7 Hours, 15 miles
We’ve all been feeling stir-crazy since the pandemic started, but I was starting to feel especially down, due to the fires and air quality in California. The escape I found in the outdoors was abruptly halted during this time and I didn’t really know what to do with myself.
Finally, last weekend, the air quality improved and I knew this was my chance to go outdoors and take in some sights and breath the fresh air while I had the chance.
It’s almost like my phone heard me because I came across a post about the Crosstown Trail. Spanning across San Francisco, the Crosstown Trail is a hiker/biker friendly route that connects hiking trails, parks and outdoor spaces throughout the city. The map goes through hills, several neighborhoods and many, many staircases.
I roped in a friend for this socially distanced hiking trip. On a cloudy Saturday, we traversed the Crosstown Trail. It was exhausting but I hadn’t felt so good in a long time, it was totally worth it to take the trip and below, I’ll give you a summary of the trip along with tips to make things easier.
Table of Contents
What to Expect
We didn’t really prepare too much for this hike, aside from grabbing a lot of water and hand sanitizer. I’d say both of our fitness level are average, we run a few times a week but we’re not seasoned hikers or runners. This hike felt pretty doable despite being so long. I think as long as you are generally active a few times a week, you could probably do this hike. There are some points where the terrain becomes a bit strenuous but it ends quickly and it’s quite flat toward the end.
What Time Should I Start? Do I Need a Map?
If you are looking to complete the trek in a day, you may need to start earlier, around 8AM, but we started at 11AM and ended around 5-6PM and got through most of the trail. The whole trail does not have a lot of visible signage, it is recommended that you download an app to navigate. If you’d like to leave your phone at home, you can go to CrosstownTrail.org for cue sheets for the trail (PDFs).
Note: I would recommend using the AllTrails app’s map and recording with that over the OuterSpatial app that’s been officially recommended. My friend was using OuterSpatial while I used AllTrails and the OuterSpatial app glitched hard at times (like no map showing up) and was more difficult to follow.
Full disclosure: We didn’t do the full hike, we started at Arleta Station in Visitacion Valley and ended at China Beach Park. So in total we did around 15-16 miles (including a pit stop in Inner Sunset for lunch – which was not a part of the hike but delicious).
We only stopped twice to use restrooms, once at McLaren and another at Golden Gate Park, but there were plenty of bathrooms around the parks that were well-maintained and clean – so don’t fret about finding one when nature calls on this trail!
What to Wear
Comfortable hiking shoes and socks are a must. Something with a lot of cushion and padding. Be sure to bring several masks as well. It gets pretty sweaty going uphill for so long on the hike, so switching to a fresh mask in the afternoon is advised.
Layer your clothing – I wore a long sleeve merino top, tank top and then a sports bra as my final layer. For bottom layers I just wore a pair of leggings with pockets which worked fine.
What to Bring
This is an urban hike so you can stop at places to grab things if you forgot any supplies. We intended on eating along the way, so we packed pretty light aside from bringing at least 100 oz. of water each + hand sanitizer.
Packing List for Crosstown Trail Hike
☐ 3L Hydration Bladder
☐ Sanitizing Wipes
☐ Hand Sanitizer
☐ Band-Aids / First Aid Kit for Blisters, etc.
☐ 3 Masks (each)
☐ Granola bars
☐ Selfie Stick or Tripod
☐ Face Wipes
☐ Foldable picnic blanket for park stops
☐ Portable phone charger or smartwatch charger
MILE 2.5 at Visitacion Valley
We start out at Arleta Station in Visitacion Valley. The hike goes through the Visitacion Valley Greenway, a few block-long community gardens that brim with greens and flowers. That morning there are a few volunteers out working in the gardens, they point us out as Crosstown Trek hikers because we have all our gear on – and we wave hello. We continue and pass by a woman dancing and doing some morning exercises to a boombox. This is just the first stop and I am already thinking about how I want to take my partner here to see the gardens next time.
MILE 3 at McLaren Park
The gardens turn into an uphill climb into McLaren Park. The first stair climb of the day begins. We climb up and take a picture at the top commemorating finishing the first ascent. There is a nice view of the first section below us. We stop and savor the view for awhile but then we both realize that we need to find a restroom, stat. McLaren Park has a restroom right nearby the trail and we stop quickly to use it. We continue walking through the park and take in the sites, tennis courts and tai chi group exercisers abound.
