Baker Beach

On Foot: Hiking Around the Golden Gate Bridge and a Baker Beach Picnic

Saturday May 14, 2011

Sometimes, for their own good, you need to gently guide (re: forcefully push) your friends outside their comfort zone. Blair has forced me to celebrate my own birthday lavishly. She once convinced me to strap her mattress to the roof of my ‘92 Buick and drive around Adams Morgan, one hand on the wheel, the other holding onto the mattress. She’s one of those Texas ladies that will you into doing exactly what you don’t want to do.

It was only fitting that on the last day of her trip to San Francisco, after imbibing and shopping and more imbibing and more shopping, I gently guided her towards a nature trail and took her on a stunning hike around the Golden Gate Bridge.

The hike takes you from the eastern shore of San Francisco along Crissy Fields, under the Golden Gate Bridge, and over to Baker Beach on the western shore. It is a bit more arduous than a hike in Central Park, but not really by much. Paths on the eastern shore are fully paved. Paths on the western shore are clearly demarcated. It is urban hiking at its finest. (For all you east coasters, Blair would like you to know that “urban hiking” means something different on the west coast and that you should wear your hiking gear.)

Day Trip: Hiking Around the Golden Gate Bridge and a Baker Beach Picnic (6 hours, 5.1 Hiking/Walking Miles)

Recommended Itinerary:

  1. Shop for picnic items in the Marina District
  2. Hike along Crissy Fields to the Golden Gate National Park’s Warming Hut
  3. Cross under the Golden Gate Bridge
  4. Hiking along Battery Cranston and down the Sand Ladder to Baker Beach
  5. A picnic at Baker Beach
  6. Getting back home


What You’ll Need to Bring:

  1. Picnic Blanket
  2. Windbreaker
  3. Napkins, Knives, Forks
  4. Sneakers



1.  Shop for picnic items in the Marina District


We start our day in the lovely Marina district.  As I’ve mentioned before, it’s an ideal place to stroll around and pick up gourmet items for a picnic.  Once again, we chose to take a cab to Chesnut and Fillmore.  There are bus lines that will take you to the Marina, but none will do so from our centrally located neighborhood in less than half an hour.  So, a cab it is, and likely will be for you too.

I recommend sticking to Chestnut street – it has enough cute stores lining each side of the street that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to pick up whatever you’ll need for your picnic.  We again stopped by Lucca Delicatessan for their small but excellent cheese selection.  We also stopped by We Olive, further down Chestnut, for pestos and chutneys (and shots of peach balsamic vinegar).  We stopped into the Marina Supermarket for hummus, drinks, and crackers.  It’s a compact but fully stocked market.





Before our hike got underway, we walked over to the Palace of Fine Arts because, well, it’s impressive looking.  To get there, continue walking west on Chestnut, take a right onto Broderick Street.  Walk a few blocks and take a left onto North Point.  The grounds are completely out of place in an otherwise urban section of San Francisco;  indeed, a five lane arterial passes right behind it.  Everyone always asks what it is…and I’ve never really had a good answer for them.  It’s just pretty, people!  Just look at it and stop asking pesky questions!  (From their website, it appears to be a theater with performances every weekend.)

Walk north from the Palace of Fine Arts towards the bay.




2.  Hike along Crissy Fields to the Golden Gate National Park Warming Hut (Yes, That’s Actually What It’s Called)


There’s no precise way to walk along the water front, and we meandered around all the various paths, walking on the beach, walking on the sidewalk, and walking on the wooden platforms.  Your goal is to walk towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

On a nice day, this is a pleasant and dazzling walk.  The bay will be all aglitter to your right, dotted with white sailboats.  Crissy Fields itself looks like beachy marsh land and the city has installed elevated wooden platforms that skim the surface for you to walk on.  San Francisco’s park planners did a great job of holding on to the waterfront’s rustic, natural feel while making the walk itself comfortable and easy.





Be warned that there’s a reason they’ve also installed a Warming Hut at the end of the walk.  It is very windy here, even on a sunny and clear day.  The Warming Hut is a surprisingly fancy gift and coffee shop, and so is a good place to stop before you cross under the bridge.  There are also restrooms just to the north of the Hut.




3.  Cross under the Golden Gate Bridge


After you pass the Warming Hut, you’ll see the trail head, with a map and a wooden staircase.  Get climbing.

This is when things take a turn for the stunning.  This is also the point at which Blair broke out into a wide, happy grin.  She can complain about my trickery all she likes, really, but you should have seen that grin.

The stairwell is well constructed and sturdy.  The views behind you are a bit distracting and make for a wobbly hike as you continuously look at the bay behind you.  Suddenly, though, the Golden Gate Bridge makes an appearance towards the crest of the hill, and it’s pretty spectacular.





The path itself gets a little complicated, but you’ll want to follow signs to Baker Beach.  Like Fort Cronkhite, the path comes courtesy of old military installations, and so you’ll walk along and find doors that lead into hillsides and you’ll duck through brick tunnels.  I believe this is when I started screaming “This is SO COOL.”  Blair, with her happy grin, and me with my exclamations…we didn’t cut it out until we were finally picnicking.





The pass under the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the coolest experiences in my life.  Granted, I know a lot about bridges and I have a deep love for public infrastructure and civil engineering, but COME ON.  IT’S SO COOL.  Walk carefully, though, since you’ll have to share this part of the path with bicyclists, who think nothing of riding past you going at inappropriate speeds and an even greater sense of entitlement.





As you emerge on the other side of the bridge, continue walking westward.  The path will no longer be paved, but it’ll still be compact and easy to walk on.




