Our 10 Favorite Outdoor Activities in the Bay Area

San Francisco Bay Area View

Welcome to bright and beautiful San Francisco! Here at SFBU, we are so proud to be part of the San Francisco Bay Area. California’s fourth-largest city checks all the boxes when it comes to being a world-class metropolis. From outstanding museums to great shopping, a diverse array of restaurants, and a dynamic startup scene - San Francisco is the place to be for anyone who wants to live in a city that has it all. No wonder students from all over the world want to attend a university in San Francisco! Yet, this is a city that also has plentiful natural beauty and open spaces.

Even though San Francisco is a bustling metro area, it boasts over 3,400 acres of wide open spaces for people to explore and enjoy. In fact, there are so many green spaces in San Francisco, every resident lives within a 10-minute walk of a park or green space.

Of course, San Francisco’s most famous public space is the Golden Gate Park, which covers over 1,000 acres of lakes, gardens, and beautiful Redwood trees. And yet, there are so many other smaller parks and open areas - from Hawk Hill to Buena Vista Park - for residents and students to choose from. Even more, there are plenty of options for those who want to leave the hustle and bustle of the big city in search of adventure.

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge are the Marin Headlands, which are home to nearly 140 miles of trails. For avid campers, a 25-minute ferry ride leads to Angel Island State Park. The fact is, students attending SFBU have access to a wide array of outdoor activities, from hiking to birdwatching and so much more. That’s why we want to tell you all about them in our latest blog. Let’s dig a little deeper into our 10 favorite outdoor activities in and around the city we love.

1. The Golden Gate Bridge and Park

We would be remiss if we did not start with the most iconic and well-known structures and outdoor areas in the Bay Area: The Golden Gate Bridge. While this may seem like an obvious first choice, the area around the Golden Gate Bridge provides for spectacular outdoor fun. Golden Gate Park is the place to go if you want to get out of the city without actually leaving the city.

Golden Gate Park offers a natural refuge for outdoors enthusiasts smack in the middle of San Francisco’s urban density. Covering an area nearly a mile-and-a-half large, Golden Gate Park is big enough to whisk you away from the sights, smells, and sounds of the city. Check out these points of interest within the park:

  • Japanese Tea/Botanical Garden
  • National AIDS Memorial Grove
  • Strawberry Hill
  • Stowe Lake
  • Hippie Hill

You may even get the opportunity to check out a herd of American bison in the park, which roam in an area near Spreckels Lake. These majestic animals have been a treasured part of the park for over a century.

2. Kayaking the San Francisco Bay

As a university in San Francisco, our students have access to a vast array of outdoor activities. And one of the most popular of those activities includes kayaking on the bay. Getting out on the water is an exciting and beautiful way to get up close and personal with the waters around San Francisco.

Did you know that it is even possible to paddle out to watch a San Francisco Giants game from the water? That’s right! For a truly unique Northern California experience, kayak out to McCovey Cove during a baseball game and enjoy the roar of AT&T Park without the need for a ticket. For students who may not have a kayak handy, City Kayak provides rental options and information for potential kayakers.

For those who want real adventure, head out into San Francisco Bay and paddle in the waters around Angel Island, Sausalito, Tamales Bay, and many other locations. For more information on kayaking safely in San Francisco Bay, check out the Bask Bay Area Sea Kayakers page.

3. The Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve

Just a few blocks south of Golden Gate Park is a 61-acre green space owned by the University of California, San Francisco. Many have described this idyllic space to be similar to a cloud forest. The iconic fog that rolls in from the bay creates a magical setting atop the reserve. And it is the perfect place to escape from the heat of the sun during a hot San Francisco day.

For those looking for a good hike, the reserve also contains over five miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails. Adventure seekers and casual hikers alike will love the Historic Trail or the West Ridge Trail before heading to the Mount Sutro summit itself. The North Ridge is another great option, which loops through old-growth blue-gum eucalyptus and cedar trees.

4. Fort Funston

Just across from Lake Merced Park and San Francisco State University lies Fort Funston and Funston Beach, long a favorite of San Francisco residents and visitors alike. Established in 1900, the area was originally the Lake Merced Military Reservation. It was in 1917 that a fort was constructed and the area renamed Fort Funston.

With windswept views of the beach and a large network of trails around the fort, Fort Funston offers plenty of activities for nature lovers. Birdwatchers will enjoy large colonies of bank swallows nesting in the nearby sandstone cliffs. It’s one of only two places in California where these endangered birds nest.

Finally, consider Fort Funston for sunset. Sit atop the hill and gaze upon the setting sun as it dips below the Pacific Ocean. San Francisco residents will tell you, this is the best spot in town to catch a gorgeous sunset.

5. Buena Vista Park

Translated from Spanish meaning “good view,” Buena Vista Park is the most appropriately named - and oldest - park in the San Francisco Bay Area. Students visiting the park will find beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands through thick groves of Cork Oak and Bailey’s Acacia trees.

