World Running Guide: San Francisco

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World Running Guide: San Francisco

Finding a city’s secret spots can only really happen at human speed. In this series, Running Guide, we’ll provide information to help you discover your next destination through the eyes (or rather, feet) of a runner.

San Francisco’s terrain

is not for the faint of heart. Just when you think your calves are about to explode, you feel the crest of the hill drawing near. “Finally, a break,” you think as the downward slope approaches. When you finally reach the top, you inhale (if you’re like me, probably sounding like a dying cat) and soak up the horizon before you. The image of fog rolling over the Bay never gets old, and is enough of a reward for your hard morning run.


san fran.jpg
Photo: McGee Nall

During the summer

of 2014, my family road-tripped through Southern California. Each of us had our favorite spots: our private getaway on the rocks of Pacific Grove, the retro houses in Palm Springs, the oceanic views from the cliffs of State Route 1. While each of these images resonate in my memory, so does another: the pastel, misty, rolling city of San Francisco as “Everywhere You Look” played in my head.

I specifically remember one early morning, my family and I walking in an attempt to find some coffee. On our way to what would be our final destination, Union Street Coffee Roastery, we walked down a steep hill as a 30-something woman jogged up it. I thought, “I bet this city is a beast to run.”

Clinton Barnes CC BY SA.jpg Photo by Clinton Barnes, CC-BY-SA

On Your Mark

Runners from all over the country prize this city by the bay. San Francisco is listed in top 10 running cities for, Forbes, Women’s Running and is #1 for Runner’s World. Strava says the town is home to “maybe the highest concentration of steep urban climbs in the world.” Sounds daunting, right? Yes, but only if you don’t have good company and help from locals.

San Francisco has something for everyone. The rugged mountains on the horizon, the chaos of the city, hilly trails for the nature-dweller and flat waterfront courses for sea-lovers. The diversity of terrain, landmarks, and people make this California hot spot a dream for any runner. Oh, and the consistent 50-60 degree weather is pretty perfect, too.

Florent Lamoureux CC BY NC ND.jpg
Photo: Florent Lamoureux, CC-BY-NC-ND

Get Set

From Strava’s data alone, San Franciscans go on 12,554 runs per week and clock in 64,037 miles per week. To put those numbers into perspective, the people of Denver, Colorado, (which also made top 10 in Runner’s World’s list) run 4,579 times per week and 22,131 per week. Bottom line: those West Coasters are working it.

During our vacation, we strolled over to Alamo Square Park after seeing the iconic Painted Ladies. We turned to face the park and a massive group of runners greeted us, each dressed in all sorts of silly costumes. They yelled and cheered with excitement at…what, we wondered? Turns out we witnessed the Bay to Breakers 12K race, a favorite activity among San Franciscans. Another fun one is the Costume Dash, which inaugurated in 2016.

Even if you’re just looking for a simple jaunt through the city, many locals run from Crissy Field to the Fort Point parking lot (right by the Golden Gate Bridge). The route is 3.2 miles along the bay, and is a great place for speed training. The turn-around point can only be seen by those willing to travel on foot: Hopper’s Hands. Ken Hopper was one of the bridge’s ironworkers who also served as an on-call suicide prevention counselor. He frequently saw runners tapping the fence, so he made a red plaque for them to high-five as their halfway point reward.

Golden Gate Park, a must-see while in San Francisco, also provides various road types along with almost 7 miles worth of routes. For those who would rather work speed, circuits or other workouts, Kezar Stadium is also open to the public.

Image: Courtesy of San Francisco Road Runners Club’s Facebook page


Whether you’ve been running all your life or want to train for your first 5K, everyone could use an accountability partner. Thankfully, San Francisco isn’t short of running clubs to help you improve.

San Francisco Road Runners train three times a week, including Saturday long runs, Tuesday track workouts, and Thursday group runs. Anyone is welcome and participants range from 7:30 to 12:30 mile paces. Run Club SF is another option, and they pride themselves on their professional trainers. Who wouldn’t want to be coached by “Marathon Matt” and “Ab Fab Gab”?

“We Live Here, We Run Here” is the slogan for the Golden Gate Running Club. They mean business, and have been climbing those steep San Fran hills since 2001. GGRC meets twice a week for speed workouts at Kezar Stadium and long trail/road runs on Sundays.

There’s no doubt that strong calves and a tough mental cap are required to handle San Francisco’s terrain. But if you’re looking for cool temperatures, challenging courses and scenic views, you have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to.

Beginner: The Sasquatch Scramble 5K (Yes, sasquatch.)
Bold: Presidio 10 (10 miler)
Beast: The Dipsea Race
Can’t Miss: Hike to Twin Peaks Summit

Image: Kevin Jarrett, CC-BY

McGee Nall is a freelance writer based out of Athens, Georgia. She was probably eating Nilla wafers and Nutella while writing this.