San Francisco Section 2
Cliff House to Fort Funston, Golden Gate National Recreation Area
The hike begins at the Cliff House, a San Francisco landmark. Today's Cliff House is the third structure on that site to serve as a visitor destination for people from all over the world. The first, a huge Victorian affair built in 1863, served visitors who came to what was then a rural beach far from the city. Just offshore, Seal Rock was long a haul-out for noisy sea lions. They recently moved to Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf, becoming tourist attractions in a place full of attractions.
From the Cliff House, walk south down the sidewalk. Across the road cliffs of fake rock, used for erosion control, rise to Sutro Heights Park. Ahead Ocean Beach stretches south more than three miles.
At the bottom of the hill you can take either of two routes. The Esplanade offers a wide sidewalk between the seawall and the Great Highway, or you can walk across the wide beach and follow the tideline south. The beach, often windy and pounded by rough surf, is a beachcomber's paradise. At ½ mile watch for the tall renovated windmill to the east at the northwest corner of Golden Gate Park. To reach the park, cross the Great Highway at the Fulton Street crosswalk. Across the Great Highway south of the windmill, the newly refurbished Beach Chalet houses the Golden Gate Park Visitor Center. Stop in for ideas of what to visit in the park. The Chalet also features 1930-era murals of life in San Francisco, plus a new micro brewery and restaurant upstairs. The historic structure, designed by Willis Polk, opened in 1925, but was closed for many years.
Continue walking south. The Sunset District, a residential area laid out on top of sand dunes, fronts the Great Highway for sixteen blocks. At 3 miles the San Francisco Zoo across the highway can be reached via the crosswalk at Sloat Blvd. Continue south to 3½ miles where sand dunes rise from the beach. The Great Highway turns inland and ends here.
The Coastal Trail heads up the dunes into Fort Funston, a former Nike missile base and now part of the GGNRA. Turn left here and leave Ocean Beach, climbing alongside the Great Highway on a sandy horse trail. Pass an area fenced to protect a bank swallow nesting area. At the top of the ridge at 3¾ miles, turn right and follow an old asphalt road which winds south through some of San Francisco's last dune habitat. Just past 4 miles, a trail heads west to the beach and another forks left. The Coastal Trail takes the right fork.
At 43 miles make a sharp right turn and pass through a tunnel that is part of Battery Davis. After the tunnel, the trail turns left. At 5 miles you come to a large parking lot near a viewing platform on the bluff edge. Most likely you'll see a hang glider swooping along the cliff. The nearby hang glider launch site takes advantage of the strong winds that always seem to blow here, creating a favorable updraft in front of the cliffs. Take the path paralleling the driveway southeast to section's end at the Environmental Education Center at 5¼ miles.
SUGGESTED ROUND TRIPS & LOOPS: Huge Golden Gate Park, three miles long by a half mile wide, has many long and short loops you can take from the beach. You can walk the length of the park and ride the Fulton Street bus back to the beach.
Distance: 5¼ miles.
Open to: Hikers. Bicyclists on part.
Surface: Beach, sidewalk.
Access point: Cliff House.
How to get there: Head west on Geary Blvd., a major thoroughfare that crosses San Francisco from downtown to the ocean. Drive to its end and veer right on Point Lobos Avenue to the Cliff House.
Other access: Anywhere along the Great Highway.
Elevation gain/loss: 170 feet+/80 feet-.
Cautions: Watch for big waves when walking Ocean Beach.
Further information: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Cliff House (415)556-8642.
Facilities: Restrooms, water, and picnic tables at each end.
Campgrounds: Pacific Park RV Resort is on San Mateo County Section 2.
Lodging: San Francisco Hostel at Fort Mason (415)771-3645 or San Francisco Downtown Hostel (415)788-5604. San Francisco has thousands of hotel and motel rooms.
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