magical views only minutes away from SF
The Marin Headlands have stunning views and unique military sights. And, they are only a quick trip across the Golden Gate Bridge. Below are descriptions of some of the best. See our Marin Headlands map for exact locations and don’t miss our nearby Sausalito page and map either.
These wonderful headlands are the steep hills jutting out into the Pacific immediately northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge. You definitely owe yourself a visit!
For the world’s best view of Golden Gate Bridge check out 920-foot Hawk Hill at the top of Conzelman Road. You can usually find parking there, even on weekends. During the peak of hawk migration season, from about September 10th to October 10th, you can see hundreds of hawks/hr crossing the Golden Gate channel starting from the top of this hill.
First, admire the amazing view from where you park. If you want to go to the very top of Hawk Hill walk through the long tunnel across the road from where you parked. Then follow various foot trails working their way up through the remains of artillery Battery 129.
These trails are worth taking for their own sake. You will see magical views of the Pacific Ocean, the northern coast line, and Mt Tamalpais as well as the City.
In the autumn, from October-December, the largest known West Coast migration of hawks and other such hunting birds is funneled south down the Marin Peninsula to Hawk Hill. There they stop to get ready to cross the channel. The on-shore winds and thermals from the steep hill help them get over the open water.
Battery 129 at the top of Hawk Hill
The remains of an artillery installation at the top are some of the more interesting, of many, that we have seen. Besides the usual bunkers there are several tunnels and a very large gun mount. Of course the views are spectacular as mentioned before.
Point Bonita Light House
Conzelman Road headed west from the top of Hawk Hill becomes a one way. Continue on this beautiful little winding road to Point Bonita. There you can take a nice half mile walk to the 150 year old, still working lighthouse at the Point itself. To get inside the lighthouse you must go through a tunnel and cross some foot bridges. The last bridge swings and only two people are allowed at a time so there will probably be a wait.
Be sure to confirm exactly when the lighthouse is open by calling (415)331-1540.
Further north, past more trails, artillery batteries, and a Nike missile site is Rodeo Beach. Dogs are allowed on leash or under voice control in this area (June 2005).
Fort Baker is on the east side of Golden Gate Bridge. It is the anchoring site of the earliest sailing vessel into SF Bay (1775) and is the oldest fort in the Headlands (established as Lime Point Military Reservation in 1867 and renamed Fort Baker in 1897). The 10 acre parade ground surrounded by 12 historic buildings is a beautiful reminder of its military history.
The general vicinity is quiet, pleasant, and beautiful. Though not exciting it is an excellent place to enjoy the day with children or to take a quick break yourself. For example, nearby are the Bay Area Discovery Museum with hands-on exhibits for children, a sailing center with boat rentals, and various trails both unmarked and marked (e.g., Battery Cavallo trail, Drown Road, Bay Trail).
For food, The Presidio Yacht Club by the sailing center is an informal place where you can grab a burger and beer. Luxury lodging and Michelin star dining is also available at Cavallo Point Lodge.
We enjoy stopping at Fort Baker for the pleasant setting and then biking on to Sausalito. It’s easy to get here via bicycle after you ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. Just follow the other bikers who are looping slightly west through the parking lot, south, then back east back under the bridge via the Vista Point Trail to Fort Baker. From Fort Baker continue via E Road (sometimes called East Rd) to Alexander Ave to Sausalito. See our headlands map for details.
On the way to Rodeo Beach is Nike missile site SF-88 (active 1954-1974) at Fort Barry. It is almost fully restored and, due to treaty limitations, is the only U.S. site still allowed to erect Nike missiles. Normal visiting days are Wednesday-Friday 12:30 pm-3:30 pm but you should check first. Sometimes it is open the first Saturday of each month with special tours by former military who worked there. Call (415)331-1453 for more information.
The Marine Mammal Center, 2000 Bunker Road, Fort Cronkhite, is also interesting. Its mission is to “rescue, rehabilitate injured and sick marine mammals, and, once healthy, to release them back into the ocean.” They also have an interpretive center at Pier 39.
If you enjoy hiking or biking many trails are shown on this trail map. There are also smaller trails not shown which are fun to explore on your own.
The Marin Headlands is a hidden gem much of which is literally in full view of San Francisco. However, it’s sad to say that many locals and most visitors never even see it. Don’t you miss this truly exceptional natural beauty which is only a few minutes away.