From hippies to techies, love-ins to hack-a-thons, the culture of San Francisco has certainly changed throughout the decades. But one thing has remained the same: the city’s awe-inspiring natural beauty. There’s eye candy surrounding nearly every nook and cranny of San Francisco, whether you’re up for taking a jog through Nob Hill, the Marina, Pacific Heights, the Presidio, even the FiDi and the Mission. It’s truly the greatest motivation to get your butt outside and moving. So, here, I’ve cobbled together a few of the city’s best urban jogging routes that will take you through breathtaking sites, streets, sidewalks, paths, natural green areas, boardwalks, and beaches. No gym membership necessary, however a word of caution: It’s always critical to watch where you’re walking/running in this city, as you may end up stepping on a stinky surprise from either dog or human… Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Before starting, check out an update with Handstand Steph at one of the more popular stair workouts in SF:
1. The Russian-Nob Circuit:
Rough Mileage: 0.6 miles one way, to the point you reach the Green Street stairs on the left side of Taylor Street.
Level of Difficulty – Moderate-Difficult depending on how many hills you do and how fast you go.
Extra Challenge: Make it a 6-, 8-, or 10-hill workout that spans Nob Hill and Russian Hill (see below for more details).
Trail Details: A- Begin at Pine and Taylor, which is a block down the hill from Grace Cathedral in Nob Hill. Run up and down the Taylor Hill twice, preferably from the wider left hand side, where the Masonic Center stands. Proceed north up Taylor, running toward Broadway. (Optional: Note the beauty of Grace Cathedral and, if you’re feeling extra energetic, jog up the steps past the maze, exit the Cathedral grounds on Sacramento, then head down to rejoin Taylor Street.)
B- Make a left turn at Broadway and run up the hill. At the top, admire the awesome view of North Beach, the Transamerica building, and the Bay Bridge.(Optional: Run the Broadway steps twice, once on each side, for an extra kick in the butt.) Turn left and continue upward (with another big hill) on Taylor.
C- At the top, and to the right, you’ll come across Ina Ina Coolbrith Park between Green Street and Broadway. This hidden gem has a beautiful and winding staircase leading to Chinatown then North Beach. Run up and down these stairs a couple times. If you’re feeling strong, continue on Taylor until you reach the Green Street steps to the left.
D- Go straight up the narrow, steep staircase, which connects to Green Street. I recommend doing these steps hard at least once or even twice before heading to Jones Street and making your way back to Pine Street.
Recommended Pit Stop: Once finishing the Green Street steps, run about three blocks to Hyde Street. Take a left and continue on Hyde until you get to California Street (there are a few extra hills here to add to that workout!). Reward yourself with a treat or cup of Stumptown Coffee at Flour and Co., located at 1030 Hyde Street.
2. The Lyon Street Steps of the Presidio:
Rough Mileage: Nearly 300 steps.
Level of Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult, depending on your speed and frequency.
Trail Details: A- Begin at Broadway and Lyon, at the top of the stairs. I usually start from the top of the hill and walk down to prepare the ascent up the majestic Lyon Street steps. On weekends and sunny days, prepare for tourists and locals with cameras, because the view is vast and regal. On the way down the stairs note the Palace of the Fine Arts and the wondrous blue hues of the Bay ahead, as well as the lush, green Presidio to the left.
B- Prepare for 288 steps, broken up into a few different staircases. From the bottom, the first half is steeper than the second half, so don’t lose hope! From there, at Vallejo, the steps get wider and are broken up into a few sections, which are flanked by elegant landscaping. At the top, you’ve reached one of the wealthiest streets on the West Coast (home to the Levi family and more) — congrats.
Extra Challenge: For a more comprehensive workout, add some push-ups and crunches at the top, then head back down and repeat until your legs shake uncontrollably. Be sure to stretch (particularly the calves and the derrière) once finished, as this stairway workout is guaranteed to hurt at least a day or two.
3.Coit Tower Run
Rough Mileage: 0.40 miles from bottom to top of the Filbert Steps
Level of Difficulty: Easy-Moderate, depending on where you begin.
Trail Details: A- You can either start at Kearny and Broadway (to get in some more mileage) or Filbert and Columbus, where you’ll run to the start of the Coit Tower path. Starting at Kearny and Broadway will lead you to the Macchiarini stairs. Here, you’ll encounter fewer people, but will have to contend with two steep hills, with uneven steps to add to the fun. Be careful of scattered trash and people stopping on the steps. If you begin at Filbert and Columbus, you’ll experience a gradual incline until you hit the Filbert Steps.
B- Once you’ve reached the steps and path leading to Coit Tower you’ll see more people angling for pictures and admiring the awesome views of Downtown SF, including landmarks like the Transamerica building, North Beach and the Embarcadero. Take the stairs to the main trail leading to Coit or divert off-trail and on to the dirt for incredible views of North Beach and beyond. You’ll reach Coit Tower within 5-10 minutes. If you’re looking for a quick workout with moderate ease, this is your best urban workout.
Recommended Pit Stop: Once finishing Coit Tower, run down to Columbus Avenue and go to Pacific. Grab a great cup of coffee or better yet an espresso at Reveille, located at 200 Columbus Avenue.
4. The Embarcadero Waterfront Route
Rough Mileage: From approximately 1.5 to over 2 miles.
Level of Difficulty: Easy-Moderate, depending on speed.
Trail Details: The ultimate run through the “concrete jungle,” the Embarcadero path is ideal and very convenient for even those coming from outside the city. Depending where you begin — good starting points include the Ferry Building, AT&T Park, or Fisherman’s Wharf — you’ll see many of San Francisco’s leading attractions. There are typically many local runners that take this path, helping to motivate any beginner runner. If that’s not motivation enough, breezy views of Coit Tower, the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges, Alcatraz, and more will leave your senses overwhelmed.
Tip: Run early or later in the day to avoid higher foot-traffic times.
5.Coastal Trail Battery Path near Golden Gate Bridge
Rough Mileage: 3.2 miles
Level of Difficulty: Moderate-Tricky, due to trail conditions
This is a very scenic and, thus, very popular trail with its sweeping bay and ocean views. Start at Battery Chamberlin on Baker Beach, or overlooking Baker Beach on the dirt path along Lincoln Avenue. The main appeal of this trail is the breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Along the way, you’ll pass numerous artifacts of military history — generations of coastal defenses line the Coastal Trail between Baker Beach and the Golden Gate. The batteries along this portion of the Coastal Trail generally predate the great wars of the 20th century — Batteries East and West were erected just after the Civil War. From these forts to Nike missile sites, San Francisco’s seacoast is evidence of how the art of war and defense has evolved over the decades.
Tip: This is a true running trail, so beware of loose dirt, uneven ground, and rocky areas.
6. Golden Gate Park: This large, lush park is littered with trails — like the ones circling Stow Lake and going up Strawberry Hills — and even offers a well-maintained track for sprinters and stair-runners at Kezar Stadium.
7. Bernal Hill: This Outer Mission park/nature area has it all: trails, views, and elevation. There are various starting points here to get to the main trail, which circles the hill and rewards you with spectacular views of the city. You’ll be sharing the trail with lots of neighborhood residents and dog-walkers.
8. The Presidio: One of the more underrated neighborhoods in the city, the Presidio boasts numerous scenic trails (including the Coastal Trail Battery Path mentioned above) that snake through lush sections of forest and along the coast. This is a great resource for specific trail information at the Presidio Information Page.