.
Toward the northwest end, head up the Sand Ladder to Lincoln Blvd where you can begin the Battery to Bluffs Trail to the seven batteries that protected the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. Alternatively, you can stay on the paved road and walk straight up Lincoln Blvd. If you’re on the trail, make your way back to Lincoln Blvd once you’ve reached the batteries. Turn right on Storey Ave to continue into the Presidio (you can also turn left onto Merchant Rd to head to the Golden Gate Bridge, but we prefer to drive there).
Welcome to San Francisco’s 218-year-old neighborhood and national park, the Presidio. Home to hundreds of quaint red brick homes (read: refurbished military housing). There is a ton of stuff to do throughout the Presidio, but we’ve got a goal in mind. Continue down Storey Ave and you’ll meet back up with Lincoln Blvd — turn right. Continue all the way down Lincoln Ave (please stay on the sidewalk) past the gigantic San Francisco National Cemetery and you’ll soon be in the luscious greenery of the Main Post Lawn.
We hope you packed a blanket because you’re going to want to end your day relaxing in the sunshine and soothing your sore muscles. If you’re lucky enough to be there on a Sunday from April to November, the Main Post Lawn is home to the largest food truck gathering in San Francisco — Off the Grid: Picnic in the Presidio. If not, head on back to the Outer Richmond to replenish your souls at one of its many delicious restaurants.
This post is written on behalf of the Balboa Village Merchants Association, who work to promote the livelihood and prosperity of Balboa Village. Located on Balboa St. between 30th and 42nd Aves, Balboa Village is home to world class cuisine, artistry, and nature. Please visit https://www.balboavillagesf.org/ to learn more.