A list of activities in SF’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area

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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 hiked Crissy Field or spent the day at Baker Beach, but many don’t know that these incredible sights are actually owned by the National Park Service.

Access to an urban national park is indeed a rarity, due in large part to the dismantling of many military bases set up to protect the Golden Gate during the first centuries of the city’s existence.

View of the Golden Gate | Maryann Jones Thompson / The Standard

Although the park stretches from Olema Valley in Marin County 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 anniversary, The Standard has compiled a list of must-see GGNRA SF experiences. See how many of these classic park activities you’ve already done. Have you already completed all 10? Go 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 sweeping views of the Marin Headlands and Golden Gate as you travel west and finish at the Sutro Baths. (Or start at the west end and loop it around!) Prime: Detour to the Lands End Labyrinth (when it is there).

Walk inside the Civil War-era fort to feel the chill of its 7-foot brick walls and to admire the unique views of downtown—and the underside of the Golden Gate Bridge—from its roof. Prime: Take a candlelight tour in winter.

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

Do San Francisco’s must-see attraction at least once every five years. Listen to the same audio tour you heard as a kid, but absorb new meaning each time. Head to the exercise yard and down the stairs to the edge of the island for a new view. Prime: Sleep there at night (when the opportunity arises).

Become a tourist again by renting a bike from the Sports Basement or taking a Lyft Bike and pedaling along San Francisco’s front yard on the Golden Gate Promenade/Bay Trail. Prime: Sit next to a local and catch a Dungeness Crab at 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

Walk for miles up and down and along the dunes on this southern stretch of coast with off-leash rides, fewer crowds, and more spectacular views than Ocean Beach. Prime: Go hang gliding.

Pass the waterfront businesses of the Fort Mason Center neighborhood and walk to the historic base buildings at the top of Gough Street. Stroll past historic buildings and take in views of the bay in both directions: from the Black Point cannon pointing towards the Golden Gate and from the new Black Point Gardens Trail, offering panoramic views from the Ghirardelli sign, passing through Aquatic Park to Alcatraz. Prime: Perch here to watch the Blue Angels fly over the city during Fleet Week.

See also

Plan a relaxing day at one of SF’s most easily accessible and scenic beaches. Wrap it up with a few yoga poses in the sand framed by the Pacific sunset and deck views. Or plan a beach trip to Baker’s more intimate little sister, China Beach. Prime: Join the nude bathers at the north end of the strand.

Follow the locals, their children and their dogs through the towering eucalyptus trees that line Andy Goldsworthy’s natural artwork near the Presidio gate. Prime: Follow the trails through the main post to the nearby works of Goldsworthy, Spire and Earth Wall.

Wood Line by Andy Goldsworthy at the Presidio, San Francisco | Maryann Jones Thompson / The Standard

Spend a day in the all-new Presidio playground: stroll the trails, take in the vistas, swing the swing, enjoy the entertainment, pack a picnic, and finish by listening to a ranger talk while seated around a campfire. Prime: 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. Cross your fingers for a pelican air show or a freighter moving through the frame. Prime: Hike the Batteries to Bluffs trail before settling in for the sunset.

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

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Richard V. Johnson