Home > BART, Hike, Muni, San Francisco > Southwest San Francisco Nature: Lake Merced, Fort Funston, and More

Southwest San Francisco Nature: Lake Merced, Fort Funston, and More

September 24, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Fort Funston, Battery Davis -- by Joe Reifer
Battery Davis at Fort Funston — by Joe Reifer

Starting at Balboa Park BART station and traveling through San Francisco’s Ingleside neighborhood to end at West Portal Muni Metro station, this urban hike takes you to some of the natural areas in the southwest corner of San Francisco: to the Merced Heights landmarks of Brooks Park and Shields Orizaba Rocky Outcrop, around Lake Merced, out to Fort Funston (part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area), and through Pine Lake Park and Stern Grove. At Fort Funston, you have a chance to see the remains of the World War II era Battery Davis and (if you are lucky) a hang glider or two flying along the coast. This hike will give you a taste of each of these nature areas and of the Southwest city neighborhoods; If you find a favorite location from the hike, you can plan a future visit for more in-depth exploration!

Places visited: Lake Merced, Fort Funston, Pine Lake Park/Stern Grove, Brooks Park, Shields Orizaba Rocky Outcrop
Approximate Length: 10 miles
Hiking Time:
5-7 hours
Lake Merced, Fort Funston
Mostly flat, with the exception of one steep block up to the rocky outcrop and a moderate stair climb into Fort Funston
Transit schedule:
BART (select Balboa Park as your arrival station)
Start point: Balboa Park BART/Muni
End point: West Portal Muni

Getting to the starting point:

  • From San Francisco, take BART to Balboa Park Station. Or, on Muni, take the J, K, or M Muni Metro lines, and get off at Balboa Park Station (trains do not go inside station). Several Muni Bus lines (26, 29, 36, 43, 49, 54) stop at or near Balboa Park BART  and City College of San Francisco. If you get off the bus on Ocean Ave. or San Jose Ave., walk to the Balboa Park BART station to start the walk.
  • From the Peninsula and South Bay, take Caltrain to Millbrae. Transfer to a San Francisco BART train, and go to Balboa Park station.
  • From the East Bay, take a San Francisco BART train to Balboa Park station.
  • From the North Bay, take Golden Gate Transit Route 70/80 or 10 to San Francisco. Get off at the Hyde St. and Grove St. (just before Market Street). Walk to Market St. and down the stairs into Civic Center BART station. Take a Daly City, SFO, or Millbrae train to Balboa Park station. Note that on the way back to Marin, you will board the GGT transit bus on 7th Street just North of Market St. Golden Gate Transit has downloadable maps of its routes in the Civic Center area and San Francisco.


  • Don’t be scared off by the distance of this hike, It’s mostly flat, and includes opportunities to stop and rest before continuing on with your journey.
  • This part of San Francisco is often foggy and colder than other parts of the city. It could also be windy out at Fort Funston, so make sure to bring extra clothing layers.
  • I recommend packing a lunch for this hike. Despite its urban setting, the hike does not pass many commercial establishments until the end. At SFSU, there is a coffee and sandwich stand (Station Cafe) visible from the corner of 19th and Holloway. Other eating establishments may be open on the campus depending on the time of your hike. Numerous restaurants and cafes can be found along West Portal near the end point of this hike.
  • Unless you enjoy constant booming sounds, get an early start for this hike. A rod and gun club is open from 11 am to 5 pm on Wednesday/Saturday/Sunday on Lake Merced. You pass it on the first part of your hike before heading out to Fort Funston, so you will miss most of the noise if you get started by 9:30 or so on the weekend.
  • If you would like your walk through Stern Grove to be a more peaceful experience, check the Stern Grove Festival schedule during the summer months so as not to take this hike on a concert day. On the other hand, you could plan this hike as an activity before one of the events; just be aware that Stern Grove will be extremely crowded.
  • If you would like to learn more about the history of this part of San Francisco, the Western Neighborhoods Project website has stories and photos about places such as the (now gone) Ingleside Racetrack. They have information on Brooks Park, which is also covered by an extensive website dedicated to the park history and activities.


