San Francisco Outdoor Vacation


Take a Baycation

Summer may soon be coming to a close in places, but in San Francisco it’s just getting warmed up—literally. Fall is Indian Summer for our neighbor to the north, making it one of the very best times to break for the city by the Bay. Just don't call it Frisco.

Kirby Cove marin

Kirby Curveball

It's a bucket-list favorite for throngs of visitors to San Francisco, and with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge celebrating its 75th year, crossing this big orange beauty by bike is a span-tastic way to celebrate. And here's something many travelers don't know: One of the Bay's most-accessible secluded beaches lies just northwest of the bridge, making for a terrific detour to a sandy haven called Kirby Cove. Here's how to make it happen: Bring your own bike or rent your wheels (and grab a map) from Blazing Saddles or Sports Basement Presidio (both located near the waterfront). Breeze along the bike path that runs through the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge. After you've pedaled across (refreshed and salt-lunged) hang a left to reach Conzelman Road. Here, you'll have to switch to a low gear to climb for a few minutes (or just walk your bike up). Keep an eye out for a locked gate on the left; it blocks the fire road to Kirby Cove, and throws off most tourists. Bike past it and make your way down to the beach with ease. On hot days the eucalyptus and cypress trees keep things cool. At the bottom, claim a picnic table and enjoy a packed lunch. Or unwind on the ample cove's coarse sand where the Golden Gate Bridge looks close enough to touch, and the crowds at Baker Beach are a distant sight. The waves here tend to be gentle, but wade in with caution—there's no lifeguard on duty. Keep an eye out for playful sea lions bobbing close to shore. Kirby’s calling!

TIP: Ride back towards the Golden Gate Bridge and follow the rest of the bike rental crowd north into Sausalito, where you can catch the ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf, making for a great day on the Bay.

The entry gate to the 1-mile fire road to Kirby Cove is off of Conzelman Rd., near pullouts for Battery Spencer. Here's a map to Kirby Cove. No dogs. Bike Rentals: Blazing Saddles, 2715 Hyde St., San Francisco; (415) 202-8888. Sports Basement Presidio, 610 Old Mason St., San Francisco; (415) 437-0100

San Francisco Foodie Walk

Savor-it City Stroll

Urbanites and Foodies unite! Savor a San Francisco hike 'n' eat expedition filled with classic views, tasty food, hidden stairways, and easy streets. Start at the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero—grab a coffee to go at Blue Bottle Coffee and stock up on picnic edibles: Acme for bread, Cowgirl Creamery for cheese, and the Wine Merchant for something to wash it all down with. Walk north along the Embarcadero and pop into TCHO's Beta Store for "obsessively good chocolate" on Pier 17; taste test Citrus and Chocolatey plus other creative favorites. Cross the street at Pier 23, cutting through Levi's Plaza, where the water fountains and benches seem weekend-lonely. Ascend the concrete and wooden Filbert Steps (at Sansome and Filbert), past quaint cottages tucked among a jungle of gardens and vegetation. Top out at Coit Tower, cross the parking lot and descend the stairs to Greenwich Street. Hungry now? Take a right on Grant and make a beeline for one of San Francisco's tiny but mighty picnic spots: Jack Early Park (just north of Chestnut Street). At the top of the stairs are two seats with views spanning the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands, Alcatraz, and the Bay Bridge. Head back via a right on Stockton, (briefly) through Fisherman's Wharf, and back down the Embarcadero. Delicious day-hike, done. 

Grand Walk San Francisco

The Grand Walk

One of the most scenic and stunning trails in the West can be traversed without leaving San Francisco. This 6-mile (one-way) "Grand Walk," paralleling the coastline from the Cliff House to Fort Mason, is like a perfect geographical jigsaw puzzle; it pieces together the jutting cliffs of Lands End, the sands of Baker Beach, and the rugged boulders north of Battery Crosby. Start this city adventure by taking a bus (or cab) to the Cliff House. From there follow the Coastal Trail through Lands End as the Golden Gate Bridge comes into view, arcing like the North Star in the background and remaining visible almost the entire trip. This portion of the route finishes in the swanky Sea Cliff zip code. Walk the residential sidewalks and take a little-known backdoor route to Baker Beach (described in the directions below). Continue along the beach to the toughest part, a 243-step sand ladder. Red-tail hawks are the hang-gliders of these dunes, so keep an eye out. Next up is the recently renewed Batteries-to-Bluffs Trail (pictured) and spectacular Battery Crosby. Go down the wooden stairs just past the battery and be sure to check out Marshall's Beach—a mini Baker Beach that's a good stop-and-snack destination. The trail climbs back up to the Golden Gate Bridge. Brace yourself for the surge of tourists there, and take a moment to see if there are any surfers braving Fort Point beneath the Golden Gate. Then follow the path that dips to Crissy Field and the Marina Green. Savor the last few steps as you arrive at Fort Mason. Urban mission accomplished.

BONUS: At Fort Mason, refuel at Greens Restaurant. Grab a window table and replay your "Grand Walk" highlights over bay views. 

STAY: If hotels could be certified organic, Hotel Vitale (8 Mission Street; 415-278-3700) would certainly meet the credentials. This modern, luxurious oasis brings everything from natural light that evokes the Northern California vibe, to calming natural décor—including sprigs of lavender right outside your room. Multiple rooftop terraces beckon for a lounge session by the Bay, and the spa’s outdoor Japanese soaking tubs make a sublime way to sink into some serious relaxation. Vitale’s prime waterfront location is literally across the street from one of San Francisco’s premier attractions, the Ferry Building (the launch point for the Savor-it City Stroll we've recommended in this issue).

From the Cliff House walk up Point Lobos Ave. and take a left on 48th Ave. to jump on the Coastal Trail in Lands End. This ends in the Sea Cliff neighborhood. Walk along El Camino del Mar, then continue on Seacliff Rd. (don't follow the first "public beach" signs). Make a left at 25th Ave. North; at the dead end, walk through the gate to Baker Beach. At the far east end of the beach, walk up the sand ladder. Continue on a trail beside Lincoln Ave. Turn left at the Batteries-to-Bluffs Trail toward Battery Crosby. Cross under the Golden Gate Bridge through a pedestrian/auto tunnel below the toll booths. Pop out the other side and follow the trail along the waterfront all the way to Fort Mason.

Other Activities You Might Enjoy