The 5 Most Instagram-Worthy Hikes Around San Francisco

It's hard to take a bad shot at Land's End, the aptly named trail in SF's northwest corner.
It's hard to take a bad shot at Land's End, the aptly named trail in SF's northwest corner. Blane Bachelor
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Although escaping the pull of our gadgets is one of the main reasons people love to get out into nature, there's still an undeniable charge that comes with sharing your experience with the world. Even better when that experience comes with some brag-worthy images, which are in no short supply in the outdoor mecca of the Bay Area.

With that, we bring you the most Instagram-worthy hikes around San Francisco. Our only recommendation: Snap away while you're out there (and keep those selfies in check, too), but wait to post until you get home. After all, only so much technology is appropriate on the trails.

1. Angel Island

With views like this, it's hard not to get a little contemplative.
With views like this, it's hard not to get a little contemplative. Steenaire/Creative Commons

The world’s most famous penitentiary, SF’s glittery skyline, the Marin Headlands: There’s no shortage of stunning shots you’ll get from Angel Island , the largest in San Francisco Bay. Take it all in while hiking the scenic perimeter fire road that serves up the highlights of the island, including its views, historic sites, picnic areas, and beaches. Plus, the hike is less than five miles, so you can easily explore the island in a day (or, if you want to savor the back-to-nature environment longer, snag one of its campsites). The one (minor) drawback: You’ll have to plan your excursion around the Angel Island Ferry schedule .

2. Mt. Tamalpais

A moonrise shot from Mt. Tamalpais makes for an extraordinary photo.
A moonrise shot from Mt. Tamalpais makes for an extraordinary photo. John Lemieux/Creative Commons

With hundreds of miles of world-class hiking and biking trails in Mount Tamalpais State Park, it’s hard to go wrong when picking a trail here. There’s something for every skill level and scenario: a full-day (or overnight), 17-mile excursion from Stinson Beach, a rigorous but rewarding day hike on the Matt Davis Trail, or any number of loops that can be done in an hour or so. Whichever you choose, photo opps can be found at every turn, whether it’s spring wildflowers on the trail, stunning views of the Pacific, or the labyrinthine steps of the Dipsea Trail. Just keep an eye out for mountain bikers and remember that on sunny weekends, Mt. Tam is a popular destination for both locals and visitors, who come in droves to see Muir Woods.

3. Land’s End

Land's End is one of the most popular, and beautiful, hikes in San Francisco
Land's End is one of the most popular, and beautiful, hikes in San Francisco Blane Bachelor

This one may just be San Francisco’s best hike, and for good reason: It’s a good little workout but easy enough to knock out in an hour or so (the full out and back is about three miles); it's full of stairs and spectacular views; and it serves up a less-common angle of the Golden Gate Bridge than shots from the Crissy Field and Marina side. In addition to the bridge, the Lands End Trail  offers views of Sutro Baths and China Beach along its well-maintained trails. For an extra calorie burn (and a dose of quirky, SF flavor) look for a turnoff to Mile Rock Beach. Follow the signs and the stairs to a stone labyrinth created by artist Eduardo Aguilera in 2004.

4. Mt. Diablo

You don't have to climb all the way to the summit for fantastic views at Mt. Diablo State Park.
You don't have to climb all the way to the summit for fantastic views at Mt. Diablo State Park. John Morgan/Creative Commons

Mount Diablo is the highest peak in the East Bay, and most visitors head right to its 3,849-foot peak to snag some spectacular shots. No surprise why: Surrounded by rolling hills and broad valleys, the mountain offers awe-inspiring views as far as 200 miles away when conditions are ideal. On a clear day, you can take in sights from 40,000 square miles in total, including parts of 35 of California’s 58 counties; the Farallon Islands to the west; 3,791-foot Mount Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz Mountains to the south; north to 4,344-foot Mount Saint Helena in the Coast Range; and even farther north, all the way to Lassen Peak in the Cascades at 10,466 feet. North and east, you can spot the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers, and beyond the Central Valley, the Sierra Nevada also is visible.

There are a number of hiking options to reach the summit, including a challenging 6.8-mile one-way trip, or the less strenuous one-mile hike on the Juniper Trail from the Diablo Valley Overlook, at the entrance to Juniper Campground.  However you go up, make sure you hit ØL Beercafe & Bottle Shop in Walnut Creek after making it back down, a beer geek’s paradise with a head-spinning menu of unique brews.

5. The Presidio

Andy Goldsworty's sculpture Wood Line makes for an artsy hike through the Presidio.
Andy Goldsworty's sculpture Wood Line makes for an artsy hike through the Presidio. Ian Abbott/Creative Commons

With 24 miles of routes and eight scenic overlooks, the Presidio , a former Army base located within the city, is easily one of San Francisco’s most photogenic outdoor playgrounds. History buffs should check out the San Francisco National Cemetery, the 29-acre final resting place of more than 30,000 U.S. military service members, with row after serene row of white headstones. Art aficionados, meanwhile, will love the creations of Andy Goldsworthy . Of his three artworks in the Presidio, Spire and Wood Line are both outdoors. Spire is a sculpture of 38 cypress trunks joined together to form a giant spire, while  Wood Line is a zig-zag of cypress trunks laid together along the trail in the cypress grove near the intersection of Presidio Boulevard and West Pacific Avenue, just off Lovers’ Lane.

But for the quirkiest Presidio shot of all, check out the pet cemetery, which dates to the 1950s and, at least to this point, has been preserved amidst a chaotic jumble of construction under the highway overpass at McDowell Avenue and Cowles Street. It’s officially closed and is tricky to find, what with the traffic and construction, but if you do manage to get there and snap a shot or two, it’s a guaranteed highlight for your feed.

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