All the National Parks and Historical Sites You Can Go to in the Bay Area and Beyond the Bridge
This August marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Thanks to the foresight of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, today there are 376 parks spanning more than 83 million acres, protected and preserved for us and generations to come.
San Francisco is fortunate to have several of these parks nearby. Some are inside the city limits, while others require a drive, but all are worth a visit. Take a look at each of the 14 national parks, historic sites and monuments that are within driving distance from San Francisco and choose which ones you'll visit next.
Fort Point Historical Site (Long Avenue and Marine Drive, San Francisco)
Fort Point was originally built by the U.S. Army during the Civil War and is the only military structure built using the iconic "Third System" style west of the Mississippi River. Today, Fort Point stands at the entrance of the Golden Gate and offers several exhibits on the history of the Civil War and the construction and history of Fort Point itself.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area (Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Fort Mason, San Francisco)
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) covers an immense 80,000 acres spread across three counties. It is also the home to 1,439 historic structures and five National Historic Landmarks. The GGNRA is one of the most impressive and popular parks in the country and is an absolute must for anyone visiting San Francisco. it is home to the former federal prison Alcatraz. If you've never visited Alcatraz, it alone is reason enough to visit. Just be sure to purchase your ticket early because this extremely popular tour often sells out two-to-three weeks in advance.
San Francisco Maritime Historical Park (2 Marina Blvd., San Francisco)
The San Francisco Maritime Historical Park is located in the heart of San Francisco history, adjacent to well-known Fisherman's Wharf. If you're interested in historical ships, this is the place to go. Not only can you board historic ships like the ferryboat Eureka and the steam schooner Wapama, you can go for a tour of the bay on the Alma.
Muir Woods National Monument (1 Muir Woods Road, Mill Valley)
Muir Woods is known for the iconic coastal Redwoods. It's difficult to not stand in awe at the base of these massive and ancient trees which can soar as high as 260 feet. Muir Woods is also an excellent place to go on a hike, and there are options both for novice and expert hikers alike.
Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail is historically significant, thanks to an expedition of colonists in 1775 and 1776. It is made up of more than 1,200 miles through both California and Arizona, and there are dozens of historic sites and trails to choose from. Watch for brown signs that denote the trail; portions of it parallel Park Presidio and there are interpretive sites in the Presidio of San Francisco. If you enjoy history and the outdoors, this trail is an excellent option.
Point Reyes National Seashore (1 Bear Valley Rd, Point Reyes Station)
Point Reyes is a massive nature preserve that spans more than 71,000 acres in Marin County. It makes up a significant portion of the Point Reyes Peninsula and is home to more than 1,500 plant and animal species. The Bear Valley Visitor Center Auditorium provides information to help guide your trip, and there are 11 different videos for those who want to learn about the history of the region.
Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park (1414 Harbour Way S #3000, Richmond)
Rosie the Riveter is an icon from WWII who emphasized the contribution that civilians — and particularly women — provided in the war effort. The park is home to a number of events, including the Home Front Film Festival and Light in the Darkness Film Series.
John Muir National Historic Site (4202 Alhambra Ave, Martinez)
John Muir is widely considered one of the preeminent naturalists in the United States, and the John Muir National Historic Site is dedicated to his love for nature. You can also tour the tranquil grounds, including the Martinez Adobe and Mount Wanda.
Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial (4202 Alhambra Ave., Martinez)
In July of 1944, 320 men died when two ships exploded while being loaded to join the war effort. Today, this national memorial is dedicated to their sacrifice. The memorial provides historical context and insight into the men who lost their lives.
Eugene O'Neill National Historic Park (1000 Kuss Road, Danville)
This historic park has helped preserve the Tao House, which was home to Eugene O'Neill. He has the distinction of being the only American playwright to ever win a Nobel Prize. For those who want to learn more about Eugene, tours of his home are available each week Wednesday through Sunday.
Pinnacles National Park (5000 Hwy. 146, Paicines)
Pinnacles National Park is home to a wealth of geologic history. Ancient volcanoes created this region millions of years ago, and visitors can hike and even rock climb this unique terrain.
Lassen Volcanic National Park (Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mineral)
This national park is known for its hot springs and the iconic Lassen Peak. Visitors can hike, camp and explore the volcanic terrain with either guided or unguided tours.
Redwood National Park (1111 Second St, Crescent City)
The Redwood National Park is home to the tallest trees in the world, and the Redwoods themselves are part of rainforests that predate the birth of the United States by centuries. Opportunities to camp and hike are available, but make sure to book your camping reservation early, as spots fill up very quickly.
Yosemite National Park (Yosemite National Park, CA 95389)
Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Mountains. There, you can find massive and ancient sequoia trees. Yosemite is the inspiration for many of Ansel Adams' iconic photographs. However, the beauty of Yosemite must be seen to be fully appreciated. Park pros warn that GPS isn't always reliable within the Park's 1,200 square miles. From the San Francisco Bay Area take I-580 east to I-205 east to Hwy. 120 east (Manteca) via the picturesque Gold Country in Tuolumne County or Hwy. 140 east (Merced) into Yosemite National Park. From the south take I-5 north (or I-405 north to I-5) to Hwy. 99 north to Hwy. 41 north (Fresno) into Yosemite National Park.