4.  Hiking along Battery Cranston and down the Sand Ladder to Baker Beach


The hiking is no less arduous after the crossing, but it is no longer paved.  Watch your step.  Continue following signs for Baker Beach/Sand Ladder.

When I play tour guide, I research the day so fully that I’m rarely surprised by anything that happens during the course of it.  Anyone out there with the planning gene knows what I’m talking about.





What I didn’t realize during this trip, was that Blair would be in San Francisco during the 3 or 4 week period when the hills are luscious green rather than their typical gold.  (And, really, we say “gold” because it sounds better than “brown” or “tan” or “dried out” grass.)  She also nailed it in terms of wildflowers being at their peak.  We hiked through waist-high fields of wildflowers.





So, me: “YOU GUYS, IT’S SO PRETTY HERE.”  Followed by: “YOU GUYS, IT LOOKS LIKE LA JOLLA.”  I totally lost it.  “YOU GUYS, LOOK IT!  ARE YOU SEEING THIS?  DO YOU SEE THOSE FLOWERS? LOOOOOK IT.”  Clearly, as people with eyes, that can see, they saw it.  It’s also a hallmark of friendship that friends put up with you at your most excitable and absurd.

You’ll again walk past military batteries and installations, and for a while you’ll walk along Lincoln Boulevard.  Follow the signs for the Sand Ladder and take a right when instructed to.





The Sand Ladder is a real thing – a sandy staircase made from rope and wooden beams, laid across the sandy hillside.  It is perfectly easy to walk down, but keep an eye on your footing.




5.  A Picnic at Baker Beach


So, you may know that Baker Beach has traditionally been a nudie beach.  True.  I thought this was all over and done with.  I was wrong.  One man was conveniently, and inexplicably, wearing only a crop top.  Blair, no blushing ingenue, didn’t feel any hesitation to INFORM us that these were NOT the sort of NAKED MEN that should be FLAUNTING their NUDITY in PUBLIC.  Isn’t that always the case with public nudity?

If you walk westward, quickly, you’ll get to the more family friendly part of the beach.  Lay down your picnic blanket and settle in for a well deserved, breezy beach picnic.




6.  Getting Back Home

Our preferred method of leaving Baker Beach is through the Sea Cliff neighborhood.  If you walk to the western edge of the beach, you’ll see a short path up a short hill.  Climb up.

Sea Cliff is the most exclusive neighborhood in San Francisco, and it looks the part.  Each mansion is more immaculate than the next.  We like to comfort ourselves with comments like, “But, it’s so far from transit!” As if anyone in that community has taken the bus in the past decade.

Walking through Sea Cliff, your goal is to get to a numbered street and take a left.  Walk south until you get to California Street, a large boulevard.  From here, you can choose to take the bus closer into the city or continue walking into the Richmond neighborhood.  We took the opportunity, sweaty and sand encrusted, to stop by our favorite Green Apple Books on Clement and grab Italian sodas at the Blue Danube Coffee House.

Exhausted, we took a cab home and settled in for Chinese delivery and some Syrah.  It was a classic San Francisco day.

9 Responses to “On Foot: Hiking Around the Golden Gate Bridge and a Baker Beach Picnic”

  1. […] trip for a rainy San Francisco day.  San Francisco is best in the dazzling sunlight, when you can hike along the bay or walk up and down hills discovering new neighborhoods.  Those hills are much less inviting when […]


    7/8/2011 at 6:35 pm

  2. Stumbled on this account of your fantastic adventure by accident – so glad I did! Am in San Fran for a blissful few hours and will do my best to undertake part of this itinerary. Thanks a lot!


    5/2/2013 at 11:57 pm

  3. I hope you have an awesome few hours! San Francisco has been extra beautiful lately. Thanks for your comment!


    5/3/2013 at 8:56 am

  4. Hi, thanks for all the useful info here. I have a question about the other side, the north side – if we were to walk across on the east sidewalk, is it possible to cross under the road from east to west in order to walk to hendrik point? Thanks


    8/3/2013 at 3:31 pm

  5. Hi! Not sure of your question here. It is possible to cross the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach or Crissy Field to Hendrik Point in Marin. It would be about a 4 mile hike, and yes, you would use the pedestrian sidewalk on the east side of the Golden Gate Bridge to cross it. There are pedestrian trails on either end of the Golden Gate Bridge that would help you cross underneath US 101 to go west. Hope that helps!


    8/10/2013 at 12:11 pm

  6. Hey Maria!
    I came across this by pure luck and decided to take my boyfriend (who was visiting San Francisco for a couple of days) along for the adventure today. What a day its been! Can’t thank you enough for this gem. The pictures and directions were absolutely precise and I’ve already sent this link to so many friends. We were lucky enough to get a gorgeous sunny day with no fog which made everything so much more beautiful. Such great photo opportunities!

    Made me fall in love with San Francisco all over again 🙂


    11/12/2014 at 9:55 pm

  7. Hi! So happy you had such a good time!! And thanks for reporting back! It’s such an awesome hike.


    11/13/2014 at 7:24 am

  8. Hi…..stumbled across this just today….coming to the west coast in a few weeks (never been further west than Ohio!) can’t wait to hike this trail…my question…the flowers and green grass you speak of.. will we see it? We will be in San Fran from 5/17-5/23. Thank you!


    4/28/2016 at 2:17 pm

  9. Hi! Yes, things are still very green around here (just rained again yesterday). I took these photos in early April, and we were just there a few weeks ago and it was still green and covered in wildflowers.

    It’s an AWESOME city hike — actually, the friend who visited us in that post ended up relocating to SF after that hike! Have fun!!


    4/28/2016 at 2:53 pm