San Francisco is a great walking city. It’s compact, has beautiful views, and has lots of places to stop before, after, or even during your walk to get a cup of coffee or a bite to eat. But its famous hills can be daunting if you want to take a relaxing walk and not feel as if you were training for an Olympic event.
So how can you avoid the hills? Here are three walks that provide breath-taking views, interesting people-watching, proximity to good things to eat, and best of all, no elevation changes!
1. Crissy Field – Walk along a broad dirt promenade that hugs San Francisco’s northwestern shoreline. Enjoy the picture-postcard perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands.
Start at the Crissy Field Center, the headquarters for park visitors, which has a café where you can sit and look at the Bay through plate-glass windows and enjoy surprisingly good sandwiches, and a gift and book store with well-selected items relating to the park and nature.
Cross the footbridge that goes over the restored tidal marsh. Observe the birds! On the other side of the marsh, you can pick up the promenade. Walk west towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Go as far as you like. You will see side paths where you can take detours, if you wish, down to the beach. If you go far enough, you will pass the Warming Hut, which is a small building that has a café and bookstore similar to those in the Field Center.
This is a very relaxing walk. You will feel as if you are far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. At the same time, with the bridge looming in front of you, you are always aware that this is an only-in-San-Francisco experience.
Crissy Field is located in the Presidio.
2. The Marina Green – The Marina Green is east of Chrissy Field. Even though these two walks are near to each other, and both follow the San Francisco Bay shoreline, you may feel as if you are in a different world. The Marina Green feels less removed from the city. The park’s broad lawn attracts many neighborhood residents.
An interesting side-trip to take at the start of your walk is a detour to see the Wave Organ. To get there, start at the Yacht Club, and as you walk, stay by the water. You will soon find yourself walking on a jetty that juts out into the Bay. At the end of the jetty, you will see odd, funky-looking stone formations, and bits of pipe sticking out here and there. This strange place is an environmental sculpture and music project. The other end of the pipes extend down into the Bay. Put your ear near one of the pipe openings, and you will hear the sound of the water moving in and out of the pipes transformed into haunting “wave music.”
Back on the Marina Green’s main path, you can walk east along the waterfront, watching people and kites to your right, and yachts in the water to your left. The walk ends in Fort Mason, a cultural center housed in a former military base. If you’re hungry, check out Greens, an upscale vegetarian restaurant with stunning views and delicious food, run by the San Francisco Zen Center.
3. The Embarcadero from the Ferry Building to Fisherman’s Wharf – Start at the recently restored Ferry Building, which is now a paradise for food lovers, with gourmet shops and restaurants and a Tuesday/Saturday Farmer’s Market beloved by tourists, residents, and superstar chefs. Walk north along the wide sidewalk called The Embarcadero. If you go around lunch time during the week and the weather is good, you can do a lot of people watching, as there will be many downtown office workers out for a stroll or a jog. You will pass piers that are now used for various businesses, and between the piers, you will catch glimpses of the Bay.
You can take this walk as far as Fisherman’s Wharf. To return, you can either walk back the way that you came; take a historic “F” streetcar that runs along the same route on the Embarcadero and will take back to your starting point; or take a cable car to Powell and Market Streets.
If you take the cable car, it will go straight up one of the steepest hills in the city. Then you can be glad that you are riding, and not walking, uphill!
I hope you enjoy your time, and your walks, in San Francisco.