Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area
Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Take in the Golden Gate on Crissy Field's Waterfront Trail
With its postcard-perfect views of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the Crissy Field Waterfront Trail is a must for any runner looking to soak in San Francisco's beauty. This scenic path stretches for 1.5 miles along the northern shore of the Presidio, offering runners panoramic vistas of the Bay, Alcatraz Island, and of course, the grand red suspension bridge itself.
Built on what was once a US Army airfield, Crissy Field has been transformed into a welcoming green space filled with shorebirds, joggers, picnickers, and kite-flyers. It's part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, providing easy access to the bridge, Fort Point, and miles of additional bayfront trails.
The flat, paved trail here is ideal for runners of any ability. It provides plenty of room to spread out and is mostly sheltered from the wind. Morning runs are especially pleasant, with golden light bathing the scene. At any time of day, you'll be treated to nonstop views of the bridge while dodging only the occasional oblivious tourist wandering into your path.
While you can join the trail from either end, it's most convenient to start from the parking area off Marina Boulevard near Fort Mason. From here, turn east and let the splendid scenery unfold. The trail runs past restored tidal marshlands, dominated by the enormous pylons of the Golden Gate rising in the distance.
About halfway along, you'll come to the Beach Hut Cafe, a great spot to grab an acai bowl or coffee when you're done. Continue on past swaying grasses and quiet lagoons until you reach the trail's end beneath the bridge's massive orange towers.
On weekends, the path gets busy. But even when crowded, it's wide enough to enjoy an easy run. The constant movement of walkers, bikers, and fellow runners just adds to the scene's energy. And everywhere, the bay glitters, swells roll in, and the Golden Gate Bridge watches over it all.
What else is in this post?
- Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Take in the Golden Gate on Crissy Field's Waterfront Trail
- Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Enjoy Both Bridges Along the Embarcadero
- Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Wind Through Sausalito's Houseboats and Marinas
- Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Get Sweeping Vista Views on the Bay Trail
- Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Marvel at the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island
- Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Run Under the Iconic Palace of Fine Arts Rotunda
- Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Trek Along the Cliffside Paths of Lands End
- Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Catch a Glimpse of Alcatraz from Marina Green
Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Enjoy Both Bridges Along the Embarcadero
If one bridge is good, two must be better. And San Francisco doesn’t disappoint, giving runners a chance to take in both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges along the Embarcadero's scenic waterfront route.
Stretching 3.5 miles from Pier 45 to AT&T Park, the Embarcadero packs in plenty of sights. Beyond the bridges, you’ll also pass by historic piers, the Ferry Building, Cupid’s Span, and more as you run past the busy boulevard on the bayside pedestrian promenade.
Starting at Pier 45 near Fisherman’s Wharf, run north, sticking close to the water past pier after pier. Around Pier 35, the Bay Bridge starts to come into view, its two decks linked by angled cables rising high over the shimmering bay.
The promenade jogs inland for a bit around Pier 23, so hop across the street to stay along the water before Pier 15. Here, views open up to take in the bridge’s entire western span, including its enormous main cable anchored into Yerba Buena Island. Marvel at the nonstop traffic streaming across it as you continue north.
After passing beneath the bridge between Piers 14 and 22 1/2, stop for an up-close look at its colossal concrete piers before continuing on. Around Pier 7, the Golden Gate finally slides into view, its iconic arches rising beyond the Bay Bridge's eastern span.
Views of the Golden Gate continue to improve as you approach the Ferry Building at Pier 1. Pass Cupid's Span's giant bow and arrow sculpture and hang a left to run out on the building's plaza for a prime photo opp with both bridges in the background.
While dodging tourists near the attractions, the views of the bay bridges never quit. Glimpses of Alcatraz and Angel Island add to the scenery as boats and ferries traverse the busy waters. Early morning runs beat the crowds, though the area stays lively into the evening.
This flat, paved route provides a photographer's dream background for easy miles. And the variety keeps it interesting, with new perspectives unfolding around every bend. Whether you come for a quick 5K or long training run, fitting in both bridges lets you double down on iconic bay views.
Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Wind Through Sausalito's Houseboats and Marinas
Just across the Golden Gate Bridge, the picturesque town of Sausalito provides a pleasant change of pace from San Francisco's bustle. Known for its colorful houseboats bobbing along the waterfront, it also boasts bay front trails perfect for breezy runs with views.
Starting from the ferry landing, head north on the shoreline Multi-Use Path hugging the bay. You'll wind past boat docks and marinas filled with vessels of all shapes and sizes. Sailboats clink and clank on their moorings as you run by.
Around a half mile along, you'll come to Galilee Harbor and its jumbled community of quirky houseboats. These funky floating abodes have been a Sausalito institution since the bohemian days of the 1940s and 50s. Each one is unique, personalized with psychedelic paint jobs, odd lawn ornaments, and other distinctive touches.
Some resemble quaint cottages, others elaborate river barges. peer through windows and see interiors crowded with art, books, and all manner of knickknacks. Plants sprout from every available surface as cats watch lazily from sunny perches on the roofs.
Running past provides an intimate, fun look into this singular lifestyle. You can almost imagine yourself lounging on a sunny deck or puttering around in a tiny nautical kitchen as gentle waves rock you to sleep each night.
Beyond the houseboats, the path continues, winding through parklands carpeted in lush marsh grass. In the distance, the massive red towers of the Golden Gate Bridge rise above the bay's sparkling blue expanse.
At around 1.5 miles, you'll come to the small beach at Robin Sweeny Park. Take a moment to walk out on the sand for an up-close view of the houseboats you just passed. Seeing them arrayed along the shore with the bay and city skyline behind is an idyllic scene.
Continuing north and inland a bit, the path transitions into a wooden boardwalk. Though views are more limited here, plentiful gardens and trees lining the walkway make for a pleasant run.
Soon you'll close the loop at the ferry terminal. Cooling off with a pint at the Sausalito Beer Garden down the street is a fine way to unwind after the run.
Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Get Sweeping Vista Views on the Bay Trail
With over 350 miles of hiking and biking paths hugging the bay shoreline, the Bay Trail delivers nonstop views of San Francisco's iconic skyline and bridges. But one of the most scenic segments for runners is along the Richmond shore by Point Isabel. Here the route offers panoramic vistas across miles of open bay, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
Starting from the parking lot off Rydin Road near Point Isabel, head north on the crushed gravel path. You'll immediately be greeted by sweeping views across the bay to the Marin Headlands and the famous red bridge spanning between them.
On clear days, the city skyline rises in the distance with the Bay Bridge's massive cables anchoring it to Treasure Island. Below, the bay extends for miles, its waters glinting in the sunlight. Small whitecaps lap along the shoreline as windsurfer sails flutter across the waves.
The wide trail provides plenty of room to spread out and run. Though this portion is gravel and dirt rather than paved, it remains flat and smooth. Runners should have no trouble keeping an easy, conversational pace while taking in the stunning scenery.
At around 1 mile, you'll pass through a tunnel beneath Highway 580. On the other side, views open up even wider across the bay's northern reaches. San Quentin Prison, nestled along the edge of the Point San Quentin peninsula, makes for an imposing sight across the water.
As you continue, the path bends inland briefly around some small salt marshes before returning to the shoreline. Here you can look south across the bay's sparkling expanse to take in sweeping vistas of the entire San Francisco skyline.
From this angle during clear weather, you can make out the city's iconic landmarks dotting the scene - from the Transamerica Pyramid and Salesforce Tower to Coit Tower perched atop Telegraph Hill. The Bay Bridge dominates the foreground, its two decks seeming to disappear into the downtown high-rises.
At 2.5 miles, you'll come to Point Isabel itself, recognizable by its small white lighthouse perched along the point. Take a moment to walk out along the narrow path to the lighthouse ruins for an up-close encounter with the bay.
Then swing south along the point to continue enjoying panoramic views of San Francisco for another half mile before the trail turns inland. Retracing your steps returns you to the parking lot after a 5 mile out-and-back.
Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Marvel at the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island
Of all the places to experience the enormity and beauty of the Bay Bridge, none compare to Yerba Buena Island. Nestled in the middle of the bay, this small natural island is now home to half of the bridge’s western span. Running right through the center, the iconic bridge provides endless views and photo opportunities for runners.
