Must-do Outdoor Adventures in & Around San Francisco

Outdoor Adventures

- San Francisco & Bay Area -

I initially started this post with the words “I don’t know what it is about San Francisco, but I friggen love it there.” I then realized that this wasn’t true… I absolutely know why I love San Fran so much: it’s full of adventure, it’s incredibly beautiful, and the people there are awesome. I love how walkable  and lively the city is and, even though I’ve already visited a handful of times, there is always a new adventure waiting for me. The city is an adventure in itself, but the surrounding area offers even more. Below are some awesome outdoor adventures to check out when in SFO!

Bike the Bay Bridge to Sausalito

If you start by the Hyde Street Pier, the ride across the bridge to Sausalito is approximately 13 kilometers (or 8.1 miles). Riding the hills up to the bridge definitely tests one’s cardio, but the views are so spectacular, the challenge to get there is quickly forgotten. Not only is the view amazing, but Sausalito is a treat in itself. It’s a perfect place to stroll around and explore or to grab some well deserved lunch!

FYI: Bike rentals are easy to come across in the city.  Guided bike (or walking!) tours are available, but feel free to get your hands on a bike and venture over on your own!

Here are some great rental and tour companies: Blazing Saddles, CityRide & Golden Gate Rides

Go For a Jog (or a Walk!) and High Five Hopper's Hands

Photo Courtesy of CIWT

To me, the coolest thing about Hopper’s Hands is actually the concept and story behind it. In 2000, a bridge iron-worker by the name of Ken Hopper installed a pair of hands at the base of the bay bridge. Why?  While he worked, he witnessed how popular of a spot this was for runners. He watched runner after runner come up to the fence, tag it and turn around for the second half of their route. Hopper thought giving the runners something to high five would be a fun way to support and motivate them… and he was right! Nearly 20 years later, high fiving hopper’s hands has become a local running tradition.

Listen to the Ocean @ The Wave Organ

The Wave Organ may not look like much, but it’s actually a super awesome concept worth checking out. Built back in the 80’s, the organ is designed to capture the sounds of the waves in the ocean. See those tubes or pipes in the photos above that almost look like gramophones? All if those are “organ pipes”; reaching down to different depths within the Pacific. As waves and tides crash along the shore, the sounds are magnified through the pipes. (Make sure to press your ear up to a few different ones to listen!)

FYI: Sounds are most intense at high tides. More information about the organ and tidal times are available on the Exploratorium website. 

Explore Muir Woods National Park

Muir Woods National Park is home to the world’s tallest trees: the Coast Redwood. The park gets really busy so make sure to head over early to beat the crowds (FYI: they are working on installing a mandatory reservation system so check their website for updated information). Also, don’t forget to pack your hiking boots and head out into the woods to explore! There is a large network of trails within the park that will have you surrounded in redwoods! AllTrails ofcourse has some intel on the trails, but there is no cell service out there so don’t rely on using it! Trail information and maps are available in the park or on their website

Kayak the Bay

Photo Courtesy of UFS

Sit back, relax and enjoy the view! Just kidding… kayaking the bay takes a good effort and may not involve much relaxing… but I promise you will enjoy the view! For Kayak or SUP rentals in San Francisco, check out CityKayak (they offer lessons too!) Sausalito also has a rental shop: SeaTrek. Above rentals, these outfits are a great resource for learning routes and do’s/do not’s for paddling the Bay Area. 

Kayak or Take the Ferry to Angel Island

Photo Courtesy of Viator

With astonishing views and an abundance of hiking and biking trails, Angel Island is a true gem! Kayaking to the island is possible from San Francisco (furthest), Sausalito or Tiburon (closest).  Otherwise, Blue & Gold Fleet offers services to and from both San Francisco and Sausalito  (Check schedule here). Angel Island company also has a ferry to and from Tiburon (Check schedule here). If you’re taking a ferry, make sure to check for any changes in schedule and arrive 30 mins before departing. They are a first come first serve basis so even if you have a ticket, you are not guaranteed a spot on the next ferry out.

Hike or Bike Mount Diablo

Sitting at approximately 3849 feet, Mount Diablo is the highest mountain in the bay area. Although a bit of a distance from San Francisco City (66km/41.2miles), the view overlooking the bay is more than worth the trip! 

Check AllTrails for inspiration and help choosing your trail or route on the mountain (there are a handful to choose from!) 

Learn How to Kiteboard

Photo Courtesy of TheKiteboarder

The high winds in the bay makes for a wickedly fun and challenging kiteboarding experience. On treasure island, there are 2 kiteboarding outlets offering lessons: Kite415 and KitetheBay. Check them out – they offer other services such as foilsurfing lessons and expeditions as well!

 

Explore Golden Gate Park

Photo Courtesy of GoldenGatePark

Did you know that Golden Gate Park is approximately 17% larger than Central Park in NYC? Crazy right?! That just means there’s so much to see and do! The park is a perfect venue for a picnic or evening stroll or even a nice paddle on the water. To make things even better; no vehicles are allowed within the park on Sundays! (P.s. Spring is a beautiful time to visit the Japanese Tea Garden when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom!)

Hang out...or Hanglide at Fort Funston

Photo Courtesy of FlyFunston

Constant high winds at Fort Funston makes it a prime location to hang glide. So much so, a committee of hang gliding enthusiasts have banded together to help manage the area. If you’re an experienced hang glider, head on out and enjoy the ride! (Just check out the regulations prior here) Otherwise, if you’re new to the sport, consider taking lessons or a tandem ride! Big Air Hang Gliding offers those services in Fort Funston and the Bay Area. 

Hike and Explore Lands End Park

Photo Courtesy of SoCalHiker

I remember jogging through the area when I did my half marathon a couple of years ago. Although I only caught a quick glimpse in my time there, the views were truly astonishing. Wild flowers, rolling hills, waves crashing in the ocean and the iconic bay bridge… all in one eyes view? Perfection. 

Spend an Afternoon at the Beach

San Francisco sits on a peninsula, so as you have have imagined, there are loads of beaches! The cold and wind perhaps takes away San Fran’s eligibility of being a hot beach destination but to me, that just adds to San Fran’s laid back and homey feel. Muir and Ocean beach are popular choices, but here’s a few more beaches you may want to dip your toes into: 

  • Baker Beach
  • China Beach
  • Seal Rock Beach
  • Fort Funston
  • Rodeo Beach
  • Black Sands Beach

Have a Bonfire at Ocean or Muir Beach

Photo Courtesy of NPS

Ocean beach is nestled on the west side of the city core. For your convenience, there are 16 fire rings for use on a first come first serve basis. Fires are allowed until 930pm March – October. (Fires forbidden Nov-Feb)

Muir Beach is across the bay near Muir Woods National Park. There are only 6 fire rings here with fires permitted until 1 hour after sunset. 3 of the rings are available for use in the winter season as well.  

Hike to Twin Peaks to Capture the Best City View (FREE)

Photo Courtesy of CA Beaches

Although touristy, twin peaks is a viewpoint you don’t want to miss! You can get to the “Peaks” by car or bus, but the 2.5km hike is hands down the best option! By day, soak in 360 views of the bay area. Alternatively, head up top to catch the sunrise or sunset. 

Go Bouldering @ Glen Park Canyon or Ocean Beach (FREE)

Photo Courtesy of Bay Area

Natural and climbable rock formations can be found in Glen Park Canyon and on Ocean Beach below the Cliff House. Specific boulder and location information can be found on the Crag; a climbing community website. Direct links to these sites here: Glen Park Canyon – Ocean Beach

Go Rock Climbing @ Beaver Street Wall (FREE)

Photo Courtesy of 7×7

Found in the northeast corner of Corona Heights Park,  Beaver Street Wall has become a favorite inner city climb among locals. It’s free to climb and you don’t need a permit. More information on the routes and level of difficulty is thoroughly explained on Mountain Project’s blog. 

Hike or Bike Mount Tamalpais

Photo Courtesy of RNTL

Mount Tamalpais, or Mt. Tam – as locals like to call it – is a beautiful destination for any outdoor adventure seeker. Although not an overly high peek (2575 feet), the view from the top, and the journey to get there, are more than rewarding. There are tons of trails on the mountain, so depending if you’d like ocean views or you’d rather explore through the redwoods, you’ve got yourself a treat! Check out AllTrails for trail information. 

Go Camping!

Photo Courtesy of Parks Conservancy

Whether you’d like a quick escape from the city, or if you’d actually like to camp instead of staying in a hotel, there are actually a handful of campsites within close proximity to the city. Bicentennial Campground is located near the north side of the Bay Bridge (making it an awesome base to explore from). There’s also a campsite on Angel Island as well as a few sites within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Tamalpais State Park. Be sure to make reservations beforehand and to check ferry schedules in advance (if necessary).

Hit Up a Drive-in or Walk-in Movie Theatre

I’ve always thought drive in theaters were so cool! Sadly, they basically disappeared when I was super young and I never had the chance to go . So, when I discovered that there was a drive in theatre in the Bay Area (Solano Theatre), I couldn’t wait to go! If you don’t have a car, no problem! Just pack a couple of blankets for cushioning and warmth 🙂 Alternatively, there is an actual walk-in theatre in downtown San Fran (Proxy Theatre). Make sure to layer up and pack a few extra blankets for this one too!

Sigmund Stern Recreation Grove (FREE)

Photo Courtesy of SFRec

Every year from mid June to mid August, Sigmund Stern hosts a FREE outdoor music festival where you can pop by and watch performances for free every Sunday at 2pm. Check their website for updates and announcements.

Take Roadtrip to Yosemite

I don’t know about you but Yosemite is a bucketlist destination of mine.  Although I haven’t been able to make it over to the park yet, I’ve been able to do my research! Yosemite is approximately a 4 hours drive from the core of San Francisco. Renting a car or registering for a private bus tour are the easiest options, however, you can reach Yosemite by public transit as well! How? Take the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to Richmond Station. Then hop on the Amtrak to Merced. From Merced, you can catch a bus to Yosemite Valley using the YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System). This option takes a bit longer (6+ hours), but would be a fun experience none the less! Read more on how to get to the park on their website.

Safe Travels!

-Bri

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