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7 Amazing Outdoor Experiences In San Francisco, California

Even in the busy metropolis of San Francisco, you can be outdoors and have a fantastic adventure experience around the city and feel like you are in a natural paradise. Exploring San Francisco’s wonderful outside venues combines fun activities like hiking, biking, and even climbing to see those fantastic views and truly unique attractions you’ll discover only in this city. As a San Francisco Bay Area native, I have done all of these fun outdoor experiences and recommend them to everyone visiting the city and looking for outdoor adventure.

Most of these outdoor San Fransicso experiences are easy and can be done at your pace, while a few involve climbing stairs and hiking around some of San Francisco’s hills, which will definitely get you some cardiovascular exercise! For each of these outdoor recommendations, I offer alternative options so those with different accessibility needs can see the same gorgeous views and unique places of interest.

 

Bicyclists on the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate water to the right, Marin Headlands in background.
BICYCLISTS ON THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, GOLDEN GATE WATER TO THE RIGHT, MARIN HEADLANDS IN BACKGROUND
(PHOTO CREDIT: DAN LEWIS / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM)

1. Bike Across The Golden Gate Bridge

Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin is an exhilarating experience that you will enjoy doing. The views are amazing, the sea breeze refreshing, and the workout a fun challenge. You can rent bikes from Lyft Bikes — a bike share site with several stations including one that is close to the Golden Gate Bridge at Chrissy Fields. There is an uphill portion from Chrissy Fields to the top of the bridge area. If this is too challenging, then just walk up the paved path with your bike until you get to the observation area of the bridge, then you can start biking toward the bridge and pedestrian area.

Alternate Option: You can easily walk across the Golden Gate Bridge (1.7 miles) instead of bicycling, with the same experience on two feet and really amazing views of the bay and city skyline. Park at the visitor parking lot to the Golden Gate Bridge observation lookout point and follow the signs to the bridge pedestrian walkway.

 

Golden Gate Bridge from the Land's End Trail.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE FROM THE LAND’S END TRAIL (PHOTO CREDIT: NOEL MORATA)

2. Hike The Land’s End Trail

The hike from Land’s End is quite spectacular and you’ll think you are out in nature — definitely not within city confines as you’re surrounded by lush forests, redwood trees, and other native flora. But surprisingly, you’re hiking the Pacific Coastal Trail, which is a part of Golden Gate Park National Recreation Area. The trail is on dirt and gravel roadway over mostly rolling hills and flat areas with magnificent views of hidden coves, unspoiled beaches, old defense batteries of the park, and toward the end, those Instagrammable photo ops fronting the Golden Gate Bridge from the San Francisco coastline with the bridge in the background.

This is a very popular local walk and many people do walk fast on this trail, so take notice of people wanting to pass by quickly, but take your time to soak up those thrilling views and nature at its best in the city by the bay. Return back toward the Land’s End section or even take an Uber back from the Golden Gate Bridge if you feel on the verge of overextending yourself.

You can do the basic loop or extend your hike all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge if you are up for this fantastic challenge. The trail is approximately 3 miles to the Golden Gate Bridge and back to the Land’s End parking lot.

Alternate Option: Drive to the Land’s End parking lot and check out the visitor center and walk the first segment of the trail, which is relatively flat and easy. Turn back when you have had your fill.

 

Golden Gate Park Arboretum.
GOLDEN GATE PARK ARBORETUM (PHOTO CREDIT: NOEL MORATA)

3. Rent A Bike And Explore Golden Gate Park 

There’s nothing like riding through the Golden Gate Park area on a bicycle at your own pace. The park is all paved and flat so this type of activity suits most active seniors. Again, you can do a bike share through Lyft Bikes — just look up the location closest to the park and rent from there. Popular places to stop and enjoy the local attractions around the park include the ornate Conservatory of Flowers, the Japanese Tea Garden, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, Stowe Lake, and at the end of the park, the colorful Dutch Windmill at Golden Gate Park

If you want to extend your biking experience, continue down Ocean Beach until you hit Lake Merced and follow the signs all the way to the zoo. You can also bike all around Lake Merced if you want to explore the entire lake before you head back to the park area.

Alternate Option: Drive to the Golden Gate Bridge Park concourse and enjoy some of the best parts by foot, including the Japanese Tea Garden, the Botanical Garden, or even some of the wonderful museums at the concourse, including the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences.

