Golden Gate NRA: Lands End

Location: 680 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date NPS designation declared: 10/27/1972

Date of my visit: August 30, 2017


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I got off the plane in SFO, picked up my rental car and my cousins and drove us to the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center near the historic Cliff House. This center wasn’t here on my previous visits to the bay area and is one of the newer additions to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

We had lunch in the Lookout Cafe attached to the NPS visitor center. They had some nice sandwiches, tuna and pasta salads to choose from as well as organic teas. We ate standing at the bar near the window for fear of being attacked by the birds outside. We stopped in the visitor’s center to peruse the displays, get my pin and then we walked the trail from the Sutro Baths to Land’s End

This is an easy trail along the coast with great views of the Golden Gate bridge, sailboats, marine life, etc…a perfect place to get my Pacific Ocean fix. I never realize how much I miss it until I’m standing on a bluff with wind in my hair and the smell of the sea in the air.

You can almost forget you’re within city limits except for the litter and graffiti here and there. Also, beware of leaving valuables visible in your car…there are signs posted in the lot warning of frequent break-ins.

You can make out part of the Sutro Bath ruins on the lower left hand side of this photo.

Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park

SF076Location: 1414 Harbour Way South, Suite 3000, Richmond, California

Designation: National Historical Park

Date NPS designation declared: 10/25/2000

Date of my visit: 9/02/2017

As able-bodied American men went off to fight in WWII, women stepped into the void left in the workforce at home. ‘Rosie the Riveter’ was a campaign aimed at recruiting women to work in the defense industries. The real ‘Rosie’, Naomi Parker Fraley passed away earlier this year. She was in her nineties and her image continues to inspire and symbolize the empowerment of women.

Richmond, CA was chosen for the site of the National Historical Park because of the major role it played in the war effort. Its shipyards produced 747 ships, more than any other in the US, with a high percentage of ‘Rosies’ in its workforce.

The museum is on the bay in a seedy area with warehouses. They do have a parking lot and we felt safe parking and walking to the building. There was such a haze from the Oregon fires that we couldn’t see the skyline, but I’d think there would be great views of San Francisco from here under normal circumstances.

Two rangers welcomed us and gave us the film schedule…there are two short films shown regularly that you must see. While waiting for the films to begin, we perused the displays. It really is amazing what was accomplished here.

We CAN do it!

Point Reyes National Seashore

It takes courage to walk down these steps and stamina to walk back up!

Location: 27099 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Inverness, CA 94937

Designation: National Seashore

Date NPS designation declared: 10/20/1972

Date of my visit: 8/15/2012

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I have been to Point Reyes on three separate visits to the bay area and just love the serenity of the place. On only one occasion was the lighthouse open. The last time we were there in 2012, there was a sign saying the light was closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but there had been no indication of this on the NPS website. I should have called to check when making plans as it was a long, but lovely drive, from San Francisco.  A few years earlier, we’d survived our vertigo and the climb down the steep, narrow 300 stairs to tour the light and speak with a ranger about the history of the area. And to our surprise, we were able to see gray whales migrating past the point from the deck of the lighthouse!

Female Tule Elk grazing along Tomales Bay

But since this trip was in August, it wasn’t the right time of year to see the whales anyway. So after a peaceful picnic lunch (I recommend stopping at Tomales Bay Foods for provisions in Point Reyes station before heading into the park. There is nowhere to get food once inside the park and the roads between points are long, narrow, slow and rural) we headed to the Tule Elk Preserve on the other side of the park.

The Tomales Point Trail is a lovely, mostly level path that hugs the coastline. To hike from the lot all the way to the point and back again is about 7-8 miles. That is a little longer than our group was willing to go, but fortunately we did find a herd of Tule Elk about 2.5 miles in.  In our quest for a sighting, we happened upon a ranger who pointed us in the right direction and told us a little of the history of the preserve. The Elk who thrive there today have been brought back from the brink of extinction. We were grateful to see these magnificent animals!

A bull leading the herd away from us. I had a thing for filters back then.
The hiking and the ocean air worked up our appetites and we stopped for dinner at the Olema farmhouse on our drive back to the city. There are still many areas of this park left for us to explore on future visits, like the cypress tree tunnel and the shipwreck.

John Muir NHS

The historic Muir/Strentzel home in Martinez, California

Location: 4202 Alhambra Avenue, Martinez, California

Designation: National Historic Site

Date NPS designation declared: 8/31/1964

Date of my visit: Sept 2017

The John Muir NHS is must visit for fans of the National Park Service, since John Muir was considered the father of the NPS. He was a naturalist and writer who inspired the creation of the National Park Service and was the first president of the Sierra Club. He was responsible for the preservation of Yosemite and several of our other natural treasures as National Parks.

We visited the site during an awful heat wave in the Bay Area ( I think it was 108F that day!) We were grateful for the air conditioning in the visitors center and thoroughly enjoyed the 20 minute film about John Muir’s remarkable life.

People were TINY in the 1800s!

After we’d watched the film we trudged uphill (the hill seemed almost vertical, but then it was seriously HOT) to take a ranger-led tour of the historic home. The NPS website says tours are only of the ground floor, but our ranger, a self-professed John Muir groupie, did take us to some of the rooms upstairs. The home has been beautifully restored and maintained  by the NPS and the ranger was full of anecdotes and factoids that made history come alive for all in our group.

Water wagon?

There are other things to do on this site…we were told we could pick fruit in the orchards, take a cell phone tour of the grounds and climb Mount Wanda…but again…HOT. With a disabled family member along for the tour, we had to save this for another day.

In spite of the unpleasant weather, we loved visiting John Muir NHS. If you are in the bay area, it’s definitely worth the side trip to this off-the-beaten-path gem. There are also a few other lesser known NPS units out this way, like Rosie the Riveter, which I will review separately.