Things To Do & See

Hike to a scenic viewpoint, photograph wildflowers in bloom, look for birds and butterflies, volunteer to pull weeds and plant seeds, romp with your dog, just hang out…all these are popular activities in our natural areas.


One of the things San Franciscans value most about our parks and open spaces is the opportunity they provide for hiking and enjoying the beauty of our natural landscapes. With almost 30 miles of existing trails, San Francisco’s natural areas have an abundance of hiking opportunities.

Some of the trails are in poor shape, however – difficult to access, steep, uneven, and often eroding. Over the next few years, the Recreation and Parks Department’s Urban Trails Program will renovate trails in 11 natural areas. The program will also expand the current volunteer trail corps to help create and maintain the network of trails in the city’s natural areas.

The following parks have excellent hiking trails:

Please stay on existing trails. Taking shortcuts is dangerous, causes trail erosion, and harms plant and animal life.

Some of these trails link to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which will ultimately comprise more than 550 miles of trail encircling the Bay Area along ridgetops, with connections to the California Coastal Trail. From India Basin Shoreline Park, you can connect to the San Francisco Bay Trail, which will ultimately encompass 500 miles of trail along the bay’s shoreline.


A city – particularly one as densely populated as San Francisco – may seem an unlikely place to find wildlife, but many creatures both native and introduced make their homes here. The varied plant communities found in the city’s natural areas provide especially good habitat for a great diversity of birds and other wildlife. From herons and owls to lizards and salamanders, butterflies and dragonflies, and even foxes and coyotes, our natural areas offer a wealth of wildlife-spotting opportunities.

Please help keep the city’s wild animals wild by not feeding them, or they may become too accustomed to humans – a fed coyote is a dead coyote. Keep your dog on leash in areas that coyotes are known to frequent, for its own safety. For more information about learning to coexist with coyotes, see Project Coyote. Please don’t attempt to capture any wild creature, be it a butterfly or lizard, or an injured bird or raccoon.


A total of 356 species of birds have been recorded in San Francisco, including resident and migrant species. Lake Merced is a key stopover for migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway, as well as an important nesting site for double-crested cormorants and great blue herons. Red-tailed hawks and American kestrels soar high above the grasslands of Bayview Hill in search of prey, while great horned owls nest in the forests of Glen Canyon Park and egrets and avocets forage in the salt marshes of India Basin. Among the many other bird species you may spot in the city’s natural areas are grebes, gadwalls, bank swallows, chickadees, goldfinches, nuthatches, and warblers.

The following parks offer excellent birdwatching opportunities:

For more information about the Bay Area’s birds and bird walks, visit the Golden Gate Audubon Society’s website.


The most common mammals in city parks and open spaces are those that adapt well to living with humans, such as squirrels, gophers, raccoons, and skunks. Larger mammals that once inhabited San Francisco, such as deer and tule elk, can no longer survive in the city (though occasionally a deer does wander in). Some parks do support more diverse fauna, however: long-tailed weasel and gray fox have been reported at Lake Merced, and after several decades’ absence, coyotes have moved back into the city and are living and breeding at Twin Peaks, Bernal Hill, and Glen Canyon Park. If you are lucky enough to see one of these elusive creatures, please don’t try to approach or feed it–for its safety and yours.


Swallowtails, skippers, painted ladies, and red admirals are among the butterflies that can be found throughout San Francisco’s natural areas. Two rare butterflies, the endangered Mission blue and the locally rare green hairstreak, are the focus of special programs intended to prevent them from becoming extinct within the city.

In 2009, as part of the as part of the Mission Blue Butterfly Relocation Project, 22 pregnant female Mission blues were released on Twin Peaks, the only place this butterfly has survived within San Francisco (a few populations can be found in San Mateo and the Marin headlands). Look for the light blue, quarter-sized butterfly in the park’s rocky grasslands, which contain three species of lupine it uses for food and to lay its eggs. NAP has developed arecovery plan for the Mission blue on Twin Peaks.

The brightly colored, nickel-sized green hairstreak butterfly is found in only two regions within the city: the coastal bluffs of the Presidio, and along Golden Gate Heights, in the Hawk Hill and nearby Rocky Outcrop natural areas. The goal of the Green Hairstreak Project and the is to reconnect the populations in the two natural areas so they can interbreed; the group leads spring walking tours of the neighborhood to look for the butterflies.

You can see photos of many of the butterflies to be found in San Francisco at Butterflies of San Francisco.


On a sunny day, rock outcrops like those found in Bayview Park and the upper slopes of Glen Canyon Park are great places to look for western fence lizards, California alligator lizards, or one of many non-poisonous snakes, such as the San Francisco garter snake, Pacific gopher snake, or Pacific ring-neck snake. In contrast, tiny slender salamanders seek out cool, wet places, and can be found under rocks, logs, and leaves in woodland and coastal scrub habitats in many parks. Western pond turtles, a California “species of concern”, have been spotted at Lake Merced, and populations of the endangered San Francisco garter snake and threatened California red-logged frog survive in the wetlands of Sharp Park’s Laguna Salada.


In the spring, wildflowers bloom in profusion across the grasslands and scrublands found in some of San Francisco’s natural areas. Here you can see California poppies, buttercups, blue-eyed grass, Douglas iris, silver lupine, seaside daisy, farewell-to-spring, and many more. More rare sightings include Mission bells, shooting stars, Franciscan wallflower, and coast larkspur. Flowering trees and shrubs include manzanita, California lilac, flowering currant, dogwood, and California buckeye.

The following parks have dramatic spring wildflower displays:

To find out about scheduled spring wildflower walks, check ourevents calendar and the California Native Plant Society’s Yerba Buena chapter website. CNPS also has a species list of rare plants found in San Francisco County and other reference materials.

The website Bay Area Hiker has a section on Bay Area wildflower identification, organized by flower color.


Many of San Francisco’s natural areas are situated on hilltops and ridgelines, providing expansive views of the city, the bay, and the Golden Gate. Some even provide vistas of the ocean, the Marin headlands, the East Bay hills, and San Bruno Mountain.

Natural areas with the best views include:

  • Bay View Park: Excellent city and bay views
  • Bernal Heights: 360-degree panorama; clear views of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown, San Bruno Mountain, and East Bay hills
  • Billy Goat Hill: City and bay views
  • Brooks Park: Sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, the Farallones, and Mt. Tamalpais
  • Buena Vista Park: Spectacular views from the upper slopes
  • Corona Heights: Some of the best city and bay views in San Francisco
  • Grand View Park: Stunning views stretching from downtown San Francisco and all of Golden Gate Park to Pt. Reyes and around to Lake Merced
  • India Basin Shoreline Park: Views of the bay from its shoreline
  • Kite Hill: Excellent city and bay views
  • Mt. Davidson: Downtown and bay views
  • Tank Hill: Panoramic view from Pt. Reyes to Bayview Hill
  • Twin Peaks: Spectacular 360-degree Bay Area views


San Francisco’s natural areas are part of a larger mosaic of city parklands, open spaces, and facilities that provide a wide variety of recreational opportunities to residents and visitors alike. In city parks like Golden Gate, McLaren, and Pine Lake, you can plan a whole family outing that includes a hike through a natural area, a picnic lunch, and a visit to a playground and dog park.


Pack a lunch and take a walk in one of these parks, which have both natural areas and picnic areas. Most also have playgrounds or play structures for children.


Dogs are welcome on leash in all natural areas, though some sensitive areas may be designated off-limits. Six parks with natural areas have designated off-leash dog play areas:

There are numerous other dog play areas in San Francisco parks, many of them designated for off-leash recreation. Some dog behaviors, such as digging and chasing wildlife, can be damaging to natural areas, so it is important that dog owners be responsible for their pets’ activities. Please abide by posted park rules, clean up after your pet, prevent digging and wildlife disturbance, and stay in designated areas and on trails.


These natural areas are near playgrounds or play structures. Parents with toddlers should note that they may need to walk several blocks between park and playground.


Getting Involved with the Natural Areas Program

Every week, schools, businesses, volunteer groups, and individuals help restore and preserve San Francisco’s natural lands. Habitat restoration and related activities invite urban dwellers to participate in the city’s dynamic and enduring natural history. There are many fun and rewarding activities taking in place in natural areas all across the city; by volunteering for one of them, you can become a steward of San Francisco’s natural heritage.

Individuals are welcome to join any of these ongoing habitat restoration projects. Groups must sign up in advance. Events occur rain or shine. Wear closed-toed shoes, long pants, and layers. Tools and refreshments provided. To volunteer in one of our natural areas, please visit the Recreation and Parks Department’s volunteer section.

Monthly Work Parties:

  • First Saturday
    • 9am – noon: Buena Vista Park
    • 9am – noon: Mount Davidson
    • 1:30pm – 3:30pm: Lake Merced
  • Second Saturday
    • 9am – noon: Bayview Park (on odd numbered months only)
    • 10am – noon: McLaren Park (on even numbered months only)
    • 10am – 12:30pm: Golden Gate Park: Oak Woodlands
    • 1pm – 3pm: Edgehill Mountain
  • Third Saturday
    • 9am – noon: Glen Canyon Park
  • Third Sunday
    • 11am – 2pm: Bernal Hill
  • Last Saturday
    • 10am – noon: Corona Heights

Bi-Monthly and Quarterly Work Parties:

  • Billy Goat Hill
  • Fairmount Park
  • Interior Greenbelt
  • Kite Hill
  • Pine Lake
  • Tank Hill
  • Twin Peaks

For a calendar of habitat restoration projects and other volunteer opportunities, see the Recreation and Parks Department Volunteer Calendar.