El Capitan and Half Dome (credit: Randy Yagi)
Living in the Bay Area can oftentimes be quite hectic, especially if you commute daily. But spring is just around the corner and if you have some time off coming up or are looking for a weekend getaway, why not visit one of famous attractions managed by the National Park Service? You might be surprised at just how many national parks, monuments and historic sites are all within a short drive. Here is a look at five of the best in and near the San Francisco Bay Area.
Yosemite Village, CA 95389
It’s not exactly near the South Bay, but Yosemite National Park is easily one of America’s best national parks and one of the world’s most famous. It’s also one of the most visited national parks, drawing an estimated 3.7 million visitors annually. There is really no bad time of the year to visit Yosemite, although the peak summer months can be particularly busy and most of the accommodations are sold out. Often described as the most beautiful place on earth, among the many attractions to see are Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Lodge, El Capitan and Half Dome.
San Francisco, CA 94133
Best known as the former federal penitentiary, Alcatraz Island is second only to the Golden Gate Bridge as San Francisco’s most popular attraction. The site of the first lighthouse built on the West Coast, Alcatraz Island is managed by the National Park Service and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and annually draws approximately 1.5 million visitors. Some of America’s most notorious criminals were held here, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Mickey Cohen and Robert Stroud – the Birdman of Alcatraz. Visitors can take a ferry from Pier 33 near Fisherman’s Wharf and once on the island, can tour on their own, join a cell house tour or take a night tour, including a narrated boat tour around the island and guided tours of the island. The best time to visit Alcatraz Island is early mornings and the winter months of January through March.
Muir Woods National Monument
1 Muir Woods Rd.
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Established in 1908, Muir Woods is one of the oldest national monuments with the U.S. National Park system. Known for having one of the last stands of old growth Coast Redwoods in the Bay Area, Muir Woods is also part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Visitors can visit the old growth coastal redwoods by taking one of the hiking trails within the park, which are either asphalted or boardwalked. Although Muir Woods is less than an hour drive from San Francisco, parking is limited, especially on weekends. Transportation services are provided by several local tour operators listed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, with pick-up points at multiple locations, including San Francisco hotels, Fisherman’s Wharf and Sausalito. Marin Transit may resume its popular Muir Woods Shuttle from Sausalito and Marin City if a section of Highway 1 is reopened.
5000 Hwy 146
Paicines, CA 95043
Located about 75 miles south of San Jose, Pinnacles National Park is the newest national park in America. Originally designated as a forest reserve in 1906 and a national monument two years later, the Pinnacles gets its name from its unique rock formations and spires. Now encompassing approximately 26,000 in both San Benito and Monterey counties, the park is an extraordinary spot for birdwatching, hiking, rock climbing and camping. Of particular interest are the two talus caves, with one located near the east parking area and the other near the west entrance. The park manages 27 free-flying California condors, a species that became extinct in the wild in 1987.
Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park
1414 Harbour Way South
Richmond, CA 94804
Named after the hardworking women who contributed to the war effort during World War II, this admission-free national park was the site of the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards. During World War II, the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards built nearly 750 ships, making it the country’s largest producer of warships during the war. Today, the historic park features an interesting visitor center with historic artifacts, a museum ship built during the war, a Rosie memorial, remnants of the naval shipyards and a former Ford assembly plant, the largest on the west coast. Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front is also well known for employing the oldest National Park Ranger, Betty Reid Soskin, who celebrated her 93rd birthday last September.