Quiet time with God's word and in prayer is crucial to restoring our souls and growing as Christians. We all know life gets crazy, and you may find that your Bible is collecting dust on your bookshelf while you do dishes, respond to emails, or get caught up in endless to-do lists. Sometimes we just need to get away so we can really hear from God and get a sense of direction.
While the Bible doesn't give an exact recipe for devotions, we do see Christ drawing away from His family, friends, and followers to focus on talking to His dad — aka our Heavenly Father. If Jesus needed this escape to get alone with God, how much more do we? Seriously, if the most peace and quiet you currently enjoy is a cup of coffee at your kitchen table with the TV on, kids running around, and your cat climbing on you, it might be time to get out of your home to do a devotional.
But where to go? As crowded as San Francisco feels, the good news is that SF has some beautiful places where you can get away from it all to reflect and come away restored. Whether you're a long-time local or a newbie to the city, check out these 12 places to be alone in San Francisco for some refreshing devotional time.
1. Japanese Tea Garden
Golden Gate Park's Japanese Tea Garden is a popular destination for tourists, with good reason. It's the oldest public Japanese garden in the US and is especially beautiful when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom in the spring. Even though this garden is a popular spot, it's still a peaceful enough place to get your mind right for your devotions. The Japanese-style setting can also help you step out of the bubble we all too easily get caught up in. While you're there, why not spend some time praying for the nations?
Pro tip: While the garden is open from 9A -5:45P every day, if you get there before 10A on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, you'll get in for free. Spend the money you save on some authentic Japanese-American refreshments at the on-site Tea House while you're there.
2. Stow Lake
West of the Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden Gate Park is Stow Lake, another favorite spot for locals and tourists alike. One of the most popular activities here is paddle boating, but you can save leg day for the gym and just wander along the scenic trails or find a nice spot near the water where you can pull out your Bible and highlighter and enjoy some quiet time with the Lord. While you're there, don't miss the Chinese Pavilion, a gift from SF's sister city, Taipei.
If you get hungry while you're at Stow Lake, head over to the cafe in the Boathouse, which is open from 9A to 5P. Or, pack a picnic and eat lunch by the water while you read and pray.
3. Garden of Shakespeare's Flowers
Another location in Golden Gate Park that provides a quiet place in San Francisco to have your devotions is the Garden of Shakespeare's Flowers. Often shortened to Shakespeare's Garden, this little paradise is inspired by Shakespeare's writings and contains over 200 flowers and plants. There are benches throughout the garden, which makes it easy to find a scenic spot to take in the scenery and do your devotions.
It all might put you in the mood to trying to read the King James version of Bible. But if you want to leave the "thee's" and "thou's" to Shakespeare, there's no shame in reading a more modern translation while you enjoy the fresh air.
4. Crissy Field
Located in the Presidio National Park, freshwater meets the saltwater of SF Bay here, drawing well over 100 bird species to this spot (plus a bird watcher or two). In fact, a nice devotional thought to think in this idyllic stretch of God's creation would be the words of Jesus from Matthew 10:30-31 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. Thinking about Jesus' intimate knowledge of us and care for us can help worry and fear melt away, especially when we do so in the restorative beauty of His creation.
5. Glen Canyon Park
Glen Canyon Park is named for the impressive canyon it contains — a rare natural gem in an urban setting. This 60-acre park is also home to Islais Creek, one of the few free-flowing streams in SF. This stream allows some beautiful biodiversity to flourish on the sides of the stream, including red columbine, willow trees, and more.
In addition to the canyon and stream, you'll also find fascinating rock formations and stunning wildflower displays in the spring. Needless to say, this park provides the perfect escape from city life. There are plenty of hiking trails if you like to take the idea of your spiritual walk literally. Or, you can find a spot to sit and do your devotions surrounded by a beautiful natural backdrop.
6. Bernal Heights Hill
Not all the best places to read your Bible outside in San Francisco have to be secluded from the urban setting. From Bernal Heights Hill, you can still enjoy nature while also taking in a stunning 360-degree view of the city skyline. Wear a jacket because it gets pretty breezy up there, and feel free to bring a furry friend along for the hike up the hill to the summit.
This is a great place to come simply to enjoy the view. It's also the perfect spot to pray over SF with an amazing visual aid. This view is also a valuable tool for gaining some perspective. We're so prone to get caught up in the tiny details of our lives. Sometimes it takes a site like this to remind us that God's plans are far-reaching. Of course, that doesn't mean you can't pray about the little things too.
