Things To Know Before You Come
There are several things to know about the Golden Gate National Parks before you come.
The park is surrounded on three sides by the metropolitan San Francisco Bay Area. Except for its western edge—the Pacific Ocean—the park is practically surrounded by a vibrant and diverse urban area. Over 7 million people live within an hour’s drive of the park. Accommodations—from five-star hotels to youth hostels—abound. So do restaurants of every variety. If you find that you’ve forgotten something for your visit to the park, anything you need can be purchased once you arrive in the Bay Area.
The park is made up of many distinct areas. Unlike many national park areas, there is no single entrance into the Golden Gate National Parks. There are also a huge variety of natural and cultural resources and different ecological zones that will interest almost anyone.
Many Golden Gate destinations can be reached by public transportation, by bicycle or on foot, but a car is required to reach many other areas. All of the park’s San Francisco sites can be reached by bus or bike, or by foot power. Access to destinations in Marin and San Mateo counties is easiest by car. Tour buses visit many San Francisco sites and Muir Woods in Marin County. Alcatraz is reached by ferry from near San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
Most Golden Gate sites can be visited free of charge. There are few fees to visit Golden Gate destinations. Muir Woods charges an entrance fee, and Alcatraz is only accessible by a concession boat for which there is a fee. But every other Golden Gate destination can be visited free of charge.
While not as dramatic as in some parts of the country, there are nevertheless distinct seasons in the San Francisco Bay Area. The park changes character throughout the year, and some activities are confined to certain periods.
The winter is characterized by occasional rain, cool weather, and overcast skies punctuated by brilliant sunshine. California gray whales migrate along the coast toward their wintering grounds in the lagoons of Baja California.
In the spring, winter many of the park trees and flowers that were dormant through the winter bloom forth usually starting in late March or early April. Wildflower displays are best in April, May and June.
By July, summer fog begins to predominate in most coastal areas of the park. Still, the grasses and plants that are brilliantly green in late winter and spring have now turned to the golden brown and muted grays so characteristic of California in the summer.
Typically starting in mid-late September and continuing through October, the fall skies are clear and brilliant sunshine is abundant everywhere in the park. In the fall, the raptor migration reaches its peak.The land is dry for the most part, and plants in the park appear to be going dormant.Fall is the favored time in the park for many visitors.
Did You Know?
It takes about 1,000 years of radiolarian “rain” to produce a layer of ribbon chert just one millimeter thick.