Trek out on the Bay Bridge Trail, which crosses the island and allows pedestrians and cyclists to actually traverse a segment of the bridge. Starting from Hillcrest Road, the path takes you beneath the noisy lower deck. Then it switchbacks up wooden staircases and ramps to reach the upper westbound deck.
Suddenly you’re running on the bridge itself, with sweeping views of the bay extending in both directions. Below, boats cut across the glittering blue water towards distant shores. To the east, the San Francisco skyline beckons, framed by the bridge’s massive cables and towers. Looking west, the Golden Gate Bridge floats in the distance.
On the bridge deck itself, the sights and sounds of passing traffic just a few feet away add to the experience. The busy lanes shimmer with constant movement, rumbling with the sound of engines. You can almost reach out and touch the endless line of vehicles streaming by.
But it’s looking up that really impresses. The bridge’s enormous main cable, a bundle of 27,572 steel wires, soars overhead. Massive vertical suspender ropes, each 7 inches thick, hang down from it, helping support the roadways.
This close, you can begin to comprehend the immense scale of the bridge. Each tower alone weighs over 44 million pounds and reaches 526 feet into the sky. The main cable contains enough wire to circle the earth more than three times at the equator.
Yet despite its bulk, the bridge also manages to impart a sense of grace. The carefully engineered curves of the main cable suspended between the towers resemble the delicate lines of an immense sculpture.
After taking it all in from various angles, descend back down through the maze of ramps to complete the out-and-back route. Don’t miss the steep spiral staircase curling inside one of the bridge’s concrete piers. Winding your way down provides a cool glimpse into the bridge’s inner depths.
Beyond the trail, Yerba Buena Island itself also offers shoreline loops with plenty of bridge viewing opportunities. Walking out along Sunset Point, you can marvel at how the upper and lower decks split and traverse the island.
From up above on the pedestrian overlook at Vista Point, take in bird’s eye panoramas looking straight down the bridge’s length. Watching the nonstop traffic zooming by on the decks below is akin to watching water rush through massive concrete viaducts.
Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Run Under the Iconic Palace of Fine Arts Rotunda
As one of San Francisco's most iconic and instantly recognizable landmarks, the Palace of Fine Arts is a must-visit for tourists and locals alike. But while most are content to snap a few photos in front of the picturesque rotunda reflected in the ornamental lagoon, runners get a more intimate look by passing beneath the structure itself.
Winding through the towering Roman columns offers a uniquely thrilling perspective of this beautiful relic of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Compared to posing for yet another rotunda selfie, traversing under the impressive edifice lets you feel small beside its imposing grandeur.
Approaching the Palace of Fine Arts along the paved paths of the Marina District, the grand rotunda dominates the landscape like an ancient Roman temple. The sight of the massive concrete dome peeking through the trees quickens your pace in anticipation.
Passing through a tunnel beneath busy Lyon Street, you emerge lakeside beside the sweeping colonnade encircling the lagoon. Turning towards the rotunda, its towering columns and intricate friezes come into full view across the tranquil water.
It's easy to imagine chariots rumbling beneath the rotunda two millennia ago as you run along the lagoon's edge. But here the sensory experience is a decidedly modern one, filled with selfie-snapping tourists rather than legionnaires.
Reaching the rotunda's shaded arcade, towering Corinthian columns rise on either side as you enter the cool, cavernous space. Your footsteps echo off the curved concrete walls and domed ceiling high overhead.
emerging on the far side, you feel small having passed through the shadow of this iconic monument. Yet you also feel connected to its history. For decades, runners have experienced the same sense of awe inspiring grandeur beneath the rotunda's graceful arches.
Beyond the Palace itself, the route continues through lush parks lined with towering eucalyptus trees. But the Palace remains the star attraction, its grand presence accompanying you around the entirety of the scenic lagoon loop.
No matter how many times you circumnavigate the Palace of Fine Arts, running under its impressive rotunda never gets old. The scale and beauty instill a childlike sense of wonder each time.
Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Trek Along the Cliffside Paths of Lands End
Finding solitude and escape amidst the bustle of a major city like San Francisco can seem impossible at times. Yet Lands End provides just such an opportunity, delivering stunning open ocean vistas and cliffside trails remarkably removed from the urban clamor just a few miles away.
