As spring slowly sets in, we are restless to step outdoor. After a period of winter hibernation the first place that pops up in my mind to warm up is the Marin Headlands. Within such a short drive from San Francisco this place is blessed with abundant nature. Exiting Alexander Ave immediate northwest of Golden Gate Bridge is the lush green Marin headlands with steep hills jutting out into the Pacific ocean, miles of hiking trails along the cliffs overlooking stunning San Francisco skyline, the stark view of the Golden Gate bridge like no other, many secluded beaches and a lighthouse to top it off. It is perfect for a day outing without much planning.
Things to do in Marin Headlands
Here I am listing out the things to explore in the headlands in sequence, all of which is doable in a day.
Heading west on Conzelman Road towards Marin headlands, first stop is Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point. You have to step out of your car to see this majestic view of the bridge.
Park your car on the main road and hike down to the Kirby Cove. It’s a mile-long trail through a misty grove of cypress and eucalyptus trees. This perfect little cove has a view of Golden Gate Bridge and SF like no other! It’s one of those secrets I want to selfishly keep to myself. The cove is available for day visit and camping. However camp reservation is hard to get due to limited campsites.
The next stop is Nike Missile Site. Hike up to the very top of Hawk Hill through the tunnel from the parking lot. The view from here is magical. Lies in front of you is the GGB and SF skyline on one side, and stunning Pacific coastline and blue ocean on the other.
From this point the road ahead becomes a one-way. Take it slow here as you will be driving through the most beautiful winding narrow road with dropping cliffs to the left.
Next ahead is Black Sand Beach. Park at Upper Fisherman’s parking lot and hike down the steep wooden staircase to the gorgeous and secluded beach with striking black sand. It’s my spot to unwind this summer for picnic, avoiding the frenzy crowd.
Point Bonitas Lighthouse is the next highlight. From parking lot it’s a half mile walk to the lighthouse through a tunnel and then crossing a swinging bridge. The suspension bridge is super fun, swaying to the wind and gives a great view of the crashing waves below. This 150 year old lighthouse is still in operation and is equipped with a Fresnel Lens along with an electric fog horn that we constantly hear on a typical foggy day in San Francisco. The view of the sunset from here is postcard perfect. It’s open 3 days on Sat, Sun, Mon 12:30 – 3:30 PM.
Within a short drive from the lighthouse is Marin Headlands Visitor Center, located in the historic Fort Barry Chapel. Make a quick stop to checkout the visitor center as it preserves a lot of useful information about the area and it’s history, a tipi shelter of the native Miwok people, and interesting exhibits of the flora-fauna and rocks found in this region.
From visitor center it’s a beautiful walk to Rodeo Beach through the Rodeo Lagoon marshland. I would suggest to settle on the beach for a picnic and enjoy the fresh crisp air.
There are many long and short hiking trails around the Rodeo beach. Hike the easy loop around the Rodeo Lagoon (1.5 miles) admiring the grasslands. Or choose to hike the Coastal Trail for a shorter hike to the Tennessee Beach (approx. 2 miles one way). It’s a scenic walk to a beautiful secluded cove, Tennessee beach. However if you want to challenge yourself then do the moderately difficult 5 mile Rodeo Beach Coastal Trail Loop or the strenuous 10 mile coastal hike up to Muir Beach. The coastal trail offers magical views to seduce you at every turn with it’s jaw-dropping panoramas of the Pacific, colorful stretches of flowers and foliage, dolphin sightings now and then. In spring the valley comes alive with colorful wildflowers. Tennessee Valley offers the idyllic antidote to the city.
Where to stay in Marin headlands
Spending a night in the headlands won’t be a bad idea. Marin Headlands Hostel offers affordable accommodations with dorms and private rooms ($80-$130 for private rooms).