Natural Features & Ecosystems

From the first explorers landing on the Pacific, to modern day scientists studying endangered species, to a small child seeing a sea star for the first time, the coast is a place of discovery. Golden Gate covers seven different ecological zones starting with the open ocean and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Rocky coasts shelter tide pools and show off the wide variety of geologic formations in the park. Sandy beaches are playgrounds to the public as well as home to many plants and animals. Estuaries begin the transition from sea to land, mixing fresh and salt waters and terrestrial and marine species. Marshes such as Crissy Field, Rodeo Lagoon, and Big Lagoon spread out in their mucky green glory, marshes being one of the most productive habitats on earth. Where low coastal hills meet the ocean as in the Marin Headlands and Pacifica, scrublands and grasslands cover the rocky earth like a skin. Looking out over the grassy hills and the dark green patches of scrub, you may think that you are in the Mediterranean, except for the fog blowing in to the coast. Always moving through the land are the green ribbons of creeks such as Redwood, Lagunitas, and Lobos Creek. Come discover the nature of Golden Gate. There is more than meets the eye!

Explore the habitats of Golden Gate

  • Photo of tides at Rodeo Beach.

    Golden Gate’s sandy shores seem open and endless, but actually include a number of different habitats.

  • Light streams through trees at Muir Woods.

    Explore the variety of different forest ecosystems at Golden Gate.

  • Close-up shot of barnacles and mussels in the rocky intertidal zone.
    Intertidal and Subtidal Zones

    The rocky intertidal zone has a tremendous diversity of plants and animals that are specially adapted to be bombarded by waves.

  • Dramatic sunset over grasslands of Mount Tam with tall trees in background.
    Prairies and Grasslands

    Golden Gate contains a multitude of open fields and hillsides covered in wildflowers.

  • Blazing sunset over rocks at Lands End.

    The ocean is a patchwork of habitats, from the deepest offshore waters to where the sea meets the land in bays, lagoons, marshes, beaches, a

  •  Photo of sunlit stream running through Muir Woods.
    Rivers and Streams

    Rivers and streams create diverse habitat for a wide variety of plants and critters at Golden Gate.

  • Image of Sand Dunes at Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands.
    Sand Dunes

    Who’s hiding in in the sandy dunes of Golden Gate’s many beaches?

  • Scenic shot of Crissy Field Estuary at dusk with Golden Gate bridge in the background.
    Wetlands, Marshes and Swamps

    Wetlands provide one of the most fertile habitats on earth for native plants, fish, and wildlife.

  • Landscape shot showing colorful the scrubland plants of the Marin Headlands.

    Low, shrubby plants are a common feature of California coastal ecosystems.

Last updated: April 11, 2018

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Building 201, Fort Mason

San Francisco, CA 94123-0022


United States Park Police Dispatch: Non-Emergency: 415-561-5505 Emergency: 415-561-5656

Contact Us