San Francisco Crosstown Trail

The Trail near its northwestern end at Lands End

The Crosstown Trail crosses San Francisco from its northwestern edge at Lands End to its southeastern corner at Candlestick Point. Designed by a group of local volunteers, the route connects various hiking paths in local parks with sidewalks and staircases in residential neighborhoods to create a continuous 17-mile (27-km) trail. If you've seen San Francisco's most popular sights, this trail will show you a different side of the city: not bustling streets and cable cars, but tranquil forests, hillside communities, public art, and panoramic views.


Public art on the trail

If it's your first time in San Francisco and you want to hit the main sights – Chinatown, the Castro, Fisherman's Wharf, Alcatraz... – this is not the trail for you. This itinerary is for the traveler who wants to see less-touristed sides of the city, to get away from the hectic crowds, to go for a mostly-quiet walk through San Francisco and discover what a beautiful city it is.

The Crosstown Trail connects Lands End, the northwesternmost point in the city, with Candlestick Point, the southeasternmost point. If you're familiar with busier parts of the city, you'll be amazed how many parts of the trails go right through forests and other nature. And even the residential areas are striking for how beautiful the houses are.

Designing the trail was a multi-year labor of love by a group of local volunteers. First conceived in 2012, it was officially opened in 2019, connecting numerous woodland trails, public parks, and residential sidewalks. The volunteers did a good job: every part of the Crosstown Trail has sidewalks, dedicated walking trails, or walk/bike mixed-use trails. Unlike many ambitious projects that combine pre-existing trails, there are no missing (or indefinitely "forthcoming") segments.

The trail can be done in one day if you have plenty of stamina, but it's more popular to split it over multiple days or just do part of the route. Public transit lines intersect the trail at many points, so it's easy to just do part.

This guide describes the trail going from Lands End in the northwest to Candlestick Point in the southeast, but it can equally be done in the opposite direction. The most interesting and beautiful views are somewhat clustered towards the northwest half of the trail, so starting from the southeast is more climactic but starting from the northwest ensures you don't miss as much if you get tired partway through. Though described here as a walking route, it can also be done by bicycle, with some modifications to avoid the stairs and pedestrian-only segments.


Fishing pier at the southeastern end of the trail

The trail is best on a clear day. Clouds are okay, but it would be a shame to lose the great views in the fog.

You can find a map of the trail below, on the official website, or on the OuterSpatial mapping app. The app is a little finicky to use, and the route it shows is not quite exact, but it's free and it will show your current location on the trail for ease of navigation. For some of the trail segments you may want to supplement with an OpenStreetMap-based app to decide which way to turn at forks. The official website also has step-by-step directions in text form. Though individual segments and streets are signed along the way, there is virtually no signage for the Crosstown Trail as such. Pay attention as many of the turns are easy to miss.

Wear shoes or boots that will be comfortable on sidewalks, dirt trails, and even a bit of sand near the beginning and end. Dressing in layers is always important in San Francisco, but especially on this hike, which will really give you a sense of the area's microclimates. Bring water and a snack or two (there are restaurants and stores along the way, but not in the significant residential and nature segments, so it's good to have something in case you get hungry).

Get in[edit]

View from the trail

Muni buses 38 and 38R go very close to Lands End Lookout at the northwestern end of the route, with connections to Embarcadero BART station. Buses 5, 5R, 18, and 31 go pretty close too.

For Candlestick Point park, public transit is a bit more complicated. Bus 29 (with connections to Balboa Park BART) is probably your best bet: it goes fairly close, but still leaves you with a significant walk to the "official" starting point at the tip of Candlestick Point. Bus 56 may also be an option depending on where you're coming from.

If you want start somewhere in the middle, there are plenty of options. Notably, the trail goes right by 1 Judah St & 16th Ave metro station, 2 Glen Park BART station, and 3 Arleta metro station.


Map of San Francisco Crosstown Trail

The trail is officially divided into five sections, described here from northwest to southeast. This puts the sections in the opposite order from their official labels (just think of it like a countdown), but again the trail can be done in either direction.

