Officially one of the best cities in the U.S. to hike in, crisp air, green landscapes and beautiful wildflowers usually come to mind for hiking in the Bay Area. But winding dirt paths, painted stairs and ocean views can also be a part of your hike, too! Not your average trail, the San Francisco Crosstown Trail offers the perfect mix of terrain to offer a refreshing look at the city and we’ve got all the details on how to conquer it!
Created from the efforts of local volunteers, the 17-mile trail connecting San Francisco from the southeast to the northwest runs through hidden trails, public parks, shopping corridors, tiled stairways, and community gardens along the way. You can walk it, run it, or bike it (in either direction!). Added Bonus: You can do the whole thing in one day or try a section or two. Don’t forget your water bottle and camera. Cool sights are endless.
Plan Your Hike
The trail has five sections to choose from. While there is no signage on the trail there are several mapping options available to guide your way. See them here.
Section 1: Candlestick Point, Visitacion Valley, McLaren Park (5.2 miles)
The trail starts (or ends) at the shore of Candlestick Park State Recreation Area, not far from the former home of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers. The trail then leads you through the Visitacion Valley Greenway, a string of community parks and gardens dubbed part outdoor classroom, part neighborhood hub. Finally, you’ll take a walk through McLaren Park, the third largest park in the city with great cityscape views.
Section 2: Glen Park Greenway, Glen Canyon Park, Laguna Honda Trail (3 miles)
This is where hidden gems are discovered. This section of the trail hosts open green spaces and trails, all hiding in the middle of the city. Trek through 60 acres of restored natural habitat at Glen Canyon Park and wind through the Laguna Honda Community Trail System. The view of Sutro Tower peeking through the tall eucalyptus trees is your sign that you’re still in San Francisco.
Section 3: Golden Gate Heights Park, Grandview Park, Tiled Stairways (2.1 miles)
Enter the stair section of the adventure. The nice thing about stairs is that they lead to elevation and elevation leads to heighted views! While walking down the 163-step staircase that boasts sweeping sights of Golden Gate Heights’ Grandview Park, don’t forget to look back at the colorful mosaic of art. Fun Fact: The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps project started in 2003 as a way to connect the community through a project to beautify the neighborhood. Nothing like a history lesson along the way.
Section 4: Stow Lake, Rose Garden, Park Presidio Boulevard (2.2 miles)
Golden Gate Park in all its beauty shines in Section 4 of the trail that takes you through the east end of the park. After wrapping around Stow Lake, you’ll be taken to the park’s Rose Garden, which boasts more than 60 rose beds maintained by local volunteers. After exiting the park, you’ll be led to Park Presidio Greenway, a tree-lined trail heading north to the Presidio.
Section 5: Presidio, Sea Cliff, Lands End (3.8 miles)
On the last leg of the trail, you’ll veer west and head to the coast. In this section, you’ll take a tour of the Presidio’s sand dunes along a boardwalk trail, stroll a stretch of Baker Beach, and catch a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge before the final stretch of pathway along the rocky cliffs above the mouth of the Bay. Wrap up your adventure by looking out over the Pacific, at the northernmost point of the San Francisco Crosstown Trail.
The nice thing about hiking is that the whole family can enjoy the great outdoors. With the mix of trail features and scenery (there's even a playground or two) along the Crosstown Trail, there's truly a way for all ages to engage with nature and soak in its beauty. Whether you're an expert hiker or a beginner, here's a few tips to prepare for your next hiking adventure:
- Plan ahead and check the weather
- Pack snacks and water
- Wear sturdy and comfortable shoes to prevent injury
- Hike with a friend of family member
- Don't walk off-trail (plan you're route and stick to it!)
- Never feed or touch wildlife
- Bring a camera (you don't want to miss anything!)
The California Department of Parks and Recreation is also a great source of information as you plan your next outdoor adventure. Happy Hiking!