Golden Gate National Recreation Area

San Francisco
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Few urban shorelines contain the diversity of GGNRA, for the park wraps around San Francisco's northern and western edge offering a series of scenic, historic, urban, and natural features. The entrance to the city's harbor at the Golden Gate is one of the world's most famous views. GGNRA's city shoreline provides a historic as well as scenic perspective of San Francisco: Ships that fostered early immigration and trade, fortifications built to defend residents are all within the park. Today, you'll find places to explore, learn, relax, and play.

Alcatraz to Golden Gate Bridge
Some of San Francisco's most famous historical features and park sites are located along this shoreline. The eastern end is most active: San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Aquatic Park share visitors with nearby Fisherman's Wharf—a popular tourist destination and boarding location for the Alcatraz Ferry. The rest of this park shoreline—from Aquatic Park to the Golden Gate—is continuous, offering a pleasant walk or bike ride along the 3.5-mile Golden Gate Promenade. Discover some quiet park areas along the way; upper Fort Mason and Crissy Field offer a nice change of pace. At the Golden Gate you can see ship traffic entering and leaving San Francisco Bay. Or for a view of the entire waterfront, visit Alcatraz. Biking is an excellent way to experience these regions. Try the Sweeney Ridge trail in the south, or venture over to the Marin Headlands across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Close to the city, yet off-limits for years as a prison, Alcatraz seems to capture almost everyone's imagination. The National Park Service now offers visitors a chance to explore and learn about the many different aspects of the island. An introductory slide show orients visitors to the island. Programs about the history of the prison as well as the military, cultural, and natural history of Alcatraz are offered daily. A cellhouse audio tour is available for rent. Be advised that there are uphill grades along the route to the cellhouse. Wear warm clothing and sturdy walking shoes. A museum, bookstore, and restrooms are on the island. Restrooms and food are available on the ferry. Reservations for ferry to Alcatraz should be made the sooner the better, but at least one day in advance. Due to the popularity of the trip to Alcatraz, make reservations in advance.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
The streamlined modern museum building at Aquatic park echoes the life and scenes of San Francisco's maritime past. Intricate models, ship figureheads, fine maritime art, and thematic exhibits preserve the spirit and technology of the men and women who plied the oceans.

The park's national historic landmark vessels tell the story of the most historically significant period of commercial maritime history on the West Coast. The 1886 Balclutha (a square-rigged Cape Homer), the 1895 C.A. Thayer (a lumber schooner), the 1890 Eureka (the last of San Francisco's traditional, paddle-wheel steam ferryboats), the 1891 A/ma (a flat-bottomed scow schooner), the 1907 Hercules (a sea-going steam tugboat), and the 1914 Eppleton Hall (a steam paddle tug) are moored alongside historic Hyde Street Pier.

Aquatic Park
Plenty of seating, open lawns, a sandy shoreline, and fantastic views make this an ideal destination for weary feet. The lagoon attracts hardy swimmers, but Aquatic Park, which surrounds the Hyde Street Cable Car turnaround, is most often used by picnickers.

Fort Mason
Above Aquatic Park, Fort Mason provides a quiet setting with views of the city and bay. GGNRA's headquarters is here; stop in on weekdays for information. Lawns, gardens, fishing piers, and picnic areas are available outside for the use and enjoyment of everyone.

The Fort Mason Center is involved in one of the most exciting park renovations anywhere. Huge military structures, once a major port of embarkation, now house a full spectrum of cultural, educational, and recreational programs. For a monthly calendar of events drop in at the main office in Building A. Food is available in the Zen Center Greens Restaurant.

Overlooking the bay, the San Francisco International Hostel offers travelers dormitory accommodations in a Civil War-era Army barracks.

Marina Green
Acres of grass provide a setting for many activities: Field sports, kite flying, sunbathing, and jogging all thrive here. Watch sailboats move from mooring to bay; or stop at the Parcourse exercise stations on your way to Crissy Field.

Crissy Field
In one direction-the Golden Gate; in the other-the city skyline; beside you-the bay; Crissy Field is a great place for walking at the water's edge. The Golden Gate Promenade, paved throughout its length, traverses the area. Or, you can hike along the beach, eat lunch at a picnic table, fish from a pier. This quiet stretch of shoreline with few developed facilities is a quick retreat from the city and great for birdwatching.

Fort Point National Historic Site
The great harbor of San Francisco, its narrow entrance, and the U.S. Army's plan for its protection can be seen and felt firsthand at Fort Point. Situated beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, the fort is a classic example of the mid-19th century coastal fortifications built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Construction began in 1853 and ended in 1861. This massive fortification symbolizes the commercial and strategic military importance of San Francisco.

The fort was designed to mount 126 huge muzzle-loading cannons and house 500 soldiers under wartime conditions. It served its purpose through the years and was never called upon to fire a shot.

The fort and its muzzleloading cannons were rendered obsolete during the Civil War period with the development of new rifled cannon capable of breaching brick walls. By 1900 the fort's guns and soldiers had been removed, bringing to a close a portion of San Francisco Bay's military history. If you're on a bike and have a couple hours, there's no better way to spend them than getting on the Golden Gate Bridge's bike lane and pedaling over to the Marin Headlands.

