Despite 50 years of existence, many San Franciscans take the outdoor playgrounds of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for granted. Sure, every local has walked Crissy Field or spent the day on Baker Beach, but many don’t know that these incredible sites actually belong to the National Park Service.
Having access to an urban national park is a rarity indeed, owing in large part to the decommissioning of numerous military bases set up to protect the Golden Gate during the first centuries of the city’s existence.
Though the park stretches from Olema Valley in Marin County down to Sweeney Ridge in San Mateo County, the attractions of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area are centered in San Francisco.
To celebrate the park’s 50th birthday, The Standard pulled together a list of GGNRA must-do SF experiences. See how many of these classic park activities you’ve already completed. Already finished all 10? Work your way through the list of bonus activities.
A Bucket List for SF’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Start at Eagles Point near Lincoln Park. Take in nonstop views of the Marin Headlands and Golden Gate as you head west and end at the Sutro Baths. (Or begin at the west end and make it a loop!) Bonus: Detour down to the Lands End Labyrinth (when it is there).
Walk inside the Presidio’s Civil War-era fort to feel the chill of its 7-foot brick walls and to see the unique views of Downtown—and the underside of the Golden Gate Bridge—from its roof. Bonus: Take a candlelight tour in the winter.
Do the must-do San Francisco attraction at least once every five years. Hear the same audio tour you heard when you visited as a kid but absorb new meaning every time. Head out to the exercise yard and down the stairs to the isle’s edge for a new view. Bonus: Sleep there overnight (when the opportunity arises).
Be a tourist again by renting a bike at Sports Basement or grabbing a Lyft Bike and pedaling along the length of the Presidio’s front yard on the Golden Gate Promenade/Bay Trail. Bonus: Sidle up next to a local and catch a Dungeness crab from Torpedo Wharf.
Walk for miles up, down and along the dunes on this southern stretch of coast with off-leash dog walking, fewer crowds and more dramatic views than those on Ocean Beach. Bonus: Hang glide them.
Push past the waterfront businesses of the Fort Mason Center area and walk up to the historic buildings of the base atop Gough Street. Stroll through the historic buildings and get bay views in both directions: from the Black Point gun aimed at the Golden Gate and from the new Black Point Gardens Trail, providing a sweeping shot from the Ghirardelli sign, past Aquatic Park to Alcatraz. Bonus: Perch here to watch the Blue Angels fly over the city during Fleet Week.
Plan a day of relaxation at one of SF’s most easily accessible and picturesque beaches. Wrap it up with some yoga poses in the sand framed by the sun setting over the Pacific and views of the bridge. Or plan a beach trip to Baker’s more intimate little sister, China Beach. Bonus: Join the nude sunbathers at the northernmost end of the strand.
Follow locals, their children and their dogs through the towering eucalyptuses that line Andy Goldsworthy’s natural artwork near Presidio Blvd. Bonus: Follow trails through the Presidio’s Main Post to Goldsworthy’s nearby works, Spire and Earth Wall.
Spend a day in the Presidio’s brand-new playground: Stroll the trails, take in the vistas, swing the log swing, enjoy the entertainment, set out a picnic and wrap up by listening to a ranger talk sitting around a campfire. Bonus: Take the Presidio Promenade Trail to get there.
Arrive at Battery Cranston, Marcus Miller or Boutelle with friends on a clear evening just in time to see the sun set over the Farallones. Keep your fingers crossed for a pelican air show or a freighter moving through the frame. Bonus: Hike the Batteries to Bluffs Trail before settling in for sunset.
Maryann Jones Thompson can be reached at [email protected]