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Small walks with big views to kick off your New Year

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One of the members of Walk SF’s wonderful Board of Directors is Sergio Ruiz, a talented photographer who recently shared what he thinks is the perfect view of San Francisco in terms of composition (find out what it is below).

Sergio inspired us to put together a list of short walks to incredible views for the New Year. Rain or shine, these give new perspectives on our city. If it’s really pouring, check out our ideas for rainy walks with shelter. And if it’s not raining, join us at noon every Wednesday in January for a walk on JFK Promenade!

And remember, as Alfred Wainwright wrote in A Coast to Coast Walk, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”

Ideas for walks with great views in San Francisco

Bernal Heights Park

Credit: Alexandra Kenin

For a 360-degree view of the city that sweeps across the downtown skyline, drop by Bernal Heights Park. The main trail spirals up to Bernal Peak where you can take in the views from the seat of a rope swing and perhaps also with nuns from a nearby convent who have been seen in the past. In fact, they appear on the latest Death Cab for Cutie album. And don’t forget to check out Bernal Boulder — it’s repainted regularly so never the same for long.

There are many access points to the trail – from the small parking lot on Folsom Street off of Cesar Chavez is an easy one, but from the Esmeralda Corridor at Esmeralda and Coleridge is a fun one that features gardens, tree-lined staircases, and a pair of 40-foot chutes to slide down. (Pro tip: Use a sheet of cardboard to boost your speed!)

Ina Coolbrith Park

Credit: Sergio Ruiz

Named after California’s first poet laureate, Ina Coolbrith (1841-1928), this small park in Russian Hill is often described as a hidden gem. Take the winding path from the top at Taylor Street to the bottom at Vallejo and Mason and from the lower stretch, you’ll be rewarded with a perfectly framed view of downtown – Sergio’s favorite.

National Cemetery Overlook

Credit: Guy Joaquin

Just a few minute’s walk on a paved path off of Nauman Road along the Bay Area Ridge Trail, enjoy a spectacular, yet solemn, view of the Presidio, bay, and Golden Gate Bridge above the National Cemetery rolling hills of white headstones. Sit down for a contemplative moment on one of the benches and read the engravings on low stone walls of lines from “The Young Dead Soldiers” by American poet and World War I officer Archibald MacLeish.

You can reach the overlook by foot on a short, 15-minute or so walk from the Arguello Gate. Take the Ecology Trail to the right over to the Presidio Golf Course parking lot. To the right of the entrance to the cafe, take the dirt trail that passes by Andy Goldworthy’s “Spire” to Washington Blvd. and head left to Nauman (accessible parking available).


One of our other dedicated Board members, Charles Rubinoff, goes for views with our beloved cable cars. One of his favorite spots for photos of them is in Chinatown. For your very own picture postcard shot, get situated on Grant Avenue within a block of California and just wait for one to roll by, then snap away.

After your photo shoot, have a wander through the neighborhood and explore the vibrant alleys, diverse array of shops, and bustling markets. For something unique, take the Bruce Lee self-guided walking tour and check out 13 stops tied to one of the City’s most famous native sons.

Grandview Park

Credit: Guy Joaquin

Living up to its name, this treasure of a park in Golden Gate Heights has one of the most impressive vista points in the Bay Area. Be sure to put your camera in panorama mode.

Two staircases flank the park – a steep, shorter one at 14th Avenue and Moraga and a longer, gentler one that winds up from Noriega. Each brings you to the dirt trail that leads to the peak. You can also get to Grandview as part of a longer hike on the Crosstown Trail. Stage 3 between Forest Hill Station and 16th Avenue/Judah crosses through.

Pier 7

Credit: Guy Joaquin

For something flat and at sea level, try Pier 7 on the Embarcadero. The symmetry and converging lines from either end of the pier make it a go-to photo spot for weddings, tourists, and Instagrammers – even Britpop legend Oasis used it for a band shot back in 1995.

The direct route to Pier 7, of course, is along the wide Embarcadero Promenade next to the road, but we highly recommend taking the walkway on the bayside that is also public access (you can even walk right through a restaurant along the route). It winds up and down the piers and is a welcome respite from the traffic noise and crowds with benches, flower pots, and great views of the waterfront and bay.

Share your walks with us

We love to see and share where people are walking in San Francisco. Be sure to tag your photos on social media with #IWalkSF and @walksf. We may feature your photo in our newsletter!

Stay tuned for a brand-new, epic walking adventure we’ll launch this spring. Sign up for our newsletter to be sure you don’t miss this and other walks.