For many, the start of a new year is an ideal time to focus on staying active and spending more time outside. In San Francisco you can easily accomplish those goals while getting in all the requisite sightseeing at the same time. This city is blessed with mild weather for outdoor pursuits year-round and is surrounded by an inspiring natural landscape. Here’s your guide to guide to combining the city’s best sights with fresh air and exercise.
Attraction: Lyon Street Steps
San Francisco is a city defined by its steep hills and spectacular vistas. Sharp inclines in many parts of the city required the construction of staircases instead of streets. Many of the climbs lead to dramatic views of the urban landscape, like this palatial staircase connecting the Cow Hollow and Pacific Heights neighborhoods. The 288 steps, are steep but broad, with lush landscaping. At the peak, you’ll be rewarded with a sweeping vantage point of the city and the bay. Stick around awhile to snap photos of the surrounding mansions, Presidio forest and the Palace of Fine Arts. Lyon and Green sts.
Attraction: The Bay
If you want to get out on the water, several local outfitters, including City Kayak, cater to both beginner and advanced paddlers and lead tours from downtown San Francisco. You’ll see spectacular views of the city skyline, and you’re likely to encounter some wildlife as well—harbor seals, pelicans, bat rays, porpoise, herons and egrets are all a possibility. On a windless day, you can paddle under the Golden Gate Bridge. Another option is to paddle from South Beach into the famous McCovey Cove behind AT&T Park (where you might catch a fly ball during games).
Attraction: Lands End Trail
You don’t have to leave the city limits to get in a heart-pumping, nature-filled hike. As its name implies, Lands End Trail is located in the outer reaches of the city on the Pacific Coast, and it feels somewhat like the edge of the earth. The well maintained 3.5-mile out-and-back trail is packed with photo-worthy vistas. Jagged cliffs covered in windswept cypresses dramatically meet blue sea, with the Golden Gate Bridge and grand Marin Headlands in the distance. If you have energy to spare when you reach the end of the trail, continue on to admire the mansions in the Sea Cliff neighborhood and take a detour to Baker Beach, a mile-long stretch of sand tucked below rugged hills with a famous panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Back at the starting point, make the descent to explore the Sutro Baths ruins. Before or after your hike, be sure to make time to visit the beautiful Lands End Lookout Visitor Center, which outlines the nature and history of the area and has a nice gift shop and cafe.
Attraction: Crissy Field
Crissy Field, a restored tidal marsh that was a U.S. Army airfield in a former life, makes another beautiful walk, jog or bike ride. Take in views of the Golden Gate Bridge in one direction and the city in the other as you follow the wide, 3.5-mile (stroller and wheelchair friendly) waterfront path. You’re likely to spot birds (more than 135 species have been seen) as well as kite surfers attracted by the ideal breezes. The shoreline is also home to sandy beaches, picnic tables, cafes, bookstores and an environmental education center.
Attraction: The Presidio
The Presidio is a former military base located on the northern end of San Francisco that’s covered in pine, eucalyptus and cypress trees. Its 1,500 acres are now a national park that draws visitors from all over the world. The best way to explore the park is via more than 25 miles of trails and scenic viewpoints. Take the California Coastal Trail or Bay Area Ridge trail to the Golden Gate overlook or set off on a hike that passes artist Andy Goldworthy’s four nature installations. Just under a mile, the Batteries to Bluffs Trail is another spectacular walk that winds along the Pacific Coast and follows a flight of stairs down to a sheltered beach.
Attraction: Golden Gate Park
Activity: Dancing, Skating and Yoga
Bigger than New York's Central Park, the urban oasis known as Golden Gate Park contains countless attractions, including the de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, Botanical Gardens, Stow Lake, Conservatory of Flowers, Garden of Shakespeare's Flowers, two historic windmills, a bison paddock, and a rose garden. It's also the city's recreational headquarters. Between the museums and landmarks, take some time to join a free yoga or swing dance class or group skating session (rentals available) or play a game of golf or tennis.
Attraction: Golden Gate Bridge
There are plenty of scenic routes on the 65 (and counting) miles of bike lanes around the city, but perhaps the finest trip for visitors is the ride from the northern waterfront to the picturesque seaside town of Sausalito. It takes cyclists along the bay’s edge, starting on Embarcadero and climbing up Fort Mason (the arresting views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge alleviate the steep but brief ascent) before a flat, pleasant ride parallel to Marina Green. Another incline up past historic Fort Point leads to the Golden Gate Bridge, which bikers cross to their final destination. After the seven-mile jaunt, most riders break for lunch, brews or ice cream and opt to take the ferry back. You have plenty of options for borrowing a pair of wheels if you haven’t brought your own. Blazing Saddles is one of several popular rental outfits.