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Fort Baker Attracts Hikers and History Buffs

This gem nestled beneath the Golden Gate Bridge offers dramatic views of the Bay.

The seasons are changing, and our first cold and wet days have arrived. After the extended period of warmth and sunshine that we enjoyed right up through Halloween, it's been particularly hard to greet the change. But I’m sure we'll see that a few sunny weekends are left in 2011, even if there’s a chill in the air.

If a sunny day like that comes along and you find yourself looking for a diversion, hustle down to Fort Baker in Marin County. Nestled near the northern base of the Golden Gate Bridge, this lovely historic site is a great place to visit, especially to wow out-of-town visitors with dramatic views of the bridge and the sparkling city skyline across the bay.

To get there, take the 101 North across the Golden Gate Bridge and exit at Alexander Road. Continue heading right on Alexander Road and follow the signs leading you to the 335-acre grounds of Fort Baker.  

Built in the early 1900s, Fort Baker was a working U.S. Army post until 1995, when the land was transferred to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It’s just one of many strategically placed forts built in the Bay Area, designed to protect the coastline from enemy threats.

The grounds boast dozens of historic military buildings surrounding a large, grassy field that’s perfect for picnics. Also on the grounds are the classy Cavallo Point Lodge, several restaurants, the Presidio Yacht Club, a U.S. Coast Guard station and the Bay Area Discovery Museum. But if you’re just looking for a hike, don’t let all of the development scare you away, because you’ll also find wonderful hiking trails.

I like to start on the Bay Trail near Horseshoe Cove and work my way east, past the Presidio Yacht Club and the old fortifications of Battery Yates. At East Road, you can link up with Chapel Steps Trail, which will take you up over the grassy ridges with their panoramic views east, then back down the chapel steps behind the historic buildings and Cavallo Point Lodge. Take a rest here on the large parade grounds for some people watching.

A popular destination from Fort Baker is the Golden Gate Bridge itself. Follow the Bay Trail to the west all the way up to the bridge’s famous walkway, bypassing the congested viewpoint off the 101. It’s also a great biking route that can take you all the way to Crissy Field.

The Bay Trail also offers a cell phone tour. This is a collection of small signs along the trail alerting you to call in and hear the history of the area conveniently on your phone, from the Native American Miwok inhabitants to the history of the Army post. This clever feature allows you to essentially enjoy the park as an open-air museum. 

The day I visited was a warm and clear day in late October, and the bay was busy with sailboats, kayaks and fisherman. We were all trying to make the day last, as we knew our late summer days were waning. But Fort Baker offers spectacular views and a history-rich spot to enjoy the beauty of the bay, even when the fog is rolling in.

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