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Mary West: Urban hiking in San Francisco

Urban Hiking is great when the weather is unstable as you can duck into a coffee shop if the rain picks up. Our historic foothill towns are a great place to get your steps in. Sacramento has a rich history that a tour on foot will teach you. San Francisco is an urban hiking paradise, if you enjoy the city like my friend Jane does. Jane has lived and worked in San Francisco for over 30 years. She walks most everywhere she goes or rides her bike. On weekends she is a walking tour guide. I joined Jane for a walking tour recently that was three hikes in one. We covered a lot of ground.

The first of our hike was Portsmouth Square or the heart of Chinatown and the history lessons began immediately. From ships abandoned in the Yerba Buena Harbor by those seeking their fortune in gold, to the history of the Pony Express to the Redwood Forest in the middle of the city, I was overwhelmed by the intensity of activity that took place here in 1850 and the pace has only increased since.

Jane took me through the posh residences as well as the Barbary Coast. The red-light district in its day but the birthplace of Jazz and dance halls too.



Jane and I made our way to the largest Chinatown outside of China and shared the stories of miners, but also the slave trade. Stories of the railroad builders and the rock stars who frequented Chinatown were enchanting. We ate fortune cookies and sipped green tea while we took in the sites.

A trip to Fisherman’s Wharf is a must. Jane met me after I did the traditional tourist attractions. We set out to hike from Pier 39 to Coit Tower. The views of the city as the sun began to set were stunning. The view of Yerba Buena Island and its role in our state history is awe inspiring.



An urban hike in San Francisco is a big undertaking. I would suggest several outings over several days and eating in North Beach is another must. Urban hiking means walking on concrete sidewalks and paved roads so take care of your feet, knees and back. I had concerns before I agreed to Jan’s itinerary. She made sure she didn’t take me anywhere I wouldn’t feel completely safe. If recent news reports have made you hesitant to go to the city by the bay, I tell you my visit was free of such fears as I found the city not overcrowded, but clean and friendly as I walked both day and evening.

Mary West is author of the book series Day Hiker – Gold Country Trail Guide I, II and III (2nd edition Available on Amazon). The books are a collection of the Day Hiker columns where West shares her longtime love of the outdoors, favorite hikes in Northern California’s Gold Country and beyond. West was the recipient of the 2017 and 2019 CRAFT Award for Best Outdoor Column and the 2020 Craft Award for her second book in the series-Day Hiker Gold Country Trail Guide by the Outdoor Writers of California. You can follow West on Facebook and Instagram

San Francisco is an urban hiking paradise, if you enjoy the city.
Photo by Mary West
Coit Tower in San Francisco.
Photo by Mary West
An urban hike in San Francisco is a big undertaking.
Photo by Mary West
Urban Hiking is great when the weather is unstable as you can duck into a coffee shop if the rain picks up.
Photo by Mary West

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