A Runner’s Guide to San Francisco

“When you come….to San Francisco…be sure to wear…some running shoes on your feet!”

So you’re coming to SF. Maybe it’s a work conference or a holiday. Well you’re in for a treat because this city is wonderful! But if you want to know about running in San Francisco, here’s all the info you’ll need.

Golden Gate Bridge Warming Hut SF

First of all..

In the interests of full disclosure…I don’t live IN the city but about 20 miles outside. So I know it fairly well but don’t want to trick you into thinking I am some cool city girl. Nope…suburban stay-at-home-mum here!

Secondly…don’t call it San Fran, don’t call it Frisco. Just call it San Francisco until you get here and then ‘the city’ or ‘SF’ once you’re more familiar. I know it sounds petty but it’s a big deal!!

                      Where to run  – and where to eat afterwards.

The routes in this city are more or less endless. These are the most visitor friendly!

1) Embarcadero to Golden Gate Bridge – flat along the waterfront

The Bay Bridge and the Embarcadero

The Embarcadero is a beautiful wide pavement which runs all along the Bay. Athough you can start and finish at any point on this out-and-back route, the route mapped on the link (title above) starts at AT&T Park (home of the Giants) and ends at the Visitor Centre at Golden Gate Bridge. An full out-and-back run would be 13.4 miles. It’s nearly entirely flat except for a steep little hiccup by Fort Mason and a climb up to the bridge. For refuelling, depending on where you start, my favourite cafe, the Warming Hut, is just under the bridge at the end of Crissy Field and the Ferry Building is full of great cafes and restaurants!

Don’t forget you can run over Golden Gate Bridge, and you really should do so! It’s 1.7 miles each way but if you’re feeling super keen, you can run down into Sausalito and get the ferry back to the Ferry Building. A ‘Ferry-Building-to-Sausalito Dock’ route would be about 9.5 miles. You can get stonking ice-cream in Sausalito. Just saying.

2013...I'm ready for the second half!

PS…the bridge gets VERY chilly and foggy throughout the year. It can be hot in SF and Sausalito but properly cold on the bridge. Be prepared.

 2) Golden Gate Park – undulating.

Golden Gate Park is a jewel of a running location. The 8 mile route on the link above takes in most of the sights. The eastern end of the park is rammed with attractions – the de Young Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden, the children’s playground. The western end is empty and wilder!  Be aware that the eastern end is uphill from the western end, which usually results in a hilly second half! The Park is dreadfully low on eating opportunities – there’s a little cafe at Stow Lake but otherwise pop out on the southern side of the park onto Irving where there are loads of cafes, bars and restaurants. Slightly further away, Crepes on Cole in nearby Cole Valley is my favourite brunch option! Or on the ocean front, try the Beach Chalet for wonderful views.

The Conservatory of Flowers Source
The Conservatory of Flowers

3) Headlands – Trails and hills outside the city

If you love the trails and want to get away from the city, you really can’t beat the Headlands on the northern side of Golden Gate Bridge. It’s hard to believe you’re so close to a major city and the views are spectacular. The route on the link is 5.5 miles but the trail possibilities are pretty much endless round there, and if you click here you can link to the State Park map to plot out your own route. There are very few places, if any, to fuel up in the Headlands…but pop into Sausalito and there’s everything you need there. Beware the weather – see ‘What to bring’ below.

Marin Headlands

If you have a car and want more trails, try heading down to Woodside, about 20 miles down the 280, and run in Huddart Park or Wunderlich Park. My favourites.

4) Angel Island

You’ll need a ferry for this one but slap bang in the middle of the bay is Angel Island. Car-free and blessed with amazing views of the city, it makes for great running. You can run the 5 mile loop around the island (on the link above) and then, if you fancy, run up the hill to the top. The 8 mile on the link does just that. Check out the ferry timetable here. There’s a great little cafe bar place on the island for refreshment.

Fun running! Source
Fun running!

Oh the hills!

Yep, it’s hilly here. But that makes it wonderful for hill repeats or hill training in general. And a couple of the routes above are pretty flat so you can avoid the hills if you want! Check out this cracking map of the city which shows which roads are uphill and downhill and how steep they are – perfect for route-planning.

