Golden Gate National Recreation Area
The Marin areas of GGNRA offer a vast expanse of wild and open terrain; rolling hills covered with shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers; small coves, large beaches, and rocky coastal cliffs; and forested ridges and redwood valleys. Each bend in the road or turn in the trail offers another vista of San Francisco, yet the sight of wildlife is not uncommon.
Close to San Francisco in distance and time but many moods apart, the Headlands provide a quick departure from urban activity. Windswept ridges, protected valleys, and beaches offer nature's best on the city's doorstep. From the hillsides near the Golden Gate, you can enjoy magnificent views of the San Francisco harbor entrance. The Point Bonita Lighthouse area is open seasonally on weekends. Group and individual campsites are available throughout the headlands.
Trail options are plentiful. Many trails on the headlands are open to mountain bikes; you can even cross over from San Francisco on the Golden Gate Bridge. A lovely stretch of the California Coastal Trail travels through the Headlands. And don't overlook the portion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail through the Headlands.
Various organizations provide education and recreation opportunities in the Marin Headlands as partners of the National Park Service. The Headlands Institute and YMCA Point Bonita Outdoor and Conference Center offer residential environmental education programs and conference facilities. Golden Gate Youth Hostel opens daily at 4:30 p.m. and is open all year. The Marine Mammal Center rescues marine mammals along California's coast and is open daily for public visitation. The Pacific Energy Resources Center offers public education programs and exhibits related to energy use and conservation. At the Miwok Livery, guided ride programs and rider instruction are available. The Headlands Center for the Arts is developing an artist-in-residence program and offers scheduled art events. The Bay Area Discovery Museum is a hands-on museum for children ages 2 to 12 and invites families to touch, explore, play, and discover together.
Mt. Tamalpais Area
For years this area has been a favorite destination for hikers. No wondertrails offer a variety of environments from creekside to mountainside, open meadow to forest. Or sit back and take in the view.
This semi-circular cove offers a chance to relax and enjoy the coastal scenery.
The beach stretches beneath steep hills rising to Tamalpais with vistas out to sea and up into the hills. Swimming is advised only from late May to mid-September when lifeguards are on duty.
This pastoral landscape is a hiker's paradise of forested canyons, tree-lined ridges, open grassy slopes, and historic farm buildings. Most trails are long and many are steep, ascending to ridgetops for ocean views. The valley remains undeveloped with few facilities. Trails connect the Olema Valley to Point Reyes National Seashore.
Muir Woods National Monument
Although not formally part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Woods is just a hop from the Marin Headlands, and definitely worth the trip. This is one of the most dramatic and accessible old growth redwood forests along the California coast. Not visiting Muir Woods while you're here would be like visiting the Grand Canyon and not peeking over the rim. The towering old trees and the distinctive and lush ecosystem make this one of the most special places on the planet.
Trails cross lands owned by many different public agencies. Ranger stations (such as Pan Toll and Marin Headlands) can provide detailed trail information and maps of all trails in the Marin County park areas, including trail connections to Point Reyes National Seashore. Many trails are steep. Avoid climbing cliffs; they are prone to landslides and are covered with poison oak.
The weather of northern GGNRA varies seasonally, even hourly. Wear clothing you can adjust. Fog and winds are usually heaviest at areas closer to the Golden Gate, especially during the summer. Fall brings the best weather. The ocean is always dangerous and swimming is not advised. Those fishing or walking on the rocky shoreline can be swept off by a sudden large wave or trapped by the incoming tide.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication