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Outdoor Adventures in San Francisco

Outdoor Adventures in San Francisco

Surrounded on three sides by water and home to more than 3,400 acres of open space, this city has ample opportunity for fresh-air fun

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San Francisco is known for its eclectic culture, stunning architecture, and exceptional cuisine—but what makes this buzzing city stand out is its unparalleled access to the outdoors. In fact, according to The Trust for Public Land, it has a perfect access score: No matter where you go in San Francisco, you’re never more than a 10-minute walk from a public park.

The mild weather and beautiful green spaces—including Golden Gate Park, Mission Dolores, and The Presidio—are perfect for an easy walk or an afternoon picnic. If you want to ramp up the adrenaline, there are plenty of ways to get your heart pounding, from seaside horseback rides to strenuous hikes to ocean overlooks. Check out these outdoor adventures in San Francisco to see the city in a whole new way—on land, by water, or even flying through the air.

Biking in San Francisco

With miles of protected bike lanes and spectacular route options across the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco has consistently been named one of the most bike-friendly towns in the country by Bicycling. Sign up for an urban cycling tour with outfitters Bay City Bike or Dandyhorse, which offer both self-powered and e-bike options. You’ll learn about the artist community of Sausalito, visit the Mission’s mural alleys, or get a local's perspective on the best tacos as you pedal along.

Rent a bike (or bring your own) to chart your own path, starting on the paved Golden Gate Park Loop, the Angel Island Perimeter Loop (accessible by ferry), or an out-and-back along the Embarcadero. Prefer to go off-road? Trade your road wheels for some thicker treads and head to Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve in the city, Mount Tamalpais State Park in Marin County, or China Camp State Park in San Rafael to find the area’s best mountain bike trails.

Horseback riding in San Francisco

Go from city slicker to modern-day cow-wrangler with a trail ride. Chaparral Ranch offers rides through Golden Gate Park, the dreamy, redwood-laden Wunderlich Park in the San Francisco Peninsula’s Woodside, and the chaparral foothills of Ed R. Levin County Park in Milpitas. You can also opt for a seaside adventure through Mar Vista Stables: Its one-hour guided rides explore the coastal bluffs along Ocean Beach. Riders scan for wreckage of the 19th-century clipper King Phillip as snowy plovers and long-billed curlews skitter around their horses’ hooves.

Sailing in San Francisco Bay

A legendary port of call, San Francisco’s maritime history dates back hundreds of years. Experience the city’s open-water legacy firsthand by way of a sailing charter. Adventure Cat takes passengers out on a two-hulled catamaran from Pier 39, up and around Alcatraz Island, out to Kirby Cove, and even underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Step aboard a traditional one-hulled ship or a private yacht with San Francisco Sailing Company or SF Bay Adventures. You can even learn your starboard from your port with a sailing lesson from Captain Kirk’s or Spinnaker Sailing (a multiday commitment may be required).

Hang gliding in San Francisco

If the thought of sprinting off a seaside cliff and gliding above the ocean sounds like fun, consider a tandem experience with California Hang Gliding in Pacifica. You can also learn how to glide solo with Bay Area Hang Gliding or Mission Soaring Center. Your first lesson will take place on a downhill slope where you’ll gradually get used to the sensation of your feet hovering above the ground. Subsequent adventures will take you higher and higher until you’re soaring solo, supported only by the San Francisco breeze.

Surfing and water sports in San Francisco

Surrounded on three sides by water, it’s no surprise that some of the best outdoor adventures in San Francisco take place off dry land. The 3.5-mile-long Ocean Beach is home to the city’s most popular surfing spot, just west of Golden Gate Park. Take a lesson from Hokali or rent gear from Aqua Surf Shop. South of the city, Pacifica is home to more epic breaks which you can test out with the help of Sonlight or Nor-Cal Surf Shop.

On the other side of the peninsula, the waters are relatively calm, making it ideal for self-propelled vessels. If you’ve ever wanted to try kiteboarding, Kite the Bay has lessons for all levels. You can also venture out under the Bay Bridge with a rental from City Kayak, or launch a stand-up paddleboard from Crane Cove Park with Dogpatch Paddle.

Where to Hike in and near San Francisco

You can find plenty of incredible hiking right in the heart of San Francisco, including the mellow trails throughout The Presidio. The 2.75-mile Lands End Trail is a must-do. It winds along the coast with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and plenty of history in the form of the Sutro Baths, Mile Rocks Lighthouse, and the USS San Francisco Memorial. For a change of scenery, try the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, where you’ll be surrounded by eucalyptus trees and Monterey pines, or the Mount Davidson Trail, which takes you to one of the city’s highest points.

Venture outside of the city to tackle a more challenging trek. The 13-mile Mount Diablo Trail in Walnut Creek takes you nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, while the 8.2-mile hike in Bolinas to Alamere Falls culminates in an incredible cascade plunging from an ocean cliff into the Pacific Ocean below.

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