SF Like a Local – My Favorite Hike and a Cliff-Hanging Happy Hour

The best part about living in the big city is the all the workout walking. How better to end an indulgent dinner out than by having to schlep up steep San Francisco hills to get back home? Did I mention I never wear heels? For fear of tumbling down (or up) the block?

Ok, so walking city streets = good. If it’s your first visit, trust me, you will feel muscles that you never knew you had (as in “my shin muscle is on fire”). In addition to all the cross-town traversing, I invite you to follow me to the edge of the city for some stunning natural views and my absolute favorite Golden Gate hike.

IMG_5711I usually pick up the Batteries to Bluffs trail from Immigration Point in the Presidio (there is room to park along Washington Blvd, even on the weekends). I like this little-known starting point because you can avoid the bridge traffic and get right to it. And it makes for an easy return to your car after the hike.

ImageIf you don’t have a car, you can take the California 1 bus to Arguello Blvd, then walk into the Presidio to Inspiration Point. (Better yet, stay at the beautiful Inn at the Presidio and follow the short path behind it up to the Point.) Take in the city views, then continue on Arguello until you reach Washington (forks to left). From here you can stay on Washington or dip into the trails to catch a glimpse of the bridge towers at the National Cemetery Overlook. Eventually you will find your way to a campground that leads to Immigration Point. You can see a good color map of Presidio trails here.

Now that we’ve made it into the heart of the Presidio, let’s take that stair-step trail on the left down to Lincoln Blvd below. Here you will find many trail head signs. Follow the one that says Marshall Beach. This leads you to the “backside” of the Gate – basically you’re hiking all the way down to a tiny nestled beach that looks like the mythic home of a troll living beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

Image 2Speaking of trolling, this secluded spot has a reputation for being a nude beach. Why on earth someone would want to expose their bits to the frigid weather here is beyond me, but it does happen. You may spy one or two nudists near the rocks – or even get lucky enough to have Naked Guy photo-bombing your pic of the bridge!

Hike back up (staying left at fork) then head left on Lincoln until you get to the batteries and Golden Gate Overlook. Take a seat on one of the new stone benches (built in 2012) and see the cars and people maneuvering below. Here the Golden Gate Bridge seems so close – as if we were seagulls hovering just above.

IMG_5710After a rest and a snack, explore the earthwork batteries to the left, built for seacoast defense after the Civil War. Climb the ladders, stand on top and take in the stunning views of the sea. Congratulate yourself on traveling a less-touristy-laden path to the Golden Gate, and imagine what it looked like over a century ago (long before the bridge was built in 1937).Image 1

All right, my trolls and seagulls! It’s time for our post-hike rewards, into the belly of the tourist beast! Pick up the car on Washington, turn south on Lincoln, wind through Seacliff past the Legion of Honor and keep heading west until you reach Lands End. Park in the Visitor Center lot or along the Great Highway.

Enter the Cliff House with some trepidation (this prime tourist spot is perpetually crowded). I often get lucky and snag one of the small tables in the lounge area to the right. This is perfect for happy hour – drinks/apps only – and the views of the sun-sparkled ocean are blindingly gorgeous. You may even see a whale swimming by Seal Rocks, as I did one afternoon.

IMG_4454I have never attempted the main dining area, but I have scored a table in the bistro (left of hostess stand). Here you can order from the full menu and may end up with views of Ocean Beach.

IMG_5693After hanging out at the Cliff, you may feel revived enough to explore the ruins of Sutro Baths (in view of the restaurant, below the Lands End Visitor Center). Bonus hike: take the Coastal Trail east to discover the Lands End labyrinth. The labyrinth is well hidden, but also well worth it!

That’s about it for the hike and the hang. So tell me, did I whet your appetite?