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The Marin Headlands is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area—the largest urban park in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world.
Here you can visit and explore camp grounds, beaches and hiking trails, Point Bonita Lighthouse, several historic military sites, a Nike Missile site, museums, and a resort—Cavallo Point—boasting luxury lodging, green meeting space, a spa and Michelin Star restaurant.
North Vista Point
Every day hundreds of visitors to the Marin Headlands enjoy spectacular views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge from a vista point at the north end of the famous bridge.
North Vista Point is only accessible from US 101 northbound (first exit) after crossing the bridge. Park for up to 4 hours and walk onto the bridge for San Francisco, Alcatraz Island and Marin Headlands views.
Fort Baker and Horseshoe Bay are just beyond the Vista Point parking area. Take the second exit—Alexander Avenue—to Bunker Road to reach this area. The Bay Area Discovery Museum—a nationally recognized indoor/outdoor children's museum—is located in East Fort Baker. Battery Yates and Battery Spencer are two historic multiple gun sites at Fort Baker. The photo to the right was shot from Battery Yates and Battery Spencer is visible at the nouth end of the Golden Gate Bridge in the same image. The photo below with a close-up of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco in the background was shot from Battery Spencer.
Cavallo Point Lodge is situated within Fort Baker, a former U.S. Army post now part of The Golden Gate National Parks. The LEED Gold Certified eco-resort features views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge with 25 historic Army buildings encircling a parade ground which have been converted into meeting spaces, lodging, cooking school, healing arts center and spa and the Michelin Star Murray Circle restaurant and Farley Bar.
The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in Partnership with the National Park Service created the Institute at the Golden Gate at Cavallo Point to improve the quality of our environment.
Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Views
For more exciting Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco views circle back on Alexander Avenue and cross under US 101 then bear right and venture along Conzelman Road which climbs high above the bridge.
There are many small pull-outs with limited parking along the way. At the top you'll find a turnaround. You've almost certainly seen dramatic photos taken from this route in advertisements, movies and TV shows.
I shot a 360° panorama (view full screen for best effect) for the World Wide Panorama spring 2006 'Borders' event from this area. Another panorama—this one not a full 360, shot after dark on July 4th was my "Best of 2006" entry. I've visited this area and taken many photos over several years. More of those images are available on my Golden Gate Bridge page.
Conzelman Road continues—one way only—westward to Point Bonita. Point Bonita Lighthouse is located at the end of the point. To visit the lighthouse you pass through a hand carved tunnel and cross two wooden bridges, one of which is meant to resemble the Golden Gate Bridge.
The tunnel is locked to restrict access except on Saturday, Sunday and Monday when guides are present to assist with crossing the hanging bridge. Read my full article for more pictures, panoramas and history of Point Bonita Lighthouse.
World War II Forts and Gun Sites
Conzelman Road ends just beyond Battery Mendell—one of several WWII concrete gun emplacements with the expected great views of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay on the western side of the hills. Nearby are Battery Wallace and Battery Alexander. Battery Townsley is at Fort Cronkhite on the other side of Rodeo Lagoon.
In the early 1980s I would visit the hill behind the Fort Cronkhite a couple of weekends a month to practice. It was San Francisco's closest beginner hang gliding site at that time.
Following Bunker Road back toward US 101 you pass a Nike Missile Site—also known as SF-88 and now an educational Cold War museum—the Marin Headlands Hostel at Fort Barry and the Marin Headlands Visitor Center in short order.
National Park Service Visitors Center
There is a lot to explore here and the National Park Service Visitors Center in a former World War II era chapel at Fort Barry is the best place to find trail maps, advice and information about the Marin Headlands.
The Marine Mammal Center
The Marine Mammal Center—also at Fort Cronkhite, beyond Rodeo Lagoon—is a nonprofit rescue and rehabilitation hospital for stranded marine mammals. Read more…
Marin Headlands Beaches
Rodeo Beach is the largest beach in the Marin Headlands and easiest to access. Muir Beach at the northern end of the headlands—next to the community of Muir Beach, CA and not far from Muir Woods—can be reached by taking Highway 1.
Black Sands Beach and Tennessee Beach—site of a 1853 shipreck—require hiking. The trail to Tennessee Beach is longer, but relatively level and so will be more appropriate for children. Be aware that some people frolic bare-style at Black Sands Beach.
Camping in the Marin Headlands
There are a limited number of camping sites available by reservation in the Marin Headlands. Walk-in camping is available at four camper sites at Kirby Cove. More camp sites are available at Bicentennial Camp near Battery Wallace and Point Bonita with inland hike-in camp sites at Haypress and Hawk Camp.
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Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2013 Lee W. Nelson