With the huge Golden Gate Park, Dolores Park, and the Presidio, it’s easy to indulge in a green escape right in the middle of your urban San Francisco spelunking. Museums, gardens, trails, and prime-people watching await.
Golden Gate Park
The largest park in San Francisco is Golden Gate Park (main entrance at Stanyan St. and Fell St., McLaren Lodge Visitors Center at John F. Kennedy Dr., 415/831-2700). In addition to housing popular sights like the Academy of Sciences, the de Young, and the Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s unofficial playground. There are three botanical gardens, a children’s playground (Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. and Bowling Green Dr.), tennis courts, and a golf course. Stow Lake offers paddleboats for rent (415/386-2531, 10am-5pm Mon.-Thurs., 10am-6pm Fri.-Sun., $20-34 per hour), and the park even has its own bison paddock. Weekends, find the park filled with locals inline skating, biking, hiking, and even Lindy Hopping. John F. Kennedy Drive east of Transverse Drive is closed to motorists every Saturday from April through September and Sunday year-round for pedestrian-friendly fun.
The 0.6-mile (one-way) Lover’s Lane once served soldiers stationed at the Presidio who beat down the path into the city proper to visit their sweethearts.The park offers plenty of chances to go off-roading, with scores of paved and unpaved trails zigzagging through the park. The longest is the Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach Hike (trailhead at Fell St. and Baker St.), which runs from the Golden Gate Park panhandle all the way to the ocean, then down Ocean Beach to the San Francisco Zoo.
Presidio of San Francisco
Crissy Field (Marina Blvd. and Baker St., 415/561-4700), with its beaches, restored wetlands, and wide promenade, is the playground of the Presidio (415/561-4323, free). It’s part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is dedicated to environmental education. At the Crissy Field Center (1199 E. Beach, 415/561-7690, 9am-5pm daily), you’ll find a list of classes, seminars, and fun hands-on activities for all ages. Many of these include walks out into the marsh and the Presidio.
The rest of the Presidio offers the biggest and most diverse network of hiking trails in the city. (For trail descriptions, check out www.presidio.gov.) For an easy nature walk, try the Lobos Creek Valley Trail (Lincoln St. at Bowley St.). Less than a mile long (0.8 mile one-way), this flat boardwalk trail is wheelchair-accessible and shows off the beginning successes of the ecological restoration of the Presidio. Another easy Presidio hike goes way back into the region’s history. The 0.6-mile (one-way) Lover’s Lane (Funston Ave. and Presidio Blvd.) once served soldiers stationed at the Presidio who beat down the path into the city proper to visit their sweethearts. Today you’ll have a peaceful tree-shaded walk on a flat semipaved path that passes the former homes of officers, crosses El Polin Creek, and ends at the Presidio Gate.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail (415/561-2595) runs more than 325 miles around the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the prettiest San Francisco sections runs through the Presidio (Arguello Blvd. and Jackson St.). Extending from the Arguello Gate to the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, it is 2.7 miles (one-way) of gently sloping dirt footpaths and passes through unpopulated forests and meadows. Another regional trail system running through the Presidio is the California Coastal Trail (Golden Gate National Recreation Area). Originating beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, the trail meanders all the way down the west side of the city and provides stunning views high above the Pacific.
The Lands End Trail (Merrie Way, 415/561-4700) is also part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Rising above rugged cliffs and beaches, Lands End feels wild, but the three-mile trail, which runs from El Camino Del Mar near the Legion of Honor to the ruins of the Sutro Baths, is perfect for any hiking enthusiast. For a longer adventure, there are plenty of auxiliary trails to explore that lead down to little beaches. Be sure to look out for the remains of three shipwrecks on the rocks of Point Lobos at low tide. Grab a cup of hot chocolate at the stunning Lands End Lookout visitor center (680 Point Lobos Ave., 415/426-5240, 9am-5pm daily) when your hike is finished.
Mission Dolores Park
If you’re looking for a park where the most strenuous activity is people watching, then head to Mission Dolores Park (Dolores St. and 19th St., 415/554-9521). Usually called Dolores Park, it’s a favorite of Castro and Mission District denizens. Bring a beach blanket to sprawl on the lawn and a picnic lunch supplied by one of the excellent nearby eateries. On weekends, music festivals and cultural events often spring up at Dolores Park.
Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Northern California.