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Walk inspiration: self-guided audio tours of San Francisco parks and neighborhoods

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As the magnolias peak and the rains subside, some of us get that itch to take a long walk. If you find yourself a little overwhelmed planning walks or thinking up things to do, a self-guided audio tour is great!

These walks showcase different sides and histories of the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, and more. They’re a fun way to spend an afternoon, either solo or with a friend. You’re sure to learn something new, too.

Here are several self-guided audio tours (bring your headphones!) that you may not know about and get you inspired for your next walk.

The Presidio

Poetry Walk through Mountain Lake Park and the Presidio: 2.2 miles end-to-end; free audio tour

This unique walk combines 2.2 miles of Northside San Francisco with the evocative poetry of Kim Shuck, the seventh poet laureate of San Francisco. By following the audio guide, you’ll hear snippets of Schuck’s spoken poetry tailored to the landscape. Historian Barbara Berglund Sokolov’s walk narration also explores the origins of the Yelamu tribe, first inhabitants of the Presidio (read more in the Chronicle).

Start the walk at Mountain Lake, one of San Francisco’s last remaining natural lakes. Point towards the coast to reach El Polín in the Presidio. There you’ll discover a natural spring that attracts birds, frogs, and other wildlife. Continue north through the Presidio, ending at the scenic marshes of Crissy Field.

Tennessee Hollow Watershed Walk: 3.3 mile loop; free audio tour

Inspiration Point, MacArthur Meadow, and Lover’s Lane Bridge are highlights of this stunning Presidio walk. You’ll explore a 3.3-mile loop of Presidio’s largest watershed, Tennessee Hollow. The audio guide for this walk starts at Thompson Reach, a short walk from the bus stop at the Presidio Visitor Center.

This is a unique tour of the biodiversity and rich history of the eastern half of the Presidio. With all the recent rain you’ll probably see newly formed ponds, which bring blue herons and other majestic wildlife. If you prefer a print map, download the PDF.

Golden Gate Park

SOUNDWALK with Kronos Quartet: a free musical audio tour; mileage is up to you

Immerse yourself in the familiar landmarks of Golden Gate Park with an added dimension: music to illuminate the natural environment. This free app allows you to explore the park’s eastern end, and trigger music that’s crafted to harmonize with the park’s landscape. The path you choose dictates the music you hear.

Get the free app and download composer Ellen Reid’s SOUNDWALK for Golden Gate Park. It’s highly recommended you download this before going to the park. Then start wandering!

We recommend a nice stroll along JFK Promenade to take in the Prayer Book Cross, Bunny Meadow, and Conservatory of Flowers. The app will show you zones that will trigger music.

“A Very Curious Golden Gate Park Walking Tour” with KQED: free audio tour; we share 2- and 4-mile options here

Did you know that the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park hosted weekly polo matches in the 1960s? Or that the Dutch Windmill pumped 30,000 gallons per hour across the park’s first sand dunes? Park fans and history buffs alike will delight in KQED’s six-part Bay Curious walking tour of Golden Gate Park.

Each podcast episode (10-15 minutes each) explores the fascinating history behind some notable feature of the park. For a roughly 2-mile tour of the park’s less-crowded westside with episodes to hear on the way, start at the sand dunes of Ocean Beach. Then hit the Dutch Windmill, Bison Paddock, and Polo Fields. That’ll take around an hour. If you want to make a day of it, do this longer 4-mile route that also includes the Japanese Tea Garden and the national AIDS Memorial Grove.

“The Secrets of Golden Gate Park”: 2.7-mile loop; paid audio tour from the San Francisco Chronicle

On this 90-minute guided audio tour, you’ll learn the storied history of the park from two superfans: journalists Heather Knight and Peter Hartlaub.

First, download the VoiceMap app and purchase the “The Secrets of Golden Gate Park: Graft, Gunfire and a 90-Year-Old Fish” episode for $7.99.

Start at the Conservatory of Flowers, where the audio tour explains the history of this controversial first museum of Golden Gate Park. Then you’ll go on a loop of sorts— through the national AIDS Memorial Grove, Shakespeare Garden, Japanese Tea Garden, and Stow Lake. You’ll head back to the start of the 2.7-mile walk along JFK Promenade, ending at the historic Skatin’ Place.

Neighborhood Self-Guided Walks

Mission Street Art Walk: ~1.5 miles end-to-end; free audio tour

If you’re more in the mood for an urban art walk, don’t miss the colorful and historic Mission District. There you’ll find the highest concentration of murals in the City, including the outspread hands of the Maestrapeace Mural at the 18th Street Women’s Building.

First, download the ‘GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities’ app from either the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. Then pull up the Mission Street Art self-guided audio tour.

You’ll start at the muralscape of Clarion Alley, just off Valencia Street. More community street art awaits at the block-long Balmy Alley. End at the corner of 24th Street and Bryant, where the pro move here is to finish with a delicious torta at La Gorda Torta. This is a short walk, easy to do in the span of a lunch break.

Many More Neighborhoods…

Did you know that one of the perks of being a Walk SF member is that you get free, quarterly self-guided walks designed by our expert WalkLab volunteers exploring every corner of the city?

If you’re not a member, join right now to get access right now to our most recent walk. Your membership receipt will include a link and code.

Do you know of a great self-guided audio tour we missed? Email