13 National Parks Near San Francisco Plus 6 Historic Sites

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Published: December 7, 2023

National Parks near San Francisco are a great way to get outdoors, do some hiking, and explore nature. Some parks also allow you to see some of our most important historical sites. My list includes officially designated national parks, sites, and memorials both in and near SF.

Some of the most visited options include Alcatraz Island, Muir Woods, and Yosemite National Park. Other places to visit include Point Reyes National Seashore, the Presidio, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

For each park and site, you'll find an overview of what to expect when you visit, if you can use your America the Beautiful Pass, and a few other tips to make the most of your trip to these wonderful places.

Three national parks near San Francisco

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

National Park Free Days 2024

Here are the upcoming days you can get in free to all National Parks around the United States.

  • Saturday, April 20: First Day of National Park Week
  • Wednesday, June 19: Juneteenth National Independence Day
  • Sunday, August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • Saturday, September 28: National Public Lands Day
  • Monday, November 11: Veterans Day

1. Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate Bridge from Marshalls Beach in the Presidio

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a large area managed by the federal government both around and in San Francisco. It includes dozens of attractions, parks, and beaches that are north and south of the Golden Gate Bridge.

It's one of the largest urban national parks in the US, covering more than 80,000 acres. It's home to more than 37 distinct parks, sites, and memorials in San Francisco and north around Marin County. In it, you'll also find a few hiking trails and parks south of SF in San Mateo County.

Some of the most important and popular sites within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area include Alcatraz Island, Muir Woods, the Fort Point National Historic Site, and the Presidio.

I've included this first on the list to clear up any confusion between this and its sites. When you look at the official government site, you will see this and its sites listed, which can be confusing.

There is nowhere to "enter" this park separately. I've listed its main attractions within the list, so you can get a sense of what to expect when visiting the parks and sites within it.

>> More about everything there is to see and do in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

2. Alcatraz Island

Sign in Alcatraz about Escape on June 11, 1962

One of the most visited national parks in San Francisco is Alcatraz Island. This popular attraction was once home to some of the most infamous prisoners in the United States.

Originally built for the US Army, the federal government transitioned it into a federal prison in 1934. It was open for 29 years and housed prisoners such as Al Capone, Robert "The Birdman" Stroud, and Machine Gun Kelly.

Today, the prison is open to the public. You can only access it by booking a tour. This tour includes the ferry ride to the island, a self-guided audio tour, time to explore the island on your own, and the ferry ride back to San Francisco. There are a few behind-the-scene tours let by rangers during the day.

It's part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Accepts Pass: No, you must book a tour ticket to visit Alcatraz.

Entrance Fee: Several tour options that start at $45.25 per person.

Location: Island in the San Francisco Bay

>> Learn more about visiting Alcatraz Island

>> Find out more about their popular night tour

3. Presidio

Tunnel Tops Golden Gate Bridge View

Also part of the larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area is the Presidio. This old army base sits just to the south of the Golden Gate Bridge and offers a variety of activities.

You can explore its hiking trails, check out its outdoor art, or visit one of its museums. It's also home to the largest military cemetery on the west coast.

Accepts Pass: Many attractions are free, the Disney museum does not accept the America the Beautiful pass.

Entrance Fee: Varies by activity

Location: Northern end of San Francisco near the Golden Gate Bridge

>> Find a full list of things to see and do in the Presidio

4. San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Maritime National Park with Hyde Street Pier

The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf District. It comprises four great attractions within a two-block radius along the waterfront.

The attractions in this park include the Maritime Museum, Hyde Street Pier (home to historic ships), Aquatic Park, and the Visitors Center.

Accepts Pass: Three are free (Maritime Museum, Aquatic Park, and the Visitors Center), Hyde Street Pier does accept the America the Beautiful pass

Entrance Fee: Three are free, Hyde Street Pier passes start at $15 per person for up to 7 days (they also accept the American the Beautiful Interagency Pass).

