Marin Headlands

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A view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco with the Marin Headlands on the left.
A view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco with the Marin Headlands on the left.

The Marin Headleads are perhaps best known as the picturesque backdrop for countless photos taken of the Golden Gate Bridge. What many don't realize is that the hilly terrain just north of San Francisco was once brimming with advanced weaponry, positioned to defend the entrance to one of the most important harbors on America's West Coast. Thankfully, today the area is packed with miles of hiking trails.

Much of the hilly terrain in the Marin Headlands is wind-swept grassland. That provides for ample panoramic views across land and ocean, but also necessitates sunblock on sunny days.

The Point Bonita Lighthouse with suspension bridge that provides access over the knife ridge joining it to the rest of the peninsula.
The Point Bonita Lighthouse with suspension bridge that provides access over the knife ridge joining it to the rest of the peninsula.

The southwest corner of the Headlands features a few short paths highlighted by the Point Bonita Lighthouse Trail. From the parking area closest to the trailhead the path is paved. This makes navigation mostly easy if one ignores one short steep pitch and a somewhat rough surface when going through a tunnel on the way to the lighthouse.

The longest bridge on the trail crosses over a narrow ridge line to get to the lighthouse. The cable suspension bridge can sway quite a bit with large numbers of people crossing over. There is no access to the lighthouse's Fresnel lens, though it can be clearly seen through the glass of the top of the lighthouse. Unlike some lighthouses, the lightsource sits only about a story above its base. Any additional height would have placed the light above the common fog layer height, making it harder for ships to see.

The Rodeo Beach Trail is a sometimes sandy path that leads to the southern portion of the Rodeo Beach. The northern half is adjacent to Fort Cronkhite and is a popular spot for visitors. The southern half here, separated for the most part by a steep rock wall pounded by waves, is far less crowded.

The headlands are just one parcel of the widespread Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The GGNRA consists of scattered parks that stretch from Santa Clara in the south all the way to Marin County in the north.

Rodeo Beach
The end of the trail as it reaches Rodeo Beach. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Rodeo Beach Trail
The trail leading down to the less crowded southern section of Rodeo Beach. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Fort Cronkhite
Looking north toward Fort Cronkhite and Rodeo Beach. The small building on the spit of land to the left is the remains of a spotlight building used to illuminate ships that were to be fired upon. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Numerous smaller fortifications dot the coast in the area. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Battery Mendell
Battery Mendell once sported 12-inch guns that could hit ships as much as 8 miles away. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
A suspension bridge, lighthouse, cliffs overlooking the ocean, a natural arch and shipping off in the distance. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Lighthouse Closeup
A closeup view of the Point Bonita Lighthouse. The Fresnel lens can be clearly seen in the glass enclosure at the top of the tower. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
A closer view of the suspension bridge that leads to the lighthouse. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Tunnel Vision
A view of the trail as it descends towards the lighthouse. The short, hand carved, tunnel can be seen in the distance. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
The trail descends from the nearest parking area in a steep, but short segment. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
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