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A 24-Carat Wonder - Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Just say the words "Golden Gate" and the familiar images of California's famous northern city, San Francisco, come to mind: romantic cable cars, hilly terrain, majestic bridge, sweeping ocean, redwood forest-and, yes, Alcatraz.

But these are only a few of the city's wonderful sites. Others include the imposing Presidio, a park in downtown San Francisco; the rugged and beautiful shores of Main Headlands, and Fort Point National Historic Site, a Civic War relic.

"Most national and international visitors to Golden Gate national parks tour the groves of redwood trees at Muir Woods, marvel at the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge, and satis& their curiosity about prisons during a visit to Alcatraz Island," said Brian O'Neill, superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

"While these three major park areas are of tremendous interest and fascination, many visitors bypass other equally significant park sites. For example, Fort Point is a classic example of the 19th-century coastal fortifications built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the mid-1850s before the Civil War. It is easy to reach, located directly under the south approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. Visitors can enjoy an audio tour, a video on the history and construction of the fort and the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as an unrivaled view of the San Francisco Bay.

The Presidio, in San Francisco on the northern tip of the city, offers some 1,480 acres that provide miles of hiking trails, beautiful scenery, lovely natural habitats and beaches, an assortment of ranger programs, and hundreds of historic landmark buildings, plus a two-mile Golden Gate Promenade on the waterfront in Crissy Field.

The Main Headlands, like the Presidio, provide a quick departure from urban rigors. The Headlands are at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, offering windswept ridges, protected valleys, and wonderful beaches. Migrating birds are common, and there is a wide variety of wildlife. Views of the ocean and downtown San Francisco are stunning.

These sites are managed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), which takes in 76,000 acres in San Francisco and Main Counties, one of the largest urban parks in the world. Other GGNRA sites are the famous Golden Gate Bridge, and the infamous Alcatraz Island. And in true California style, there are many recreational facilities.

Information provided by the National Park Service