The Best Outdoor Activities in San Francisco

The walking path in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park is just one of the city's many outdoor delights
The walking path in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park is just one of the city's many outdoor delights | © Scott Gese / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Lou Boyd
Commissioning Editor9 June 2020

There’s no reason to stay inside on a visit to San Francisco – the city of fog also has an abundance of activities that can be enjoyed al fresco.

San Francisco is a city that literally points to the heavens. A 7 x 7-mile (11 x 11-km) peninsula, the streets and buildings of this trendy city in California are eccentrically crooked, due to its steep hills and characterful architecture. You can spend days or even weeks discovering the city by the bay’s charming corners and the unexpected adventures they have to offer. From sea kayaking, to exploring famous parks and discovering secret roof gardens, many of the city’s experiences are in the open air. Here is our guide to the best outdoor activities in San Francisco.

Walk through Golden Gate Park

Botanical Garden, Museum, Park
Map View
The Victorian Conservatory of Flowers botanical garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California.
© Della Huff / Alamy Stock Photo
Right in the centre of the city, Golden Gate Park is among the most iconic areas in San Francisco and a must-visit spot for tourists and locals alike. The 150-year-old park is spread over 1,017 acres (412 hectares) in the city centre and is home to over 7,000 species of plant and animal. Golden Gate Park welcomes over 24 million visitors annually, making it the third most visited city park in the United States. Visitors here can choose to either sit back with a picnic and enjoy the greenery, or explore its many attractions, which include tea gardens, boathouses, polo grounds, beach chalets and memorial grounds.

Go sea kayaking on the bay

Natural Feature
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USA, California, San Francisco, individuals endure the cold to kayak under the Golden Gate Bridge
© Cannon Photography LLC / Alamy Stock Photo
San Francisco might not be the first place you think of for watersports, however the city’s bay area is actually home to many different leisure activities such as kiteboarding, windsurfing and sea kayaking. The Bay Area Sea Kayakers are a group of several hundred people who live throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and meet up for flat-water paddling, kayak-surfing expeditions around the bay. Anyone can join the group for free, as long as they have their own equipment. Follow the Bay Area Sea Kayakers online for details of their meet-ups and remember to sign the safety waiver before every aquatic activity.

Find the city’s secret steps

Architectural Landmark
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The Lincoln Park Steps in San Francisco, CA are covered with colorful tile in the shape of a flower.
© Michael Lingberg / Alamy Stock Photo
In a city as hilly as San Francisco, you will expect to have to climb a fair amount of steps. What many people don’t realise, however, is that San Francisco is home to a collection of secret steps, hidden around the city. More than 300 hidden stairways reach otherwise inaccessible places, decorated with stunning mosaics and artistry. Spend a sunny day hiking up these beautiful steps and through the adjoining parks. On your travels, make a point of visiting the Lincoln Steps. Local artist Aileen Barr was commissioned to change this simple concrete set of stairs into a work of art in 2007 and transformed them into a colourful masterpiece. A great spot to get your holiday Instagram shots, while exploring nearby Lincoln Park.

Visit the POPOS

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POPOS, which stands for Privately Owned Public Spaces, can be found all over the city of San Francisco. These public areas have been a development requirement in the city since 1985 and provide an oasis of inner city calm for whoever needs it. The POPOS in San Francisco range from roof gardens and plazas, to terraces, atriums and small parks. Mostly based in downtown San Fran, visitors should look for the tiny city centre Empire Park, or spend a sunny lunch break on the beautiful Sansome Roof Garden. While these areas are free and open to the public, they do have differing opening times, so be sure to check them out online before heading over.

These recommendations were updated on June 9, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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