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:

Find great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay and Marin from the Lands End trail. (Ingrid Taylar/Flickr)
Find great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Pacific Ocean and Marin from the Lands End trail. (Ingrid Taylar/Flickr)

Lands End

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.

The trails at Fort Funston are a favorite among dog owners. (Miroslav Zdrale/Flickr)
The trails at Fort Funston are a favorite among dog owners. (Miroslav Zdrale/Flickr)

Fort Funston

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.

Getting to Angel Island requires some advanced planning. But once you're there, you'll find miles of trails to explore. (Bill Couch/Flickr)
Getting to Angel Island requires some advance planning. But once you’re there, you’ll find miles of trails to explore. (Bill Couch/Flickr)

Angel Island

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.

The start of the Excelsior stairs are a close walk from the Ferry terminal. (ravissant74/Flickr)
The start of the Excelsior stairs is a close walk from the ferry terminal. (ravissant74/Flickr)

Sausalito’s Hidden Stairways to Marin

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.

The Coastal Trail is among the most popular trails in the park. (David Berry/Flickr)
The Coastal Trail is among the most popular trails in the park. (David Berry/Flickr)

Fort Cronkhite/Marin Headlands

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.

Hop from one trail to another, and you can easily fill a day. (Miguel Vieira/Flickr)
Hop from one trail to another, and you can easily fill a day. (Miguel Vieira/Flickr)

Redwood Regional Park

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.

Like many of the hikes on our list, Tilden Park also offers some stellar views. (Jenn Clark/Flickr)
Like many of the hikes on our list, Tilden Park also offers some stellar views. (Jenn Clark/Flickr)

Tilden 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.

  • Anthony R

    My wife and I are car free and avid hikers. We often take Golden Gate transit Marin Transit and the Marin Headlands 76 Muni bus to get to the trailhead. We’ve even done overnights in the Point Reyes backcountry by using Golden Gate transit and the Marin Transit West Marin Stage. Another favorite getaway is to bus to Mill Valley (The Golden Gate Bus 4) and hike the Dipsea trail to Stinson Beach where we get a room for the night, and bus back on the West Marin Stage in the morning. I find that even though it often takes longer, a hiking trip without a car is immensely more relaxing and satisfying than one that involves driving, traffic and city parking when you get home. Our local transit agencies should work to promote more of this use of public transit.

  • http://www.sfist.com/ grant

    Thanks for putting together a great list that is also very doable for bay area residents. I have been to most of these trails. Living in SF, lands end and fort funston are easy to get to; marin headland’s Rodeo Valley Trail is pure gold, especially you are looking for quiet getaway with ever changing pacific view (http://bit.ly/1oqqKUI). Angel island is my next goal as it certainly sounds amazing here (http://bit.ly/1oqqRjd). As to redwood regional park: I love it as it’s a mini version of muir woods but its easier to get to (in my humble opinion).

  • anysteph

    Great list! I love all of these, especially Sausalito’s Hidden Steps. It’s a tourist house guest favorite. And +1 to Anthony R.’s suggestion of the Marin Stage. It stops at various trail heads, and Pantoll Station is a nice one: it’s a starting point for the Steep Ravine trail, or the Matt Davis trail down to Stinson. You can also take the Marin Stage into Stinson Beach, hike up out of there on Matt Davis, break at Pantoll (or, if that first leg was too much elevation gain, take the Marin Stage back to the Marin Transit Center), and then do the easy leg of Steep Ravine for your return to Stinson Beach. The Marin Stage is also nice for doing things like taking it to Bolinas, hiking from Bolinas to Stinson Beach, and then taking the return Stage, etc. So many options!

    Another of my favorites is using either the Vallejo ferry or BART to El Cerrito del Norte and hopping on the 29-Vine bus that takes you all the way through Napa and ends in Calistoga. There is a ton of great hiking all over that area (in the Palisades, Mt. St. Helena, the Bale Grist Mill) and all accessible via transit.

  • Bern Smith

    And 3 of your picks (Tilden, Redwood, Marin Headlands) host the Bay Area Ridge Trail (www.ridgetrail.org) – a hiking/cycling/equestrian trail to circle the whole Bay Area along the ridgelines…350 miles open so far, 200 miles to go…

  • Mordicai Jones

    AC Transit 29 to Point Pinole. 89 near Lake Chabot. 99 near Garin. 210/217 to Mission Peak. 232 not far from Ardenwood and Coyote Hills. 89 Oyster Bay, San Leandro Shoreline. 98 MLK shoreline. 20 Crown Memorial Beach. 25 Point Isabel.

  • rayo

    SF people often know so little about the outdoors. Thin sf-centric article for those accustomed to sidewalks.

Author

Olivia Allen-Price

Olivia Allen-Price is an interactive and engagement producer at KQED News. She has previously worked at The Baltimore Sun and The Virginian-Pilot. Talk to her about running, curly hair and playing the ukulele. Reach her @oallenprice or by email at ohubertallen@kqed.org.

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