Ten years ago we dubbed it the “Grand Walk” and said it was one of the most scenic and stunning trails in the West. We were wrong. This is the most scenic urban hike in America! San Francisco’s 6-mile Coastal Trail from Sutro Baths to Crissy Field is a tour de force of views and iconic highlights from start to finish, and plenty of stairs to boot!
Start at the ghostly Sutro Baths, with postcard vistas of the Cliff House, sea stacks, and rollicking Pacific. Head up the stairs and continue on the trail through Lands End as the Golden Gate Bridge quickly comes into view, your North Star for the journey as it’s visible nearly the entire hike.
Detours are a must on this walk, like the one leading to Mile Rock Beach and the popular large labyrinth dramatically perched at the edge of a cliff, overlooking the Golden Gate. The trail features several wooden and natural steps undulating along the coast.
You’ll pass through swanky Sea Cliff, following the residential sidewalks to a less-known backdoor route to popular Baker Beach. Walk the strand the full distance (where you may also see some full moons—nudists sometimes roam these parts) before ascending the 243-step Sand Ladder, a total thigh-burner, with—ironically—more breathtaking views!
Next up: the Batteries to Bluffs Trail and spectacular Battery Crosby, perhaps the best stretch of this hike, with wooden stairs leading up and down to classic coastal scenery. Definitely detour to secluded Marshall’s Beach (practically empty on a late afternoon) and take a seat on some driftwood—the Golden Gate seems close enough to touch. You’ll have to climb back up again and follow the batteries to that big orange bridge. Go under it, through a fun tiny tunnel, to sidestep the tourists and bicycles, and continue on to Fort Point. Now you’re east of the bridge and things get busier. But ditch the people and walk the final stretch along Crissy Field’s beach. Waves gently lapping, Alcatraz’s lighthouse blinking, and the Golden Gate Bridge looming.
FORT MASON BONUS: The Museo Italo Americano Museum in nearby Fort Mason has an excellent free exhibit right now, “NewRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932-1960”. It features photography documenting life in Italy before, during, and after World War II. It runs until September 15, 2019. Afterwards, grab an outdoor patio table and a Schneider “Tap 4” Edel-Weisse beer or a glass of Riesling at Radhaus. Their dumpling soup is delicious as a snack.
For a less crowded experience, do this hike late day, and time it so you finish at sunset. This is a point-to-point hike. There’s parking at Sutro Baths or Crissy Field. We recommend walking it west to east. It’s straightforward, with the only navigation being through Sea Cliff. When exiting Lands End, you’ll be on El Camino Del Mar. Follow it east, and veer left onto Sea Cliff Ave. when it forks. Turn left on 25th Ave. north, which leads to an entrance to Baker Beach. Walk on Baker Beach all the way to the Sand Ladder at the eastern end. Take this up to the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. When you cross under the bridge, follow the signs to Fort Point and Crissy Field. Dog-friendly!