From beach boulders to granite walls, San Francisco rock climbers of all levels will find a lifetime’s worth of world-class climbing!
The Golden Gate City is known for its lively and diverse art and music, delicious food, and steep sidewalks, but it is also the center of a vibrant climbing community. Climbers boulder on the beach, plug gear surrounded by lush coastal forests, and grip sandstone jugs-all within minutes of the city. There are enough rocks here to keep rock climbers busy at every grade, and when adventure beckons, the towering granite cliffs of Tahoe and Yosemite are just a few hours away. You can’t go wrong with climbing in the Bay Area, but here are the top picks, according to locals, for where to go rock climbing in and around San Francisco.
1. Planet Granite San FranciscoPlanet Granite San Francisco, built in an airplane hangar overlooking the Bay and Crissy Field, is arguably one of the best rock-climbing gyms in the nation. It boasts 25,000 square feet of thoughtfully set boulder problems, top rope routes, and lead climbing walls. Yoga classes and fitness classes are offered every day, and a separate fitness area has equipment for cardio, core, or strength workouts. It is busy, but community-driven with a friendly scene for beginners. Climbers without a belay partner are encouraged to contact the front desk, and the staff will make a friendly call for belay partners over the PA system. It is family-friendly, with kids’ camps, belay classes for parents, and a “Parents’ Night Off”, where kids climb and eat dinner while parents enjoy a relaxing Friday evening. A day pass is $25, with cheaper rates for kids and students. For those not located right in the city, the Planet Granite Sunnyvale and Belmont locations also have excellent indoor rock climbing facilities.
2. Dogpatch BouldersDogpatch Boulders is one of the largest bouldering gyms in California, with a variety of problems on slab walls, vertical walls, overhangs and dihedrals, from V0 to V12. Beginners can learn to climb outdoors through an outdoor bouldering class at a nearby park. There is even a free course on outdoor ethics and stewardship, recommended for all climbers. The gym features a full training facility with cardio machines and weights, fitness classes and yoga, and an area for kids. A day pass is $25 with a variety of monthly memberships for couples, families and students.
3. Mission CliffsLocated in the Mission District on Harrison Street, Mission Cliffs is one of the oldest gyms in San Francisco, but they’re constantly innovating – they recently partnered with the City of San Francisco to build the largest public bike corral in the nation. It is a well-rounded gym with top-rope routes, boulder problems, and a lead wall, all with excellent route-setting on varied terrain. And there is a focus on getting climbers outside, through classes on outdoor climbing and leading. Climbers can take advantage of courses on belay techniques or climbing fundamentals, as well as the full training area with fitness and yoga classes. Mission Cliffs and Dogpatch Boulders are owned by the same company, Touchstone Climbing, and members have full access to both gyms. For non-members, a day pass is $25 a day, or $20 if you come in before 1pm.
4. Castle Rock State ParkThe sandstone boulders of Castle Rock are scattered amid a lush coastal forest, enticing climbers year-round with classic slope-y sandstone holds, aretes and even a few cracks. Difficulty levels vary from around V0 to V9. Warm up on Parking Lot Boulder or Mr. Magoo, and then progress to Castle Rock Proper. Castle Rock State Park is a great area to transition from gym climbing to the outdoors, with plenty of options to set up top ropes or to lead easy to moderate sport and trad. Begin on Indian Rock or Waterfall Rock or walk the extra mile to Goat Rock for taller and (usually) less crowded walls. There is an $8 fee per vehicle, but it is possible to park outside the park and walk in if you arrive early. Use Bruce Morris’s Rock Climbing Guide to the Castle Rock Area or Mountain Project to find routes and boulder problems.
5. Mount TamalpaisMount Tamalpais rises out of a redwood and oak forest, with sweeping vistas of the San Francisco Bay and the Farallon Islands. Beginners should lead their first trad climb here, or practice setting up top-rope anchors using slings on the rocky formations. The slabs of volcanic rock on the Northern Formation Wall has routes in the 5.3 to 5.7 range, and there are a few boulders with moderate and easy problems scattered throughout the park. It is possible to climb here almost year-round and it can be a refuge in the heat of summer when the Sierra is baking in the sun. The East Peak trailhead that leads to the climbing has an $8 cash-only parking fee. Routes and boulders are listed on Mountain Project, and are also found in Rock Climbing the San Francisco Bay Area.
6. Mickey’s BeachBoulder on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, breathing in the invigorating sea air while waves crash against the rocks. Mickey’s Beach offers a rare beach climbing experience with approachable boulder problems for all skill levels. Danger Rock has an assortment of V1-V7 problems, while Center Bouldering Rock has a few jug hauls and traverses in the V0-V4 range, depending on the sand height. Bouldering is possible year-round, but to get your full value of interesting moves in, try climbing on a dry day in the winter or spring when the sand tends to be lower. Access to Mickey’s is free; be aware that it is a popular nudist beach. Route information can be found on Mountain Project or Rock Climbing the San Francisco Bay Area by Tresa Black.
7. Nut Tree BouldersScramble up overhung basalt boulders, anywhere from a few feet off the ground to 30-foot-long high-ball problems. The Nut Tree Boulders are just outside of Vacaville, about an hour away from San Francisco, and offer classic problems for the V0 beginner to the V10 strong-person. The boulders are scattered on open, rolling green hills with beautiful views of the mountains on a clear day. Beware – in the heat of summer these boulders are cooking, so come in the spring, fall, or a mild winter day. The Boxcar Woody Boulders Area is the easiest to find with the shortest approach – see how many times you can go around the long V5 Boxcar traverse, which is great training for longer routes. The Woodcrest Area has a high concentration of routes, with several V2 and V3 classics like Last Resort (V2) or Bloody Madness (V3). There are no fees to access the boulders, and Mountain Project is currently the best bet for finding boulder problems.
