13 unpaved roads and alleys to walk in San Francisco
Truly off-the-beaten path walking ideas
This blog post started as an ode to a few unpaved roads and alleys. I was going to simply share the magical feeling of going around a corner on a city street and finding yourself on an unpaved road, suddenly transported to the countryside or another era.
I had a short list of about five unpaved alleys. But as I started researching and exploring, it became a serious treasure hunt and I couldn’t stop. My list is now at 13, and I believe that there are more.
This is a list of public, unpaved right-of-ways in the city of San Francisco. In addition to named roads that cars drive on (such as Hudson), this includes back alleys to get to garages (such as Dirt Alley), pathways so narrow they provide the only access to people’s front doors (Marion), or continuations of streets (22nd Street). Not included on this list are the many dirt roads and paths in our parks.
It doesn’t get more off-the-beaten-path than these 13 unpaved paths, so start exploring!
India Basin (Bayview/Hunters Point)
I “discovered” this short dirt road while scouting out the Circle City route last year. It’s off of Arelious Walker, near Innes in India Basin. Follow it to the secluded shoreline path around the remote India Basin Open Space (not to be confused with the India Basin Shoreline Park). Combine this walk with a visit to Heron’s Head and India Basin parks.
Secret parking alley off of Treat Avenue, south of Precita Park
This apparently unnamed dirt street was featured in a previous blog post about dead-end alleys. Be sure to walk the full length of the alley, there’s a nice view of the city from the highest point.
Alley between Nevada and Carver, just south of Bernal Heights Boulevard
I think of this alley as being a continuation of Nevada Street, but I could be wrong. If you’ve explored the top of Bernal Hill, you’ve probably been on this road.
The following three streets are all very close together so they make a really satisfying country walk. Their combined lengths are approximately half a mile (>1 mile round trip!). There is so much magic here you’re just going to have to go see for yourself.
At a full two blocks long, this has to be the longest unpaved road in the city. Each block has a different feel, so visit both!
Parallel to Poppy, but just one block long. Be sure to walk to the end where you’ll find a small dirt pedestrian path that connects to it.
When I explored this, a new mural was in progress on one of the houses commemorating the Ohlone people.
Dirt alley within the Castro-Duncan Open Space
This wonderful part of Castro Street is in the open space between 27th and Duncan. You might not think there’s a street there, but there are three storybook homes on this dirt road along with some wonderful sculptures. Half the fun of it is trying to get there: enter from the stairs leading up from the intersection of Newberg and 27th, or from Duncan and 27th.
(The Castro-Duncan Open Space has been featured on a couple of Peak to Peak walks, but with all that huffing and puffing you might not have noticed that you were crossing a dirt road!)
19th Street between DeHaro and Rhode Island
This rustic dirt path is like a very short short hiking trail. You could almost walk right past the 19th street walkway without noticing it. Look for the rope swing on the trail.
22nd Street between Wisconsin and Connecticut
This is a pedestrian way with a beautiful community garden.
BONUS: When you go to check out these paths, be sure to take a detour on what we’re calling the “Connecticut Street extension” – a paved path that begins at 22nd and Connecticut and heads south a short distance. Off of it you’ll see a scenic dirt path continuing south through the park. It’s debatable whether this is a “street” or simply a “path through a park”, so I’m not counting it in the official tally.
These two cozy alleys form an L and are the narrowest and shortest of all the dirt alleys but they are the gems in the treasure box of unpaved alleys! When we walked these alleys, we met a resident who has been maintaining the garden for 20 years. This is what I imagine San Francisco felt like in 1900.
This is so narrow that if it wasn’t for the street sign, you wouldn’t even notice it!
Mostly a stairway, but the flat section is dirt, and there are several homes on it.
These two alleys are very near each other and adjacent to the Kirkham Slow Street, making them another wonderful destination for a walk. They also have the best names of any dirt alleys.
20 1/2 Avenue, between Kirkham and Lawton (and, you guessed it, between 20th and 21st)
20 ½ Avenue is special in that it feels like such a normal street, you barely notice it’s unpaved. It has the smoothest dirt surface of all the dirt roads, it has a view of the hills of Marin, and it has some nice little informal gardens. It’s such a pleasant street, you wonder why there aren’t more unpaved roads!
The very appropriately named “Dirt Alley” has two posts at the entrance from Kirkham, and a nice little sitting area.
Share your walks on social media with #IWalkSF and @walksf.
Nancy Botkin is a longtime Walk SF volunteer and walk organizer. Nancy is part of “Walk Lab”: a group of knowledgeable and creative volunteers who research routes for Walk SF. Nancy would like to thank Peter Tannen, Robin Marks, Anna Sojourner, and Julianna Gallin for their help with this research.
If you have any corrections or additions to this list, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line “Unpaved Roads”.