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Top 10 Places Running Trails in San Francisco

Map of top 10 places to run in San Francisco.

Running up and down San Francisco’s hills is an excellent workout, but the views and detour trips throughout the city are just as incredible! Check out these top 10 places to run in San Francisco.

1. Crissy Field

View of Golden Gate Bridge at Crissy Field.

Crissy Field is a favorite among local runners, and it’s a great route for those who want to enjoy gorgeous views of the bay and the famous Golden Gate Bridge while running. The area also features paved running trails with separate lanes for bikers and off-leash dog parks nearby. One of the more established running routes in this location starts at Fort Mason and heads west along the bay, past Fort Point, and to the bottom of the Golden Gate Bridge. At the end of the route, you’ll come face-to-face with a pair of concrete hands that many runners give a solid high-five to celebrate the completion of their run. However, if you want to run further, you can also continue across the Golden Gate Bridge! Just be prepared for lots of foot traffic and tourists.

Tips: There are many great activities to check out in the area either before or after your workout. Whether you pack a picnic for lunch, fly a kite over one of the grassy green areas, or visit the Gulf of Farallones Visitors Center, this area is an exciting place to be.

2. Angel Island

Aerial view of Angel Island in California.

Angel Island is in the middle of the bay, offering stunning views of the water, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the cityscape. Although it has a military history, the island is now a state park and provides a beautiful, hilly landscape for running that’s free from all vehicle traffic. (The only way to get to the island is by taking a ferry.) Angel Island is home to plenty of hiking and biking trails, but if you want to run the entire perimeter of the island, all you have to do is follow the scenic paved trail around its circumference. The inner parts of the island are much more wooded.

Tips: You can also camp overnight at Angel Island or enjoy some of the area’s other day-use activities, like fishing, swimming, or checking out the museum exhibits and programs.

3. The Presidio

View of The Presidio park and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Presidio is a national park featuring a 24-mile network of trails for running or walking, all of which are very well-marked. In addition to exploring the established Presidio Trails, you can create your own running routes by incorporating some nearby attractions. For instance, the Golden Gate Bridge, Crissy Field, National Museum, Walt Disney Family Museum, and Mountain Lake are just some nearby locations you can build into your running route. There are also plenty of fun and free things to do before or after your run, including art hikes, beach areas, picnics in the park, eateries, and more.

Tips: In 2020, The Presidio Trust implemented a program called Presidio Slow Streets. As a result, certain roadways prohibit all vehicle access or limit it to residents, deliveries, and emergency vehicles. So you can also enjoy traffic-free running routes in The Presidio! Here is a map of all the Presidio Slow Streets.

4. Sea Cliff Neighborhood

View of the sea cliff in the Sea Cliff Neighborhood.

If you want a break from the seaside routes and parks of San Francisco, consider taking a run through the beautiful Sea Cliff neighborhood, one of the city’s most elite residential areas in the northwest corner of San Francisco. Nestled between the Sutro District of Golden Gate National Recreation Area and The Presidio, this neighborhood features rows of stunning mansions and scenic ocean views. It’s also tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city, making it a great place to explore on foot. About 1.5 miles of Lake Street between Sea Cliff and Presidio Heights is also a Slow Street, meaning it’s only open to bicyclists, runners, and walkers, so you can run on the street while taking in the views. You can easily create your own running route in Sea Cliff as you wander the streets and enjoy the salty breeze from the ocean.

Tips: Once you’re done running, head to the nearby China Beach, a small cove in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area off Sea Cliff Avenue and El Camino Del Mar. It’s a nice spot to dip in the water and cool off.

5. Golden Gate Park

Aerial view of Golden Gate Park.

Golden Gate Park is a 1,017-acre urban park with several winding dirt paths that meander throughout the park. It’s a very family-friendly and safe place to run in San Francisco, and you’ll be joined by plenty of other runners, walkers, and bicyclists while you explore the area. The park is well-shaded by trees, making for a semi-rugged jaunt through nature. Surprisingly, small herds of bison also call the park home! Just head to a fenced-in region at the park’s west end to catch a glimpse of them on your run. Don’t forget to check out the park’s other well-known attractions, including the California Academy of Sciences, Conservatory of Flowers, de Young Museum, Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco Botanical Garden, and more.

Tips: Golden Gate Park is also home to several restaurants and eateries where you can refuel with a snack, meal, or drink after your run.

6. The Embarcadero

View of The Embarcadero from the ocean with  speed boat and skyline in the background.