This wild, rugged corner of the city beckons trail runners seeking miles of scenic single track removed from the crowded pavement paths elsewhere in town. Running above the crashing Pacific surf with the Golden Gate rising in the distance, it's easy to forget you're still within city limits.
The Lands End Coastal Trail carries you over the windswept cliffs along mile after mile of dirt footpaths winding through cypress groves and rocky outcroppings. Starting at the Lands End Lookout parking area, follow the signs past the iconic Cliff House perched on Point Lobos and head west.
Soon the Ocean Beach Esplanade's paved path gives way to the dirt Coastal Trail as you enter a world of open grasslands dotted with Monterey pines twisting in the sea breeze. Their windswept, bonsai-like shapes pay testament to the powerful forces that frequently batter these exposed cliffs.
The trail hugs the cliff edge, providing heart-pumping views of the pounding surf attacking the rocks relentlessly far below. Keep children close and dogs on leash, as a misstep could send you plunging over the precipice to a watery demise.
In areas, the trail passes precariously close to the eroding cliff edge. Use caution, as collapses do occur, especially following heavy winter rains. Over the years, homes originally constructed safely back from the edge have tragically crumbled into the sea as entire chunks of the headlands have calved away.
Yet the ever-present danger of the sheer drops is part of what attracts adventurous trail runners here. Lands End delivers a genuine sense of wildness and drama unique in San Francisco parklands. Running mere feet from a 50-foot plunge quickens the pulse and heightens the senses like nowhere else in the city.
The winding single track provides opportunities for tempo runs and fartleks as switchbacks carry you steadily up and down across the undulating cliffs. But a more leisurely pace lets you soak in the scenery and wildlife, from raucous seabird colonies to plodding gray whales visible from the cliffs in winter and spring.
Spring wildflowers add brilliant color that pops against the sea's deep blue backdrop. But Lands End captivates year-round with its windswept vistas and proximity to ocean fury. Running here leaves you feeling refreshed and renewed, far removed from the workaday world.
Pounding the Pavement: 3 Scenic Runs with Stunning Bay Views in the San Francisco Area - Catch a Glimpse of Alcatraz from Marina Green
Perched along the northern waterfront of the city, Marina Green provides prime views across the bay of arguably San Francisco's most infamous landmark – Alcatraz Island. Though the maximum security penitentiary closed over 50 years ago, "The Rock" remains shrouded in myth and mystery that captivates locals and tourists alike.
Running along Marina Green offers a pleasant way to catch a glimpse of the imposing island from afar without having to deal with the crowds and ticket hassles of the up-close tours. The wide-open views across the bay let you take in the entire island and contemplate what life must have been like on “the inside.” Watching the sturdy brick buildings, lighthouse, and guard towers rise steeply from the sea, it’s easy to see how Alcatraz housed some of America’s most notorious criminals.
Jim P., a seasoned ultrarunner from Oakland, appreciates the unique perspective Marina Green offers. “Seeing Alcatraz while running along the bay never gets old. From a distance, you get such a clear image of the island as this isolated, imposing place so different from the rest of the city. I imagine Frank Morris floating away into the darkness, trying to escape its inescapable walls."
Pausing along the Marina’s paved bayside path to take in the view, you can make out the main cell house, with its rows of tiny barred windows. The vacant guard towers stand at attention, keeping perpetual watch over the deserted grounds. And the gleaming white lighthouse serves as a beacon welcoming visitors arriving by ferry just as it once signaled to incoming supply ships years ago.
“I like coming to run here in the evening when the island is all lit up,” says Amy D., a longtime Marina district resident. “There’s something about seeing Alcatraz illuminated at night that adds to its mystery and isolation. I imagine the prisoners after lights out, lying alone in their tiny cells. The twinkling lights make it seem closer, but also emphasize the darkness and separation from the city.”
While Alcatraz up close impresses with its massive scale and imposing architecture, Marina Green provides a bigger picture perspective. From here, you can watch the ferries coming and going against the backdrop of the entire San Francisco Bay. This hints at just what an escape from Alcatraz really meant – a 1.5 mile swim through the frigid, choppy, shark-infested waters to reach the distant shore.