Golden Gate National Recreation Area Overview

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Golden Gate National Recreation Area begins where the Pacific Ocean meets San Francisco Bay. All in all, it is the largest urban national park in the world, a whopping 76,500 acres of land and water that includes 28 miles of wild coastline.

Golden Gate NRA is actually a complex that includes Fort Point National Historic Site, Muir Woods National Monument, Alcatraz Island, and the Presidio of San Francisco. In San Francisco, the park surrounds the narrow entrance to the city's harbor, offering a blend of natural beauty, historic features, and urban development. Near the city, redwood forests, beaches, grassy hillsides, marshes, and rocky shoreline offer a natural retreat. The park is a home for abundant wildlife: Hawks, deer, and seabirds are spotted frequently, and you'll occasionally see bobcats and whales. To the north and south of Golden Gate, the recreation area follows the Pacific shoreline, creating a vast coastal preserve.

Get Lost in the Presidio
The Presidio is an old army base that takes in the most scenic northwestern part of the city. It has now been converted into a national park facility. It's an interesting blend of natural areas and old military installations, including barracks, airfields, cemeteries, and headquarters. You can pick up a map in the park offices and then find your way to the various trails and viewpoints in this fascinating facility. Established trails that wander through the Presidio include the Coastal Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

The Coastal Trail is a superlative way to see many of the highlights of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The entire trail is 730 miles and passes through 15 counties. On the San Francisco side, Sutro Heights Park is a good place to pick up the trail. From Sutro Heights, the trail follows the crest above the ocean through the Presidio and then crosses Golden Gate Bridge into the moody Marin Headlands.

Bike Across Golden Gate
Golden Gate National Recreation Area includes what is more commonly called the Marin Headlands. These hills are home not only to the ruined battlements, but also to the many trails and fire roads that meander across the hills and through the canyons of this public-use land. After crossing Golden Gate Bridge, the route takes you up the main paved road toward the bunkers at the top and then down the other side to Fort Cronkhite and Rodeo Beach. After a short stop at the beach, you hit the trails, climb over a hill on fire roads, and then descend into Tennessee Valley, a major jumping-off point for visitors to the area. Another climb on Marinchello Trail leads to panoramic views toward Sausalito, Angel Island, and Richardson Bay before dropping down yet again near Fort Cronkhite.

Kayak Stinson Beach
Stinson Beach is a sandy outpost of Marin County mellowness, a place where people surf, bird-watch, and laze. The three-mile beach stretches beneath steep hills rising to Mount Tamalpais with vistas out to sea. To the north is Bolinas Lagoon, a nature preserve hopping with wildlife. But the best way to get some perspective is to venture (a little way) out to sea. From the open water, you can really appreciate the exuberant slope of Mount Tam, the gentle curves of the foothills, and the broad, sandy arc of Stinson Beach itself. Since this is the open Pacific, weather can be variable. If the going is too dicey, take advantage of the hundreds of miles of hiking trails in the area, or just look at the Bolinas birds.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 Sep 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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