This week finds us up just over the Golden Gate Bridge for an opportunity to earn another a Junior Ranger badge, tour some WWII era bunkers, see some magnificent views, visit a lighthouse, take a walk across the western most suspension bridge, and maybe stroll along the beach. If you are feeling adventurous a visit to a missile base from the 50's, or go off to see seals and other marine wildlife being nursed back to health. There are also some nice hikes in the hills here too.
This area is breathtaking and something we tend to take for granted since it feels like nothing is here when looking at the Headlands from San Francisco. The views are epic and the weather can turn on a dime, from pea soup fog and chill to the sunniest most beautiful day you could ever wish for.
As mentioned above there is a 1950’s era Nike missile base kept in fairly pristine condition. Every other site along the coast either has decrepit abandon buildings or has been demolished. This one is like a step back in time with working missile elevators and various outbuildings. The first Saturday of each month volunteers show up to assist, many of which worked at these sites originally and have many interesting stories. It s a pretty remarkable visit considering what it was.
Got this one out a little later than I would have liked, it has been a busy week...
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Chief Happiness Officer at kiddiewalks.com
1-2-3 Things — Visit the Marin Headlands
Quick inspiration for a day out with the kids around the SF Bay Area
- Drive over the coast road, see if you can stop and visit Hawk Hill
- Park by the YMCA and hike down to the Point Bonita Lighthouse.
- Take a stroll along Rodeo Beach
Be sure to print out your Junior Ranger book ahead of time if you can, but you can pick up one at the Headlands Visitor Center located in an old church in the Rodeo Valley.
A lot of people (residents and locals) come out to visit the Headlands on a weekend, especially on a nice day. You will want to try and get an early start because parking can be pretty tough. Be patient on the road, and be ready to just enjoy a nice drive along the scenic road here in case you don’t find any parking.
Once you drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and pass the parking lot for Vista Point, take the exit (Alexander Avenue) toward Sausalito, and take the first left through the tunnel under Highway 101. You are looking for Conzelman Road which will take you up over the hill and along a mountain road.
If there is a parking opportunity, try and stop at Battery Spencer, this is the first stop that most tourists stop at to take that beautiful shot of the Golden Gate Bridge with beautiful San Francisco behind it, why should they have all the fun and great photos? If you are feeling adventurous you can also hike down the hill (quite a ways) to a secluded little beach with a campground called Kirby Cove. Admittedly I’ve never actually made it down here, but I try quite often to book reservations for camping, one of these days it will work out. I’ve heard its a pretty epic little spot not many people know about.
Continuing up Conzelman Road you will eventually come to a roundabout, drive almost all the way around it and continue onto Conzelman Road (McCullough road would take you down into Rodeo Valley where you will be driving out on the way home). Head on up to Hawk Hill and do your best to find parking.
The site of a large bunker system dating to WWII, this is one of the highest points in the area which is actually great for bird watching (as the name implies). You’ll often find avid bird watchers up here and various volunteers sharing information about various Hawk and other bird species that inhabit the area. Parking can be a real challenge here and the only bathroom (last I checked) was a well used port-a-potty.
It’s pretty cool to see the view here on a clear day, and if you do get to see a hawk, it’s pretty spectacular. Be careful to stay on trail here. Hiking off trail can be incredibly dangerous and worth your life if you venture off. Being along the coast here, a lot of things degrade but look stable enough, until they aren’t. But the bunkers are fascinating to walk around, you can imagine the size of the guns they used to have stationed here.
Once you are finished, continue on Conzelman Road, it becomes one way at this point and the road becomes very steep so drive with caution. The view (and the drive) here is incredible and quite surreal.
Point Bonita Lighthouse
It’s hard to put Point Bonita into words. It leaves you speechless how they accomplished what they did to build the lighthouse where they did. This is completely worth the hike, but be sure and check the hours, currently open from 12:30 - 3:30 Saturday through Monday.
Parking can be tough here. I was reading that this summer they introduced a shuttle on the weekends that goes on Bunker Hill and Field Roads, they probably have more information at the visitor center in the old church. Once you find parking, the lighthouse is a steep half mile hike through a couple of tunnels and over the western most suspension bridge in the US (no it’s not the Golden Gate Bridge surprisingly). The walk over the bridge can be pretty exciting (it does bounce) and seeing the waves crash underneath are pretty exciting. Take the opportunity to talk to a ranger while you are here and learn about what life was like working out here.
Head toward the Headlands Visitor Center and Bunker Hill Road, take a left and drive along the lagoon to Fort Cronkhite and Rodeo Beach. There is usually ample parking along Mitchell Road, and at the end there is a sizable parking lot. Fort Cronkhite is a series of old soldiers barracks and is mostly offices now. Rodeo Beach is interesting as it’s bordered by two sides with water. There are a lot of nice photo opportunities here, crossing the bridge over the lagoon or with the headlands in the distance.
You can spend a bit of time squishing sand between your toes, or opt to take a hike up to Tennessee point if your are feeling adventurous.
Once you are done for the day, drive up Rodeo Valley all the way to the end. You will find a single lane tunnel here with a long stoplight built years ago for the military. Its a pretty cool drive through it. Once you exit, take a right on Alexander Avenue to go back over the Golden Gate Bridge, or a left to go down to Sausalito. If you feel like going up and over for some more nice views, as you are driving up Bunker Hill Road, take a right on Mccullough Road and this will take you back to Hawk Hill and you can drive back the way you came.
- The visitor center is located in an old church on your way from the lighthouse to Bunker Hill Road. There are clean restrooms here and some nice exhibits as well as a gift shop. This is where you take your completed Junior Ranger book and get sworn in.
- Sausalito is just down the road. A nice spot to stroll by the bay or stop and grab a little dinner (or coffee) as the need arises.
- Visit the Marine Mammal Center and see what wildlife is being nursed back to health. Occasionally if you time things well, you might see a seal released on Rodeo Beach. http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/
- Book a night or two to go camping at Kirby Cove http://www.recreation.gov/camping/kirby-cove-campground/r/campgroundDetails.do
- Visit the Historic Nike Missile Site SF-88. The first Saturday of the month they have volunteers here to answer questions and tell stories and give tours. It’s fascinating the system they developed to defend us against attack. http://www.nps.gov/goga/nike-missile-site.htm