San Francisco Parks: Where to Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Enjoy beaches, hills, impressive man-made architecture or natural wonders. Whether you're into golf, tennis, or simply strolling through the City by the Bay, choose your activity for the day and never get bored! The hundreds of parks in San Francisco are divided into federal, national, city and privately-owned parks.
Here are a few of the most popular parks you shouldn’t miss when in San Francisco.
At Alamo Square, you’ll find a full range of activities, from walking trails to tennis courts and a playground. For those with dogs, there’s a dog park, but the entire area is canine-friendly, so you can go ahead and bring your puppy to play - just note when you move from the off-leash area. Catch a glimpse of the row houses, the Painted Ladies, featured in the popular 80’s sitcom “Full House” while you’re there. Open daily from sunrise to sunset; the area is scheduled for re-landscaping in the near future which may affect some areas of the park.
While the main tour of Alcatraz Island will take you indoors, through the prison that once held the likes of Al Capone, you’ll want to stroll around the island on your own, too. There are trails leading to the coast which give an impressive view, not only of the Bay but also of the Golden Gate Bridge and the skyline of San Francisco. There's no food service on the island, so be sure to bring supplies for a meal at one of the scenic picnic benches around the island. To get to the island, you’ll need to take a ferry. Reservations are required, so book early via Alcatraz Cruises (www.alcatrazcruises.com).
Coined the "Ellis Island of the West," Angel Island State Park is reachable by ferry, but if you prefer, you could kayak the three-mile route yourself and go trekking on the island by foot. Bikers will find trails running 13 miles through shady, beautiful trees and incredible bay views, but for a more novel way to see the island, buy a roundtrip ticket from Blue & Gold Fleet and Segway over the hills. The US Immigration Station is open Wednesday through Sunday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. www.blueandgoldfleet.com
Enjoy fresh air at Bernal Heights, a pleasant park that offers plenty of space to roam, an extensive playground and a beautiful backdrop to take a lot of Instagram pictures. Just up the hill from the gardens, you’ll find the recreation center, which offers several programs for families, as well as a gym and basketball court. Open daily from 5 a.m.-midnight.
Dolores Park (Neighborhood: Mission District)
Situated above the city, this Mission District park is the perfect place to enjoy great views while you picnic and people watch. Great expanses of grass make the park popular with dog owners, but there’s also a playground and several tennis and basketball courts to play on. Open daily from 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Islands, redwood forests, a former federal prison (Alcatraz), ocean beaches and historic points of interest are all part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). Across the Golden Gate Bridge, the GGNRA encompasses vast areas of undeveloped lands in the Marin Headlands as well as wildlife sanctuaries, picnic areas facilities and 100 miles of trails. Bird-watching is a popular pastime and the National Park Service offers seasonal activities throughout the year - everything from lighthouse visits to hawk watches.
Allow several days just for this! Within just one massive space, there are playgrounds, lakes, museums and even a Japanese Tea Garden. You'll also want to check out the sculpture garden at the de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco Botanical Garden and stroll through the western area of the park, where you’ll find windmills and an expansive tulip garden.
If pedaling is your favorite method of sightseeing, head to Bay City Bike Rentals to rent a bicycle or grab one off of the ride-sharing app, Spinlister. They also offer tandem and electric bikes. Prefer boating? Stow Lake's Boathouse offers electric and pedal boats. Other outdoor activities include fly-fishing, lawn bowling, golf, tennis, baseball and archery. The park is open daily from 5 a.m.-midnight.
A place for tree lovers to walk and marvel, the Muir Woods National Monument is one of the last and most beloved stands of old growth coastal redwoods in the world. Some of the trees soar more than 260 feet high and are more than 1,200 years old. A number of sightseeing companies include Muir Woods in their itineraries and this is probably the best option for ease of access. Reservations are required for vehicle entrance to Muir Woods (personal and commercial); for details, visit www.gomuirwoods.com.
Presidio Heights is a hot destination for families with children of any age. Recently renovated, the park is best known for its exciting playground equipment and full-length basketball court. However, you’ll also find plenty of space to relax, as well as picnic tables to enjoy a meal under the open sky.
Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Presidio of San Francisco is home to the Walt Disney Family Museum and Fort Point, not to mention miles of picnic areas, hiking trails, bike paths, and much more.
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (Neighborhood: Fisherman's Wharf)
Located near the ever-popular Fisherman's Wharf, this park offers an excellent view of San Francisco's historic ships at Hyde Street Pier. Check at the Visitor's Center at 499 Jefferson St. to find out if any demonstrations or classes are being offered while you're there and then take a stroll down the Municipal Pier to check out the happenings or take a guided tour with a park ranger. If you arrive early enough, there are bird spotting tours available. To stretch your legs and see some of the most impressive scenery in the state, follow the paved walking trail that leads for several miles along the coast. You'll see everything from Alcatraz in the distance to the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Mason. Fort Point is the end of the trail and just as scenic as the rest of the hike. The park itself is open from dawn to dusk daily, while the Visitor Center is open 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
The parks of San Francisco have plenty to offer visitors to the beautiful city. From outdoor sports to romantic strolls by the seaside, there's something for everyone here.