The Golden Gate Bridge is one of California’s iconic symbols. When people see the massive bridge, they know exactly what are they are referring to. The Golden Gate National Recreation area is one of America’s National Parks. This isn’t one park per say, but is composed of many different isolated areas that are all together called the recreation area. Several famous attractions are in the area, including the famous old prison called Alcatraz that is on an island off of the coast, Muir Woods National Monument and the Presidio of San Francisco. San Francisco itself is a large and well-known city, commonly referred to as the “City by the Bay,” or San Fran.” The area is known for its cool summers and rolling hills as well as fog. The Chinatown district and Fisherman’s Warf are popular places in the city. The park has attractions in three different areas divided by counties. Marin County, San Francisco County and San Mateo County all have a list of things to do and see in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Marin County – Bolinas Ridge
The top of the ridge gives some of the best views of the landscape of San Francisco. Sights include the San Andreas Rift Zone, the Olema Valley, the Bolinas Lagoon and the Tomales Bay as well as the outstretched Pacific Ocean. The Bolinas Ridge Trail is a popular trail, especially for hikers and mountain bikers. It begins east of Olema Valley and crosses through redwoods, rolling hills and views of the lagoons and ocean. The top-most point is the highlight of the trip, as the views are amazing! The trail is 10.5 miles, so be prepared for some lengthy walking or biking.
Marin County – Kirby Cove
Kirby Cove is both a lookout point and contains a campground for those famous views of the huge Golden Gate Bridge. Kirby Cove is located close to the water, looking east at the bridge and the city. IT offers a panoramic view of both and is a favorite for visitors seeking the perfect picture of the bridge. The trail to the cove is steep and starts at the parking area above Battery Spencer. There are four campsites at the campground that is open from April 1 to November 30th. There is no water provided, but there are picnic tables, fore rings, pit toilets and barbeque pits. Reservations must be made because this spot is popular and gorgeous.
Marin County- Muir Woods National Monument
This monument is known as the “tree lover’s monument” and has been the site of wedding venue, photographs and absolute beauty. The huge redwoods provide a thick canopy overhead and the leafy ferns and other vegetation give it an enchanting forest feel. There are gorgeous hikes, some along running rivers and through the forests. This is an outstanding place outside of the massive city to experience the quiet and magic of the huge redwood trees and thick forests.
Point Bonita Lighthouse
This lighthouse is active and still maintained by the U.S. Coastguard. It can be seen by hiking the half mile trail. The trail can be very steep at parts, so use caution and good footwear. The final walk to the lighthouse is on a narrow and suspended bridge over unstable rocks and terrain, in which part of the rock peninsula had washed or fallen away. The bridge enables guests to get to the lighthouse that is perched on the end of a tall rock cliff, with miles of ocean as far as the eye can see lying before you.
San Francisco County – Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz has long been the source of rumors and stories of terror. The large prison building is located on a remote island where the worst criminals were reported to have been kept. Visitors can taka ferry out to the island for tours of the historic building, or can see it from land. The building has a long history starting out as a military prison and eventually became a federal prison and is currently abandoned and now part of the park service. It is also the place of the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast.
San Francisco County – Lands End
Lands End has some incredible hikes and fantastic ocean views as the waves crash against cliffs or roll up on sandy beach areas. Lands End can be found in the northwestern corner of San Francisco and has a visitor center, picnic areas, trails and buildings such as the Cliff House and Sutro Baths to see. This is a beautiful area, especially on bright, sunny days, so don’t forget to bring your camera.
The mile long stretch of nice sand, ocean and views of the Pacific is known as the lovey Baker Beach. Lying below what is called the serpentine cliffs, the view of the land jutting out to the ocean provides some gorgeous scenery to photograph. The beach isn’t the best for swimming due to the undertow and rip current, but can be used for sunbathing in the summer, picnicking and fishing. Nestled in the cypress grove at the east end of the parking area visitors will find a picnic area with grills, tables and restrooms.
San Mateo County – Sweeny Ridge
Located about 25 minutes south of the city, Sweeny Ridge offers landscapes and views that make it hard to believe a large metropolis is not far away. There are lots of hikes that travel around the hills and ravines of the green and lush landscape. Fort Funston has a visitor center and there are ranger-led talks about the area and exhibits here. The beach entrance can be found south of Fort Funston.
Many More Amazing Sites and Sights
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is expansive and covers many individual and separate areas that visitors can see. These that are listed are only a few that are some of the most popular. In Marin County, there is Fort Baker, Fort Barry, Fort Cronkhite, Gerbode Valley, Nike Missile Site, Olema Valley, Stinson Beach and others. San Francisco County has the Crissy Field Marsh and Beach, the Sutro Historic District and many others to see as well. The San Mateo County has Milagra Ridge, Rancho Corral de Tierra and Mori Point.
The recreation area provides hundreds of ways for city dwellers and visitors to get out and experience the great outdoors, historical, sites and beauty of the west coast and bay area. Take a drive over the famous and massive bridge and see the mountains and islands of the coastline. San Francisco is moments away for fine dining shopping and even more accommodations. The possibilities in the recreation area are endless!