From some of the most iconic views in the country to an inspiring alleyway revival, these are the best parks to get outside and explore without ever leaving the city.Less
Hippie communes and Victorian bordellos, Czarist bootleggers and jazz legends: these genteel 'Painted Lady' Victorian mansions have hosted them all since 1857, and survived elegantly intact. Pastel 'Postcard Row' mansions (aka the Full House sitcom backdrop) along the southeastern edge of this hilltop park pale in comparison with the colorful, turreted, outrageously ornamented Victorians along the northwestern end - especially the storied 1889 Italianate Westerfield mansion.
Welcome to San Francisco's sunny side, the land of street ball and Mayan-pyramid playgrounds, semiprofessional tanning and glorious taco picnics. Grassy slopes are dedicated to the art of lolling, while lowlands host soccer, frisbee, political protests, and other local sports. Good weather brings cultural events, free summer movie nights, and fall SF Mime Troupe performances.
From bonsai, buffalo, and redwoods to Frisbees, free music, and free spirits, Golden Gate Park seems to contain just about everything San Franciscans love about their city. You could wander the park for a week and still not see it all, with myriad attractions including the de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco Botanical Garden, Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, and Stow Lake.
Looking out from Lands End feels like surveying the edge of the world. Nestled on the point of land between Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, the park's hiking trails cross the rugged landscape with alternating ocean vistas and views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Lands End visitor center and cafe are located at Point Lobos Ave and Merrie Way, overlooking the Sutro Bath ruins. Note that vehicle break-ins in the parking area are commonplace.
At 312 acres, McLaren is the second largest park in San Francisco proper, and arguably the most underrated. There are some 7 miles of trails (including the lovely Philosopher’s Way) that spread over forests, fields, and excellent hillside views of the city. This is a wilder park than Golden Gate, and is great for urban hiking, bird-watching, and spotting the random coyote.
War is for the birds at Crissy Field, a military airstrip turned waterfront nature preserve with knockout Golden Gate views. Where military planes once landed, bird-watchers now huddle in the quiet rushes of a reclaimed tidal marsh. No more Army missions here – just puppies chasing kite-fliers, joggers pounding beachfront trails, and kite-surfers skimming Bay waters. On foggy days, stop by the certified-green Warming Hut to browse California field guides and warm up with fair-trade coffee.
On San Francisco's literary scene, all roads eventually lead to Ina Coolbrith. She was California's first poet laureate; editor of Mark Twain; colleague of Ansel Adams; and mentor to Jack London, Isadora Duncan, George Sterling, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. But her friends didn't know her secret: her uncle was Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. This hidden, flowery hilltop park is a fitting honor: poetic, secretive, inspiring. Climb past gardens and balconies, and listen for the wind in the treetops.
Urban blight is interrupted by bucolic splendor on one of the Tenderloin's grittiest blocks. Once littered with garbage, Cohen Alley has been transformed by a nonprofit artists' collective. A grove of trees is taking root, concrete walls are covered with murals, and asphalt has been replaced with mosaic pathways and koi ponds. If you feel so inspired – and, really, who wouldn't? – garden tools are available to help maintain SF's scrappiest natural wonder.