Learn more about the Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Whether you are a visitor to the Bay Area or a lifelong resident, Golden Gate National Recreation Area offers you experiences you can find nowhere else. This national park area has some world renowned destinations—Alcatraz and Muir Woods, for example—as well as some places where you might not encounter another human being. Everywhere there are surprises, from the ridge top where Spanish explorers first sighted San Francisco Bay to a Cold War-era missile site. Golden Gate National Recreation Area begins where the Pacific Ocean meets San Francisco Bay—but it does not end there. "If we in the Congress do not act," warned U.S. Rep. Philip Burton in 1972, "the majestic area where sea and bay and land meet in a glorious symphony of nature will be doomed." Established that year, Golden Gate has grown to more than 75,000 acres. Along with other public lands and waters in the region, it enjoys recognition by the United Nations as the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve.
To make the most of your visit to Golden Gate it is a good idea to plan your time. Whatever path you choose to follow, let Golden Gate enliven your senses: sun-baked scents of sage and bay laurel, cool morning fog, waves crashing on the headlands, a tapestry of native spring wildflowers. The National Park Service invites you to enjoy, explore, and appreciate.
If you have an hour:
- Walk the Esplanade at Ocean Beach
- Stroll through the Great Meadow at Fort Mason
- Watch ships at Fort Baker’s Battery Yates
- Watch the sunset at Cliff House
- Tour the visitor center at the Presidio
- Walk beside restored coastal habitat at Crissy Field
- Hike along the old railroad bed at Lands End
- Watch swimmers at Aquatic Park
- Tour the Nike Missile Site in the Marin Headlands
Two or three hours:
- Look for migratory birds of prey soaring above Marin Headlands on Hawk Hill (in fall)
- Visit the Bay Area Discovery Museum
- Spot whales at Muir Beach Overlook during their winter migration (December-February)
- Hike to the Point Bonita Lighthouse (limited hours)
- Take a wildflower walk at Fort Funston (in spring)
- Bicycle through the Presidio
- Take a walking tour of the Cliff House area
- Listen to voices from California’s past at the Marin Headlands Visitor Center
- Walk through the Redwood forest at Muir Woods.
- Hike through the Phleger Estate
- Mountain bike on Mount Tamalpais
- Hike through the hills at Marin Headlands
- Kayak in Tomales Bay
- Hike, bicycle, or ride a horse on the Tennessee Valley Trail
- Fish at Fort Point, Baker Beach, or Ocean Beach
- Hike the Rift Zone Trail in Olema Valley
- Take the ferry to Alcatraz (reserve ahead!)
- Hike to the San Francisco Bay Discovery Site at Sweeney Ridge
- Walk from Fort Mason to Fort Point, across the Golden Gate Bridge, to Sausalito, and return by ferry
This three-mile sandy beach offers facilities and services for many kinds of water recreation. 415-868-0942.
Marin County’s highest mountain has dozens of trails that take you through redwood forests, grasslands, and wildflower meadows in spring. Visitor Center, hiking trails, picnic areas, campground. Lodging and food service are offered seasonally. For information call Mount Tamalpais State Park, 415-388-2070.
Muir Woods National Monument
"This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world," wrote John Muir of this old-growth stand of coastal redwoods. Visitor center, paved and level walking paths, hiking trails, food service. No picnicking. Entrance fee. Expect large crowds and very limited parking. 415-388-2595.
Muir Beach Overlook
This site of a former U.S. Army coastal observation post (base end station) has spectacular coastal views. Watch migrating whales in winter. Picnic area. 415-388-2595.
This sheltered cove gives you a chance to relax and enjoy the coastal scenery. Varied hiking opportunities. Dangerous swimming conditions; no lifeguards. 415-388-2595.
Popular with hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders, this well-maintained 1.7-mile trail meanders through hills and past a quiet lagoon to a remote black-sand beach. At low tide you can see the remains of the SS Tennessee, wrecked in 1853. Primitive campsite (reservations required). 415-331-1540. Horse rentals at the Miwok Livery, 415-383-8048.
Stop first at the visitor center for an overview of this area’s wildlife and human history. From Rodeo Beach or Hawk Hill, watch for some of the 300 species of migratory and resident birds. Explore historic military structures, including a Cold Warera Nike missile site. Hike out to the Point Bonita Lighthouse, where bay meets ocean (limited hours). Park Partners such as the Marine Mammal Center, the Headlands Center for the Arts, and the Marin Headlands Hostel are open to the public. Visitor center, trails, camping. 415-331-1540.