Established in 1867, the hill in Haight-Ashbury also has an interesting past. The northeast staircase at the entrance of the park contains a peace symbol made of flower paintings. It’s a piece of art that nods to San Francisco’s past when Buena Vista Park was the center of San Francisco counterculture.

For provisions on your way to the park, stop by the Haight Street Market, which is only a five-minute walk from the park. And here’s an insider tip for you: You don’t need to hike to the top of the hill for the best views. Instead, find “The Window,” an opening located lower on the west side of the park. The views of the Marin Headlands and Drakes Bay are spectacular.

6. San Francisco Beaches

We would be remiss if we did not add any beach activities to this list. After all, as a coastal city, enjoying the sun and surf is quintessential to being a San Franciscan. Your first stop should be Baker Beach, which is located near the Golden Gate bridge. As part of the Golden Gate National Recreation area, this is a great place to relax after a long, hot day of hiking. Just keep in mind the water here is generally not safe for swimming.

China Beach is another visually stunning beach with a northward facing view of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge. The rock walls on both sides of the beach create a small protected area that once was a camp for Chinese fishermen, hence the name. And the area just south of the cove is called Lands End, where you’ll find an interesting hidden surprise called the Lands End Labyrinth.

Another interesting hidden gem are the Sutro Baths, which are calm saltwater and freshwater pools. This historical site is surrounded by a beautiful beach and stunning green headlands. It’s a lesser-known area with a unique history.

Also consider:

  • Mile Rock Beach
  • Kirby Cove Beach
  • Rodeo Beach
  • Muir Beach
  • Bolinas Beach

7. The Marin Headlands

We’ve mentioned it enough throughout this article, so why not share some of its history and appeal? Known for its unique geology and fog-swept coastal prairie ecosystem, the Marin Headlands are a diverse and historic part of San Francisco’s natural history. With dramatic cliffs of oceanic rock offering sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, this area is a must-do for students yearning for some fresh air and natural wonder.

The centerpoint of the Marin Headlands is the 920-foot Hawk Hill, which (attention birdwatchers!) is the lookout point for the largest known flight of diurnal raptors in the Pacific states, hence the name. Not only is Hawk Hill a prime destination for biologists, it also holds great appeal for hikers and cyclists.

The Marin Headlands human history is long and layered. It’s original occupants were the Coast Miwok Native Americans, who lived there for thousands of years. In modern times, it evolved into a military hot spot for coastal defense during the Cold War. Today, it serves as a welcome spot for local and international visitors looking for a taste of natural San Francisco.

8. Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area

We couldn’t very well provide a list of outdoor activities in San Francisco without paying some attention to options right here in Fremont. SFBU students won’t have to go far to get away and enjoy some fresh air.

Let’s start with the Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area. Located on the east bay side in Fremont, it’s a large regional park with several man-made lakes that offers picnicking, boating, swimming, and trails for hiking and wildlife viewing. The trails are wide and it’s fairly easy to walk around the various lakes.

Students can utilize the lake for water-related activities, from swimming to fishing, windsurfing, and boating. The area is also used to recharge aquifers in the Niles Cone Groundwater Basin, so it is not only a great place for outdoor activities, it supports the water needs of millions of San Franciscans.

9. Mission Peak

Mission Peak rises steeply to the east behind Fremont and offers a nice hike for those who want to peak a mountain without leaving the Fremont area. It’s also a popular place for parasailing and hang gliding as the winds off San Francisco Bay rise up its sides. You can also enjoy some stunning views of other mountain ranges from its peak, including:

  • Mount Tamalpais
  • Mount Diablo
  • Mount Hamilton

Both experienced and novice hikers can find accommodating trails in the hills in and around Mission Peak. With trails and parkland easily accessible from the SFBU campus, this is a first stop for student adventurers seeking fresh air and sun.

10. The Arden Historic Farm

And for our final entry on this list, we bring you to the Ardenwood Historic Farm, an unexpected option for SFBU students looking for something more off the beaten path. It offers a glimpse into life on an American family farm between 1890 and 1930. International students can expect a fascinating look into the history of their host country.

While the farm makes up the remnants of a once vast private estate, today it is a working farm open to the public. Staff and volunteers utilize carefully restored farm machinery to harvest and process crops once common in the region. There’s also a farmyard with a variety of animals, a large hay barn, an outdoor kitchen, and a working blacksmith. Being a historic farm, you can expect renovated, but historically accurate buildings, beautiful grounds, and a lovely Victorian farmhouse with formal gardens.

Today, Ardenwood demonstrates the vital role farms have played in providing resources, driving innovation, and bringing and keeping communities together. To find out what activities and schedules are around the farm - as well as information for other East Bay parks - check out the East Bay Regional Park District’s Naturalist Program Schedule. This should be your resource for parks and recreation information in Fremont and the surrounding area.

Wow, what a list, right? We had a blast putting it together! As SFBU students, we understand you work hard, so you deserve to get out and enjoy the beauty the Bay Area has to offer. As a Northern California university, we are grateful for the natural wonders of our state. Enjoy them!