With 47 named hills, dozens of parks, a thousand-foot elevation change and three waterfronts spread across the urban landscape, San Francisco has running options for every skill level.
Using data from fitness app Strava and other running sources, we found the most popular, interesting, and challenging routes within San Francisco city limits.
Here are the five top routes:
Crissy Field to Hopper's Hands
This flat, 3.2-mile round-trip gravel trail takes you across a scenic—and historic—stretch of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The main section traverses Crissy Field, a former military airstrip turned recreation area and wildlife habitat. A slight incline takes you up to Fort Point, a 150-year-old military base beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. A plaque at the end of the route, created by bridge ironworker Ken Hopper, provides a literal touchpoint for runners to turn back, with views of the Marin headlands, the bridge, and the northern waters of the bay on the return trip. If you want to extend the route, head up the hills into the forested main part of the GGNRA.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is a wilder West Coast rival to New York's Central Park, and its 6.9-mile running route changes elevation by a total of around 500 feet, taking you from the middle of the city down to the beaches of the Pacific Ocean and back. You'll pass under thousands of trees collected from across the world, which have turned what were once barren sand dunes into one of the greenest parts of the city. John F. Kennedy Drive is the busier, more gradual main road on the northern side — a side trail next to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the south will get you a shaded, quieter route. If you want to extend your run, follow the Panhandle portion of the park inland, or head out along the beach.
Financial District/North Beach/Fisherman's Wharf
Local residents and downtown office workers alike can be seen running this 5-mile, mostly flat course along the bayside waterfront. You'll start near the Ferry Building marketplace, and hit the turnaround at the national maritime park, home to numerous historic sea-faring vessels. The only downside to the miles of skyline and bay views: dodging the many visitors to the area. To extend your run, follow the shoreline west to eventually reach Crissy Field; alternatively, head south on the Embarcadero toward AT&T Park for a less-crowded experience (except on Giants game days).
If you're looking for a hardcore hill run, take the 5.26-mile loop up and around Twin Peaks, where you'll experience a thousand-foot elevation change. The reward for your efforts: 360-degree views of the city, the bay and the ocean. The last part of the trail will take you down past a series of reservoirs and around trails on Mount Sutro, above the UCSF hospitals.
We recommend following Twin Peaks Boulevard up to the top, looping around both peaks, then coming down on Woodside Avenue and Laguna Honda. Since the hills are surrounded by the city, you'll spend big portions of the run on sidewalks and road shoulders. But you'll experience fewer crowds and a surprising amount of wildlife—especially on off-hours.
South of the major tourist traps and downtown bustle, McLaren Park is a lesser-known hilly park popular with locals. The 2.3-mile Philosopher's Way trail provides great views in many directions, including 14 contemplation stations in case you're looking for intellectually stimulating (and frequent) breaks.
The park itself is home to many native plants, including showy wildflowers in the spring. The windy and often foggy climate will also help keep you cool.