Climb every mountain!
Climb every mountain!

What to bring.

Layers. So many of them. You can always tell a tourist because they’re wearing a fleece or hoodie emblazoned with ‘San Francisco’, which they bought in a frozen, August emergency in Fisherman’s Wharf. So bring long-sleeved tops all round and get excited if you don’t need them!

Where to stock up.

Apart from the Lululemons and the Lady Footlockers and the new Nike store…try these places.

Sports Basement, Presidio

A MASSIVE warehouse store on Crissy Field which sells everything for pretty much every sport. It’s loads of fun to mooch round and they sell really nice fleeces if you’re freezing but too embarrassed to buy something at the Wharf 😉

 Fleet Feet Marina

A great outpost of this well-respected chain.

A Runner’s Mind, Laurel Heights

Newly opened this week, this SF branch of my local running store is GORGEOUS and they stock many brands guaranteed to give your debit card a work-out 😉

On the Run,  south of GG Park

I’ve not been but the reviews are great!

San Francisco Running Company

Not actually in the city but in cool Mill Valley, north of Golden Gate Bridge. Wonderful shop which, despite a relatively small range, makes you want to spend all your money! Check out Cafe del Soul for a healthy lunch in the same retail park.


If you want to run on a track, try Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park. It’s open every day from 6am – 9.30pm. There is good parking around it.

Kezar Stadium Source
Kezar Stadium


The Bay Area is a running Mecca, we are so lucky. These are the biggest road races in the calendar…don’t forget the whole new world of trail races round here.

San Francisco Marathon – July.          

 Includes 2 half marathons (1st half, 2nd half).

The San Francisco Marathon
The San Francisco Marathon

Oakland Marathon – March.

The city that SF loves to hate throws a mean marathon!

Bay to Breakers – May.

Part race, part fancy-dress parade, part freak show. A good opportunity to run naked in public.

One of the tamer costumes! Source
One of the tamer costumes!

The Giant Race – August.

5k,10k or Half , ending on the field at AT&T Park

Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon

February. Flat and fast! It’s PR territory.

Best of all, local running club the DSE Runners host very cheap races every Sunday. No medals, no shirts…you get a ribbon and for $5 they are the best deal around!


This is a very selective list of the Bay Area running blogs I love.

SF Road Warrior

Diary of an Average Runner

Pavement Runner

Running Tangents


The Smudge

Kristen Keeping Up

Runners Rambles  (Although no longer updated, this blog is a treasury of local trail running!)

When you’re not running…

The world is full of travel guides to San Francisco but this one is one of the loveliest I’ve ever seen!

Not a bad place to run!
Not a bad place to run!

Enjoy your trip!!!

23 Comments Add yours

  1. Cheryl says:

    Co-sign everything. Great post! (The “San Fran/Frisco” thing is a pet peeve of mine, too.) I did NOT know they opened A Runner’s Mind in SF … must visit.

    1. Cathryn says:

      It opened this Tuesday, it’s beautiful! Glad you liked the post – I’m really chuffed with it! I wanted it to be a good resource for visitors!

  2. Jen says:

    As I said on Twitter – LOVED this post, such a great resource! I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t run all that much in SF, but now that I have this handy guide, I really have zero excuses.

    Also, thanks for the reminder re: Kaiser Half in February. Seems like that might be a good one for me to try for a sub-2. Are you planning on running it next year?

  3. Cathryn says:

    Thank you, I was so excited about this post and happy with it! Really glad you liked it. I think you should do one for Oakland, partly because we’re blog-twins and it would be weird if you didn’t 🙂 and partly because I would love this to spread to other bloggers generally so we built up a library for different cities!

    Ref Kaiser, I wasn’t planning to do it again until this morning when I was thinking about it…and the hunger is back BIG style! 1.52 at Kaiser! It’s my Birthday weekend so we could make it a Birthday Half Marathon and eat afterwards! Shall we do it? We could rope in Angela and other local runners.

  4. Bean says:

    I feel like you just planned out our running camp! Can’t wait to come back and run some more in that great city with my favorite run blogger!

    1. Cathryn says:

      DO IT!!! We need to find a week when D’s away and get it organized!

  5. Kristen says:

    Aww thanks for including me in your list of bloggers! What a great resource you created!

    I have to admit, I have never been to Angel Island! What a bad bay area girl I am. I need to remedy that it seems.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Glad you liked it, I wanted to create a resource 🙂

      I’ve only hiked Angel Island. But writing this made me think that I really need to go and run it soon. Maybe we could organise a blogger running morning!

  6. kyasarin says:

    amazing post – and so well timed for me, I’m moving to the bay area from the UK myself and this was on my top list of things to do. THANK YOU!!!! kay x

    1. Cathryn says:

      I’m so glad it was useful!! Welcome to the Bay Area, you’ll love it here. If I can do anything to help, feel free to let me know. When you get here, drop me a line and we could go running!!

  7. d-ana says:

    Perfect timing, just find out I will be visiting San Francisco in 2 weeks and my first concern was – where would I run and my second one – looks like time for new shoes …
    but not sure -are this place safe for running in dark ?
    also , are they safe for female runner ??

    thank you for a great post

    1. Cathryn says:

      I would be happy running the Embarcadero/GG Park by myself during the day. I’m cautious by nature so would avoid the park after dark but probably the Embarcadero would be safe enough in early evening as it’s still busy. Take usual precautions. Personally, I don’t run trails alone so would avoid the headlands/angel island by yourself although I don’t think either place is actually ‘dangerous’ for single females. If any other SF reader wants to give her views, I’d welcome your thoughts. If you want to drop me an email and let me know where your hotel is, I’d be happy to suggest places to avoid/that are safe but I totally understand if you’d rather not!

      Enjoy it, you’ll love it here. Bring warm clothes though, it’s turned chilly.

      1. d-ana says:

        Sent you an email.
        Thank you for the tips.

      2. Cathryn says:

        You should have a reply.

  8. Carlo says:

    Great Post….I am off to San Francisco ( please note use of the full name) 🙂 with my wife and another couple next week. Always looking for new places to run. We are staying in a hotel on Bush Street so it looks like running down Bush and via market to the Ferry Building is the quickest route to the Embarcadero trail? Is there a cable car that runs to GG park? That looks like a lovely run too. Although male I am always cautious when running a new city but it looks like early morning runs( which is when I always go out) would be fine.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Very impressed with the correct usage of San Francisco 🙂

      Yes, I think down Bush and Market would be the quickest way to the Embarcadero.

      I had a quick look at how to get to GG Pk but without knowing your hotel address (ie. where along Bush you’re staying) it’s hard to do. I’d use this website http://511.org – type in your hotel name/address and use ‘conservatory of flowers’ as the key point in Golden Gate Park and they should be able to help you get there. It’ll be a bus, not a cable car.

      I do think you should be fine running in SF. Bush is a long street and there are definitely some dodgy areas along it. I’d say heading west between Jones and Van Ness could be unsafe but I’m no expert. The Embarcadero will be very safe, I’d have no concerns there as a single female runner either.

      Enjoy your time here!

      1. Carlo says:

        “Dodgy”….your British roots are showing…Love that word LOL. Our hotel is on Bush and Powell, a few blocks east of Jones so running east to the Embarcadero I should be fine. Thanks for the great tips, routes and your blog. I look forward to running in San Francisco, looks like the weather is going to be nice next week but I will heed your advise and bring layers.


  9. Carlo says:

    Hi Cathryn..Well I’m back and just wanted to say thanks for the tips. From my hotel a nice downhill and flat to the Ferry Building and then either North to Fisherman’s Wharf or South to the Stadium. Had three great runs. Great weather last week so short and singlet was all that was needed. Never made it for a run in the park so that will have to wait for next time.

    Cheers and Happy Feet!!!


    1. Cathryn says:

      I’m so glad you had fun and glad I was able to help a little. Come back soon.

  10. We landed in San Francisco yesterday so am very glad to have had this to refer to! Am quite excited about the Crissy Field ParkRun on Saturday 🙂

    1. Cathryn says:

      I”m so glad this is useful and I’m so super jealous you’re there! Have a wonderful time – get coffee at the warming hut for me! If you need any more SF info, let me know.

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