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.
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.