The Battery Cavallo earthworks, along with fortifications at Fort Point, Alcatraz, and Fort Mason, date from the Civil War. Sheltered from wind and often fog-free, this is an excellent place to view the Golden Gate bridge, bay, and city skyline. Fishing piers, picnic area, and boat launch. 415-331-1540. The Bay Area Discovery Museum (415-339-3900) offers hands-on activities for all ages.
Dating back to the Civil War, this former U.S. Army post is now a national historic landmark housing
Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s headquarters, an NPS regional information center, and the Golden Gate National Parks Association. At water level is Fort Mason Center (415-441-5706), with galleries, performing arts spaces, exhibit areas, shops, restaurants, and nonprofit organizations. The Great Meadow has a statue of U.S. Rep. Philip Burton, who was instrumental in creating the park. 415-561-4700.
The Crissy Field shoreline once consisted of dunes, lagoons, and tidal marshes. Today this area showcases the park’s habitat restoration efforts, including a 22-acre tidal marsh. At Crissy Field you can learn about aviation history, walk paths through coastal habitats, and enjoy waterfront recreation. Food is available at Crissy Field Center and at the Warming Hut. 415-561-4323.
Fort Point National Historic Site
The only Civil War-era casemated fort on the West Coast, Fort Point never saw combat. Because of its excellent design and superb masonry construction, it was spared demolition during the building of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Exhibits, bookstore, tours. 415-556-1693.
San Francisco’s famous Presidio has witnessed more than 200 years of military history, beginning with the arrival of the first Spanish garrison in 1776 and ending when the U.S. Army transferred the land to the National Park Service in 1994. A detailed map, available at the visitor center, will guide you through the Presidio’s historic and natural areas. 415-561-4323.
This beach is popular for fishing and shore recreation. Battery Chamberlin, built in 1904, has an operational "disappearing" gun; check the park schedules for demonstration times. Picnic area with grills, drinking water, restrooms. Dangerous swimming conditions; no lifeguards. 415-561-4323.
In the late 19th century Chinese fishermen anchored their boats in this wind-protected cove and camped on the shore. Picnic area with grills. Dangerous swimming conditions; no lifeguards. 415-561-4323.
This area is justifiably famous for its ocean views. Look for shipwrecks at low tide. Eagles Point overlook has good views of the entrance to the Golden Gate. The USS San Francisco Memorial honors those who fought in the World War II Battle of Guadalcanal. Nearby West Fort Miley has historic gun emplacements as well as a picnic area. 415-561-4323.
This has been a tourist destination since the first Cliff House was built in 1863. Today’s Cliff House, built in 1909, is the third to occupy the site. The Victorian-era resort complex includes nearby Sutro Baths and the restored Sutro Garden. 415-561-4323.
This wild, windy beach stretches four miles from Cliff House to Fort Funston. Cold water and rip currents make swimming here extremely dangerous! Many people have drowned. The Esplanade provides for an enjoyable walk along the shore. Watch for the snowy plover, an endangered bird that the park is working hard to protect. 415-561-4323.
Continuous strong winds make these coastal headlands ideal for hang-gliding. Trails take you along the bluffs and down to the beach. Wildflowers abound in spring. Explore the World War II-era Battery Davis. Visit the nursery where native plants are grown for the park’s coastal habitat restoration program. Hiking trails. 415-561-4323.
Fort Alcatraz, a Civil War-era artillery post, was converted to a military prison in 1907. In 1934 it became a federal maximum-security penitentiary, inspiring films and folklore that have continued long after the prison closed in 1963. Eighty-nine American Indian protesters occupied the island in 1969-71, claiming it as Indian land. Bookstore, exhibits, audio tour, guided tours. Access by tour boat only. Reservations required; book well in advance by phone, 415-981-ROCK (7625), or at www.alcatrazcruises.com
This 740-acre gem is a California State Park. In 1775 Juan Manuel de Ayala, the earliest European explorer of San Francisco, visited it. Beginning in the mid-1800s, the U.S. Army built fortifications on Angel Island. The Angel Island Immigration Station was the point of entry for thousands of Asian and European immigrants. Ferry service from San Francisco and Tiburon. 415-435-5390.
Golden Gate National Parks
Fort Mason, Building 201
San Francisco, California 94123
The climate is Mediterranean, so it tends to be windy and cold throughout much of the park. During the summer months, fog is common along the coastlines. Dress in layers is recommended. Hiking boots are appropriate in some areas. Comfortable shoes are also recommended within the San Francisco area, which are most comprised of asphalt or concrete.