Roaming Zen

The lost art of writing copyCorona Heights – the first picture I used to promote Roaming Zen.

‘Shundo David Haye has probably walked through more parts of San Francisco than you have.’ I’ll take this endorsement – it came from this nice article in  the SF Chronicle!

So, in the midst of all the Shelter In Place stuff, even if I can’t lead a roam in the usual way, we are still allowed to exercise; it occurred to me that I could just post instructions for routes that you could do any time you feel the need for a decent hike, remembering the excellent cue sheets that the Crosstown Trail provides – of course it would be a great time to do all or some of that if you fancy it.

I have done half a dozen of these now, and you can see them all on Meetup. Since most of the descriptions were too long for the space they have on the event forms, I wrote them all out as Google docs, so you can just follow the links below. I have also roughly drawn most of the routes over the Openstreetmap view of the city, which hopefully will help you find your way around.

Two of these are the first two routes we did, four years ago now:

The very first roam was from Mountain Lake, to Lobos Creek and the Sand Ladder (which was not universally popular), and back via the Immigrant Point overlook and the woods. Full route details here.

Presidio Roam

Next up, some of the hills in the midst of the city, from Duboce Park to Mount Olympus and back. The link to that route is here.

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The route from the end of Judah along Ocean Beach to the Sutro baths and back via Sutro Heights is simple enough that I didn’t draw a map, but the route is laid out here.

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Then there is the quarry and canyon route, which I think we have done three times now, twice in one direction, once in the other. It has some of my favourite places in it, and I enjoy running it when I am in shape to do that – description is here.

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DSCF2807 (1)The Harry Street steps.

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Then there is the Russian Hill roam, which we have done a couple of times, and of which the little alley above is one of the highlights for me. The route is here.

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And finally, a re-run of one of the two bicycle roams that I offered. I have retraced this route recently, and it is even nicer than it used to be, owing to some new bike infrastructure around the Chase Center. Follow that here.

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I hope getting out in the fresh air is good for your well-being.


I will pick up the schedule again once we are allowed to roam freely again!

Among other thoughts, I would like to trace the lake-creek-beach route again, take a visit to the Dogpatch, and have in mind a more multi-modal roam to visit various labyrinths. Stay tuned!


If you need some prompts as to the benefits of roaming, here are a trio of articles from the Guardian: 
Two-hour ‘dose’ of nature significantly boosts health – study
Woodland sounds help relaxation more than meditation apps – study
Blue spaces: why time spent near water is the secret of happiness

All of which is achievable without leaving the city limits!

And this from the New Yorker:

A small but growing collection of studies suggests that spending time in green spaces—gardens, parks, forests—can rejuvenate the mental resources that man-made environments deplete. Psychologists have learned that attention is a limited resource that continually drains throughout the day. A crowded intersection—rife with pedestrians, cars, and billboards—bats our attention around. In contrast, walking past a pond in a park allows our mind to drift casually from one sensory experience to another, from wrinkling water to rustling reeds.


These roams are offered by donation; they are one way I try to be able to afford to continue living in San Francisco! Thank you for your generosity in supporting Roaming Zen.

IMG_1783.jpgAcross to Twin Peaks and the Sutro Tower from Bernal Heights.

IMG_3872And from Twin Peaks over to Bernal Heights and Bayview.


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DSCF8353.jpgThe Florida Alley trail, aka the Sutro Ravine Trail, aka Bedpan Alley.

IMG_0652A trail up the side of Mount Davidson.

IMG_1625.jpgA trail in the Presidio.

IMG_0248.jpgLooking over to the Sutro Tower and Twin Peaks from the top of Mount Davidson.

DSCF2143.jpgLooking across to Angel Island from Crissy Field.

Land's End
Along the Golden Gate from the Land’s End trail.

DSCF1706.jpgLand’s End, having completed the Crosstown Trail.


The genesis for Roaming Zen was perhaps my shuso practice period at Tassajara, where I noticed that I derived as much energy from being on the trails or up the road, among the trees and by the creek, as I did from the hours in the zendo. It was perhaps crystalised by a visit to Tassajara with a group from Young Urban Zen a year or two later: after the days of work, a group of us set off for a hike along the Horse Pasture trail, and at one stage, hearing all the talk of people’s pre-occupations and mundane affairs, someone in the group asked if we could all hike in silence for a while and properly take in the surroundings. Afterwards, the agreed verdict was that the silence had transformed the hike.
And so, having tried versions of it at City Center, Green Gulch and Tassajara, one of my favourite things to do these days is to gather a small group of people, sit with them, maybe introduce a little quote or theme, and lead them around a chosen route, cultivating mindful presence through walking and sitting quietly in the midst of city life.
There are so many little corners of San Francisco that lend themselves to the activity, surrounded by beauty, views, and sometimes quiet. We have visited hills and canyons, creeks and beaches, staircases and alleys, lakes and hidden parks; we have listened to birds and waves, watched butterflies and bees, smelled flowers and ocean spray. We have looked over all sides of San Francisco and to the mountains beyond.

I like to give credit to OpenStreetMap, for featuring much more detail in paths and trails than I ever get from Apple Maps or Google Maps – I would not have found some of these routes without it, and FoundSF/OpenSF History for filling me in on what used to be in the places we visit.

27 Tassajara.jpgLeading the way along the Horse Pasture Trail near Tassajara, summer 2019. Photo courtesy of April Nemeth.

IMG_20191026_130458.jpgLeading the way up the Smelter Trail at Wilbur in October. Photo courtesy of Laura Della Guardia.

image2 copy.JPGCloser to home, leading a group around the Presidio.