The Marin Headlands are to the north of the Golden Gate Bridge and is one of the best-kept secrets in San Francisco. It is a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and well worth the journey when you’re in the Bay Area. Let’s look at the best way to experience the Marin Headlands.
The Conzelman Road Drive
To have a fun-filled visit to the Marin Headlands, plan a drive along Conzelman Road. You’ll start at the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, then drive all the way to Point Bonita and the Point Bonita Lighthouse.
Conzelman Road is a delightfully winding road through the Marin Headlands. It’s a treat for any driver. As you begin your drive along Conzelman Road, you will have a great peek at San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the city of San Francisco. Stop at Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, at the first pull-off to your left. You’ll be treated to the panorama views. Take the short stroll to Ridge Battery and on to Battery Spencer, where you feel as if you are right on top of the Bridge. Enjoy the breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This is one of the not-to-be-missed views anywhere in the world.
Hike Kirby Cove
From here, you can hike the Kirby Cove Road. Kirby Cove is a dirt road that clings to the Pacific cliffs and offers dramatic views. The trail is easy and wide. There is a side trail that heads to Battery Wagner for more views. Another side trail provides access to the small beach at Kirby Cove, where you can see San Francisco framed by the lower towers of the Bridge. You can also pre-reserve one of the five camping spaces here at Kirby Cove Campground.
Retrace your steps to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, cross the road, and go to the top of the hill. Here, you’ll find a less-well-known vantage point even higher up. But if you are not a hiker, continue to the next pull off called Golden Gate View Point, for another sweeping view. There are only seven parking spaces here. Conzelman Road continues to curve and climb up to another pull-off called Golden Gate Public View.
Drive to Hawk Hill
From there you come to a rotary or round-about, take the second right to continue on Conzelman Road to Hawk Hill. The views here are pristine as well. There is plenty of parking here, so if you found the earlier overlooks too crowded to stop, this will make up for it. If you wish, hike the path up to Hawk Hill. From Hawk Hill, you will have another stunning view of the bridge and San Francisco.
From this point, the Marin Headlands Road is one way as it clings to the coastline and dips down toward the Ocean. These views rival any coastal drive anywhere. You can stop at Upper Fisherman’s Parking Lot and access the Black Sands Beach from here. Continue to Battery Rathbone and Clyde’s Ridge, then down to the Marin Headlands Visitor’s Center to your right.
The Marin Headlands Visitor’s Center
The Marin Headlands Visitor’s Center looks like a little white country church with a bright red roof and steeple. It is open year-long, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except for Thanksgiving (Thursday-Friday) and Christmas (December 25). Here you can see exhibits about the natural history of the area, as well as its cultural history. There is a Miwok shelter where present-day Coast Miwok people talk about their lives. You will also enjoy the gift shop, offering books and field guides about the area.
Retrace your route back via Field Road and head to the Point Bonita Lighthouse. The Lighthouse was built in 1855 and is still active. You reach it by a half mile trail from the parking lot, which is somewhat steep. Point Bonita Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in the USA that is accessible only by a suspension bridge. It is open during limited hours, but it is always a great photo op. You can visit Saturday thru Monday, 12:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Point Bonita was the last manned lighthouse on the California coast.
Head back toward the Bridge via Bunker Road and its dramatic one-way tunnel. Or, if you want to avoid the tunnel, turn off Bunker Road at McCullough Road where you will return to Conzelman Road.
Read about all of the Golden Gate Recreation Areas in one beautiful guide.
Download the complete PDF guide with visitor information, hi-res photos of each locale, and helpful driving tips by clicking here.