Home > Hike, Muni, San Francisco > San Francisco Waterfront: Ferry Building to Fort Point

San Francisco Waterfront: Ferry Building to Fort Point

November 6, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Boats on the San Francisco Bay near Golden Gate Bridge -- by Jen English

This urban hike along a section of San Francisco’s waterfront visits a mix of natural and man-made points of interest and provides views of the Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and ships and sailboats on the Bay. Fort Mason, Fort Point, the Wave Organ, and other stops along the way make this an ideal route to revisit multiple times. It is also a nice hike for visitors to San Francisco who would like to get some exercise while visiting some of the city’s popular tourist stops.

Places visited: Aquatic Park, Fort Mason, Golden Gate Promenade, Crissy Field Marsh, Fort Point, Wave Organ (on optional side trip)
Approximate length: 9.5 miles (10.5 with optional side trip to Wave Organ)
Hiking time: 4-6 hours
Map: Aquatic Park to Fort Point (download the close-up map of Golden Gate National Parks), Fort Mason (download the Fort Mason map)
Terrain: Mostly flat
Transit Schedule: Multiple, for route to start point (see links for each region); Muni F-Market & Wharves (end point back to start point)
Start Point: San Francisco Ferry Building
End Point: Muni F-Market & Wharves stop at Jones and Beach Street
Getting to the start point:

  • From San Francisco, take Muni Metro J/K/L/M/N/T or BART to the Embarcadero station. Exit the station and walk east on Market Street for a short distance to the Ferry Building. Numerous Muni buses stop within three blocks of the Ferry Building as well.
  • From the Peninsula and South Bay, take a San Francisco BART train to Embarcadero station. Exit the station and walk east on Market street for a short distance to the Ferry Building. If you are closer to Caltrain, take Caltrain north to Millbrae, transfer to BART and take a San Francisco train to the Embarcadero station.
  • From the East Bay, take a San Francisco BART train to Embarcadero station. Exit the station and walk east on Market Street for a short distance to the Ferry Building. Alternately, take the Alameda/Oakland Ferry to the San Francisco Ferry Building from the Alameda Ferry Terminal or Jack London Square in Oakland.
  • From the North Bay, take the Sausalito or Larkspur ferries to the San Francisco Ferry Building. Alternately, take Golden Gate Transit Route 70/80 or 10 to San Francisco. Get off at Mission and 1st Streets, walk north one block to Market Street, turn right on Market, and walk 5 blocks to the Ferry Building.


  • There are numerous opportunities for food along this route: the Ferry Building at the start of the routes, along the piers, at and near Fort Mason, and at the Warming Hut. With the many scenic picnic opportunities along the way, this is an ideal hike for either bringing your own lunch or picking up some takeout food along the route to eat later at a view spot of your choice.
  • This route passes through tourist areas and popular recreation and exercise spots. Take this hike on a day when you are in the mood for being around lots of people. If you would like to skip the crowds at Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, take a brief detour around this spot by turning left at North Point street from the Embarcadero. Turn right at Hyde, walk two blocks to Jefferson, and turn left to continue the route as described.
  • This is an all-season walk; you’ll enjoy excellent views on a clear, sunny day but the route is nice at other times of the year of the year as well. The weather can vary greatly depending on the time of year. As with most San Francisco walks, clothing layers are recommended.
  • You may want to spend some times at some of the stops along this route, such as Fort Mason, Fort Point, and the Wave Organ. I recommend doing this route multiple times, each time picking one spot to explore in more detail.