Section 5: Lands End to the Richmond District via the Presidio[edit]

3.8 miles / 6.1 km

Start at 1 Lands End Lookout, near the northwest corner of the city. On a clear day the lookout has great views of the Pacific and the Marin Headlands, with the Farallon Islands in the distance. The pools down below between you and the ocean are the Sutro Baths, an attraction in their own right; see the district article for details.

From here you'll more or less follow the coast on the Lands End Trail through peaceful woods with lovely views of Marin County and the Golden Gate Bridge. After a short stretch on wealthy residential streets, you'll find yourself on a path to 2 Baker Beach, but when you get there make a sharp right turn to follow the small path next to a chain link fence (this is the first of many turns that are easy to miss if you're not paying attention). A few more minutes and you're in the Richmond District.

Section 4: Richmond to Sunset via Golden Gate Park[edit]

2.2 miles / 3.5 km

One trail connects to another and puts you at the edge of Golden Gate Park. This is a popular park and one of the more crowded segments of the Crosstown Trail. The official trail crosses a couple of bridges and hugs the western side of 3 Strawberry Hill (a lake island), but of course you can explore other parts of the park if you feel like it.

After exiting the park to the south you'll be in a somewhat busy part of the Sunset District. 4 Irving Street has a good selection of restaurants for breakfast or lunch. If you're here at breakfast time, try the inexpensive bagel shop 1 Uncle Benny's or the (multiple) Chinese bakeries.

Section 3: Tiled stairs and panoramic views[edit]

Admiring the view from Grandview Park

2.1 miles / 3.4 km

Now comes the most fun part of the trail. Go up two long staircases (the 5 Hidden Garden Steps and the 6 16th Avenue Tiled Steps) where each step is decorated with beautiful vertical tile mosaics. If going northwest to southeast you can enjoy these mosaics with each step you take; if going the other way, make sure you turn around at the bottom of each flight so you don't miss them. These staircase mosaics are the first of several pieces of public art along the trail.

Then it's up more stairs to 7 Grandview Park. The park's name is accurate: this peak brings excellent views, including your first view of the Financial District, the East Bay behind it, and, to the left, Angel Island and the towns of Marin County. This is a lovely place to stop for a rest and maybe a snack.

Then, what goes up must come down, so you'll descend the hill you're on via residential streets and various connecting staircases.

Section 2: Forest Hill to Glen Park via Glen Canyon[edit]

The trail through the woods near the hospital complex

3 miles / 4.8 km

Next, you'll pass through a gate in a huge horizontal mural. As the sign indicates, this is the entrance to the 8 Laguna Honda Hospital complex. But don't take the main paved path that says "private" - go on the "Sherwood Road Trail" side trail to the left through the woods instead. You'll stay on dirt trails through the woods while you circle the hospital. The woods are peaceful and surprisingly dense; you might get the feeling that you're not in a city anymore. Trail connects to trail and eventually they will deposit you on the aptly named Panorama Drive.

Before long you'll be on another hiking trail, this time through 9 Glen Canyon Park, and at the end you'll find yourself in the cute, lively neighborhood of 10 Glen Park. There's more activity here than most of the places you've passed through, and a handful of restaurants. There's also a BART station, which there's no shame in using if you're tired and want to call it quits.

Section 1: Glen Park to Candlestick Point via McLaren Park[edit]

View from McLaren Park on the trail

5.2 miles / 8.4 km

More parks, more residential areas, more turns that you have to pay attention to get right, and finally you'll end up at the 11 Shoreline Trail along the bay. If you want to go all the way to the southeasternmost point in the city, this trail will take you out to the tip of 12 Candlestick Point. At the very end is a fishing pier pointing out into the bay. If the weather is clear, you can see the Peninsula and the San Mateo Bridge to the south and the East Bay to the east.

Go next[edit]

If you did the whole trail, you'll probably have to backtrack a bit from your ending point (see "Get in" for transportation details). If you're not worn out, explore San Francisco's southeast or northwest (or wherever you ended up if you just did a section).

Other Bay Area walking trails in a similar vein include the Ridge Trail and the San Francisco Bay Trail (though they're only partially complete). Or consider hiking in the East Bay.

This itinerary to San Francisco Crosstown Trail is a usable article. It explains how to get there and touches on all the major points along the way. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.