It’s been a year since I started living car-free in San Francisco. Left behind are the expenses of gasoline and maintenance, hours spent circling for a parking spot and the inevitable tickets that came when I would forget street-cleaning day.
I’ve felt liberated by having one less possession to track, but on the weekends a claustrophobia sets in. I’m always itching to get out of the 2-mile radius where my home, work and social life are centered. I need to stretch my legs on some scenic trails, reconnect with the natural world and fully enjoy the perks of living in this beautiful region we call home.
Luckily, there’s lots within reach if you’re living in San Francisco without a car. Here are some favorites from KQED staffers:
Spend an afternoon hiking the trails at Lands End and you will completely forget you are in one of America’s most densely populated cities. Without a doubt, this is one of the finest urban hikes in the world. Take in the views of the unspoiled hills of Marin, the grand Pacific and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. If you want a longer hike, wind through the Sea Cliff neighborhood, through Baker Beach, and along the Batteries to Bluffs trail. Eventually you’ll find yourself at the Golden Gate Bridge.
Distance: Out and back the Lands End Trail is about 3.5 miles.
Getting There: Take Muni’s 38-Geary and get off at 48th Avenue and Geary.
A favorite among dog owners, Fort Funston is a quick hike that offers great views of the Pacific from atop 200-foot sandy bluffs. If the conditions are right, you’ll find hang gliders launching themselves over the beach. If you stay in the park, you’ll find only about 2 miles of trail, but make the trek longer by wandering down to Ocean Beach or around Lake Merced to Stern Grove.
Distance: About 2 miles
Getting There: Take Muni’s 5-Fulton west to La Playa, then transfer to go south on the 18-Sloat and get off at John Muir Drive.
Take a scenic ferry ride to the Bay’s largest island, which sits between San Francisco and Marin. The park offers 12 miles of trails, and most are quite flat and easy. A 5-mile fire road circles the island, offering vantage points of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco skyline and Marin Headlands, even on a foggy day. Be sure to take time for the Northridge Trail, which will lead you to Mount Livermore, the island’s peak. Dogs aren’t allowed on Angel Island, so leave Rover at home.
Distance: 12 miles total, broken up over a number of trails. View the trail map.
Getting There: Take a Blue & Gold Fleet ferry from the Ferry Building or Pier 41. $17 covers the ferry ride and access to the park.
If you’re ready for a workout, take the ferry over to Sausalito for a stairway hike that will get your quads burning. Along the way, you’ll find some enviable homes and gardens, not to mention gorgeous Bay views. There are two ways up, including the Excelsior route and the North Street route. (See a map of both.) For the Excelsior route, start your journey by heading up Excelsior Lane, which is just a few steps away from the Sausalito Ferry Terminal. Take a left on San Carlos Avenue, and look for Cooper Lane on your right, where you’ll find the next staircase. You can stop at the top and head back down to explore Sausalito’s other hidden staircases (El Monte Steps, Reade Lane, North Street Steps) or if you’re looking for more, it’s a 20-minute walk to the Marin Headlands where you can pick up the SCA Trail or Rodeo Valley Trail.
Distance: Steps only is about a 3.5-mile loop.
Getting There: Take a Golden Gate or Blue & Gold ferry from San Francisco to Sausalito. Once you get off the boat, take a left on Bridgeway and look for a park and the staircase on your right.
On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, Muni runs the 76X, which connects downtown San Francisco to the Marin Headlands. For normal bus fare, you can avoid the Golden Gate Bridge toll and the often-treacherous parking situation. (Heck, even if you have a car this might be a better option!) Explore the web of trails that make up this beloved park, and map a route to suit your fitness level. Whether you spend 20 minutes on the trail, or pack food for a daylong adventure, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. Dogs are permitted on some trails.
Distance: Varies. View the trail map.
Getting There: Hop on the 76X from downtown San Francisco. Get off anywhere you want to pick up a trail, though many hikers start from the Visitor Center or the Fort Cronkhite Parking Lot.
Redwood Park is just a few miles from downtown Oakland, and a walk or bike ride can take you back in time to before the Gold Rush. The park was once the site of an extensive logging operation that supplied building materials for the Bay Area. Now there are dense groves of thriving second-growth redwoods tucked along the creeks, mixed with oak and bay trees. Sticky monkey flower alternates with sagebrush on open slopes. The 7.9-mile French Trail loop is a single-track favorite among hikers, though there are many easy ways to shorten the hike. If you’re looking for longer, you could easily plan a route that would take you 20+ miles. Don’t miss the shady fish ladder near the Redwood Park entrance, where rainbow trout were first identified.
Distance: Up to 25 miles. View the trail map.
Getting There: From the Fruitvale BART Station take AC Transit #39 or #339. Get off at the Richard C. Trudeau Conference Center. Head up the Dunn Trail into the park.
If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure beyond hiking, Tilden Park offers plenty of other recreational options. Inside the park you’ll find a botanical garden, golf course, merry-go-round, carousel, swimming lake and steam train. Trails near these attractions tend be more crowded, and dogs are permitted. If you’re looking for something more remote, find the trails in Tilden’s Nature Area. Wildcat Creek Trail will carry you into Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, another East Bay park worth exploring.
Distance: Varies. View the trail map.
Getting There: On weekends and holidays, take AC Transit’s 67-Spruce from the Berkeley BART Station into the park at Canon Drive, along Central Park Drive and Wildcat Canyon Road, and exit the park at Shasta Road. On weekdays the 67 operates only to the Canon Drive and Shasta Road entrances.