In any big city, no matter how great its public transit, walking around is my favorite way to get oriented. So when I arrived in San Francisco after a cross-country train trip from New York, I started walking and didn’t stop for 7.5 miles that first day.
Here’s an amalgam of my various walks in San Francisco that helped me feel at home, without climbing too many hills:
Begin at the corner of Market Street and palm-lined Embarcadero, and take Embarcadero north along the water. There are many places to stop and sit along this sunny boulevard, or you can veer off onto a long pier for a close-up view of the Bay Bridge. Embarcadero goes all the way up to Fisherman’s Wharf, which is now hopelessly junky and commercialized, so you have our permission to skip it, or since it’s a major historic landmark, take five minutes to see its unparalleled tackiness with your own eyes. (2 miles)
Head south on Taylor Street away from the Wharf crowds, and when you bump into Columbus Avenue, follow it diagonally southeast past all those adorable Italian cafés with tempting sweets and espressos. You’ll also see Washington Square Park, which is a fine place to lie on the grass in front of the white steeples of Saints Peter and Paul Church. (1/2 mile)
Keep following Columbus southeast until you hit Stockton, then take Stockton south through one of North America’s largest and most significant Chinatowns. If you’re interested in Asian snacks, dumplings, loose teas, and other such goodies, slow down here. (1 mile)
Continue heading south until you find the busy artery of Market Street and follow it southwest until you see Oak Street. Walk west on quiet Oak past the colorful houses of Lower Haight and you’ll eventually begin following the edge of the Panhandle, a skinny little park that will lead you straight into forested Golden Gate Park. (3 miles)
You could spend hours just in the eastern third of Golden Gate Park, which has tons of trails, hills, meadows, lakes, and waterfalls, not to mention the de Young Museum and Conservatory of Flowers. Alternately, if you’re not in the urban-hiking mood, when you hit Golden Gate Park you can circle around and follow hippie-ish Haight Street back east.
Do you have a favorite walk in San Francisco?