Located near the geographical center of the city just south of Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson is the highest point in San Francisco. The 928-foot summit, crowned by a 103-foot cross, is easily identifiable from the metropolis below but is often overlooked as a hiking destination.

It’s an easy 1-mile round trip hike to the peak.

Hike to the cross atop Mt. Davidson, highest peak in San Franciso.
Hike to the cross atop Mt. Davidson, highest peak in San Franciso.

Far less visited than Twin Peaks, Mt. Davidson offers the hiker a gentle journey through eucalyptus woodland and tangles of ivy and blackberries. Up top are stellar vistas of the city skyline and south to San Bruno. (Alas no views of the Golden Gate.)

The cross atop Mount Davidson was the locale for a now iconic scene in the movie “Dirty Harry” in which the psychotic Scorpio intends to grab the ransom money and kill Inspector Callahan (Clint Eastwood). Unfavorable weather conditions delayed filming for several weeks; eventually the entire “Cross Scene” was shot in just one night.

For generations the site of an annual Easter Service, the concrete cross, as well as the tiptop of Mt. Davidson, is privately owned. After a long legal battle in the 90s over the religious/historical significance of the cross, the city sold it to an Armenian organization, which installed a plaque at its base memorializing the victims of the Armenian Genocide (1915-23).

Many short footpaths and one wide fire road lead through 40-acre Mt. Davidson Park. The trails intertwine so there isn’t a right way or wrong way to go. Even if you wander some side trails, you can make it to the cross and back in under 45 minutes.

Don’t overlook this hike on foggy day. Compensating for the lack of views is a wonderful quiet and the pleasure of one of San Francisco’s natural treasures wrapped in the mist.

Directions: From Highway 1 (19th Ave.) just north of San Francisco State University, turn east on Sloat Boulevard and proceed to Portola Drive. Turn left at this confusing intersection, drive 0.7 mile and make a right on Miraloma Drive, a quick left onto Marne Ave. and a right onto Juanita Way, where you’ll see what Google Maps calls the Mt. Davidson Hiking Path entrance.