Many travelers know about the world-renowned Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and flock there as soon as they get to the city. As someone who has lived in the city for almost two decades, the basic tourist attractions don’t get me too excited and I want to share one way to spice up the experience of visiting Golden Gate Bridge by combining it with lesser known but still great hiking spots and vista points.
Most travelers tend to start their Golden Gate Bridge walk at the base of the bridge, walk to the end, turn around and walk back, take some pictures along the way and go home. That isn’t bad, but it is just a bit one dimensional. Instead, to get more exercise, take in more views, and end up feeling more satisfied by having the day full of more varied experiences, start off in the Outer Richmond at the edge of Land’s End Golden Gate Area near the Cliff House and the historic Sutro Baths. From there, a trail leads into Land’s End Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and your adventure starts.
The area is called Land’s End because it is located literally at the end of all land to the west as its cliffs end at the base of the Pacific Ocean. The narrow trail that parallels the cliffs doesn’t disappoint. It quickly leads the travelers right along the edge of the cliffs, below which the Pacific Ocean waves crash into the rocks.
The trail along Land’s End isn’t too long, but it is quite magical. The walk offers tremendous vistas unique to San Francisco. On a clear day, the hikers can see far into the depths of the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Marin Headlands to the north, and the Golden Gate Bridge to the east.
Surprisingly, the park also has one of the best art museums in San Francisco. The Palace of the Legion of Honor is a great place to take a break for an hour or two and take in some Picasso and Rembrandt before finally heading off to Golden Gate Bridge.
The Land’s End trail ends (no pun intended) on a street called El Camino Del Mar, which has some of the best views of the ocean in the entire city, and is a prestigious neighborhood. It home to some of the more known San Franciscans like Robin Williams, whose house is just two blocks from Land’s End.
After a few more blocks, Lincoln Boulevard begins and leads toward the Golden Gate Bridge. It is a highway-like street, but pretty soon, smaller walking trails become available as detours and lead towards the bridge via quieter and more scenic routes unhindered by cars.
Travelers who want to meet new people and not have to deal with directions, can join the free groups organized on San Francisco Hiking Groups.
Once on the bridge, the traditional and classic experience of walking the bridge offers some of the same views from a much different angle. In addition, as the travelers get closer to the other side of the bridge, views of San Francisco downtown open up, with the iconic Transamerica building standing tall above the rest.
On warm and clear days, there are many little sail boats right below the bridge, all around the bay, and near Alcatraz Island. In addition, there are many gigantic freighter ships coming into the San Francisco and Oakland ports from everywhere in the world. All the ships to these ports come through the bay and they are quite a treat to see. On lucky days, there are even military vehicles that come into the port and I have personally even seen a submarine cruising above the water about ten years ago.
Total time spent on the Land’s End trails is about 45 minutes, getting to the bridge is another 45 minute walk and the walk back and forth on the Golden Gate Bridge is about another 45 minutes. It is an excellent way to spend time doing outdoors in San Francisco. If you include a visit to the museum, on the way back from the bridge, you have some tired travelers.
There are some busses that stop right at the base of the bridge, and can take the now-tired travelers back to wherever they can rest.
Alex Genadinik has lived in San Francisco over 15 years and enjoys the Northern California outdoors. He is currently working on uniting the many different small hiking groups dispersed throughout the Bay Area into a more united outdoor community.
You can find out more about great San Francisco hikes at Hiking San Francisco