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San Francisco - Outdoor Activity

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bridge at night



 The beautiful surroundings of San Francisco offer many exciting outdoor opportunities. From bridges to beaches and scenic headlands, parks, preserves, and hiking trails, there's something (a lot) here for everyone to savor.

There are myriad parks -- national, regional, and local -- to explore, and you'll enjoy walking through The City's many neighborhoods -- Chinatown, North Beach, The Presidio, The Embarkadero, and more.

Walk the Golden Gate Bridge

With parking lots at both ends of the great bridge, you'll have easy access to some of the finest views of the city and bay. This half-hour walk (one-way) leads from the toll station plaza at the edge of the Presidio to the large parking lot and viewpoint on the Marin side. Along the bridge and from the Marin side, are splendid views and memorable photo opportunities. And if you have a car at the Marin side, we suggest that you continue on to the Marin Headlands. For photos and lots of bridge information, go to the Golden Gate Bridge website.

Marin Headlands

This wonderful scenery is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Marin Headlands Visitor Center, at Fort Barry, is open daily 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For information on ranger-led hikes and other interpretive: 415-331-1540.

Follow the signs pointing west shortly after driving north across the Golden Gate Bridge. The road leading sharply up the hill takes you to a number of attractions -- historic and scenic. The main headlands route is Conzelman Road. Turn right onto McCullough Road, and drive into Rodeo Valley. Fort Cronkhite, formerly an army post built to guard the Golden Gate, is located here. There is a small visitor center at the fort, which is also the regional headquarters for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. A few trails lead to scenic views and historic artifacts. There's a picnic area with another good view of the city.

Rodeo Beach is a sandbar separating the Pacific and Rodeo Lagoon. The beach is a good place to look at the ocean, and for an informal picnic.

Point Bonita Lighthouse, has been on the headlands since 1855. The lighthouse is situated on a ridge, reached through a tunnel and a high foot bridge. The tunnel and lighthouse are open from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on weekends. But don't miss this walk if you're there at other times. The view from the tunnel entrance is worth the walk.

Beaches and More

Several beaches lie next to the busy city. Two are close to the downtown area -- China Beach and Baker Beach. Lands End is a cluster of hiking trails and cliffs above the shoreline that provide an excellent way to get some exercise without leaving the city.

The largest beach -- on the Pacific Ocean -- is at Point Lobos. Ocean Beach stretches for several miles from the Cliff House and Seal Rocks -- and the ruins of the old Sutro Baths. The views here are excellent, and the beach is often sunny when the nearby Golden Gate area is shrouded in fog. The Cliff House contains two restaurants -- both with views -- and a museum of historic amusement arcade games.

Fort Point and the Presidio

Under the Golden Gate Bridge on the city side. Call 556-1693 for information on Fort Point activities and exhibits. The Fort is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

This little corner of the city, west of the main Presidio, offers one of the city's great vistas -- a huge panorama of ocean, with the bridge above, the city to the east, and headland across the Golden Gate channel.

The fort is a national historic site, and park rangers dressed in period soldier suits demonstrate what army life was like a century ago: loading cannons and conducting rifle drills. You can prowl the great echoing corridors of the fort and capture stop-action glimpses of the city through its windows and gun ports. Go up to to the old cannon batteries atop its eight-foot-thick walls.

The fort was constructed in the 1850's. One-hundred-twenty-six cannons were aimed at the Golden Gate channel. The enemy never appeared, and the cannons were withdrawn around 1900. The U.S. Army occupied the fort during World War II and again aimed guns on the channel, waiting for Japanese ships. The Japanese Navy never showed up and today, the fort is a tourist attraction, one of the less-visited in the city.

Close to the Fort, The Presidio, the army base that the Spanish first established, has now been turned over to San Francisco and the National Park Service. While the Presidio will be under new construction for some years, Crissy Field -- once an airbus landing strip -- is being reshaped as a recreation center, and a salt marsh is being restored along the shorefront. The Presidio offers some of the finest views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Muir Woods and Pt. Reyes

This highest point of land in the San Francisco area is Mt. Tamalpais (Mt. Tam to locals). It is found north of the Golden Gate, in Marin County. Highway 1 leads west to the ocean shore from the freeway (Hwy 101), at Mill Valley. Highway 1 also leads to two superb natural places, Muir Woods and the Pt. Reyes National, Seashore.

Muir Woods National Monument is a lovely setting of coastal redwoods and coastal hills, just off Highway 1 (follow the signs). A small creek winds through a deep valley with the redwood grove. It takes a half-hour to get there from the city, and you should schedule about two hours to soak in the atmosphere of the woods.

Pt. Reyes National Seashore is an amazing piece of land on the Marin Coast. The San Andreas Fault separates it from the mainland, and the fault in this area (near the town of Olema, was the epicenter of the devastating 1903 San Francisco Earthquake. The entrance road crosses the fault and near the park visitor center is an earthquake display. Whale and bird watching are favorite activities along the seashore, and people hike to see elk that live at the northern end of the preserve. Several trails cross the hills and seaside meadows, and the famous lighthouse at the southwest point is a popular attraction.

For more on Point Reyes, go here.

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