To find rich history and untouched wilderness within a few miles of a major city is an uncommon thing, but then again, the Bay Area is an uncommonly special place. From historic ships to towering trees, the national parks near San Francisco make it the perfect place to hit the road and explore over a long weekend.
Morning: Take advantage of the crisp morning air and pay a visit to the collection of historic ships at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The vessels are docked along the Hyde Street Pier, which also offers a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Afternoon: Have a picnic on the lawn overlooking Aquatic Park cove, then take a stroll along the Municipal Pier to see what the fishermen are catching. Head back to Hyde Street Pier by 2:15 p.m. to take a guided tour of the 1886 square-rigger, Balclutha.
Evening: Alcatraz Island is just a short ferry ride from the San Francisco waterfront. The historic prison's guided tour schedule changes daily, but evening and nighttime tours are frequently available. Check the dock listings posted throughout the island for that day's tour times and locations! Afterward, head back to San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and spend the night at the adjacent Argonaut Hotel.
Morning: The Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood offers dozens of great places to grab breakfast within walking distance of the Argonaut Hotel. Afterward, head across the bay – just a 40-minute drive – to Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park. Daily guided tours and exhibits at the Visitor Education Center provide a unique insight into the contributions made by American civilians on the World War II home front.
Afternoon: Head over to the Kirby Cove Campground at Golden Gate National Recreation Area and set up camp! This campground is shady, secluded, and offers a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Reservations are available at recreation.gov. Once you get your camp set up, head over to the adjoining picnic area for an afternoon cookout, or take a stroll along the beach.
Evening: From your campsite, it's just a 20-minute drive up to Muir Woods National Monument, home to a towering grove of adult redwood trees. Visiting at this time is a great way to beat the crowds – and makes it much easier to find a parking space! Take a hike through the redwoods, have an evening snack at Muir Woods Trading Company, and then make your way back to the Kirby Cove Campground for the night.
Morning: You can break down your campsite in the morning, or leave it set up and plan on returning for a second night. Either way, you'll want to get an early start, because you're going to Point Reyes National Seashore today, and there's plenty to do! It's about an hour drive up the coast.
Afternoon: Visit the Pierce Point Ranch and hike up to the nearby preserve where 400 tule elk roam free. Stroll along any of Point Reyes' 12 beaches, keeping an eye open for seals, grey whales, and the fascinating creatures that inhabit the coastal tide pools. Any time you get hungry, there is a handful of excellent restaurants, cafes, and bakeries nearby.
Evening: End your day with a visit to the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse, which once guided ships along one of the windiest and foggiest stretches of the Pacific Coast.
From its historic harbors to its windswept beaches, San Francisco offers national park experiences like no other. For more information on national parks in the Bay Area, download your free copy of the National Park Foundation's Owner's Guide.