More than twice the size of the city of San Francisco, Golden Gate National Recreation Area covers 75,398 acres of land and water in the greater San Francisco area. One of the largest urban parks in the world, this recreation area includes five national historic landmarks, 12 properties on the National Register of Historic Places, 739 historic structures, 61 recorded archaeological sites, and nine documented cultural landscapes.
Like many urban parks, Golden Gate is not made up of one continuous stretch of land but instead consists of several different locales within an area that stretches from northern San Mateo County to south Marin County. Some parts of the Golden Gate Recreation Area include well-known tourist attractions - like Alcatraz and Muir Woods - while others are less familiar to most visitors. Nonetheless, it's a fascinating place to explore, both inside and outside the City by the Bay, including miles of picturesque Pacific Ocean shoreline, lots of military installations, and a variety of flora and fauna typical of the area.
An act to establish the Golden Gate Recreation Area was signed in 1972. Money allocated for the development of the park allowed for the purchase by the National Park Service of many historic sites and natural areas.
It takes days to see everything that is included as part of this large urban expanse. In the city and county of San Francisco, sites and landmarks of interest include famous Alcatraz Island; Forts Mason and Funston; Lands End natural preserve and historic Mile Rock Lighthouse; the Presidio, a former military installation that includes Baker Beach, Crissy Airfield, and the San Francisco National Cemetery; Ocean Beach, a mecca for surfers; and the Sutro Heights area, which includes the historic Sutro Baths and the Cliff House Restaurant.
In San Mateo County, the recreation area includes 240-acre Milagra Ridge, a former Nike missile site and home to many endangered species of animals; Sweeney Ridge, home to World War II lookout nests; Mori Point, a recently acquired undeveloped parcel of land; and the Phleger Estate, featuring beautiful Coastal Redwoods and a portion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
Portions of the park are also located in Marin County, including historic Fort Baker; Muir Woods National Monument; Marin Headlands, which includes several beaches, forts, and the Marine Mammal Center; the Point Bonita Lighthouse; shark-infested Stinson Beach; and the Muir Beach Overlook, a former naval base that provides amazing views of the surrounding area.
Because of the diversity of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, activities are many, including sightseeing, swimming, surfing, bike riding, hiking, boating, and more. Camping is available at four campgrounds within the Marin Headlands, though all four are rather small and fairly remote. Prior reservations are suggested at these year-round campsites.