The 8 Most Scenic Parks in San Francisco

Sunset over green hills descending to coastline
Fort Funston sits on picturesque 200-foot bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

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San Francisco is one of the most impeccably placed cities in the U.S. It sits on a peninsula of lush, rolling hills between the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. You're treated to views of the ocean, rugged bluffs, the Golden Great Bridge, and the high Marin Hills almost everywhere you go. Suffice to say there's no shortage of beautiful scenery in this city—especially because it contains more than 200 parks.

Indeed, San Francisco has more parks than any other U.S. city, working out to be a park every half-mile. They range from tiny picnic plots to acres upon acres of green space where coyotes and other wildlife have room to roam.

Here are eight of San Francisco's most scenic parks.

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Fort Funston

Grassy hills and trail on the coast at Fort Funston

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Fort Funston in the southwest corner of San Francisco is a former harbor defense installation-turned-beautiful park. Within the perimeters of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, these grounds overlook some of the longest and most beautiful stretches of beach in the city. Between the parking lot and the water are trails winding along dunes and rugged cliffs, descending down to the beach.

The beach itself is a comber's paradise. You're liable to come by a multitude of mollusk shells and sand dollars, and when the tide is low there are yards upon yards of extra beach to walk. Hang out at Fort Funston for long enough and you'll probably see horseback riders, dog walkers, and hang gliders taking advantage of the winds.

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The Presidio

View of the Golden Gate Bridge and bay from Presidio

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The Presidio has a long history in San Francisco. The native Ohlone called this area home until the Spanish arrived in 1776 and created an outpost. Mexico took control of it for a spell before the U.S. Army took over in 1846. Finally, in 1994, the Presidio became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The park is brimming with beautiful walking and hiking trails that feature stunning vistas of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge. It's common to spot wildlife such as coyotes and raptors. The Presidio is home to at least 12 species of endangered plants, too.

The Presidio offers everything from walks among tall cypress and eucalyptus trees to strolls along Baker Beach and Crissy Field. The park continues right on down to the entrance to Golden Gate Bridge. You can even camp or golf in the park.

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Lands End

Natural pools and sea at Lands End

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Stretching from the Sutro Baths ruins on the west side of the city, along the peninsula, all the way to 33rd Avenue, Lands End provides breathtaking ocean views, including Golden Gate Bridge vistas. The far east corner borders the Presidio, and it would be easy to spend an entire weekend just exploring the two parks.

Start your adventure learning about the park's history and native species at Lands End Lookout. From there, wander down to the ruins of Sutro Baths and walk along the seawall to spot pelicans, herons, and raptors like red-tailed hawks. Note that mornings are likely to be draped in a dense fog, but don't be deterred—it's part of the experience.

From the baths, take any trail through the cypress trees east, where you'll be able to spot the Golden Gate Bridge. Several lookout points, including Mile Rock Overlook, offer a view of shipwrecks during low tides.

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Crissy Field

Former coast guard station and bridge from Crissy Field

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Crissy Field is an all-purpose play area featuring grass lawns, designated BBQ areas, stretches of sandy beach, and a small stream that runs from the ocean into a marsh that's ideal for birdwatching. It boasts great views of the sailboat-dotted bay, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz, plus wide trails for jogging and biking along one of the city's most scenic routes.

This park is part of the Presidio but feels like its own entity. A section of the beach allows dogs off-leash, and the grassy area is perfect for playing fetch. You'll see plenty of picnickers taking advantage of flat ground and swarms of walkers, joggers, and cyclists on the wide trails. You, too, can rent bikes and ride to the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Golden Gate Park

Aerial shot of Golden Gate Park surrounded by skyscrapers

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Golden Gate Park is the beating heart of San Francisco. Home to California Academy of Sciences and the DeYoung Museum, among other famous landmarks, it's also a place for people to enjoy acres of open space. Visitors can walk through the botanical gardens or the Japanese tea garden, especially attractive in spring and summer.

Wildlife photographers galore log weekly hours in the park, capturing critters you'd never think would live in the middle of a bustling city, like coyotes. Still, those who tend this park make sure it's a safe and healthy environment for both wildlife and humans.

Multiple ponds suit various tastes, from the open Spreckles Pond where you can sail miniature boats, to North Pond, thick with vegetation and birds. The park even contains a paddock of bison, which were first brought to the park in the 1890s as a conservation strategy.

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Washington Square

View of Roman catholic church and grassy lawn

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Washington Square is one of San Francisco's first parks, established in 1847. It's located in the North Beach district, in the shadow of the stunning Roman Catholic Saints Peter and Paul Church (where Marilyn Monroe married North Beach native Joe DiMaggio). It's this grand example of Romanesque Revival architecture, complete with 191-foot twin spires, that makes the square so scenic.

Throughout the summer, the park is constantly hosting festivals and movie nights, though it remains a prime location for people-watching and picnicking year-round.

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Mission Dolores Park

Sunrise over Mission Dolores Park with city skyscape in background
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Spanning 16 acres of sloping green hills, Mission Dolores Park—or just "Dolores Park" to the locals—provides incredible northeast-looking views of the Mission district, downtown, and both the San Francisco and East Bay. The best views can be found in the southern half of the park.

If you tire of the views, you can seek entertainment at the park's tennis and basketball courts, several off-leash dog play areas, or the kids' playground. On summer days, it isn't unusual for Mission Dolores Park to play host to festivals and cultural events.

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Maritime National Historical Park

Garden of flowers with bay and boats in the background

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The Maritime National Historical Park is home to a museum, a library that doubles as a research center, and a fleet of old-timey vessels dating back to 1886. Overseen by the National Park Service, this park in the Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood contains two piers and a beach, so you know it's brimming with beautiful Pacific Ocean scenery. From the beach, you can see out to Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Marin County.

After exploring the park's half-dozen century-old boats, have a picnic on the grassy lawn overlooking Aquatic Park cove. Arrive early to admire the seabirds at Hyde Street Pier.