The Embarcadero is a boulevard that runs along the San Francisco waterfront, from the Bay Bridge to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a popular place for running and walking among the locals and features several iconic restaurants, shops, and attractions, including the Ferry Building, the local farmer’s market, The Exploratorium, Aquarium of the Bay, and much more. The views of the Bay Bridge from The Embarcadero are stunning, and you’ll also be able to see the Golden Gate Bridge very well from this vantage point. The route is paved and flat, too, making it a very easy route for runners of all experience levels.

Tips: Although The Embarcadero has heavy foot traffic, it features more than four miles of wide walkways, giving you plenty of space to navigate the crowds while you run.

7. Pacific Heights

View of the street in Pacific Heights.

Pacific Heights is a fabulous neighborhood for running, and it’s home to the largest surviving collection of Victorian homes. Many runners begin their route at the Lyon Street Steps, which run north and south along Lyon Street. The stairs are steep, so running them alone is a great workout, but it’s well worth it to venture out and run up and down the beautiful streets of the Pacific Heights neighborhood. There are great views of Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the Bay along this route, and you can also run through the pleasant 12-acre Alta Plaza Park, at the top of the western edge of Pacific Heights.

Tips: You can also combine your run through Pacific Heights with a running tour of the nearby Nob Hill neighborhood, a busy but popular neighborhood in the center of the city.

8. Ocean Beach

View of Ocean Beach at dusk.

At the end of Golden Gate Park, you’ll reach Ocean Beach, where you can run along the beach or on the pavement. The beach stretches from Sutro Heights to the San Francisco Zoo for about 2.5 miles of perfect, oceanside running. Unlike some other beaches, Ocean Beach isn’t typically too busy, and, depending on what time of day you run, you might even catch a beautiful sunrise or sunset over the water. The wind coming off the Pacific Ocean keeps this area significantly cooler than the city’s eastern side. Even in the summer, it might only be in the 50s and 60s, so wear extra layers if you plan to run here!

Tips: Normally, we’d recommend going for a swim after your run, but Ocean Beach is known for its powerful and dangerous rip currents. If you’re not a strong swimmer, it’s probably best to admire the ocean from the sand.

9. Land’s End Trail

Aerial view of the Lands Ends Trail next to the ocean.

Looking for another scenic run along the Pacific Ocean? This dirt trail runs through a wooded part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and spans about 3 miles. The Land’s End Trail is a well-known running route that’s easy for runners of all experience levels. Although it passes through a rugged nature area, it’s not technical, so even first-time trail runners will enjoy the adventure without it being overly challenging. There are also several detours worth exploring along the way, including The Labyrinth, a piece of public art created by artist Eduardo Aguilera. It’s about 0.8 miles off the main trail toward Mile Rock Beach, where old sunken shipwrecks are visible at low tide. Another popular detour is the concrete Sutro Baths ruins, built in 1894. The ruins used to be an old public saltwater swimming pool complex.

Tips: There are multiple trails in this area besides the main route, so you can explore and customize your run depending on how long you want to exercise and which detours you want to make.

10. Huntington Park

View of Huntington Park.

Huntington Park is a small, 1.3-acre park in the Nob Hill neighborhood. It’s a family-friendly and pet-friendly park with a playground that offers a relaxed and quiet run around its perimeter. The climb up the hill to the park is very steep, which is a workout in itself, but the views of the gorgeous surrounding architecture are well worth the trek to the top! The park is surrounded by the stunning Grace Cathedral, the stately Fairmont Hotel, and the elegant InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco, so you’ll enjoy great views of all these magnificent buildings while you run. The cable car also runs along California Street, which you’ll be able to spot from the park.

Tips: For a longer run, you may also want to venture out into the areas surrounding Huntington Park after you run its perimeter. The streets are full of great hills, restaurants, a few specialty shops, and fantastic city views.

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References:

  1. https://www.parksconservancy.org/parks/crissy-field 
  2. https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=468
  3. https://www.presidio.gov/
  4. https://greatruns.com/san-francisco-residential-neighborhoods-for-running/
  5. https://goldengatepark.com/category/attractions
  6. https://bartable.bart.gov/featured/exploring-san-franciscos-embarcadero-0
  7. https://www.parksconservancy.org/parks/ocean-beach
  8. https://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/landsend.htm
  9. https://www.sfparksalliance.org/our-parks/parks/huntington-park
  10. https://sfrecpark.org/facilities/facility/details/collisphuntingtonpark-160 

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