7. Twin Peaks
Another great spot for an amazing view of SF is Twin Peaks. That's right, Twin Peaks isn't just a '90s mystery cult classic. It's also a favorite spot for San Franciscans and tourists who want to enjoy time at the park and get a panoramic view of the Bay Area. This area is named for two summits that stand 922 feet tall. Twin Peaks refers to the whole neighborhood.
To do your devotions in this area while taking in the bird's eye view of the city, head up to the hilltop park. Since this spot is located near the center of the city, it's the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of both San Francisco's urban and natural landscape.
8. China Beach
China Beach, located between Baker Beach and Land's End, is one of the best places to enjoy some seaside devotions because it offers more privacy than nearby beaches. It's not a good beach for swimming or for walking your dog, but it does have some lovely views. Take in the sounds of the ocean waves and the gulls and enjoy the view of the Golden Gate. There is nothing quite like being by the water to quiet your soul.
If you're a local, you know that clothing is optional at some of San Francisco's other beaches, so if you want to leave public nudity to the Garden of Eden, China Beach is for you.
9. San Francisco Botanical Garden
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is a little slice of paradise, with nearly 9,000 different species of plants, including some of California's famed Redwoods. You can select a trail based on your favorite types of plants or simply wander through the garden, enjoying the sights and smells of fresh foliage and flowers.
One of the great things about the SF Botanical Garden is that it's free for residents of San Francisco county. This means you can come frequently and find a new spot to enjoy each time. The garden opens at 7:30A, so it's a nice spot to come for morning devotionals. If you need a little prompt to work from, think about the words of Psalm 1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked, or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers. But whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.
10. Grace Cathedral
At Cornerstone, we know that a fancy building isn't what makes a church. But cathedrals do have a way of helping you step out of the hustle and bustle of the world while reminding you of God's grandeur and holiness.
When you want to do your devotions in this classical church setting, visit Grace Cathedral, a historic San Francisco church located on California Street. The cathedral is well-known for its labyrinth, but the cathedral itself is also an impressive work of art. The building is open from 8A to 6P most days, and there are options for guided tours if you're interested.
11. Mission Branch Library
San Francisco is home to many public libraries along with many university libraries. When you're looking for secluded places in San Francisco where you can enjoy some peace and quiet, a library may be the perfect answer. The Mission Branch Library was the very first branch in the SF Public Library system to open. It started in 1888 in a building nearby and moved in 1915 to a new building funded by Andrew Carnegie.
Inside you'll find peace, tranquility, and a building designed in the style of the Italian Renaissance. When you wrap up with your devo, you can also explore the library's collections.
12. Sutro Heights Park
Whether you're getting fed up with every human you come into contact with or you simply want to remove as many distractions as possible, sometimes you just need to get away from it all. If you're going for seclusion, Sutro Heights Park is a great location to try for your devotions. This remote park sits at the top of a cliff which overlooks Ocean Beach.
It's one of San Francisco's best-kept secrets, so you don't have to worry about pushing past crowds to find a spot to enjoy a picnic or sip on your coffee while you commune with Jesus. Even though you aren't on the beach, you can enjoy a pretty spectacular view of the coastline below. After some time in the tranquility of Sutro Heights, you're likely to feel your burdens lifting.
The Options Are Endless
Where do you like to do your devotions? Is there a certain spot that wows you and causes you to praise God for his amazing creation? Is there a place where you're surrounded by people and feel led to pray for others? Maybe there's a spot so quiet you can finally hear yourself think while you read your Bible. Wherever you choose to go, make it a priority to spend time focused on God and His Word.
With a city as diverse and beautiful as ours, the options for places to do your devotions are truly endless. We've focused on public places rather than private businesses, but maybe there's a local coffee shop or a restaurant where you like to be fed both spiritually and physically. Or maybe you have a favorite bench or spot to sit in one of the places we've mentioned. Share these hidden gems with your friends, and consider trying some new places to broaden your perspective and refresh you even more.
One more note. Time alone with your Bible is great and much-needed even, but remember that Christ also instructs us to gather with each other to worship, pray, and learn. He knows we need others to thrive in our spiritual walks. So be sure to make time for both — personal devotions and our Sunday gatherings. It's not about checking a religious box. It's about living life as God intended, in community with other believers. Plus, these believers may be able to give you even more of an insider's scoop on other great places to do devos in San Francisco.