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Bucket List: How Many of These Activities Have You Experienced in SF’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area?

Written by Maryann Jones ThompsonPublished Oct. 21, 2022 • 9:36am
Park ranger Alejandro Cruz (top center) gives a talk at the campfire center at the Presidio Tunnel Tops during the grand opening celebration on Sunday, July 17, 2022. | Brian Feulner for The Standard

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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. 

Golden Gate Overlook | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

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 

Walk the Lands End Trail

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).

Feel the History of Fort Point

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.

The Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Ferry to Alcatraz

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).

Bike Crissy Field

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.

People take advantage of the warm weather at Crissy Field on Friday, June 10, 2022, in San Francisco. | Brian Feulner for The Standard

Climb the Bluffs of Fort Funston

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.

Explore Fort Mason

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.

See Also

Relax on Baker Beach

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.

Swerve Along the Wood Line

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.

Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line in the Presidio, San Francisco | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Play at Tunnel Tops

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.

Watch Sunset From the Batteries

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.

Sunset from the Battery Boutelle area | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

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Maryann Jones Thompson can be reached at [email protected]


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