The Best Places To Find Nature Within San Francisco
Within the constant hustle and bustle of a city, finding solace away from the concrete is a necessary exploration. With everything from coastal hikes along the bay to a dog park nestled in the avenues, San Francisco offers nature gateways around every corner of the city. Even when Karl cloaks the city in fog, these sites will surely amaze.
Spread across 60 acres of public space, Glen Canyon Park sits along the peaks of Diamond Heights on the western edge of the city. Equipped with a playground, sports fields, tennis courts, and a recreation center that provides children’s camps, this urban canyon is an ideal family spot. Numerous trails that welcome dogs weave around habitats that include dramatic rock (chert) formations and the babble of Islais Creek, one of the last remaining free-flowing creeks in San Francisco.
If you’re a romantic voyeur for the panoramic view, then this 360-degree stunner will leave you breathless, and not just because of the small trek up stairs to get there. Located just south of Buena Vista Park in the Castro, Corona Heights Park is a rocky outcropping that offers an urban panorama. At 520 feet, these dramatic Franciscan chert rock formations provide a perfect perch from which to bask in the modern cityscape while appreciating the historic grounds on which it was built. And just below the boulders is The Randall Museum, which continues to deliver environmentally forward information and educational opportunities for youths and adults.
Almost entirely enveloped by blue gum eucalyptus trees, the Interior Greenbelt on Mt. Sutro takes you through intersecting trails in the forest from points around the mountain. Once fully immersed in the forest, city sounds fade and Karl the Fog sweeps over the treetops, making this hike ideal, rain or shine. Some trails even welcome mountain bikes, so maybe leave the stroller at home for this hike. This remarkable hidden gem is lush with history, as well. The forest was planted on Arbor Day in 1886 by a group of schoolchildren at the behest of legendary self-made millionaire, environmental enthusiast, and former San Francisco major, Adolph Sutro, who, at one time, owned one-twelfth of the acreage within city limits.
The Chain of Lakes — North, Middle, and South — are among five of the remaining natural lakes preserved in Golden Gate Park. While the park itself is one of the most beautiful nature attractions in the city, these lakes offer a more immediate solitude from the cars and bikes that weave throughout Golden Gate Park. As roaming raccoons and chickens surround the perimeter of North Lake, the best birding opportunities can be found at Middle Lake. South Lake, the smallest of the three, is the least visited by people but is best characterized by its grassy slopes and blossoming trees in the springtime.
It’s hard to believe that any area next to 19th Avenue could embody a sense of peace and quiet. Yet after walking down into Stern Grove, you’re instantly absorbed into an open, eucalyptus tree–lined grove, as car horns and screeching sounds fade away. With short trails that go up into the forest and wrap around an open designated dog play area and concert meadow, you’re sure to find a sun-streaked log to read or picnic on. Typically a more mellow nature escape from the city, Stern Grove transforms into a free outdoor concert venue during the Stern Grove Festival in the summertime.
Dog owners and lovers rejoice, because Fort Funston not only is an extremely dog friendly environment, but you’re guaranteed to make at least a handful of new canine friends during a stroll through the dunes. Located at the southernmost part of Ocean Beach, these succulent-covered sand dunes bring you and your pet up sandy trails to a 200-foot view of the water. One of the best spots for hang-gliding in the city, on a clear windy day, it’s not unusual to see little flying triangles gliding through the sky. This secluded beach spot is perfect for letting the dog run freely while enjoying a quieter side of the city.
One of the more popular San Francisco treasures, Lands End provides a completely different experience with each visit. Located at the northwest corner of the city, this rugged landscape of Cypress forest is bordered by cliffs that descend 200 feet to the sea below. The historical remnants scattered throughout this area give you a true sense of urban development and the city’s success in enhancing outdoor recreational fun for the community. While winding through the coastal trails, take a break by enjoying the Sutro Baths, Shipwreck Remains, and the Labyrinth that make this nature spot so unique and rich with local culture. By Julia Middlemiss
Julia Middlemiss, a Northern California native with a love for the outdoors, recently graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in Journalism and Sociology. She can be found exploring city parks with her film camera, playing soccer with friends, or attending music shows with a cold brew in hand.