Location: Along the waterfront in SF's Fisherman's Wharf

>> Tips to visit the Hyde Street Pier

>> Tips to visit the museum and visitor center

5. Muir Woods National Monument

Redwood from Below Muir Woods

Muir Woods National Monument is another park within the larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It's home to some of the world's oldest and largest Coastal Redwood trees.

Visiting this park is an amazing experience. You'll get the chance to take a close look at these giant redwoods, learn about their age and how they've survived (including some that are 800+ years old), and soak in their majestic beauty.

The main area of Muir Woods Park offers well-maintained, flat trails that are easy to walk on. You can either drive, take their shuttle, or visit with a guided tour (this is one of my favorite tours from San Francisco).

Accepts America the Beautiful Pass: Yes

Entrance Fee: $15 for adults, 15 and under get in free

Distance from San Francisco: About one hour north

>> Additional tips to visit Muir Woods

Great Guided Tours to Muir Woods

6. Yosemite National Park

Three top places to see in Yosemite

Another one of the best national parks near San Francisco is Yosemite National Park. This Northern California gem is simply stunning.

With hundreds of miles of trails, gorgeous vistas, and plenty of outdoor things to do and see, it's an amazing place to spend an hour or a few days.

Some of the most visited attractions include Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and Yosemite Falls.

Many people take a guided day tour from San Francisco. It's a full day tour, and a great introduction to this amazing place. Here's one of my favorites guided tours from SF.

You can also drive up on your own for just the day. If you have time, I highly recommend spending at least one night in or near the park to soak in its beauty.

Accepts Pass: Yes, although they do require that you book a reservation in advance for certain days between mid-May through the end of October. You will need to have your reservation plus your pass when you enter during these times. Check for reservations times here

Entrance Fee: $35 for non-commercial vehicles. This fee is valid for seven consecutive days and covers everyone in your vehicle. 

Distance from San Francisco: 4.5 hours east

>> More great day trips from San Francisco

7. Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes is another national park near San Francisco. It's a gorgeous Northern California attraction with miles of beaches, hiking trails, and the Point Reyes Lighthouse.

You'll also find some old shipwrecks, the Cypress Tree Tunnel, and one of only two waterfalls that falls directly onto the beach.

It was first protected as a national monument in 1931.

This peninsula is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, which offers miles of stunning views.

Accepts America the Beautiful Pass: N/A

Entrance Fee: There is no fee to visit Point Reyes National Seashore

Distance from San Francisco: An hour and a half north, and driving is the only way to get here.

>> More great things to do in Northern California

8. Sequoia National Park

Sequoias National Park

The next two parks on my list are sometimes referred to as separate parks and sometimes referred to as Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. While they are two separate parks, they share administration and operations resources, so that's why you will see the two different naming conventions. Both are correct.

Sequoia National Park is on the southern end of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and is home to dozens of ancient giant sequoias. It's an amazing place to enjoy nature with gorgeous hiking trails, steep valleys, and huge mountains.

It's also home to Mount Whitney, the highest peak (14,505 feet, 4,421 m) in the contiguous United States.

The most famous sequoia, and one of its main attractions is General Sherman. It's the world's largest tree by volume, and is more than 275 feet tall (and growing).

Accepts American the Beautiful Pass: Yes

Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle for up to 7 days (includes Kings Canyon National Park also)

Distance from San Francisco: 4 and a half hours south and east

>> More places to see giant sequoias around Northern California

9. Kings Canyon National Park

Just north of Sequoia National Park is Kings Canyon. This national park near San Francisco is also in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is home to some of the world's largest and oldest sequoia trees.

It also features high mountain peaks (several over 14,000 feet), dozens of trails, and spectacular views everywhere you look.

Top activities here include hiking, backpacking, and climbing. They also have some amazing camping grounds.

Its biggest attraction in Kings Canyon National Park is the General Grant Tree. You can access it via a one-third-mile loop trail within Grant Grove. This trail also takes you past other named trees in this forest.

