My favorite way to explore a city is by running. It’s healthy, it’s free, and best of all, you can slow down and take pictures or grab a bite without having to worry about holding up the tour bus. I once ran a route that started at Times Square and traced the toe of Manhattan, taking photos of all the bridges and sights along the way, and grabbing a New York slice on the way back. It was a breathtaking run that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
I keep telling myself I need to get out of my own neighborhood and explore this larger-than-we-think-it-is expanse of a city. Until I get a chance to, here are three routes you can try that give you some great San Francisco views. Each run begins at Bay Street and Franklin, where there is an entrance to Fort Mason.
The Golden Gate Bridge Run
By following the path going westward from your starting point, you can trace the north rim of San Francisco. After about a mile, you’ll be passing docked yachts to your right and the Marina Green to your left as you gaze across the water at the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Hang a right once you pass the boats and head towards the water where you can stop at the beginning of the Bay Trail and take some photos at a gorgeous vista point. This trail takes you all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Approximate total distance: 3 miles one way, 6 miles out and back.
The Embarcadero Run
This time, go east instead of west, and make a left on Van Ness Avenue. Once you reach the end of a parking lot, make a sharp right onto the walkway towards the water. The Aquatic Park is one of my favorite places to go– it’s a great place to sit and relax on the bleachers, or, if you get there early and get a front seat, watch the incredible annual fireworks show on the Fourth of July. If you want an even closer view of the bay, you can run along the curved walkway north and take in the sights.
Once you pass the Aquatic Park, continue along Jefferson Street. This will take you straight to the Embarcadero, which runs alongside San Francisco’s famous piers. This is a truly gorgeous run, with lots of picture-taking opportunities. The light is gorgeous here especially in the early morning, and you’ll see fellow runners who often offer a friendly smile or wave. This run takes you to the Ferry Plaza and back, but feel free to explore further!
Approximate total distance: 2.5 miles one way, 5 miles out and back.
The Broadway Run
This run may be for more experienced runners, because there are a lot of hills to overcome. But isn’t that just part of the San Francisco experience? From your starting point, make your way north towards Broadway. Beware, there is a very steep hill during the last couple of blocks.
Once you reach Broadway, make a right. This part of the run is relatively flat, so you can relax after conquering that steep grade. Be sure to keep your eyes to the right of you, where at each cross street you’ll catch scenic glimpses of the water from high up. My favorite view point is at Fillmore and Broadway, where I always take a mental picture, especially when it’s clear. It never fails to take my breath away, however many times I’ve seen it.
At this point, you may also want to make a quick detour by turning left on Steiner and visiting Alta Plaza, a Pacific Heights park that also offers amazing views of the city. This is also the start of more hills, so be prepared.
Continuing on Broadway, you’ll be entering what’s known as the “Gold Coast,” a section of the street that is home to some of the most outrageously expensive homes in the city. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have $45 million to spare (for example, check this listing out)– there’s nothing wrong with a little window shopping, right?
The run ends at the end of Broadway where, to the right of the cul-de-sac, you can peer at yet another gorgeous view of the city below. Taking the steps down will land you in the Presidio, where you can choose to continue your journey.
Approximate total distance: 1.8 miles one way, 3.6 miles out and back.