This is a historial post from Hiking the California Trail, a 1998/2002 book set by Bob Lorentz and Richard Nichols. Where possible an update has been provided.
San Francisco’s staggering number of attractions invite foot-powered exploration with many of them near the California Coastal Trail. Whether you want to learn about military or maritime history, walk around quiet lakes, visit a Dutch windmill, or dine overlooking the ocean, it’s all close by. If you choose to walk to a destination and return by public transit, San Francisco’s transit system is excellent.
A remarkable slice of history sits beneath the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Fort Point’s massive brick edifice shows the importance the U.S. government placed on San Francisco Bay as a strategic harbor. The Army Corps of Engineers took eight years to build the fort starting in / 853. It housed 126 huge cannons and 500 soldiers during the Civil War. The fort never fired a shot before its decommissioning in 1900. Today the fort, part of the GGNRA, has free admission, tours by historically uniformed guides, museum displays and a bookstore. Exploring the three story maze of rooms, stairwells, and cannon bays is fascinating, with the Golden Gate Bridge looming overhead.
The Golden Gate Promenade, part of the San Francisco Bay Trail, runs three miles east along the bay from the bridge. It passes the Palace of Fine Arts, designed by Bernard Maybeck, where the Exploratorium has one of the world’s best science museums for kids, then makes its way to the San Francisco National Maritime Historic Park. This park near Fisherman’s Wharf has a museum of West Coast maritime history and the Hyde Street Pier, where eight historic ships dock including the Balclutha, a three-masted vessel that sailed around Cape Horn in 1886 and the ferry Eureka which carried cars and people over the bay from 1922 to 1941.
From the bridge to the northwest corner of San Francisco, the dramatic Coastal Trail itself is a big attraction. It passes the Palace of the Legion of Honor, a fine art museum, on its way to the Cliff House, a City attraction since the 1870s. This eatery and nearby attractions like the Musee Mechanique, Camera Obscura, and GGNRA Visitor Center overlook nearby Seal Rocks and miles of coastline. Nearby the ruins of Sutro Baths occupy a dramatic rocky cove reached by a trail.
Three-mile-long by half-mile-wide Golden Gate Park offers enough to keep you busy for days. Across the Great Highway from Ocean Beach a garden full of tulips surrounds an authentic Dutch windmill built in 1903. You can see its 75-foot tower from the beach. Nearby on the Great Highway, the recently restored Beach Chalet’s glass enclosed restaurant overlooks the ocean. The first floor houses the Golden Gate Park Visitor Center with wonderful murals and mosaics created in the 1930s by Works Progress Administration artists. By walking inland on miles of park trails, you can discover three major museums, the Japanese Tea Garden, Strybing Arboretum with plants from around the world, several small formal gardens including the Shakespeare Garden, a rose garden, and the ornate Victorian Conservatory of Flowers full of tropical plants. You can rent a boat on Stow Lake, one of the park’s ten artificial lakes, or a horse or carriage to tour the park. Other features include a restored antique carousel, children’s playground, ball fields, bowling green, tennis courts, archery range, horseshoe pits, and a small herd of American bison.
Out beyond the CCT, San Francisco awaits exploration on foot. Across the street from the CCT in the City’s southwestern corner is the fine San Francisco Zoo. You can easily walk or take public transit to many other attractions like Little Italy in North Beach, Chinatown, Pier 39, and Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.—
Originally Published in Hiking the California Coastal Trail: Guide to Walking the Golden State's Beaches and Bluff from Border to Border - Volume One: Oregon to Monterey (2nd Edition) by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols