Ultramarathon man Dean Karnazes’ top 5 San Francisco running routes
With mild weather and ocean views, San Francisco is a great city for running year round. ZOZI Guru Dean Karnazes lets us in on five of the best routes—from easy 5-mile loops to 15-mile challenges.
There’s nothing purer than putting on a pair of shoes and hitting the trail. And that’s true whether I’m in Patagonia, Tokyo, or near my house in Marin, California. When I’m home, the city calls, and you’re just as likely to find me running along the waterfront as through the Presidio. Here are my top five recommendations for runs if you, too, find yourself in San Francisco.
1. AT&T Park to the Golden Gate Bridge
Distance: Approximately 14 miles, out and back.
Start at AT&T Park, and run along the waterfront to the Golden Gate Bridge. The route goes through Fisherman’s Wharf, past the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, and by many iconic sites of the city. It’s a mostly flat and paved road, except at Chrissy Field, where it turns into a graded fire road.
2. The Great Highway
Distance: Approximately 7 miles, out and back.
If you’ve never done this route, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Start at the Cliff House, and run south along the coastline. It’s pretty much a straight shot along the western edge of the city. Half of it is paved, the other half is nice, even, graded dirt. It's a beautiful place to take in sunset, so if you’re gonna catch me there, that’s probably when.
3. Golden Gate Park Loop
Distance: From 5K up to 15 miles. It’s up to you.
Start at the California Academy of Sciences, and do a big loop around Golden Gate Park. There are running trails throughout the whole thing. Watch out for the herd of buffalo along John F. Kennedy Jr. Drive in the northwest area of the park. They’re massive! (And, yes, contained, and cared for by the San Francisco Zoo.)
4. Presidio Loop
Distance: Varies. (According to my Fitbit, I did a 5.2 mile loop on a recent run.)
For this run, start at Chrissy Field, and do a loop through the San Francisco Presidio. It’s gonna be a little hillier, a little more challenging terrain. There are eight overlook areas (two of them— the Golden Gate and Pacific overlooks—are fairly new) and a dozen major trails in this former military base-turned-park and National Historic Landmark.
5. North across the Golden Gate Bridge
Distance: Approximately 5 miles, unless you add on the Headlands, which adds another 5 miles round-trip.
Start at Chrissy Field again and go north across the Golden Gate Bridge. When you hit the lookout spot on the north side of Golden Gate Bridge, that’s going to end up being a 5-mile run in total.
Add-on: If you’re feeling really energetic, head up Conzelman Road west to the top of the Headlands, which is a very challenging steep climb. Once you get up there, though, it’s got a commanding view. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge with the city in the background. All of Berkeley. Alcatraz Island. Angel Island, and all the way up to Point Reyes along the Pacific.