MILE 3.5 at Oxbridge Market
We continue walking and I notice a sign at the Hillcrest Market that says, “Best Sandwiches in the Bay”. Oof. So we have to stop!
So snack at Oxbridge Market – a delicious chicken delight on Dutch crunch bread, consisting of chicken, bacon, mozzarella, avocado, grated Parmesan, sriracha, mayo, 1,000 island dressing, onions, lettuce and pickles.
The sandwich is cut in half so we share it. We definitely would have passed out early on in this hike if we hadn’t shared. This is a HUGE flavor bomb and absolutely worth the $11.99, with tax and tip I pay around $14.28 at the time. In hindsight, it seemed a bit risky to get a Dutch crunch sandwich with so many toppings so early in the hike with no bathroom but it sat really well and was super satisfying!
MILE 6 at Glen Canyon Park
We walk over an overpass and continue walking onward after Oxbridge to Glen Canyon Park. This is probably my favorite segment in the route. Many pieces of this hike feel like we are walking outside SF the city and in a State Park or National Park, but Glen Canyon feels especially out of place. It feels unusually quiet and peaceful in Glen Canyon. There are rock climbers scaling some boulders on the hills and runners stairclimbing up and down the trail.
MILE 7 at Bedpan Alley
We make it to Bedpan Alley – along this path we see a few people that are on the same path we are. Apparently you can also do this trek backwards! This area is a little odd because the trail takes you behind the Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center. We check the map and worry about trespassing but we keep walking forward.
MILE 8 at Grand View Park & the Moraga Steps
We walk past Golden Gate Heights Park, finally to Grand View Park. I am starting to fatigue as there are so many stairs along this route.
This part of the hike is the hardest. Everything past Grandview/the Moraga steps becomes much easier and flatter. I’d also note that while there are many climbs, they are fairly well separated to allow for rest, which we definitely need.
We make it past Grand View and the Moraga Steps and take another couple of snapshots, but we don’t break for lunch, we don’t stop until we get to Inner Sunset.
If you haven’t been to the Moraga Steps or Grand View in the past – make sure to stop and savor that view. And be sure to look back on the steps too. There are mosaic tiled pieces of art on every stairwell, they’re beautiful.
MILE 10 at Arizmendi Bakery & Manna Korean (Detour)
We end up detouring and heading to Arizmendi Bakery for lunch, grabbing some kimchi fried rice that I phone in from Manna along the way. (We really went with some unconventional hiking snacks for this hike.) The food is unbelievably delicious and hits the spot – Arizmendi’s coffee cake is so decadent. We also stop by the Sakura Discount Store along this route to buy some more face masks, just because.
Note: This is a detour from the actual Crosstown Trail, it probably adds only 1-1.5 miles though.
We continue after our kimchi fried rice feast with renewed vigor.
MILE 12 at Golden Gate Park
Here’s a familiar part of SF, GGP! We make it to Golden Gate Park and use the restroom, and continue walking through. It’s a busy day in the park but the restrooms are fairly empty and well maintained.
MILE 13 at Park Presidio
We’re walking through the Presidio now and getting pretty tired, we’ve actually passed by the goal we were trying to reach but we continue on! We’re walking through Baker Beach and we decide to take one final photo commemorating our first time on the Crosstown Trail.
MILE 15 at China Beach Park
We finish at China Beach, just a few miles from Lands End and the Sutro Baths, the official end of the trail. It’s close to getting dark but we started out late so we decide to finish for today and try the full trail again in the future. My old S3 Apple Watch doesn’t fully record the route and my All Trails stopped recording a few times but in total, our final mileage is 15-16 miles.
Final Thoughts & Resources
This hike was surprisingly peaceful for a trek through the city! Definitely not what I was expecting. There were a lot of amazing views and it’s a great way to see all of SF’s parks and many districts in a single day. I’m so glad we did it and I would definitely do it again.
I couldn’t have done it without all the resources on the web, I’ve linked all the restaurants, stores and resources below if you decide to try the hike too.
One response to “Hiking the Crosstown Trail in San Francisco: Tips and Places to Eat”