8. Table MountainAnything is possible at Table Mountain, from bolted moderate climbs to tricky trad, and classic hard, overhung sport lines. The mountain is a geological oddity, a flat-topped feature with steep, winding rocky cliffs on one side that continue for miles. One of Table Mountain’s more unique features is the Grotto, a steep columnar basalt cliff that starts in a shady pit and rises to a full pitch above ground. The bottom pitches range from beginner to moderate sport or trad climbing, followed by a second pitch of significantly more difficult sport routes. Try moderate classics like AC Devil Dog, a 5.10d sport climb, or the 5.10d finger crack, Rawhide. Jailhouse Rock hosts some of the best hard sport climbing in the state, with 5.12 to 5.14 routes on overhanging blocky basalt walls. Table Mountain is best in the spring or fall and is usually climbable when other areas remain covered in snow. Check Mountain Project for route descriptions, or Jim Thornburg’s Bay Area Rock for Jailhouse Rock and the Grotto. Dawson’s A Climber’s Guide to the Sonora Pass Highway is a comprehensive guide to the areas around Table Mountain. Note that Jailhouse Rock is behind a locked gate, so check the Access Fund for the gate code.
9. Lake Tahoe BoulderingVenture outside the city and suburbs to the high Sierra, where mountain vistas, alpine lakes, and miles of climbable rock await. “The bouldering here is so amazing – just as great as world-class destinations like Bishop,” says Cassie, a longtime San Francisco resident who has climbed nationwide at top-notch bouldering destinations. Climbs here range from V0-V14 with a variety of different climbing styles, although high-ball, pumpy boulders are typical for the area. Check out Lost in Space boulders on the South Side for hard problems, or Donner Memorial State Park and Deer Creek Park for great beginner problems. Boulder around Tahoe and Truckee when the snow melts and the passes are open to traffic, seeking shade during summer. Mountain Project lists boulders, but for comprehensive guides, check out the Bouldering Lake Tahoe series by local climbing gurus Dave Hatchett, Jon Thompson and Frank Lucido. Rakkup has the digital version of Lake Tahoe - North/West Edition for only $8.99.
10. Lover’s LeapSix hundred feet of sheer granite rock rise above the high Sierra, providing an abundance of traditional climbing routes comparable in quality and exposure to Yosemite. The granite at Lover’s Leap is unique, with horizontal and vertical cracks interlacing to provide more climbing holds than your typical granite crack system. This allows for tons of beginner and moderate routes, sometimes up to four pitches long. Begin with the classic 3-pitch 5.7, Bear’s Reach on the East Wall, or the 5.9 Traveler Buttress on the Main Wall. “Lover’s Leap in Tahoe is definitely one of the most popular and scenic spots with great trad,” says Julia, a longtime traditional climber who has instructed for Outward Bound and climbed big walls in Yosemite. Luckily, if crowds abound, there are plenty of great hidden routes and adventurous classics away from the main wall. Climb when the snow melts in the spring and the roads are open. Camping is $10 a day right by Lover’s Leap. Use Mountain Project for routes, or Chris McNamara’s South Lake Tahoe Climbing Guidebook.
11. Donner PassDonner Pass is another world-class trad area only a few hours away from San Francisco off the I-80 corridor. Solid granite abounds, with long cracks and face climbs and tons of multi-pitching. Start on the Snowshed Wall, a vertical cliff that offers sun and shade during different parts of the day. Work on classic moderate trad routes like Bottomless Topless (10a), or go to Black Wall for multi-pitch routes up to 600 feet long. Climb here when the snow melts around April or May through the fall. Mountain Project has great beta, but also check out the North Tahoe guidebook by Josh Horniak.
12. Truckee River CanyonThe Truckee River Canyon is yet another gem of the Lake Tahoe area, with gorgeous views of the Sierra and ski areas near Truckee. Bolted sport routes abound, and the rock in this area is a unique combination of volcanic and basalt. Big Chief is the best and most popular area, with a dense concentration of classic climbs anywhere from 5.7 to 5.13. Start on the 5.9s and 5.10s on the Center Wall, but if it is too crowded, then hike another mile in to Light Deprivation Wall. Most of the Truckee River Canyon is accessible from highway 89, with a few crags, like Big Chief, accessible on Forest Service Road 6, which is closed seasonally. Climbing here is possible from the snowmelt in late spring until October. Use Mountain Project to find routes or Josh Horniak’s North Tahoe guidebook.
13. Yosemite National ParkThe most famous alpine climbing destination in the world is only three hours away from San Francisco, and an essential pilgrimage for all Bay Area climbers. Climbers come to Yosemite to test their big-wall skills on El Capitan or Half Dome, although there are hundreds of other worthwhile routes as well as world-class bouldering in the valley. You can’t go wrong in climbing anywhere here, as high granite walls rise from the alpine terrain, offering stunning vistas and great exposure. Climb in the valley from spring until fall, when the roads are snow-free and open. There are dozens of Yosemite guide books, as well as a host of information on Mountain Project and Yosemite Climbing Information.
Note that Yosemite can be crowded and hot in summer, so in high summer, drive another hour northeast to the serene high country of Tuolumne Meadows. Stunning granite domes rise from high alpine meadows, with endless options for alpine trad including long beginner and moderate routes. Additionally, several bouldering areas are accessible with just a short jaunt from highway 120. Check out the Tuolumne Bouldering Guidebook or Mountain Project.
Yosemite National Park charges a $30 entry fee, or a $60 annual fee. Camping can be found throughout the park, but expect to pay at least $25 a night, and to book in advance. To stay at the famous walk-in Camp 4, plan to line up early in the morning to snag a spot.