100 Years of National Parks: The Best of the Bay

Yesterday, August 25th, 2016, marked the National Park Service’s centennial anniversary.

While the National Park Service came into existence in 1916, it was in 1872 that the first national park, Yellowstone, was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant — 44 years before the NPS was founded.

In fact, the idea of land being preserved for all to enjoy was first express in 1832 by artist George Catlin. Best known for his paintings of Native Americans, Catlin pondered the impact westward expansion and manifest destiny would have on native civilizations, wildlife, and wilderness while traveling through the Dakotas.

In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed an act of Congress transferring ownership of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to California from the federal government on the condition they would be held for “public use, resort, and recreation… inalienable for all time.”

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act, establishing the National Park Service as an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior:

The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

As if San Francisco’s 220+ public parks weren’t enough, we are #blessed with a number of National Parks in our very own backyard, including the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

All weekend (ending Sunday, August 28th), visitors will enjoy free admission to the United States’ 413 national parks. Join us in celebrating the Bay Area’s best National Parks and recreation areas by sharing your photos on Instagram with #SFGuide and #NPS100. We’ll be reposting our favorite photos on Instagram: @49milessf.

San Francisco:

Photo: Pedro Szekely, Flickr. Creative Commons.
Photo: Pedro Szekely, Flickr. Creative Commons.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, located in San Francisco and Marin County, offers some of the nation’s most iconic views. It is one of the largest and most diverse recreation areas under the National Park Service’s domain, encompassing 59 miles of bay and ocean shoreline, islands, Spanish fortifications, Cold War missile sites and more. There are hundreds of ways to experience GGNRA, from horseback riding, to ranger-led programs, to walking your dog through Fort Funston!

There’s a lot to enjoy on the San Francisco side alone:

  • Alcatraz Island, the famous prison situated right in the middle of the bay, offers tours throughout the day.
  • Visit Baker Beach to get some gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge as you tan.
  • Grab a bite to eat at the Cliff House, and hike the trails of Land’s End and the Sutro Baths.
  • Visit the Presidio, a former military site established by the Spanish in 1776, just minutes from Golden Gate Bridge. Centuries of architecture and protection from San Francisco’s urban expansion has left the Presidio as an oasis from the city life. Inside the Presidio, Crissy Airfield and Beach for breathtaking views of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Take a guided tour at Fort Point, San Francisco’s seacoast fortification that was built to stand guard against enemies that never came, located at the foot of Golden Gate Bridge.

Hours: Most of Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s sites are open 24/7, 365 days a year, however parking lots and visitor’s centers are open from sunrise to sunset.

San Francisco Aquatic Park. Photo: Nocturnal Bob, Flickr. Creative Commons.
San Francisco Aquatic Park. Photo: Nocturnal Bob, Flickr. Creative Commons.

San Francisco Maritime

The San Francisco Maritime Historic Park is a maritime museum located near Pier 39. The park hosts numerous boats, the newest of which was built in 1914. There is also a Maritime museum and research center, the largest maritime collection on the West Coast. The San Francisco Maritime Historic Park is also home to the Aquatic Park District, which features a beach with protected swimming areas.

Hours: The museum is open daily from 10:00AM–4:00PM, and closed for major holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Piers are open during daylight hours and the Maritime research center is open by appointment only.

Marin County / North Bay:

Point Bonita Lighthouse. Photo: Fazia_, Flickr. Creative Commons.
Point Bonita Lighthouse. Photo: Fazia_, Flickr. Creative Commons.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

The GGNRA extends far beyond San Francisco with loads of opportunities to experience the area in Marin County:

  • The Marin Headlands, a former military base, is home to many different activities and sites with breathtaking views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • During the height of the Cold War, the US Army built missile sites around the country as a last line of defense against Soviet bombers. The only restored missile site in the US is located in the Marin Headlands, complete with veterans who provide firsthand accounts of their experiences manning the missiles.
  • Point Bonita Lighthouse is a still active lighthouse in the Marin Headlands. Manned by the Coast Guard, the tunnel entrance to the lighthouse is only open on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Fort Baker is a former US Army Post immediately north of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are over 25 historic buildings on the site, as well as a children’s museum.
  • The Muir Woods National Monument is a forest filled with giant redwood trees inside the GGNRA. Open 365 days a year with gorgeous hiking trails and picnic spots.
Point Reyes Overlook. Photo: Darwin Cruz, Flickr. Creative Commons.
Point Reyes Overlook. Photo: Darwin Cruz, Flickr. Creative Commons.

Point Reyes

Home to over 35,000 acres of cliffs, mountains and beach, Point Reyes is home to over 1,500 species of plants and animals. Watch elephant seals sleep on the beach as gray whales swim right offshore. Cows graze on the fields above the beach near a replica Native American village. Point Reyes is also home to an iconic lighthouse, built in 1870. Remember to bring a jacket — Point Reyes is the windiest spot on the West Coast, with winds frequently reaching above 60 miles per hour!

East Bay:

Eugene O’Neill’s Tao House. Photo: National Parks Service, Flickr. Creative Commons.
Eugene O’Neill’s Tao House. Photo: National Parks Service, Flickr. Creative Commons.

Eugene O’Neill’s Tao House

Eugene O’Neill is the only Nobel Prize winning playwright in the United States. In his later years, he chose to live near Danville, where he wrote his final and most famous plays: The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey Into Night and A Moon for the Misbegotten. By 1936, 35 of his plays had been produced and he had written around 60 of them. That same year he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. With the award stipend, he and his wife built Tao House, calling it his “Final Harbor”.

The 17th annual Eugene O’Neill Festival will take place be running from September 2nd through October 2nd, with plays, staged readings, film screenings, and more. Learn more by visiting eugeneoneill.org.

Port Chicago Naval Magazine Memorial

The Port Chicago Naval Magazine Memorial is a memorial dedicated to recognizing the victims of the Port Chicago Disaster of 1944. 320 sailors and civilians were killed on July 17th, 1944 when a ship loaded with ammunition and bombs exploded. It resulted in the largest domestic loss of life during WWII, and the aftermath of the explosion lead to the largest Naval mutiny in US history. The events that occurred during the mutiny became a major catalyst of desegregation in the Navy. Today, the Memorial sits on an active military base, and reservations are required two weeks in advance.

John Muir's Home. Photo: Jim Bowen, Flickr. Creative Commons.
John Muir’s Home. Photo: Jim Bowen, Flickr. Creative Commons.

John Muir’s Home

Without John Muir, this blog post may have never been written. Often called “The Father of Our National Parks System”, he was directly involved in creating national parks at Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Muir Woods and more. In addition, he was the co-founder of the Sierra Club in 1892, and wrote more than 300 magazine articles and 12 books on nature. Today, his home stands preserved in time on a ranch, with hiking trails along Mount Wanda and an Adobe home from 1775.

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