Yes, you certainly can go hiking in San Francisco with kids, and we’ve rounded up the 10 best urban hikes for you and your family, spread throughout the city. Our criteria: good for kids, more plants than concrete, native flora and fauna, and one hike per district. Some busy districts, like the Central North, have a dearth of hikes except on concrete, while the Southeast, literally omitted from most tourist maps, has a range of wildish possibilities, like the Visitacion Valley Greenway or McLaren Park. Choose one—or more—then really get to know San Francisco with kids. “All good things are wild and free,” wrote Henry David Thoreau about the outdoors, and in like manner, so are these hikes.
1. Northwest: Land’s End to China Beach
Starting by the remains of Sutro Baths, wander along Land’s End, the most westerly chunk of land in the city, bordered by Monterey cypress and often threaded with fog. A half-mile section is stroller accessible, but then the staircases and hills begin, meandering up and down. It’s roughly two miles to walk from Land’s End, through the swanky Sea Cliff neighborhood, to a waterfront gem called China Beach.
2. Central West: The Green Hairstreak Corridor
Start at Hawk Hill (14th Avenue and Rivera), walk north on 14th Avenue past Golden Gate Heights Park, Rocky Outcrop Park, and end at Grandview Park (aka Turtle Hill), at the intersection of 14th and 15th Avenues. The series of gardens you will pass are helping to sustain a tiny electric green-colored butterfly, the Green Hairstreak, which you might find around plantings of coastal buckwheat. Plus, Grandview Park is one of the coolest hills in San Francisco, a “dune island” that rises like a craggy cone into the sky.
3. Southwest: Fort Funston
Fort Funston, wrapped in fog or blazing with sunlight, is perched above Ocean Beach in southwestern San Francisco, where you can see the curve of the earth on the western horizon. Sunset Trail (0.75 of a mile) is paved and takes you alongside Battery Davis, a WWII bunker. The Low Tide Loop Hike (2.5 miles round-trip) is started at either end of the Sunset Trail, and takes you onto Ocean Beach. The sand is a treasure trove of sand dollars, beached jellyfish, shells, and crabs; endangered Bank swallows nest in the cliff faces.
4. Twin Peaks West: Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks, two perfect hills near the center of San Francisco, should be explored on foot, especially the dirt paths going up the southern hill. According to SF Natural Areas, Twin Peaks is the home of endangered Mission blue butterflies, and there is a great photo display at the Randall Museum of Twin Peak’s resident coyotes, shy critters that usually run from humans. The view is 180 degrees, and many say it’s the best in San Francisco.
5. Central: Corona Heights
Rising out of the concrete and buildings like a castle made of brown grass and granite boulders, Corona Heights feels impenetrable. Its location can be triangulated between the Castro, the Haight, and Duboce, all great neighborhoods to explore. A mile’s worth of trails on Corona Heights are wide but not stroller friendly. The Randall Museum, on its southern flank, is a bastion of natural history and free to all visitors (a mandatory recommendation).
6. Central North: Alamo Square to the Panhandle
Alamo Square is where those quintessential Victorian “painted ladies” can be found on the adjoining Steiner Street, though kids might prefer playing in the bright grassy field. A short, four-block trek (west on Hayes for three blocks, south on Baker for one block) takes you to the Panhandle, the long green park that leads to the West Coast’s urban mother lode, Golden Gate Park.
7. North: Crissy Field and Presidio National Park
Trails under trees, over hills, and along the coast lace the Presidio, but a good place to start a hike with kids would be Crissy Field along the Bay, or Rob Hill campground, within the Presidio and the only campground in San Francisco. Major habitat restoration has transformed Crissy Field from a former airfield into a home for native plants and animals, plus there is a wide, flat trail; the Warming Hut with food and bathrooms; the beach; and views of Golden Gate Park, Alcatraz, and Marin County.
8. Northeast: Telegraph Hill
The staircase at Sansome and Filbert Streets begins this walk, taking you past gardens dappled with sunshine and blooming flowers, up Telegraph Hill—a steep walk going uphill, but fine for babies that can be carried, or kids with energy to burn. Go slow, and take breaks. Bright green parrots flock here—no joke—often zipping and squawking between the hill and the southeastern part of the city. At the crest of Telegraph Hill is Coit Tower, a 210-foot art deco building with WPA murals from the ’30s and a 360-degree view from the top.
9. Central East: Bernal Hill
Bernal Hill looks like a supine woman with wide hips and shoulders, her back to the north, her face to the south, with trails crisscrossing her surface. Meander to the very top where wind whistles through the trees and you might find an owl. Coffee shops, grocery stores, and playgrounds are nearby, tempting you to walk from Cortland Avenue, the main commercial corridor, over Bernal Hill, ending at Precita and Folsom Streets—a long and hilly walk, but manageable even with a stroller.
10. Southeast: The Visitacion Valley Greenway
The Visitacion Valley Greenway, six drop-dead gorgeous parks arranged in something of a checkerboard pattern going northwest, starts on Leland Avenue, where you can find groceries, coffee and a brand new public library. Stroll or walk the Greenway, passing flower-filled places like the Children’s Play Garden or the Native Plant Garden, all the way to Tioga Avenue. (McLaren Park is two blocks away, and definitely worth a hike, perhaps on another day.)
—By Jessica Erica Hahn
Jessic Erica Hahn was raised in San Francisco, and has degrees from UC Berkeley, University of San Francisco, and San Francisco State University. See her blog, Hill Babies, at http://hillbabiessf.blogspot.com, and her column about hiking with children at Examiner.com (http://www.examiner.com/hiking-with-children-in-san-francisco/jessica-hahn-taylor).