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The Five Best Places to Run In San Francisco

Updated on March 30, 2012

One may think that running in a big city offers little scenery, but San Francisco offers several ideal running locations with beautiful sights. Whether someone is looking to pound the pavement or find solitude in a single track dirt trail, San Francisco landscape offers it all. There is plenty of distance to cover and training for a marathon is easily feasible. If your flavor is speed, then there are numerous tracks and parks where one can do speed work. And who can forget about the famous San Francisco hills? There are plenty to test your strength and endurance. After choosing the correct running shoes, check the list of the five best places to run in San Francisco. It is by no means exhaustive, but these spots are sure to please by offering plenty of variety in terms of terrain and distance.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is such an amazing park with amazing history. Hidden within are polo fields, lawn bowling grounds, baseball fields, museums, lakes, tunnels, and dirt trails. A great place to enter is at the end of the panhandle right off of Stanyan Street. If you stay along John F Kennedy Drive on the North side of the park, you'll pass a waterfall, Stow Lake, and a herd of buffalo. At any point you may observe a dirt trail cutting off to the center of the park. Go explore a little and see some of the more secluded parts of the park. You may also follow signs for the polo fields to enjoy a large open grass area. There is a dirt track surrounding the field that is 1 mile all the way around. You will end up at Ocean Beach and when it's not foggy, you can enjoy an amazing sunset before running back.

If you enter the park and stay along Martin Luther King Jr Drive, you'll pass Kezar Stadium (the former home of the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers), the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and end up at Ocean Beach. The nice thing about this side of the park is that there is a dirt trail close to the road that runs from 19th Ave. all the way to the beach. It's a little quieter and easier on the knees.

Both sides of the park are equally beautiful with plenty to see. To the beach and back is roughly 8 miles round trip, but it is easy to drive and park your car somewhere in the middle. Just remember most roads in the park close on Sunday. Overall, this is one of the best places to run for its beauty, diverse terrain, and few cars.

Map of Golden Gate Park


Photos at Lands End

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Lands End

Lands End is a beautiful coastal trail along a cliff that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Views of the Golden Gate Bridge are breathtaking. There are a few accessible beaches and plenty of parking at the top of the hill. Much of the trail is wheelchair accessible since 2006 renovations.

The trail starts up the hill from the Cliffhouse on a fairly wide, paved trail. There is a large set of stairs in the middle that are certainly some work to tackle. On the other side of the stairs the trail narrows and winds along the clifftop to a road called El Camino Del Mar in the esteemed Sea Cliff neighborhood. Out and back is just over 3 miles. Add a few miles by starting at ocean beach or running through to the Presidio.

Slideshow of Lands End from Parks Conservancy on Flickr

Sights Along The Embarcadero

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The Embarcadero

The Embarcadero has a lot to see and is a bit more crowded than other running spots in San Francisco. Notable sights are AT&T Park, home of the World Champion San Francisco Giants, the Ferry Building where on a Saturday you are sure to find a delicious post-run snack at the farmers market, and the famous Fisherman's Warf. The pathway is concrete and fairly wide as to avoid obstacles you may encounter. The Embarcadero is certainly good for people watching, including the many street performers and skateboarders.

Starting at AT&T Park, the round trip run to Fisherman's Wharf and back is roughly 10 miles. Certainly one can start and stop anywhere along the Embarcadero and can even run past Fisherman's Wharf into the Marina if attempting more than 10 miles. There are some great pieces of art along the way and of course the bay is gorgeous, especially on a clear day.

Crissy Field

Crissy Field boasts spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Originally a Presidio airfield, the park lies along the entrance to the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marina. There are dirt trails and large grass fields along the water, as well as old buildings from the 1920s currently in use by private businesses and the Coast Guard. There is plenty of parking at the East end of the park where you can begin your run watching the kite surfers. Run along the waters edge all the way to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. A 4 mile round trip run is easy, but for longer distances, one may run up to and across the Golden Gate Bridge. Crissy Field is a spectacular place to run along the Presidios edge and highly recommended.

The Presidio

The Presidio used to serve as an Army post for more than 200 years. There are numerous museums, historic sites, nature sites, and spectacular views. There are over 25 miles of trails within the Presidio, so there is a huge opportunity to explore and get in a good run. There are several overlooks and plenty of old Army buildings to admire. It's easy to get away and have a trail all to yourself and you may experience the most variety in the Presidio.

Entering at the 25th Avenue gate allows the opportunity to run along the ocean while entering the Arguello gate allows for more exploration of the internal Presidio. Fort Point is a great goal for a run through the Presidio and is also accessible from Crissy Field. Fort Point lies just beneath the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge. The view from under the bridge is absolutely amazing and a great spot to rest and admire the scenery before heading back.


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