We hiked the 17-mile Crosstown Trail—here's what you'll see + where to eat along the way
The Visitacion Valley Greenway along the 17-mile Crosstown Trail. (Courtesy of @crosstowntrail)

We hiked the 17-mile Crosstown Trail—here's what you'll see + where to eat along the way


UPDATE Oct. 1, 2020: Please note that due to Covid-19,. Candlestick Point Park is currently closed to vehicle access with no parking allowed. The restaurants featured below are all open for takeout unless otherwise noted. As always, it's best to call ahead, and be sure to bring your mask.

On a wind-swept Sunday afternoon, we took one for the team: In just shy of nine hours, we traversed the Crosstown Trail, the newly opened yet long time coming 17-mile lattice that connects South San Francisco's Candlestick Point to the very edge of Lands End.

Completed in July 2019, the Crosstown Trail is a hiking and biking pathway made possible by several volunteers—from such stewarding organizations as SF Parks Alliance, Friends of Oak Woodlands, and the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council—who put their heads together to map out the trail.

The Crosstown Trail initiative was adopted by the recreation and open space element of the SF General Plan in the spring of 2014, with the hope of connecting the metro's southeast and northeast green spaces via a rather lengthy diagonal. After much political hoopla and logistical worrying, the trail opened to the public over the first two days of June, in conjunction with National Trails Day.

To Start

Don't question us, just do this: Downloaded the OuterSpatial app. This is key for choosing the southbound or northbound path, tracking your route, and downloading maps and cue sheets for various sections of the trail. We began our journey on the south end near Candlestick Point, and paced along the Northbound Trail's five sections.

A note about parking: The lot Candlestick Point Park closes at 6pm, so park along Jameston Avenue or, even better, take a Lyft to the starting point.

Also note that there are separate trails for walking and biking.

Sections 1 and 2

The initial 801-foot-ascent here poises you for breathtaking views of South San Francisco and the Bay but, hate to say it, the first nine miles were pretty uneventful, with a sizeable chunk of those first four hours spent combing over concrete past San Franciscans carrying their laundry baskets over congested crosswalks. Nevertheless, the views from John McClean Park and Glen Canyon Park may be worth the trek.

Refuel nearby: While traversing through Visitacion Valley, break at Bayside Cafe (2011 Bayshore Blvd) for hearty diner-style plates and good vibes; when you hit Excelsior, there are cured meats and hand-filled cannolis to be had at Calabria Brothers Deli (4763 Mission St.); in Glen Park, Bello Coffee & Tea(2885 Diamond St.) has fantastic melts and paninis, as well as organic brews.

Sections 3 and 4

Another quasi-urban affair totaling nearly five miles, Sections 3 and 4 provided a welcome ebb and flow in elevation, a relief for the lower body. But still, the sheer amount of asphalt here is unholy. Path highlights include The Grand View Park, accessible by the Moraga Stairs, which serves gorgeous panoramas of the entire city; and the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps and its vociferous parrots.

Refuel nearby: In the Outer Sunset, A Desi Cafe (1501 Noriega St.) is an affordable oasis for curries, naan, and some of the city's best butter chicken. The Richmond's Cinderella Bakery & Cafe (436 Balboa St.) is famous for it pierogies, piroshkis, artisanal Russian breads, and cakes.

Section 5

Back in 1992, Vanessa Williams called it: You've saved the best for last. This final 5K-and-change serves up the most worthwhile views of the trek and more greenery than the earlier segments, combing the Lobos Valley Overlook in the Presidio that gave us skin-tingling views of the city's most postcard-worthy green spaces. Our walk along the Coastal Trail reminded us that there are, in fact, postcard-worthy beaches due west of FiDi; and our evening finish at the edge of Lands End was a cathartic, pat-yourself-on-the-back moment.

Refuel nearby: This final jaunt takes you through the wooded fringes of the Outer Richmond, and a celebratory meal at Cassava (3519 Balboa St.) is well-deserved. Reward yourself with the $48 four-course tasting menu, which includes such hearty dishes as Monterey black cod and Rancho Llano Seco pork chop. (UPDATE: During Covid-19, Cassava is open by reservation only for 75-minute time slots for dinner Wednesday through Sunday plus brunch on weekends. Bundle up for service on the sidewalk parklet.)

Final Thoughts

Dead tired, with our last Odwalla bar eaten, we hailed a ride back to the car and asked ourselves the question: Would we actually recommend this journey?

Yes. And no. But, mostly yes.

But it's not for tourists—there's better sightseeing to be done, and Land's End can be a day all on its own; just take a Lyft to your verdure of choice. But if you want to really see your city, in all its many aspects, this is a day worth doing (especially if you need the exercise).

// For more information and turn-by-turn directions, visit crosstowntrail.org/map.

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