Centred in the bay of San Francisco, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, or GGNRA, is one of the largest urban parks in the world. It consists of a collection of areas, running from northern San Mateo Country to southern Marin County. Within its boundaries are several famous San Francisco landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the Marin Headlands.
Golden Gate Bridge
The icon of San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge is named after the bridge’s vermillion colour, known formally as “international orange”. This colour was chosen by consulting architect Irving Morrow because it complements the blue of the surrounding sea and helps to increase the visibility of the bridge in San Francisco’s famous fog. The bridge is equipped with dedicated pedestrian and cycle lanes, so no matter what your mode of transport, you can enjoy the views it affords of San Francisco Bay.
If outdoor adventure is what you’re looking for, Kirby Cove is the GGNRA destination for you. It includes hiking trails and well-equipped camping and lodging sites. Kirby Cove is situated on the Marin headlands, which offer the best (and most photographed) point from which to view the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. Campsites and cabins have to be reserved in advance. You can call 1-877-444-6777 to do this.
With the best possible views of the bay and bridge, the Marin Headlands are also home to an incredible spot for bird-watching – Hawk Hill. The 920-foot, or 280 metre, hill is a perfect lookout point for spotting various birds of prey, such as raptors, hawks, kites, eagles and osprey vultures. They are siphoned to this point due to the lack of rising thermals above the surrounding waters, and also thanks to the large population of small mammals in the area. Visitors stand the best chance of seeing the magnificent birds passing through from August to December.
There’s more to see on this infamous island than just the penitentiary that housed the likes of Al Capone and Mickey Cohen. Alcatraz is also host to centuries-old military fortifications, rock pools and thriving colonies of sea birds such as gulls, cormorants and egrets, a historic lighthouse and an old military prison. The island was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and was featured as a site on the National Historic Landmark list in 1986.
For those with a taste for the supernatural, many have claimed that Alcatraz is a haunted island. Native American lore dating back further than the establishment of the federal prison claims the island was inhabited by malicious spirits. Mark Twain also said of the island’s eerie atmosphere: “[it] is as cold as winter, even in the summer months”, though this observation could easily be attributed to San Francisco’s cool year-round climate.
Muir Woods National Monument
Encompassing 554 acres, or 224 hectares, of forest, the Muir Woods are populated mostly with Coast Redwood forests. Most of the Redwoods range in age between about 500 and 800 years old, with the oldest tree an incredible 1,200 years old. The tallest of the trees reaches 79 metres.
Also found in the Muir Woods is the Bigleaf Maple, which, true to its name, has the largest leaves of any maple tree. This is due to the extra effort needed to catch sunlight under the towering Redwoods. There are several hiking trails around the area.
Presidio of San Francisco
The Presidio is a park and an old military base on the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula. It was established by the Spanish in 1776. It subsequently passed under Mexican control and was acquired by the United States in 1848. It was only in 1989 that a military reduction program put an end to active military use of the base, making it the longest used military base in the United States. In 1994 it was officially transferred to the US National Park Service and the GGNRA. The area is covered with woods and provides scenic views.
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