The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a collection of parks, nature preserves and historical sites in the San Francisco Bay area. It includes land that runs north from Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Mateo County. No trip to the San Francisco area is complete without seeing at least some of the sights of this beautiful and historic area. Here are six places to put on your “must-see” list.
The Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge
The Presidio is located on the southern side of the Golden Gate bridge. This former U.S. Army base is now the country’s only a self-sustaining national park. There are several historic sites and old defensive gun batteries to explore. In some of the old housing you can tour a museum that honors Walt Disney and another that celebrates the Gold Rush of 1849. Lucasfilm also rents space in the area, so don’t leave without searching for the Yoda fountain.
While the Golden Gate bridge is not officially part of the recreation area, you can access it from the Presidio. It is a little more than a mile and a half across and gives spectacular views of the bay. If you are there in the right season, you may also see humpback whales swimming and feeding in the waters below you.
San Francisco National Cemetery
This national cemetery is a beautiful part of the Presidio grounds that is often overlooked. Most modern military funerals now take place at the Golden Gate National Cemetery to the south. The 9-acre parcel includes monuments to lesser known military events of the early 20th century. It is the resting place of over 30 Medal of Honor recipients. The well-maintained and orderly grounds overlooking the bay are perfect for a time personal reflection or a moment of peace on a busy vacation.
Muir Woods National Mounument is a magical place of giant redwood groves located in the northern part of the recreation area. You can access the park by car, though parking is limited. There are also frequent buses from Sausalito to the woods. The main route through the trees is flat and has paved trails that are wheelchair accessible. Other trails are more challenging, leading hikers above the main valley. Many visitors find themselves walking in stunned silence as they encounter the sheer size of these ancient trees.
Lands End is a favorite spot for hikers and nature lovers. Several trails wander around this spot at the southern side of the Golden Gate. Paths will take you down by the coast or up along the seaside cliffs. At low tide, several shipwrecks are visible from the trail along the coast.
If you are visiting San Francisco, it is hard not to notice Alcatraz Island sitting in the middle of the bay. This former Civil War fort became a federal prison that housed such infamous criminals as Al Capone. Today it is run by the National Park Service. It can be accessed by ferry for tours. The island was the site of Native American protests in the 1960s, when local Native American residents occupied the island for more than a year. Sunrise ceremonies are held by indigenous groups at Alcatraz on Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day.
Point Bonita Lighthouse
During the Gold Rush, more than 300 ships ran aground due to the fog that often surrounds the bay. The Point Bonita Lighthouse was built to guide ships to San Francisco in safety. It sits on the northern side of the Golden Gate and give commanding views on both the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco. The lighthouse is still active and run by the United States Coast Guard. Visitors can access the grounds by suspension bridge. The location of Point Bonita makes it the perfect spot to see an unobstructed view of the sunset.