With one of the top park systems in the world, three sides lined with water and a dramatic hilly topography, the compact city of San Francisco offers a wide range of active pursuits within it's seven mile by seven mile borders. Here is our list of the top outdoor activities and destinations in the city of San Francisco, most of them free or low cost. Try them out for yourself and discover why San Franciscans are some of the fittest people in America.
The San Francisco waterfront is a continuous stretch of parks and protected areas, allowing you to ride all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge without having to dodge traffic and check out a number of scenic attractions along the way. After crossing the bridge, which also provides bicyclists with their own lane, you have the option of continuing on into rugged Marin County, which offers riders a slew of trails, some picturesque bay-side towns and ferries back to the San Francisco waterfront.
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San Francisco's best view awaits those who brave the double peaked mountain that is the city's second highest point and lies very near it's geographical center. Much of the hike winds through pretty Victorian neighborhoods and utilizes garden lined stairways, although the last stretch leads through open hillside along the peaks upper slopes. Bring a jacket and a scarf along no matter how sunny the weather is down below as the wind and the fog often lie in wait at higher elevations.
Whether you want to surf or hang-glide at Ocean Beach or just lay out butt naked at Baker Beach, San Francisco's urban beaches have got you covered. Keep in mind that Northern California is very different than Southern California and our beaches are often grey, windswept and downright cold, even when it is sunny in downtown. This does not deter the die-hard locals however, who see San Francisco's beaches more as rugged landscapes made for long walks than suntan-sticky social scenes to show off the latest swimwear fashions.
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The best place in the city to completely escape the city altogether, Land's End is San Francisco's jagged northwest corner, a dramatically rugged area of cliffs, offshore standing rocks and ancient trees. Wildlife viewing, exquisite vistas out over the ocean and a pulse quickening hike can all be had here. The trip is lengthened by possible side jaunts off to hidden beaches or Lincoln Park, home of the Palace of the Legion of Honor.
Golden Gate Bridge and through historic features like the national cemetery. Be sure to visit the Lobos Creek Valley, which contains the last free flowing stream in the city of San Francisco and is home to a high number of rare and endangered plants and flowers.
San Francisco's premier public space offers over 1,000 acres of greenery to explore, including the Botanical Gardens and the Japanese Tea Gardens. There are trails all over the park, several hills to climb, special garden monuments to explore and even forests to wander through. Golden Gate Park is also made for exploring on two wheels, and there are several bicycle rental agencies located in the adjacent Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to accommodate you.
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Cove beaches, miles of hiking trails and even environmental camping awaits those who visit the largest island in the San Francisco Bay. Angel Island, which is only reachable by ferry or private vessel, also houses a charming waterfront restaurant, a historic U.S. immigration center and a central peak with the best panoramic views of the Bay Area available.
For those who prefer to enjoy the great outdoors from the comfort of a nice sheet or blanket, preferably with a nibble in hand and perhaps even a bit of wine, picnicking may be the best way to enjoy San Francisco's scenery. Here is my list of the top picnic spots in the city by the bay, maybe I will see you there!