  • From the Ferry Building, head north (right if you are exiting the ferry building) on the wide sidewalk.
  • In a short distance, at the next pier, turn right to follow the “public shore” sign around the back of the pier.
  • Continue to follow the series of public shore signs and occasional historic plaques, which lead you around the back of the piers rather than the wide path in front for views of the Bay Bridge and across the Bay.
  • Eventually you reach a public shore sign that leads to a doorway. If the door is unlocked, you can enter a  short passageway to view a couple of paintings. Then exit the door, turn left, and then right once you reach the wide pathway in front of the piers. If the door is locked, just head out to the wide path in front of the piers and continue north.
  • When you reach Pier 39, the path will likely become more crowded. Make your way through here and continue on through the even-more-crowded Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Through Fisherman’s Wharf, the route heads west on Jefferson Street. Feel free to wander out the piers here, but eventually you will need to go back to Jefferson.
  • Cross Hyde Street and continue straight, following the Aquatic Park sign.
  • Continue on the path once you reach the Aquatic Park and the Maritime Museum, keeping an eye out for cyclists. Even on cold days, you will likely see some swimmers out in the Aquatic Park. On clear days, you should also have some good views of Alcatraz.
  • Pass the long pier extending out from Van Ness  (or walk out a ways on the pier if you would like, before continuing on) and a sign noting that you area entering Fort Mason.
  • Walk up the short but steep hill, keeping an eye out again here for cyclists.
  • The path flattens out, and you have a view down to the Fort Mason buildings on your right. Look for stairs leading down to the buildings.
  • Take the stairs down (a few uneven steps, watch your footing) and walk across the parking area to buildings.
  • Take some time here to rest on the benches at the back of the buildings and/or visit the nonprofit groups that have reside here: museums, theater groups, music school, Friends of the Library bookstore, and the like.
  • When you are ready, continue past the last of the Fort Mason buildings and through a small opening to a walkway. You are walking close to the water here, not across the parking lot.
  • Follow the path, closely hugging the Bay, past the boats docked on your right. An expanse of lawn, the Marina Green is to your left.
  • Turn left when the Marina Green ends and then very shortly turn right again to follow the shore. Stay to the side of the road and watch for cyclists, inline skaters, and joggers in this section.
  • At Baker Street, turn right and head past a small octagonal building (a snack stand that may or not be open depending on when you are doing the walk).
  • Shortly, head diagonally to the left on a path crossing a parking area. Turn left at the wide path of the Golden Gate Promenade.
  • On your left, look for birds at the Crissy Field Marsh.
  • On your right you have options at several points to walk along the beach in addition to the wide promenade. You will be returning in this direction, so you may want to walk on the beach sections in one direction and the promenade in the other direction.
  • Pass the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Visitors Center.
  • Pass picnic areas and the Warming Hut.
  • When the path ends, continue on the paved street, staying to the right and watching for cars and cyclists.
  • When you reach Fort Point, you may wish to spend some time exploring here.
  • After exploring Fort Point, turn around and head back in the direction you came, keeping to the left side of the road.
  • Continue on the Golden Gate Promenade past the Warming Hut, the marine sanctuary, and the tidal marsh, heading out to walk along the beach in parts if you prefer.
  • Turn right and head past the octagonal snack stand, or you may choose to first go straight instead for a short side trip to the Wave Organ.

Optional side trip to Wave Organ, an acoustic sculpture where you can listen to wave sounds through organ pipes:

  • Head straight past the St. Francis Yacht Club on a small piece of land that parallels the shore.
  • At the end walk out to the Wave Organ area where you see small pipes sticking out from the walls.
  • Spend some time hear putting your ears up to the pipes to hear the sounds.
  • When you are done exploring here, head back the way you came and turn left and towards the octagonal snack stand.

End optional side trip.

  • At the intersection (Baker Street is straight ahead of you) turn left at the wide path to continue along the Marina Green.
  • Walk straight, keeping the Marina Green on your left and watching for cyclists.
  • Veer right past the Fort Mason parking lot entrance. Immediately past the entrance, head left on the path leading into the upper portion of Fort Mason.
  • Eventually you will be heading to the left, but feel free to spend some time here exploring the statues and paths that head off to the right and loop back.
  • Once you are back on the leftmost path continue straight past the stairs to Fort Mason. Head down the hill veer left at the pier to follow the waterfront back the way you came.
  • Walk along the path past the Aquatic Park, and continue straight on Jefferson Street past Hyde and Leavenworth.
  • At the next block Jones, turn right and walk to the F-Market streetcar stop. Congratulations, you made it!

Getting back to the start point:

  • Wait for the F-Market here, which one end of the line. Be aware that the streetcar is popular with tourists, so there may be a crowd waiting.
  • Take the F-Market back to its stop at the The Embarcadero/Ferry Building.
  • Alternately, if you are heading to BART or Muni Metro you can stay on the F until the Market Street and Main Street stop (Look for the BART/Muni signs, and head down the stairs and into the station.
  • If you are going to the Golden Gate Transit bus stop at Mission and First Street, stay on the F until Market Street and First Street (then walk one block south on First Street to Mission Street).

Optional walking route (approx. 1.75 miles) back to the start point:

  • Continue on Jones past the F-Market stop.
  • Turn left at the next block, North Point.
  • Walk straight on North Point until it ends at the Embarcadero.
  • Turn right and continue on the Embarcadero. Cross the street within the next couple of blocks (some of lights are long at these intersections, so I usually look for a light that is about to change, and cross there) to the Bay side of the Embarcadero.
  • Continue on the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building. Congratulations, you made it!
Categories: Hike, Muni, San Francisco
  1. November 14, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Can’t believe I never visited the Wave Organ!

  2. November 15, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Hi Jen, What a superb idea for a site… The Fort Point walk reminded me of a similar walk we did a while ago… walked to Sausalito for lunch (BART, fort mason, etc and over the GG bridge to Sausalito) and then ferried back. Also, I am about to get my Translink card – how convenient that will be! I also think it would be fun to check out a walk to an Inn, overnight, and then walk back the next day. I have been thinking that maybe somewhere in Marin would be possible.

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