Views of Twin Peaks to San Francisco downtown.
VIEWS OF TWIN PEAKS TO SAN FRANCISCO DOWNTOWN (PHOTO CREDIT: NOEL MORATA)

4. Climb The Peaks Of San Francisco For The Vistas

The hills of San Francisco are truly magnificent with stunning views from above. There are many popular places to hike up various hill trails including Bernal Heights, Corona Heights, and the tallest view area at Twin Peaks, where you can hike from the bottom at 17th Street all the way to the top. You can also drive to the top, park, and look out for trails around Twin Peaks that go around the hillsides.

Alternate Option: You can drive up toward Twin Peaks and park at the viewpoint. There is an easy paved walking trail that goes around the parking lot and a longer trail that goes a little further out with different viewpoints of the Mission area and neighborhoods.

Mosaic stair case on 16th Avenue, San Francisco.
MOSAIC STAIR CASE ON 16TH AVENUE, SAN FRANCISCO (PHOTO CREDIT: NOEL MORATA)

5. Ascend Staircases That Are Works Of Mosaic Art With Spectacular Views

Some of San Francisco’s staircases are truly works of art. You’ll discover beautiful gardens, art, sculpture, and even elaborate mosaic art staircases. The staircases of San Francisco are truly unique and one-of-a-kind experiences that will give you a different look at the local neighborhoods, arts and gardens, and some spectacular views of the city. The most famous are the 16th Avenue Stairs, where the entire staircase is made into a dazzling mosaic art piece. The mosaic stairs transition from images of the sunrise to sunset with the stars and constellations appearing in the night sky. There’s also an underwater portion of the stairs with fish, turtles, and other marine life that will amuse you. These stairs are totally worth the visit and climb for the views of the Sunset neighborhood and coastline area.

Alternate Option: You can choose any of San Francisco’s magical stairs, but the best are definitely the 16th Avenue stairs. Drive there and park and you can easily walk to the stairs and try some if you are comfortable and able, then head back toward street level.

 

The San Francisco Bay Ferry.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY FERRY SERVICES FROM OAKLAND AND ALAMEDA, PIER 41, ANGEL ISLAND, AND OYSTER POINT.
(PHOTO CREDIT: SHEILA FITZGERALD / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM)

6. Ferry To Angel Island

A fun adventure and cruise at the same time, the journey to Angel Island will delight you with relatively easy hikes around the lake area. Angel Island was once the Bay Area’s version of Ellis Island, with immigrants coming from Asia and Latin America and having to be processed or live on the island before they were released to the greater Bay Area and surrounding states.

What you’ll find here today are the original buildings that have been converted into living museums to explore. You can also take an easy hike around the island on four main trails that range between 3 and 5 miles in length on mostly flat graveled paths. Beyond the buildings, visitors to the island get to see native flora and wildflowers (in season) along with those fantastic Bay Area views of the Marin coastline with the San Francisco skyline in the background.

Alternate Option: Take the Angel Island Ferry, then do some easier walks for a shorter distance. Pick up the map trailhead from the ferry dock area.

 

Alcatraz island from the ferry view.
ALCATRAZ ISLAND FROM THE FERRY VIEW (PHOTO CREDIT: NOEL MORATA)

7. Ferry To Alcatraz

Another fantastic ferry experience is to Alcatraz Island, which is the famous island penitentiary located in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz Island was a fort, a military prison, and then a maximum-security federal penitentiary. More recently, an all-tribes Indigenous Indians group lived on the island for over 19 months in 1969 to protest for Native American civil rights.

This is a historic and fascinating island with several buildings that the public can visit. Walking around the island is a fun adventure along with checking out the beautiful gardens, historic buildings, and visitor center. You can even bring a nice picnic and enjoy panoramic Bay Area views with the San Francisco skyline in the background.

Alternate Option: Take the ferry to Alcatraz and enjoy the visitor center and some of the historic buildings that are accessible. There is a tram available for those with accessibility needs that will take you around the island to the historic buildings and viewpoints.

This combination of outdoor activities and attractions around San Francisco is geared toward seniors who want to explore and enjoy some active adventures at the same time. We hope that you get to enjoy some of these unique and fun places to visit around the city as you get some exercise and fresh air!

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