San Francisco on Foot: The Best Scenic Routes for Exploring the City by the Bay

Don’t let the hills of San Francisco intimidate you — the city is home to plenty of beautiful routes that offer great views without a steep grade.

Believe it or not, the best long run I’ve ever done was in San Francisco. I was in town for the weekend, and even though I was on vacation, my marathon training was not. I plotted out a 15-mile route, built up my courage and set out on a lovely, temperate morning. The fog had rolled out, the sun was shining and I was treated to spectacular views, from the Golden Gate Bridge towering over Crissy Field to the sparkling Pacific Ocean off Baker Beach.

Whether you’re looking for a challenging workout or a scenic stroll to stretch your legs, San Francisco boasts plenty of excellent opportunities to get outside and experience the beauty of the City by the Bay. Here are five of my favorite routes for exploration:

San Francisco scenic routesCrissy Field to Fort Point National Historic Site

You won’t need to work for the breathtaking views on this easy route. Start at the Crissy Field Center and head past Crissy Field Marsh. The iconic beach on your right offers a stunning perspective on the Golden Gate Bridge, and you can take a short detour out on Torpedo Wharf for a great photo opportunity on the water. Once you reach the end of the beach, you’ll follow Marine Drive to its dead end at Fort Point. Cap off your route by giving a high five to the hand-shape cutouts attached to the fence at the end of the point — a favorite turnaround spot for runners at the base of the bridge.

San Francisco scenic routesLands End Lookout to Ocean Beach

To feel like you’ve left the city without leaving San Francisco, start at Lands End. The coastal park features wheelchair-accessible trails, the ruins of the Sutro Baths, views of the Golden Gate Bridge, shipwrecks washed up on shore and the historic Cliff House. For a scenic walk, begin at the lookout and make your way to Great Highway. Follow the mostly flat walking and running path adjacent to the road out of the park and along the lengthy stretch of Ocean Beach. Along the way, enjoy sweeping views of the Pacific that go on for miles.

Golden Gate Bridge

The iconic bridge isn’t just for driving over: It also makes for a great walk or an out-and-back run on the pedestrian path. Start your journey at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center in the Presidio (which boasts a stellar set of hiking trails itself). Then walk across the bridge and make your way over the San Francisco Bay to the Marin Headlands for spectacular views and fantastic photo opportunities. When you reach the other side, you can turn back around or spend some time exploring the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and taking in Marin’s wild beauty.

The Embarcadero

I like to start San Francisco runs where Market Street meets the Embarcadero. You’re guaranteed iconic views, stretching from the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf to Alcatraz. Plus, there’s no car traffic and the route is completely flat — a rarity in this hilly city. My usual turnaround spot is Ghirardelli Square. Head back to the Ferry Building Marketplace to treat yourself to something delicious when you’re done, or keep going to AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.

San Francisco scenic routesGolden Gate Park

You’ll never run out of sights to keep you occupied on the Golden Gate Park loop. It’s easy to craft your own route from the myriad paths and trails; the main loop runs about six miles and goes past lakes, a beach, museums, baseball fields, a Japanese tea garden, the stunning Strybing Arboretum and a buffalo paddock. It’s a great place for a leisurely stroll as you enjoy everything this sizable park has to offer.

Where to Stay:

Marriott Vacation Club Pulse®, San Francisco