Golden Gate National Recreation Area: Marin Headlands


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The Golden Gate National Recreation Area protects over 80 thousand acres in Northern California. For this trip, we decided to explore the Marin Headlands section. The Marin Headlands is a peninsula just north of San Francisco on the Marin County side of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’d been to San Francisco many times before and had seen the bridge from that perspective, but this was the first time for all of us viewing the bridge, Alcatraz and the city from this vantage point. There far fewer tourists here and we enjoyed the view that much more, even though the bridge remained mostly shrouded in fog.DSC02528

We stopped in two places. The first was Point Bonita. We hiked down the steep half mile trail through a tunnel in a hill and across a bridge to Point Bonita Light. There was a ranger on hand whose grandmother had lived in this lighthouse as a child. We spent a lot of time talking to him about the lighthouse which was constructed in 1855 as the third lighthouse on the West Coast. It is still active today and managed by the coast guard.DSC02538

The second place we stopped was the Marine Mammal Center.  Thank goodness for places like these! Our group felt it was well worth the visit and admission just to support the organization’s efforts to rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals.
That said,we didn’t spend very long there. Our agenda for the day was pretty packed and we were there in between tour times. You can self-guide, but this is really not a zoo/aquarium. The animals are unwell and too much noise and commotion is not good for them. They can be viewed from a distance, but without the narrative from the docent on success stories, it was really too sad to linger for long. DSC02561

On the drive to the lighthouse, we found a pullout with a seal rock that was close enough for us to really see the seals without binoculars.

Location: 948 Fort Barry, Sausalito, CA 94965

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date designation declared: 10/27/1972

Date of my visit: August 12, 2012



Redwood National & State Parks


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Redwood National Park is unique in that it is a spread out confederation of state parks along the Northern California coast. It was established to protect not only the giant redwoods, but prairies, rivers and coastline.


In order to experience as much of the park as possible, we stayed in the White Rock Resort, just south of the Oregon Border, for a few days. What a wonderful, homey cabin, right on the Pacific! It was the perfect jumping off point for our daily activities. We had cabin 9  with an ocean view and our cousins were in the cabin next door. The freshly baked bread in the bread maker when we arrived was such a nice touch. The kids slept upstairs in the loft and were kept occupied with the TV and movie library up there. We all enjoyed the hot tub on the deck… Glorious! We went for a walk on the beach each morning.

For our first day in the park we took an awesome 1/2 day kayaking tour through  the Redwoods with Redwood Rides

Our group is not the most physically fit, so this was the perfect excursion for us. We met the Redwood Rides van by the Chevron station and were driven upstream so we could paddle with the current. Our excellent guide showed us how to paddle more efficiently, how to navigate the small rapids and no one capsized!
Our guide spoke about the surrounding geology and nature as we enjoyed this serene and scenic journey. No motorboats are allowed on the Smith River, so it really was peaceful. We encountered only a handful of people swimming, fishing, and tubing along the way.

Mid-way into the ride, we pulled up to a beach and took a short walk with the guide into the Stout Grove of redwoods in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. He was so knowledgeable about these trees and wow, are they amazing! Pictures can’t do this place justice (especially since all I had with me was a waterproof point and shoot.) It’s amazing to walk among some of the world’s oldest living things. And there weren’t throngs of tourists here as we have seen in Muir Woods, so it was peaceful.
I highly recommend Redwood Rides… They made this the most rewarding experience of our vacation. You will be sore, you will get wet (waterproof cameras only and wear river sandals) but you will have fun and learn a thing or two.

Day4-IMG_5833The next day, when our sore muscles had somewhat recovered, we drove to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (under joint operation with the NPS.) We went into the visitor center, got the pin I collect from every park we visit and got our bearings for our hike. We intended to take the Prairie Creek trail and loop back on Cathedral, but a mile down prairie creek trail it became too much for our disabled cousin and we turned back. This is a flat wide trail, so don’t be discouraged… Most can easily make it. The part that we did walk was beautiful with many big trees (though not the official ‘Big Tree’) a couple of bridges, a cut out in a fallen tree to walk through, the creek and myriad photo opportunities. We encountered maybe three other families along the way, having the park to ourselves most of the time.


While in the area, we also visited the Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City. This light is only accessible at low tide. It is continuously staffed by a different couple in residence each month.
We did have to wait a bit to get in as they can only take 8 people at a time. They have the tour organized so that one group gets in as the previous group moves to the next room of the tour. Well worth the suggested donation of $3 per adult, the tour lasts about 45 minutes, culminating with a visit to the tower.

Location: Humboldt & Del Norte Counties, California

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 8/27/1969

Date of my visit: August 2016




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.