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6 Best Ways to Get Outside in the San Francisco Bay Area – Bearfoot Theory


Although San Francisco and the Bay Area may appear tech-focused from the outside, residents know there is no shortage of ways to get outdoors. With more than 250 days of sunshine and year-round average temperatures between 60-70 degrees, there are endless opportunities for outdoor activities in San Francisco.

Back when I was 22 I spent a year living in San Francisco and have been back many times to visit since. I’m always impressed by the awesome nearby beach camping, hiking, and cycling opportunities – both within the city limits and a short drive away.

If you’re planning a visit to San Fran, I’ve rounded up some great ways to get outdoors in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area for your next weekend adventure.

1. Camping

Did you know that there is actually a campground located in the city of San Francisco itself? Rob Hill Campground is a group campground made up of only 4 large campsites. But each site can hold up to 30 people which makes it a great spot for a large group weekend getaway.

And what’s really cool about this campground is that it’s located in the Presidio park on the northern tip of the city with easy access to hiking and biking trails all around. Reservations are required for Rob Hill Campground and these sites are tent-camping only.

If you’re looking to get out of the city for some camping, you’re also in luck. Here are a few more campgrounds just a short drive from San Francisco:

  • Kirby Cove and Bicentennial Campground: Located in the Marin Headlands, these offer stunning views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll feel like you are in two worlds at once!
  • Hawk Campground: Perched high on a hill in Golden Gate National Park, Hawk Campground has amazing views of the Gerbode Valley. These campsites are only accessible by a 2 or 3-mile hike, which means you’ll feel far away from civilization, even though you’re actually just a short drive away from the city.
  • Angel Island State Park: One the most popular California beach campgrounds in the area is Angel Island State Park, which is only accessible by ferries. The 9 coastal campsites are spread out all over the island and each has unique views of the SF Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the famous cityscape, and the rolling Marin Headlands.
Views of the San Francisco skyline over the bay from Angel Island
Snag a campsite on Angel Island State Park for great views of San Francisco

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2. Hiking

I think San Francisco is actually one of the best cities for hiking. Thousands of miles of trails connect throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley and there are endless opportunities for short or long hikes.

Here are a few of my favorite hikes in San Francisco:

  • Batteries to Bluffs Trail or Lands End Trail: These are close to the city and offer offer views of the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day.
  • Mount Sutro Loop: This trail will make you quickly forget you’re in an urban setting with tons of awesome trees in a blanketed forest.
  • Twin Peaks: A famous spot in San Francisco and a great destination for a quick hike with awesome views. The trail up and down the summits at Twin Peaks is just over half a mile, but you can park in the neighborhood below to add elevation and mileage to get your heart pumping.
  • Muir Woods: Head north of San Francisco to visit Muir Woods and explore one of the last remaining stands of coastal redwoods. Popular trails include Fern Creek, Lost, and Canopy Trail, Dipsea Trail (requires a shuttle ride back), and Fern Creek Loop.
  • Big Sur: Escape the city by heading south to Big Sur, which is home to hundreds of hiking trails with beautiful coastal views and tons of wildflowers in the spring. For hike recommendations and other things to do, check out my Big Sur travel guide.
The Golden Gate Bridge spanning the bay on a blue sky day
Catch the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Batteries to Bluffs Trail

3. Backpacking

The multi-day backpacking trails near San Francisco are full of gorgeous high ridgelines, stunning redwood trees, grassy woodlands, humble fog, and ocean views. If this sounds like you’re ideal outing, you’re in luck – there are tons of backpacking options within a 2-hour drive of the Bay!

Henry W. Coe State Park Backpacking

One of the best places for multi-day hikes is Henry W. Coe State Park, the largest State Park in Northern California. It’s filled with rolling hills and few people, making it perfect for a 1 or 2-night trip.

All backpacking permits for Henry W. Coe are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the park entrance or headquarters. But with space for over 60 backpacking parties, they are pretty easy to get. You can find more information on permits and suggested backpacking routes on the Henry W. Coe website.