Accepts America the Beautiful Pass: Yes

Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle for up to 7 days (includes Sequoia National Park also)

Distance from San Francisco: East and south about four hours

10. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Another one of the great National Parks near San Francisco is Lassen Volcanic National Park. This off-the-beaten-path gem features several hiking trails, gorgeous lakes, and fields with colorful flowers.

Even though the volcano last erupted around 100 years ago, you will find evidence that it's still an active volcano. This national park has several hydrothermal areas with thumping mud pots, boiling pools, and steam vents. Some popular hydrothermal areas include Sulphur Works, Devils Kitchen, and Boiling Springs Lake.

You'll also find striking views around the park, including the volcano's 10,457 foot (3,187 m) peak.

It's a four-hour drive from San Francisco, but it is worth the trip!

Accepts America the Beautiful Pass: Yes

Entrance Fee: Summer pass (April 15 - November 30): $30 pass per vehicle which is good for 7 days. Winter pass (December 1st to April 15th): $10 pass per vehicle which is good for 7 days.

Distance from San Francisco: 4 hours north

11. Redwoods National and State Parks

Coastal Redwoods in Redwoods National and State Parks

Redwood National Park is a fantastic place in Northern California to admire ancient coastal redwood trees.

This park, established in 1968, merged with three local state parks (Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park) in 1994. The entire area is now often referred to as Redwoods National and State Parks.

These four parks stretch out over 130,000 acres. You'll find old-growth redwoods in more than 38,000 acres of these parks. In addition to the old-growth redwood groves, you'll also find open prairie lands, thirty-seven miles of protected coastline, and two rivers.

The best things to do here include driving along its scenic routes, exploring its hiking trails, camping for a night or two, and admiring its beautiful beaches.

Accepts Pass: N/A

Entrance Fee: Free to visit (some areas do have a fee for certain parts of the park)

Distance from San Francisco: Five and a half hours north

12. Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles is another one of the great national parks near San Francisco. The park has interesting rock formations created by volcanoes that are no longer active.

These formations cut the park into two with an eastern and western section.

In addition to its rock formations, you'll also find some great hiking trails and fascinating caves to explore. Make sure to keep an eye out for Greater Roadrunners, Canyon Wrens, and California Condors.

Accepts America the Beautiful Pass: Yes

Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicles for a 7 day pass

Distance from San Francisco: 2 hours and 20 minutes south (eastern entrance); 2 hours and 30 minutes to the western entrance

13. Whiskeytown

The Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is another one of the best national parks near San Francisco. It's 42,000 acres of outdoor fun near Redding in Northern California.

Whiskeytown Lake is the biggest draw to this national park, which features more than 35 miles of protected shoreline. Top beaches for swimming here include East Beach, Oak Bottom Beach, and Brandy Creek Beach.

Even though the lake is an important part of this national park, you will also find other fun things to do here. Some of my top picks include exploring the park's trails, admiring its lovely waterfalls, and soaking in the beauty of the local plants.

Accepts America the Beautiful Pass: Yes

Entrance Fee: $25 per vehicle for a seven day pass

Distance from San Francisco: 3 and a half hours north of San Francisco

National Sites and Memorials in and near San Francisco

In addition to the national parks mentioned above, you'll also find several sites and memorials managed by the National Park Service in and near San Francisco.

Fort Point National Historic Site

Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point

Sitting just below the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, you will find the Fort Point National Historic Site. Built by the US Army in 1861, this old brick building offers a view into the past and amazing views of the bridge.

Inside, you will find a museum with items from its time with the US Army. You can also step inside the theater to watch a couple of short history documentaries.

You can also climb to the top floor for unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding area.

Accepts Pass: N/A

Entrance Fee: Free

Location: Under the southern end of the bridge in San Francisco

>> See more pictures and learn more about visiting the Fort Point National Historic Site

Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site

This site features the home of playwright Eugene O'Neill. This Nobel Prize-winning author wrote many plays, including some of his most important works in this home: A Moon of the Misbegotten, The Iceman Cometh, and Long Day's Journey into Night.

