A Tour of California’s National Parks in the Bay Area
It’s no secret that California has some of the most diverse national and state parks. With 28 National Park Service sites, the state boasts the most NPS designated units in America. Among these are nine NPS sites easily accessible from California’s Bay Area. San Francisco is another popular—and convenient—destination for out-of-state visitors to fly into, and don’t forget the proximity of another major airport in the Bay Area in Oakland.
Most folks would beeline their way to Muir Woods or Golden Gate Bridge for a day trip, but there’s more to the Bay Area beyond these iconic sites. Below are the other NPS sites that may be lesser known, yet pack rich history of people and places, including a former residence of the father of national parks—John Muir himself. Due to popularity and/or logistic arrangement necessary to visit these sites, I’m sharing my tips based on my experience visiting all these sites in the “Know Before You Go” (KBYG) note:
Rosie Rally Home Front Festival is a great way to volunteer or simply participate at this awesome event where you’re encouraged to dress up as Rosie while celebrating and commemorating the Rosies of America and their contributions during World War II/Photo courtesy of Linda Mohammad
Muir Woods National Monument
One of the most popular spots for folks to walk among old-growth coastal redwoods.
KBYG: Parking reservations are required via www.GoMuirWoods.com. Make sure you have a printout or downloaded copy of your parking voucher before arriving.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, this park supports 19 distinct ecosystems with over 2,000 plants and animal species. Alcatraz Island and the Presidio are some of the popular attractions here.
KBYG: Download the NPS Golden Gate App that’ll help you navigate through the visitor centers, events, lodging, places to eat and shop, and services within the park.
Fort Point National Historic Site
From its vantage point overlooking the spectacular Golden Gate, Fort Point defended the San Francisco Bay following California’s Gold Rush through World War II.
KBYG: Ranger-led fort history tours are free, and scheduled daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
This home has one of the original furniture pieces of interest: the desk in his study where John Muir wrote some of his famous journals and publications while living in Martinez, California/Photo by Linda Mohammad
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
Conveniently located in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood of San Francisco, this park offers visitors the sights, sounds, smells, and stories of Pacific Coast maritime history.
KBYG: The exhibit “Maritime Arts – At Sea and Ashore” is displayed in the Maritime Museum showcasing the skills and techniques of the sailors’ trade. Open seven days a week, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and free to visit.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Famous for its lighthouse, this park’s landscape offers thunderous ocean breakers crashing against rocky headlands and expansive sand beaches, along with open grasslands, brushy hillsides, and forested ridges.
KBYG: From late-December through late-March/mid-April, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard may be closed to private vehicles on Saturdays and Sundays. Visitors wishing to go to the lighthouse are required to ride a shuttle bus from Drakes Beach (tickets: $7/adult; children 15 years of age and under ride free).
Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park
Home to the Rosie the Riveter Memorial, the famous park ranger Betty Reid Soskin, the Ford Assembly Plant, the SS Red Oak Victory ship, and the remaining historic buildings of WWII Shipyard No. 3.
KBYG: Rosie Rally Home Front Festival takes place annually here in mid-August. Great attraction!
John Muir National Historic Site
Often mistakenly tagged as Muir Woods on social media channels, this is the house where John Muir worked, raised a family, and wrote in his Martinez, California home. This park has a special place in my heart since I volunteer here at their John Muir Birthday-Earth Day annual celebration. The Martinez Adobe located here is a historic home, and showcases part of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail.
KBYG: Ranger- and docent-led tours of the first floor of the Muir House are scheduled all week at 2 p.m., with additional 11 a.m. tours on weekends.
In memory of late park ranger Raphael Allen (pictured here), a passionate, intellectual, caring spirit who loved to learn and share his knowledge, especially about Port Chicago Naval Magazine. May he rest in power/Photo by Linda Mohammad
Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site
Home of America’s only Nobel Prize-winning playwright, where Eugene O’Neill wrote his final and most memorable plays: The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten.
KBYG: Visitors need to make reservations and will be driven by a park shuttle from the Town of Danville, California.
Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
Possibly the least visited NPS site in California, yet probably the most important untold history of America. Here, 320 Black workers were instantly killed in an explosion of two ships being loaded with ammunition for the Pacific theater troops. It was WWII’s worst home front disaster.
KBYG: Public access to this site is through a two-week advance reservation-only on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays beginning at 12:30 p.m. Reservation information can be found here.
Header photo: Courtesy of Point Reyes National Seashore/NPS
Linda Mohammad, also known as The Bucket List Traveler, is originally from Malaysia, but now calls California home. What started as a bucket list goal to experience all California national parks turned into a bigger bucket list to see all 62 America’s major national parks, which she accomplished in 2019. As a weekend warrior, she’s passionate about energizing park lovers while planning visits to public lands.