Presidio to Sweeney Ridge
Explore GGNRA's shoreline and enjoy some of the city's finest beaches and most natural landscape. The entire western shore of San Francisco is accessible by car, bus, or on foot, at a variety of points. Scenic vistas along the way include rolling waves at Baker, China, and Ocean beaches and the flower-covered bluffs at Fort Funston in spring and summer. Former military fortifications hidden among trees and behind sand dunes provide protection from the wind for picnickers. Above Ocean Beach, the Cliff House has offered refreshments and spectacular views since 1863.

Sutro Baths, however, are now only a nostalgic recollection. Visit the ruins that suggest the elaborate swimming facility that could hold 24,000 people but was lost to fire in 1966. South of Fort Funston is Sweeney Ridge, one of the newest open space areas in the park. Separated from the rest of the park, the area can only be reached by car. Trails lead hikers along ridges overlooking the urban San Francisco peninsula, rolling coastal hills, quiet reservoirs, and the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Within the Presido's 1,480 acres lie 510 historic buildings, a "museum" of coastal defense fortifications, a national cemetery, historic airfield, planted forest, beaches, coastal bluffs, miles of hiking and biking trails, and some of the most spectacular vistas one can behold anywhere in the world.

The Presidio contains 11 miles of hiking trails, including the Golden Gate Promenade, the California Coastal Trail, an ecology trail, and a portion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, the Bay Trail, and the Anza National Historic Trail. Cyclists can explore the area on 14 miles of paved roads. A world-class board-sailing area borders Crissy Field, while fishing and crabbing opportunities abound from the nearby rocks and pier. The park also contains numerous sports facilities, including a golf course, bowling alley, tennis courts and athletic fields. Photographers have a field day here, snapping scenic views of the Bay Area and the Presidio's historic architecture.

Baker Beach
This sandy shoreline faces the entrance to the Golden Gate—a scenic backdrop for hiking, fishing, and sunbathing. Swimming, however, is dangerous. Behind the beach, Battery Chamberlain points a 95,000-pound cannon ominously to sea. Rangers provide tours of this 1904 gun emplacement and military museum.

China Beach
A small beach nestled into the steep shoreline, China Beach provides an intimate atmosphere that makes this quiet cover an ideal place for friendly outings. There is a small picnic area with benches and grills in a grassy area just above the beach. Unpredictable surf conditions can make swimming dangerous.

Lands End
This shoreline is a favorite destination for hikers who appreciate the absence of cars and abundance of trees, birds, and vistas. Exploring San Francisco's most natural appearing coastline, the sound of the ocean, the smell of pine and cypress, and the views of coastal scenery quickly replace the city streets you just left. Follow the route of an abandoned turn-of-the-century train that once took people to the Cliff House.

This hiking route and a higher path offer a good loop trail. Stay on these main trails, for cliffs here are steep and unstable. On higher terrain, West Fort Miley's numerous defense batteries provide for interesting exploration. Here picnic tables, grills, and restrooms are available.

Cliff House
The popularity of the Cliff House is easy to understand, for it offers some of the best views of the park, including the entire Marin Coast. Just offshore from the Cliff House is Seal Rocks. The rocks are home base for sea lions and a variety of marine birds. Bring your binoculars, for this is an ideal place to see these marine mammals in their own environment. The visitor center also provides shelter from the wind and fog, giving you an ideal place to rest in gloomy weather. Nearby, the Cliff House provides food and beverages along with a view. Stop by to learn about the elaborate Sutro Baths and the history of this area. For a quieter atmosphere and equal views, visit nearby Sutro Heights on a bluff to the east.

Ocean Beach
For an exhilarating ocean feeling, this is your beach: The 4-mile sand shoreline is almost always windy and wavy. The ocean shore offers few frills, but it is great for hiking or jogging to the rhythm of the surf. The attractive water is always very dangerous even though it can look calm.

Fort Funston
In one view, you can see San Francisco's original terrain contrasted with the tremendous changes brought about by humans. A wheelchair-accessible loop trail offers beautiful views with occasional picnic and seating areas. This gentle, short walk provides a comfortable view of coastal scenery, but be prepared for wind and fog. Hang gliders take advantage of the area's high cliffs and strong winds. Enjoy watching their flight, but stay clear of landing and take-off areas.

Sweeney Ridge
Sweeping views of the Pacific coastline, the San Francisco Bay, and open lands to the south await visitors to the ridge. On November 4, 1769, an expedition led by Don Gaspar de Portola first saw San Francisco Bay from this point. Today this area is located in the city of Pacifica. The major access to Sweeney Ridge is by car from the west end of Sneath Lane, off Skyline Boulevard, Calif 35, in San Bruno. From Sneath Lane it is a 1-mile walk to the Portola Discovery Site. A variety of hiking trails crosses more than 1,000 acres of land. An excellent bike ride takes off from Skyline College then follows the ridge, offering way out views all the way along.

Getting Around
San Francisco's Municipal Railway (MUNI) provides transportation to most park sites. MUNI Metro lines' cars provide the most frequent service. MUNI's 18, 28, and 32 buses also connect many shoreline destinations, but service is not as frequent. The bus stops near the park are indicated on the map. Because traffic is sometimes heavy and parking is limited especially near Aquatic Park and the Cliff House, the convenience of the MUNI System is an option well worth exploring and using.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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