The Marin Headlands sits just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco and offers a wealth of sights and areas to explore. It’s home to beaches, bunkers, a lighthouse, and a former nuclear missile launcher, to name a few. Here are a few places to start your adventure.
1. Point Bonita Lighthouse
This historic lighthouse was built in 1855 and was only the third lighthouse ever built on the West Coast. It’s an active and crucial beacon that keeps ships safe as they navigate the notoriously foggy and treacherous Golden Gate straits. Saturday tours are available during the summer only so check the National Park Service website for more details.
Location: Field Road, Sausalito
2. Headlands Center for the Arts
Occupying a group of artist-rehabilitated military buildings, the Headlands Center for the Arts provides artists an inspiring environment to create and develop new work and ideas. The Headlands Center hosts lectures, workshops, and other inspiring events. Pop by during the Headlands Center’s open hours Sunday–Thursday, 12-5PM.
Location: 944 Simmonds Road, Sausalito
3. Hawk Hill
Hawk Hill is the highest point in the headlands and provides one of the best views in the Bay Area. It’s the former home to several bunkers and an amazing place to watch the fall raptor migration, as the name suggests. This panoramic lookout offers views of Point Bonita, Rodeo Beach, and other popular sites in the headland. It’s a popular but challenging ride for cyclists, hikers, and motorists alike.
Location: Conzelman Rd, Sausalito
4. Black Sands Beach
Black Sands Beach’s iron-rich sand turns dark grey when wet, which makes it a beautiful place to visit. The beach is secluded, popular with sunbathers, and offers an incredible view of Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding area. The beach requires a small and steep hike to reach it, but the isolation, uniqueness, and beauty make it well worth the trip.
Location: Conzelman Rd, Sausalito
5. Marine Mammal Center
One of the headland’s most famous destinations is the Marine Mammal Center, the world’s largest marine mammal hospital. Housed in a massive former military base, the center cares for over 130 sick or injured marine mammals at any given time. Visitors to the center will learn what it takes to care for and rehabilitate marine mammals, including meal prep at the Fish Kitchen. The center also features interactive exhibits and gorgeous wildlife photography on display. It’s free to visit, with the option to pay for a guided tour that allows you to see these animals up close, and learn about their stories and treatment.
Location: 2000 Bunker Road, Sausalito
6. Nike Missile Site
The Nike Missile Site (no relation to the shoe company) is nestled in a formerly secret underground missile bunker nestled in the headlands. Over 300 of these sites were built across the US during the Cold War as a last line of defense against H-Bomb carrying Soviet planes. Not only do you get up close and personal with the missiles, but you’ll also get to watch them rise out of the ground on a massive elevator and into firing position. It’s quite a site.
Location: Field Rd, Sausalito
7. Rodeo Beach
Rodeo Beach is a picturesque beach that’s sandwiched between Rodeo Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean. It’s a popular spot for surfers and swimmers alike, especially when the weather warms. This fine pebble beach is a great place for children and families, with plenty of room to spread out a blanket or enjoy the on-site barbecues and picnic tables. The beach is also conveniently located next to a few excellent trails that offer sweeping coastal views.
Location: Mitchell Rd, Sausalito
Featured image: @goldengatenps via Instagram. Photo by David McCarthy