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Visit Golden Gate San Francisco: stunning recreation area

The jewel of San Francisco

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Building 201, Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123-0022, Unites States

GPS: 37.848899804175, -122.52729660251

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Visit Golden Gate San Francisco and discover the Golden Gate Recreation Area which is the most visited of the 419 national parks, historic sites and protected areas in the United States with more than 15 million visitors in 2018. Located in California, it includes more than 20 major sites of natural, historical or cultural interest. This large urban and coastal recreation area consists of a multitude of wild landscapes just a stone’s throw from the city of San Francisco. It includes an iconic and panoramic view Golden Gate Bridge.

The formation of the Golden Gate Recreation Area traces 200 years of American history. Chronologically, the area sees the ancestral culture of the Native American peoples, the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the American expansion by European pioneers, the Mexican-American War, the evolution of American coastal fortifications and the rich heritage of San Francisco Bay. This natural area in California was officially protected in 1972 by a decision of the United States Congress. It is still the largest urban national park system in the country. Comprising 19 different ecosystems and more than 2,000 plant and animal species, the Golden Gate Recreation Area covers a total area of 324 km². This is two and a half times the size of the city of San Francisco, with a population of nearly one million.

There are many ways to visit Golden Gate San Francisco and discover the natural and cultural attractions of the Golden Gate Recreation Area: on horseback, by bicycle, on foot or by volunteering with the park rangers to actively participate in the protection of its natural resources. Visiting the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, the redwood forest at Muir Woods National Monument, the former military base of the Presidio of San Francisco California, the beaches of Marin Headlands and the network of seaside hiking trails are the most popular activities in the Golden Gate Recreation Area. Not to mention, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge panoramic view. This monument made of steel and concrete was erected over a period of four years. The work was carried out by the engineers Joseph Strauss and Charles Alton Ellis, who succeeded in linking the two shores of the Golden Gate Strait in 1937 over a distance of almost 2 kilometres allowing people to visit Golden Gate San Francisco.

 

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  • The great views of the Golden Gate Bridge (Vista Point, Fort Point Overlook, Fort Baker and Crissy Field) and San Francisco Bay (Marin Headlands, Cliff House)
  • The old growth coast redwood forest of Muir Woods National Monument in the northern part of the park; the rocky coastline of Lands End at the mouth of the Golden Gate; Mount Tamalpais (785 metres above sea level) and the Marin Hills of the Northern California Coast Ranges; the hills surrounding the city of San Francisco (Hawk Hill, Twin Peaks…) and the cliffs bordering the Pacific Ocean
  • The Presidio of San Francisco (former Spanish military fort) and its view of the bay; old military buildings and fortification systems (forts Mason, Cronkhite, Barry and Baker); maritime lighthouses; the historic place of San Francisco Bay Discovery Site
  • The island, the prison and the mythical fortress of Alcatraz (boat departures from Pier 33 along San Francisco’s Embarcadero); the remains of Sutro Baths; shipwrecks, visible at low tide from the Coastal Trail and Mile Rock Trail
  • The large number of free natural beaches, including Stinson Beach (one of the few beaches with lifeguards) and Baker Beach (at the foot of the Golden Gate)
  • The variety of birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and mammals; the diversity of plants and wild flowers
  • The sunset facing the expanse of the Pacific Ocean; the thick fog characteristic of the city of San Francisco that regularly envelops the Golden Gate Bridge during the summer (it forms in the Golden Gate Strait when the warm air of the Californian land comes into contact with the cool ocean air of the Pacific)
  • The multitude of trails within the Golden Gate Recreation Area or San Francisco, from simple walks to multi-day adventure hikes: California Coastal Trail (running along the entire California coastline for nearly 2,000 kilometres), Batteries to Bluffs Trail (2.5 kilometres loop), Bootjack Trail (10 kilometres), Matt Davis Trail (6.5 kilometres), Old Springs Trail (4 kilometres), Miwok Trail (24 kilometres loop), Dipsea Trail (15 kilometres), Steep Ravine Trail (6.5 kilometres), Stapelveldt & Ben Johnson Trails (7 kilometres), Miramontes & Raymundo Trails (9 kilometres loop)…
  • Extreme or outdoor sports such as kitesurfing, surfing on Ocean Beach (strong currents) or hang-gliding; the San Francisco Marathon (end of July)
  • The San Francisco Bay Discovery Site marks the place where the Spanish first discovered the bay of San Francisco by sea in 1769 before the city was founded in 1776.
  • The Golden State National Recreation Area includes the former prison and fortress of Alcatraz, known for housing the nation’s most dangerous prisoners. It was the first maximum security prison (or supermax prison) in the United States. This notoriously intractable prison held more than 1,500 inmates in its nearly 30 years of operation. The year it opened in 1934, the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary became the largest concrete structure in the world (7,500 square metres). Nicknamed the Rock, it was characterised by its great isolation and terrible prison conditions.
  • The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary became famous for its 14 spectacular escape attempts, all of which failed except for one daring venture that took over a year to plan. This was the work of three prisoners, bank robbers Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin and John Anglin (the latter two are brothers) who made their escape on 11 June 1962. After digging a tunnel with a spoon, they sneaked through a ventilation shaft to the roof of the prison (while taking care to create a dummy and a face in their bed to thwart the guards). They made a makeshift raft out of oilskins and life jackets and inflated it with a small accordion. Their bodies were never found and no one knows if they survived the crossing of San Francisco Bay. The tide, the strong currents, the water temperature of 10 °C and the distance from the nearest shore (2,400 metres) were all obstacles they had to face. A fourth thief, Allen West, was forced to abandon the escape he had planned because the hole in his cell was not big enough to reach his accomplices. Weakened by this successful escape and by its advanced state of dilapidation, the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary finally closed a year later, in 1963. Today, it is a tourist attraction and a bird observatory that welcomes more than a million visitors each year.
  • A tunnel partially submerged underwater was discovered in 2019 under the prison, 24 years after its closure. It connected the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary to the mainland, a mile away, and is believed to date back to 1860, when the site was guarded by an American army fort.
  • Attached to the Golden Gate Recreation Area, the Sutro Baths site comprises a large abandoned leisure complex that caught fire in 1966. Opened to the public in 1896, it consisted of a network of seven indoor pools built by the former mayor of the city of San Francisco, Adolph Sutro. The bathhouse was the largest indoor bathhouse in the world at the time.
  • Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy the surroundings or book a table at the chic Cliff House bistro. Perched on a rocky promontory on the north side of Ocean Beach, this historic building has been a local landmark since the late 19th century. It boasts panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay.
  • The Golden State National Recreation Area has several campsites including Bicentennial, Haypress, Hawk Camp, Kirby Cove and Rob Hill Group Camp and has a number of permitted places for tenting. Remember to book in advance (some are open year-round, others only in season).
  • The San Francisco Bay Trail is a bike path and walking trail that runs along the entire San Francisco waterfront for several hundred kilometres.

Where to eat

  • Napa Valley Burger Company
    (gourmet burgers)
  • Fairfax Scoop
    (home-made ice creams)
  • Scoma's of Sausalito
    (very good seafood)

Where to go

  • Point Bonita Lighthouse
    (remote lighthouse)
  • Marin County Farmers' Market
    (farmers' market)
  • Marine Mammal Center
    (marine animal care centre)

Where to stay

  • Muir Woods Lodge
    (perfect location)
  • The Gables Inn Sausalito
    (charming guest room)
  • The Inn Above Tide
    (very romantic setting)

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