By James Dong and Last Minute Gear. Photos courtesy of James.
James is passionate about increasing access to and diversity in the outdoors. He helps organize Queer Crush and The Brown Ascenders meetups at Touchstone Climbing, and also runs Last Minute Gear, where access is central to their mission. They are the only gear shop that allows people to buy, rent, or borrow!
Climbing gyms have greatly increased the accessibility of the sport. But of course, nothing beats a day outside at the crag, hanging out with your friends and pulling on some real rock! But climbing outdoors can be logistically challenging, particularly if you don’t have access to a car.
That’s why I’ve compiled this map and guide in partnership with Last Minute Gear, the only gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow. LMG’s mission is to reduce waste and increase access to the outdoors. They are the only shop where you can rent shoes, crash pads, and accessories* with models geared towards beginners and advanced climbers alike, so whether you’re just starting out, traveling without gear, or want to test an aggressive downturn, you can! Touchstone members also get a 15% discount on all non-rental purchases!
*Please note that due to liability, harnesses, ropes, and other load-bearing equipment is only available for sale, not for rent.
San Francisco’s three outdoor climbing crags are the most “urban” on this list, which comes with some perks:
1. They’re super transit-friendly
2. Water and bathrooms aren’t too far away (at both Glen Canyon and Cliff House, there is either a visitor center or community center facilities you can use just steps away)
3. You’ll almost always have the crag to yourself since most people go further out
There is technically one more crag in the city, but I have not included it in this guide as its profile on Mountain Project suggests it’s pretty sketchy (in fact, it’s often excluded from climbing books), and there are only one or two routes there anyway.
Glen Canyon Boulders
A number of crags (generally bouldering, though a few scattered bolts exist) are inside of Glen Canyon Park. The main crag at the center of the park is about one mile from the Glen Park BART station. Many boulder problems are highball without flat landings, so you may want to prepare multiple crash pads. Mountain Project profile here.
Beaver Street Wall
Almost literally in the geographic center of San Francisco, this wall on one side of Corona Heights Park has some great outdoor toprope routes and is only 0.3 miles from the Castro MUNI station. Mountain Project profile here.
Bonus? Corona Heights Park has some of the best views of San Francisco, and the kid-friendly, free admission Randall Museum is also worth checking out.
Cliff House Boulders
You’ll be bouldering directly under the famous Cliff House restaurant with the ocean and beautiful Seal Rocks in the background behind you—not to mention the approach is a walk along the beautiful Ocean Beach. It’s such an under-utilized crag that you’ll be able to identify the boulders by the graffiti love notes! Problems are highball, though the landings are flat. The boulders are about 0.5 miles from the endpoints of various MUNI lines. Mountain Project profile here.
Five small parks located in the Berkeley Hills feature great bouldering! The furthest north is Great Stone Face Park. Half a mile south from there, you’ll find the practically adjacent duo of Mortar Rock and Indian Rock Parks. Another mile east from that duo lie the neighboring set of Cragmont Rock and Remillard Parks. Because of the winding streets in the hills, getting to any park from the Downtown Berkeley BART station is roughly two miles, passing through the famous Gourmet Ghetto along the way. You can also transfer to an AC Transit bus in downtown, which can cut the distance in half. Indian Rock Park is also a popular spot to watch the sunset over San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. The Mountain Project Berkeley page here describe crags in this cluster of parks.
Grizzly Peak Boulders
This is definitely the furthest Berkeley crag, at three miles uphill from the Downtown Berkeley BART station; however, it’s included here because you can take AC Transit buses or UC Berkeley campus shuttles from downtown and get dropped off one mile or less to the crag. Do note, the buses come sporadically and their routes are meandering, so a walk may be more pleasant. On the map, we show a suggested walk through the UC Berkeley campus, the hills behind it (the Botanical Garden makes a nice detour), and the complex of laboratory buildings where world famous discoveries are made! Mountain Project profile here.
Want to fill up a day? The Lawrence Hall of Science is just down the street from these boulders.
Black Sands Beach
Just over the Golden Gate Bridge in the Marin Headlands, this beach is famous for its black sand and amazing views of the bridge and the city beyond. But it also has some great boulders to climb! The beach is about one mile from where there is a stop for the 76X, a MUNI bus that runs from downtown San Francisco to Rodeo Beach and the Point Bonita Lighthouse. Keep in mind the bus is a tourist express line that only operates on weekends. Mountain Project profile here.
Whether bouldering or rope climbing, Ring Mountain delivers with a great collection of problems and a fantastic view of the Bay Area! Marin Transit can drop you off along the main road near the base. From there it’s about 1.5 miles to the top. Mountain Project profile here.
Up for a challenge? Mickey’s Beach delivers with some harder routes. (Don’t worry, there are some beginner routes in there, too—not to mention you’re basically at one of the North Bay’s best beaches!) Marin Transit operates a bus that drops you off at Stinson Beach; from there, walk about one mile south along the beach, past the nudist area, to the crags. Mountain Project profile here.
Surfer and climber? Knock both out in a day at Pacifica! A few boulder problems and rope routes can be found in the headlands that jut out into the water just less than one mile to the north of the Pacifica State Beach, where SamTrans can drop you off. You can transfer to SamTrans at the Daly City BART station. And of course, beach climbs always mean fantastic views! Mountain Project profile here.
Further afield (not on map)
Just because it’s far doesn’t mean it’s not transit-friendly. Monterey-Salinas Transit, for example, operates a bus that goes from Monterey to Andrew Molera State Park, where you’ll find some good bouldering at the beach, about 1.5 miles from the bus stop and parking lot (Mountain Project profile here). And there’s an airport shuttle service directly from San Francisco and San Jose airports to Monterey! Don’t let the distance be a bother. Besides, the journey may be just as much of an adventure as the destination!
Last Minute Gear has other pro tips on how to get to Yosemite and Tahoe without a car. Yosemite is especially accessible as you can take transit directly into Yosemite Valley, the main sightseeing destination, and the starting point for famous bouldering areas and big walls alike!
Northern California truly is a climber’s paradise, and it’s our mission to help make this activity more accessible to all. We hope this pro tip on getting places without a car has helped you!