A visit here includes a tour of his home and the history of his life. The tours are free, but you must make your reservations in advance (except for Saturday tours).

Accepts Pass: N/A

Entrance Fee: Free (Reservations are needed for the tour)

Distance from San Francisco: 45 minutes east of SF in Danville, CA

John Muir National Historic Site

John Muir is an important part of the history of California state and national parks. He was an author and conservationist that explored several of our most important parks throughout his life. He then convinced the government to protect these lands.

Due to his writings, the government protected places such as Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, the Grand Canyon, and Mt. Rainer.

On a visit here, you can learn more about the life and works of John Muir. You can do a self-guided tour of the Welcome Center, his house, and the grounds. You can also head out for a short hike, visit the gravesite of John Muir, and bring a picnic to enjoy under one of the property's trees.

Accepts Pass: N/A

Entrance Fee: Free

Distance from San Francisco: 41 miles east of San Francisco in Martinez

Point Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial

The Point Chicago Naval Magazine is the site of one of World War II's biggest home front disasters. In July 1944, 320 men were killed at this site when two fully loaded ammunition ships blew up.

This national parks site is a memorial for those that died here.

A visit here includes a tour of the area and a history of what happened before, during, and after this incident. The tour is free, but you can only enter with the National Parks Service.

The memorial is on an active military base, so only US Citizens and permanent residents are allowed to visit. Also, tours must be requested at least two weeks in advance. You will have to show your government-issued ID when you arrive for the tour.

You have to park at the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez. Shuttles will take you to the memorial.

Accepts Pass: N/A

Entrance Fee: Free, but you must make reservations at least two weeks in advance

Distance from San Francisco: 41 miles east to the pick-up site in Martinez

>> Visit this page on the NPS site for details on how to submit your request for a tour

Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park

The Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park is a waterfront memorial that honors the men and women who worked on the home front during World War II.

You can stop by the Visitor Education Center to check out their exhibits. While you are here, step into their theater to watch some educational films.

The Rosie the Riveter Memorial is another great place to explore. It's a public art piece in the park along the waterfront.

If you visit on Sunday between 10 am and 4 pm, you can also step aboard the SS Red Oak Victory Ship. It is one of the last ships built by the Kaiser Shipyards.

This is one of the national parks that also offers ranger programs, events, and other activities.

Accepts Pass: N/A

Entrance Fee: It's free to visit this national park. However, the SS Red Oak Ship is owned and managed by the Richmond Museum, so there is a fee to tour the ship. Since it's not part of the national park, they do not accept their passes.

Distance from San Francisco: 35 miles east and north in Richmond, CA

Devils Postpile National Monument

Another one of the Northern California national parks is Devils Postpile near Mammoth Lakes. This monument includes the Devils Postpile formation created by lava flow more than 80,000 years ago and the 101-foot-high Rainbow Falls. You can also explore the gorgeous local mountain scenery and the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River.

Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this monument covers almost 800 acres. You can admire the formation, do a little hiking, camp for the night, or test out your photography skills.

During the high season, you must take their shuttle into the park if you arrive between 7 am and 7 pm. This cost is $15 per person, and you must book a reservation in advance. 

This park is only open from around early to mid-June to mid-to-late October. Once the main road into the park is closed, the entire park is then closed for the season.

Accepts America the Beautiful Pass: You cannot use the pass when the shuttle is running. You are able to use the pass if you arrive and visit when the shuttle is not running.

Entrance Fee: Shuttle tickets include entry into the park. A day pass is $15 per adult and $7 for children 3 to 15. A 3 day pass is $30 per adult and $14 per child. If the shuttle bus isn't running, it is $10 per vehicle for a one day pass and $20 per vehicle for a 3 day pass.

Distance from San Francisco: Six plus hours east

National Parks Pinterest Pin

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