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Hiking San Francisco

Urban Trails, Historic Hotels, and Why You Should Leave the Car at Home

The Golden Gate Bridge
Ray Navis

Is your New Year’s resolution to get in better shape? Too much food and football over the holidays got you in the mood for more exercise?

I have just the trip for you. Go to San Francisco, and do not take a car. Stay atop Nob Hill — which, by the way, is more competitively priced these days — and walk to all your destinations. The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins would be a nice fit for such a visit.

The Hikes

It seems like you can always run or walk farther when the scenery is inspiring. San Francisco fits this description better than any city in the world. The Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, Alcatraz, Angel Island, Belvedere, Sausalito, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio, and Fisherman’s Wharf offer exhilarating backdrops that make the journey pass effortlessly.

Our first jaunt was down California Street, past the Financial District, and then along the bay toward Fisherman’s Wharf. I was amazed at the amount of construction going on for the upcoming America’s Cup, which San Francisco will host this summer. Large chunks of a once undesirable harbor-front area have been redeveloped with pristine structures that will add value to the area long after the races are done.

The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins
Ray Navis

After this warm-up hike, we were ready for the real thing the next day. We set out to the west for the Golden Gate Bridge some eight miles away. First stop was Lombard Street on Russian Hill. Why does Stairmaster come to mind? Make sure you bring comfortable shoes on such a journey, and layer up on clothing as the San Francisco Bay area is noticeably cooler than Santa Barbara. From here we worked our way toward the bay and the Fort Mason area.

The City of San Francisco has done a great job linking up the bay with public parks, such as the Crissy Field Center where we headed next. This is a good place to spend an hour or so as you take in the full view of the bay with much of the city unfolding behind. Passing through Crissy Field, we made our way up a steep set of steps toward the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are several great vista spots, each with its own special view. Make sure you go under the bridge to see how the bay flows into the Pacific with ragged rocky cliffs on both sides.

Personally I would skip walking across the bridge itself. Cars are very loud and too close to the path for my taste. We caught a cab back from the Bridge Plaza, and the fare was only $17.

The Hotel

The buildings atop Nob Hill share a classic architectural style. Most likely they would be too expensive to replicate today, and they are worthy of some study. The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins has long been a San Francisco landmark. Many who have not stayed there have enjoyed a beverage or two at the Top of the Mark Restaurant with its 360-degree views. In all my travels, there is no greater city view than this.

The rooms at the Mark Hopkins have been continually updated with all the latest electronics one would expect at a top-rated hotel. The down bedding is very comfortable, and marble bathrooms complete the elegant touches. Those looking for a little extra pampering should inquire about the executive club level on the 14th floor. This includes room upgrades and access to the Club Intercontinental Lounge with several daily food offerings. The hotel also has a nicely appointed fitness center on the California level below the lobby. See IntercontinentalMarkHopkins.com for rates and availability.

The Transportation

San Francisco is one of the few cities where you really do not need a car. Cabs are plentiful, and the fares are reasonable. It is a solid five-hour-plus drive from Santa Barbara, and overnight parking at the hotels is exorbitant.

Altogether, I would seriously consider flying if you can land a reasonable fare. San Francisco Airport is now one of the best airports in the country after years of construction.

If you do fly, check out ExecuCar for your ride into the city. Their driver will meet you at baggage claim and assist you with luggage to their black sedan or SUV, depending upon your needs. This is a very relaxing way to navigate the airport scene. See ExecuCar.com for complete information.


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