Even in the bustling metropolis of San Francisco, you can get outside and have an amazing adventure around the city and feel like you’re in a natural paradise. Exploring the beautiful outdoors of San Francisco combines fun activities like hiking, biking, and even rock climbing to see those amazing views and truly unique attractions that you’ll only discover in this city. As a San Francisco Bay Area native, I’ve done all of these fun outdoor experiences and recommend them to anyone visiting the city looking for outdoor adventures.
Most of these outdoor experiences in San Francisco are easy and can be done at your own pace, while some involve climbing stairs and hiking around some of San Francisco’s hills, which will definitely get you in some cardio! For each of these outdoor recommendations, I offer alternative options so those with different accessibility needs can see the same magnificent views and unique sights.
Cyclists on the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Water on the right, Marin Headlands in the background
(Image credit: Dan Lewis / Shutterstock.com)
1. Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge
Riding a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin is an exhilarating experience that you will enjoy. The view is amazing, the sea breeze is refreshing and the workout is a fun challenge. You can rent bikes from Lyft Bikes — a bike rental spot with multiple locations, including one near the Golden Gate Bridge in Chrissy Fields. There is an uphill section from Chrissy Fields to the top of the bridge area. If that’s too strenuous for you, just walk your bike up the paved path until you get to the viewpoint of the bridge, then you can bike towards the bridge and pedestrian street.
Alternate options: You can easily cross the Golden Gate Bridge (1.7 miles) on foot instead of riding a bike, with the same two-legged experience and truly breathtaking views of the bay and city skyline. Park in the visitor parking lot at the Golden Gate Bridge Viewpoint and follow the signs to the bridge’s pedestrian walkway.
Golden Gate Bridge from Land’s End Trail (Photo: Noel Morata)
2. Hike the Land’s End Trail
The walk from Land’s End is quite spectacular and will have you feeling like you are in nature – definitely not within the city limits as you are surrounded by lush forests, redwoods and other native flora. But surprisingly, you’re hiking the Pacific Coastal Trail, which is part of the Golden Gate Park National Recreation Area. The trail follows dirt and gravel roads over mostly rolling hills and flat areas with gorgeous views of hidden coves, pristine beaches, the park’s old defense batteries and, towards the end, those Instagrammable photo ops in front of the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco’s shoreline with the bridge in the background .
This is a very popular local walk and many people briskly walk this trail so be aware of people rushing by but take the time to enjoy these exciting views and nature in the City by the Bay at its best to enjoy. Head back toward Land’s End, or even take an Uber back from the Golden Gate Bridge if you feel you’re overdoing yourself.
You can do the easy loop or extend your hike up to the Golden Gate Bridge if you’re up for this awesome 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 Land’s End car park, see the visitor center and walk the first section of the trail, which is relatively flat and easy. Turn back when you’re full.
Arboretum in Golden Gate Park (Photo: Noel Morata)
3. Rent a bike and explore Golden Gate Park
There’s nothing quite like riding a bike through Golden Gate Park at your own pace. The park is completely paved and flat, making this type of activity suitable for most active seniors. Again, you can share a bike through Lyft Bikes — just search for the location closest to the park and rent it there. Popular places to stop and enjoy the local attractions surrounding 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 in Golden Gate Park.
If you want to extend your cycling experience, continue down Ocean Beach until you reach Lake Merced and follow the signs to the zoo. You can also bike around Lake Merced if you want to explore the entire lake before returning to the park area.
Alternate option: Drive to the Golden Gate Bridge Park concourse and enjoy some of the best parts on foot, including the Japanese Tea Garden, the Botanical Gardens, or even some of the wonderful museums within the concourse, including the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences.
View of downtown San Francisco from Twin Peaks (Photo: Noel Morata)
4. Climb the San Francisco peaks for the views
The hills of San Francisco are truly magnificent and offer amazing views from the top. There are many popular places to hike up various hill trails including Bernal Heights, Corona Heights and the highest lookout area at Twin Peaks where you can hike from the bottom of 17th Street all the way to the top. You can also drive up, park and look for trails around Twin Peaks that loop around the slopes.
Alternate option: You can drive towards Twin Peaks and park at the lookout. There is an easy paved trail that goes around the parking lot and a longer trail that goes a little further out and offers various vantage points of the mission area and the neighborhood.
Mosaic Staircase on 16th Avenue, San Francisco (Photo: Noel Morata)
5. Climb stairs that are works of mosaic art with spectacular views
Some of the staircases in San Francisco are true works of art. You will discover beautiful gardens, artworks, sculptures and even intricate staircases with mosaic art. The Stairs of San Francisco are truly unique and one-of-a-kind experiences that give you a different perspective of the local neighborhoods, art and gardens, and some spectacular views of the city. The most famous are the 16th Avenue Stairs, where the entire stairway is transformed into a dazzling work of mosaic art. The mosaic staircase alternates from sunrise to sunset images with the stars and constellations appearing in the night sky. There is also an underwater portion of the stairs with fish, turtles and other marine life that will keep you amused. These stairs are definitely worth visiting and climbing them to enjoy the views of the Sunset district and the coastal area.
Alternate option: You can choose any of the magic stairs of San Francisco, but the best ones are definitely the 16th Avenue stairs. Drive there and park and you can easily walk up to the stairs and try a few if you feel comfortable and able, then head back towards street level.
San Francisco Bay ferry services from Oakland and Alameda, Pier 41, Angel Island and Oyster Point.
(Image credit: Sheila Fitzgerald / Shutterstock.com)
6. Ferry to Angel Island
A fun adventure and cruise at the same time, the trip 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 from Asia and Latin America having to process or live on the island before being released to the greater Bay Area and surrounding states.
What you find here today are the original buildings converted into living museums to explore. You can also take an easy hike around the island on four main trails ranging from 3 to 5 miles in length, mostly on flat gravel paths. Beyond the buildings, visitors to the island can see native flora and wildflowers (in season) as well as amazing Bay Area views of the Marin coast with the San Francisco skyline in the background.
Alternate option: Catch the Angel Island Ferry and then take some easier walks for a shorter route. Get the Map Trailhead from the Ferry Dock area.
Alcatraz Island from the ferry (Photo: Noel Morata)
7. Ferry to Alcatraz
Another fantastic ferry experience is Alcatraz Island, the famous island prison in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz Island was a fort, a military prison, and then a maximum-security federal prison. More recently, in 1969, a group of Native Americans from all tribes lived on the island for over 19 months to protest for Native American civil rights.
This is a historical and fascinating island with several buildings open to the public to visit. Strolling around the island is a fun adventure along with touring the beautiful gardens, historic buildings and visitor center. You can even bring a nice picnic and enjoy the panoramic view of the Bay Area with the San Francisco skyline in the background.
Alternate options: Take the ferry to Alcatraz and enjoy the visitor center and some of the historic buildings that are accessible. A tram is available for people with reduced mobility to take you around the island to the historic buildings and viewpoints.
This combination of outdoor activities and attractions around San Francisco caters to seniors who want to explore and enjoy some active adventures at the same time. We hope you can enjoy some of these unique and fun spots in town while getting some exercise and fresh air!
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