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It’s Wednesday and your best friend calls, hungry for $20 appetizers at San Francisco’s newest and most overpriced cafe. After a longer look at the online menu, it’s clear you won’t be leaving this place without spending at least half your rent. You suggest doing something cheaper and healthier than devouring a basket of gourmet bacon fries, because San Francisco’s perks aren’t always expensive.

The natural beauty of this city is a free source of entertainment, one that’s arguably more fulfilling than sitting indoors this summer. To prove my point, here’s a list of five free and scenic hikes around town:

 

1. CORONA HEIGHTS PARK
The dirt trails that lead to this peak are lined with rugged boulders, not tall trees, giving hikers unobstructed views of the San Francisco Bay as they near the top. Adjacent to the Castro neighborhood, Corona Heights Park offers amazing views of busy Market Street and downtown San Francisco set against the backdrop of the East Bay’s rolling hills. Leave the picnic blanket at home if you’re doing this hike, as the unpredictable gusts will knock over anything not nailed down. The park at the base of the trail, however, is shady and peaceful – a perfect place for dog owners to toss around the tennis ball.
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2. BUENA VISTA PARK
This peak offers just as spectacular a view as Corona Heights Park, with a completely different experience getting to the top. The park’s forested trail at the western end of the Haight neighborhood provides a cool escape from the summer sun. Take a mellow stroll through tall pine trees as you wind you way up to the summit, or more expedient hikers can hit the switchbacks that cut directly to the top. This sheltered grove is an ideal setting for a picnic with an amazing look at the Golden Gate Bridge.
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3. MORAGA STAIRS
Don’t pay a fortune to visit a ritzy museum when you can climb this dazzling masterpiece for free. Each one of the 163 steps is covered in vibrant mosaics that visually span the depths of the ocean to the heavens above. The staircase starts at 16th and Moraga, leading to the base of another hill with views of the Sunset neighborhood and Golden Gate Park.  It’s a great way to get a bird’s eye view of the city’s charming west side – by far the most underrated part of San Francisco.
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4. FORT FUNSTON
After climbing the Moraga staircase, make your way further west to the beach and check out the rolling dunes of Fort Funston. These sandy trails are pet friendly and often crowded with dozens of professional dog walkers looking after their wily packs. The fort was the site of Battery Davis, built in 1938 as a series of lookouts for Japanese ships during the onset of WWII. Get lost in the maze of shrubs and ice plant towering high above the waves, or hike down to the shoreline to dip your toes in the water.
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5. MOUNT DAVIDSON
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the highest point in San Francisco. Mount Davidson is hard to miss with its 103-foot-tall concrete cross towering over a grove of trees at the top, which now serves as a memorial for the Armenian genocide. It’s an ideal place for admiring the expanse of the Bay directly south of downtown, so take some time to relax after completing this wooded hike.
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All photos are from the Creative Commons archive of Flickr.