Point Reyes National Seashore Backpacking

Point Reyes National Seashore is one of my favorite places in California and it has some awesome backpacking route options. The 23-mile Laguna, Coast Trail, Glen, Baldy, Sky Trail Loop features rugged coastline views, deserted beaches, oak forests, and lots of wildlife, it’s a must for avid hikers. Add a few miles from Wildcat Camp to view the famous Alamere Falls – it’s worth the extra steps!

Alamere Falls cascading down an oceanside cliff in Point Reyes National Seashore in California
Visit Alamere Falls on your hike or backpacking trip to Point Reyes National Seashore

East Bay Backpacking

In the East Bay, another great backpacking trip is the the Skyline National Recreation Trail. This 33-mile (one-way) trail runs between Anthony Chabot Regional Park and Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. Overnight trips do require a permit, which you can pick up at the Sibley Volcanic Regional Reserve. Also, since it’s a point-to-point trail, you will need to set up a car shuttle.

New to backpacking?

Backpacking 101 posts

4. Rock climbing

Yes, you could drive a couple of hours to Yosemite National Park, but the San Francisco Bay Area is filled with great rock climbing spots, too. One popular spot is south of Silicon Valley at Castle Rock State Park. Here you’ll find tons of bouldering and top rope routes with views of the Santa Cruz mountains and Pacific Ocean.

All skill levels are welcome. Or, if you don’t know how to climb, it’s a great place to learn! If you are a total newbie with no climbing partner, check out one of the local tour companies – such as Castle Rock Climbing School – that offer climbing lessons.

In the East Bay, Mount Diablo State Park has trad, top rope, and sport climbing routes. Mount Tamalpais, in the North Bay, is also a great option for beginners, with plenty of easy climbs and nice views of the Bay. A little further away, Pinnacles National Park is a quiet National Park with plenty of volcanic rock to scurry up.

Tall boulders set on ridgeline at Pinnacle National Park in California
Pinnacles National Park is home to a lot of great bouldering and rock climbing

5. Kayaking

San Francisco is surrounded by water, so it’s no surprise that there are some great places to go kayaking. Angel Island is an awesome place to kayak because it’s easy to get to from San Francisco or Sausalito. However, be aware that the currents in the Bay Area can be strong, especially if it’s windy, so if you’re new to kayaking, you might want to consider a guided tour. For a little added adventure, hit the bay at sunset and take in that beautiful skycap at dusk!

Other options for kayaking are Sausalito, which offers epic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline, or Horseshoe Cove in Fort Baker north of SF.

Looking for a road trip? Just under 3 hours from San Francisco, you can kayak with sea otters in Monterey Bay, a totally unique experience as a sanctuary for tons of sea animals!

6. Biking

If you are visiting San Francisco, it’s pretty much a given that you have to see the Golden Gate Bridge. So why not get some exercise at the same time? Rent a bike from one of the many stands near Fisherman’s Wharf and head over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin. You can bike all the way to Sausalito or Tiburon, grab a bite to eat, and take the ferry back to Pier 41.

If you’ve got a mountain bike and are itching to get out on the trails, there are plenty of trails open to mountain bikers. A few popular trail networks are:

  • China Camp: a great place for newer riders. There are several beginner-friendly loops you can do.
  • Camp Tamarancho Loop: a more technical route for riders looking for a challenge.
  • Joaquin Miller Park: located in the East Bay – it’s home to a beautiful evergreen forest and flowy singletrack.
  • Shell Ridge: mellow, wide trails that are great for easy pedaling through the East Bay’s rolling hills.
  • Soquel Demonstration Forest: is the most famous place to mountain bike near San Francisco with its iconic 3-mile Flow Trail. The uphill section is known to be challenging!
  • Henry Coe State Park: also popular with over 290 miles of mountain biking trails available (the most of any State Park in California!)

Did I miss any of your favorite San Francisco outdoor activities? Or if you’re planning a trip to the Bay Area, what are you looking forward to most? Leave a comment below!

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