First-time visitors to San Francisco can be overwhelmed by the amount of outdoor activities. It only takes a peek out of the window of an airplane to realize how thin the line is between city and nature in the Bay Area.
To the north, the Golden Gate Bridge links San Francisco with endless hiking and biking activities in the Marin Headlands. The south offers majestic drives down Highway One to pristine beaches, including Half Moon Bay. Oakland and Berkeley to the east have their fair share of rolling hills and stunning vistas.
And the west? That's the Pacific Ocean. Doesn't get any more wild and natural than that.
So it's no surprise that the mountain that dominates your view as the airplane wheels scorch the tarmac can sometimes be overlooked. However, at over 1,300 feet, San Bruno Mountain, a San Mateo County maintained park, deserves to be thoroughly explored.
The Ridge Trail of San Bruno Mountain — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
If a long plane ride has your legs so cramped that you need a hike right after landing at SFO, San Bruno Mountain is a convenient option. Get on Highway 101 from SFO and take the Bayshore Boulevard/Brisbane exit.
Continue on Bayshore Boulevard to Guadalupe Canyon Parkway. Turn west on Guadalupe Canyon Parkway toward the mountain, and go to the park entrance. Parking for the Ridge Trail is either at the Trailhead parking lot or the Summit parking, which is at the end of Radio Road
After paying a nominal six-dollar fee to get into the park, follow the main path that runs underneath the road to get to the San Bruno Park Ridge Trail.
The Ridge Trail is aptly named: it goes up until it hits the ridge of San Bruno Mountain. You can follow this trail for 2.4 miles, or simply turn around when you've had your fill. For a longer hike that includes the Ridge Trail, start off on the Summit Loop Trail.
View of downtown San Francisco from the Ridge Trail — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
It's a fine hike, any day of the year. But when the winter rain comes and clears the air, and the summer fog is months away, you'll get a view of the past and future of San Francisco that you can't get anywhere else.
Just below the trail lies South San Francisco, which represents San Francisco's important industrial past. And the view west to downtown San Francisco reveals the future: lots of new construction fueled by the latest tech boom.
But wherever you look, you'll find reasons to stop and gawk. All of San Francisco Bay – as well as a gleaming blue ribbon of the Pacific – is within sight. And, on the clearest days, you should be able to spot Mount Diablo, the Bay Area's largest mountain.
End of San Bruno Ridge Trail — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy