Because a considerable portion of San Francisco was built upon dunes, it's an accomplishment to have as much green space as we do. Both Golden Gate Park and the Presidio defied natural odds by sprouting forests where sand and grasslands dominated (with a bit of help from landscape architects like John McLaren, of course).
Our greenbelts also mean plenty of nature. Here are some of the places offering free nature walks and classes throughout San Francisco.
The San Francisco Botanical Garden (at Strybing Arboretum) is 55 acres of plants and flowers representing a variety of climate zones.
The Botanical Garden offers free docent-led guided walks of the gardens (daily), as well as free birding walks, and family walks on various days of the month.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
Inner Sunset Neighborhood - See Map: San Francisco Neighborhoods
In Golden Gate Park - Enter off 9th and Lincoln Way
San Francisco, CA 94122
San Francisco Botanical Garden Website
The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, established in 1981, assists with park research and conservation efforts. Throughout the month, the Conservancy's calendar has a variety of free walks and educational tours in the various parks of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Some walks are in San Francisco, while others take place in GGNRA parks in Marin County.
Events are free but some require an RSVP by telephone (indicated on the listing). Be sure to check the website ahead of time.
Walks include: Bird walks, wildflower walks, and park tours.
Public programs through San Francisco Nature Education include the popular Heron Watch in Golden Gate Park. Naturalists and interns help visitors observe the park's nesting herons -- through spotting scopes. Heron Watch starts in April (nesting season) and continues through May.
On the first Saturday of each month, San Francisco Nature Education also conducts a free birding walk in Golden Gate Park.
The Naturalist Society lists birds walks, wildflower hikes, garden tours, ecology lessons and a variety of events on topics of nature in San Francisco and the Bay Area.
Some of these events are cross-listed at other sites like the Golden Gate National Parks calendar.
6. Free Nature Walks in Marin County
In addition to San Francisco events, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy offers a variety of nature walks and tours in the Marin Headlands. See the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy Website for a full calendar and information.
Audubon Canyon Ranch in Stinson Beach is known for its nesting herons (with limited viewing times by visitors). They also offer guided nature walks at select times throughout the year.
Richardson Bay Audubon in Tiburon has a self-guided nature walk through varied terrain and habitat. They also offer field trips and numerous youth activities.
San Francisco Amateur Astronomers offer astronomy viewings at Mt. Tamalpais each Saturday nearest the first quarter moon from April through October.
7. Free Nature Walks - San Mateo & Santa Clara Counties
The Palo Alto Baylands offer spectacular bird watching during the winter migration months. They offer some guided nature walks, as well as good information on self-guided tours and walks of the park areas.
The guided and self-guided walks to see elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park (south of Half Moon Bay) are a highlight of any Bay Area visit. During certain times of year, during mating and baby season, access to the elephant seals is restricted.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at Moss Beach is tide-pool nirvana. You can explore on your own (observing all of the careful conservation principles) or take one of the docent-led tours of the tide-pool area.