  • Exit the Balboa BART Station and turn right on Geneva Ave. If you are coming from Muni Metro, go to Geneva Ave. If you’re unfamiliar with this station or neighborhood, orient yourself by looking for the freeway. Head towards it on Geneva Ave.
  • Cross the freeway (I-280) and continue on Geneva.
  • In two blocks, turn left on Howth St.
  • In two blocks, turn right at Mt. Vernon Ave.
  • Veer slightly to the left as Mt. Vernon becomes Grafton Ave.
  • Continue on Grafton for several blocks, until you reach Orizaba Ave. Turn left and head up the steep block.
  • At the top, walk through and up to the Shields Orizaba Rocky Outcrop. Take some time here to catch your breath and (if the weather is clear) enjoy the views.
  • When you are ready, head down the other side of the outcrop, past a hand-painted sign for the outcrop, and straight on Shields Street.
  • In about three blocks, you may see a giant hand in a driveway on your left. Shortly after passing this mystery hand, turn left into Brooks Park.
  • Pass a community garden (you may be able to enter if members are present, but be sure to ask first), and take a loop up and through the park. Again here you may have some views if it is clear.
  • When you are done, exit the park where you came in, and turn left to continue on Shields Street.
  • In five blocks (just after passing a small park/playground on your left) turn right on Monticello Street.
  • In two blocks, turn left at Holloway Ave.
  • In two blocks, cross the very busy Junipero Serra Blvd.
  • Cross 19th Ave., and continue on Holloway along the border of the San Francisco State University (SFSU) campus.
  • Veer right at Font Blvd.
  • At Lake Merced Blvd., cross the street and turn left onto the multi-use path.
  • Just past Brotherhood Way, you’ll see a giant penguin statue. Veer off the main path at the statue and parking lot to cut across Lake Merced on a concrete walkway. Along here is a good spot to look for birds.
  • Head through the parking area when you reach the other side of the lake, and turn right on the path as it continues around the lake next to John Muir Drive.
  • Shortly after passing the rod and gun club on your right, you will arrive at the Skyline Blvd. intersection. Looking across the road, you will see the sign for Fort Funston. Using the crosswalks, cross Skyline and head up into Fort Funston.
  • After climbing sand ladder stairs, you have a number of trail options for exploring Fort Funston. Feel free to wander on your own (there lots of paths here), or follow the suggested route that follows.
  • Stay on the main trail heading up to a wide trail, which will likely be populated by many people walking their dogs (most areas of Fort Funston allow off-leash dogs). Veer left and then shortly turn right to explore Battery Davis. Walk through the battery to explore the coastal bluffs. Take care here when it is foggy, as there are steep dropoffs in places. If it is not too windy or cold, you may find a nice spot along here to stop and rest for a bit.
  • Continue back through the bunker and right on the wide path. The path veers toward the ocean, then parallels it, and eventually reaches a parking lot that was the former site of a Nike missile launch area.
  • At this end of the parking lot, look for the hang glider viewing area out at the ocean. Walk out along the wooden decks and look for hang gliders (seasonal and in clear weather), and note futher military site remnants here. This area has some spots to sit and take a break.
  • When you are ready, go back to the parking lot. At the opposite end of the parking lot, off to the left, is another trail. Head out to that trail. Eventually this trail meets up with the trail you took out to the parking lot. Continue on the trail and out the way you came in, back to Skyline Blvd.
  • Cross Skyline Blvd. and turn left on the path to continue the Lake Merced loop.
  • Continue on the path as you pass the junction with the Great Highway on your left.
  • Shortly, pass the entrance to Harding Park Golf Course on your right.
  • Stay right on the path as it veers away from Skyline Blvd.
  • Shortly, turn left at Sunset Blvd. Cross to the right side of Sunset.
  • Turn right at the next street, Ocean Ave.
  • In two blocks, turn left on Morningside Dr.
  • Turn right at the end of the block to continue on Morningside Dr.
  • At the next block, Clearfield, turn left and cross busy Sloat Blvd. at the crosswalks and continue onto 34th Ave.
  • In three blocks, you reach and intersection with Wawona St. and Crestlake Dr. Turn right here, crossing to the other side of 34th and then crossing Crestlake Dr.
  • Veer Left on Wawona and very shortly turn right at the dirt path to enter Pine Lake Park.
  • Continue on the path past the lake, keeping a look out for birds, and then through Stern Grove. Pass a dog run area, picnic and play areas, and the Stern Grove outdoor concert venue. Bear to the left by a house that is used for weddings and events.
  • At a grassy area, look for a path that heads up to the left. Take the switchback path as it heads up out of Stern Grove.  You will end up in an open grass field.
  • Head across the field to the intersection of Wawona St. and 20th Ave. Cross the street and turn right on Wawona St.
  • At the next intersection, after passing an indoor swimming pool on your left, cross busy 19th Ave. and turn left.
  • Turn right at the next block, Vicente St.
  • Continue on Vicente St. for several blocks, bearing slightly to the left after five blocks.
  • Turn left at West Portal Ave., and head into the West Portal Muni Station. Congratulations, you made it!

Getting from the end point to the start point:

To get back to Balboa Park Station, go to the Outbound platform, and take the K to Balboa Park station. Or, if you are going towards downtown San Francisco or connecting to Civic Center BART to the East Bay or for the North Bay, go to the Inbound platform and take any of the Metro trains.

Categories: BART, Hike, Muni, San Francisco
  1. September 28, 2009 at 5:56 am

    Looks like near the muni golf course, one gets a fantastic view of the ocean.

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