Marin Headlands: a secluded world of hiking, history and scenery

View of Bird Island from Rodeo Beach.

North of San Francisco lies one of California’s best kept secrets for scenery, history and hiking; Marin Headlands Golden Gate National Recreation Area. When you travel through the one lane tunnel from Hiway 101 you are greeted with another world of wide open spaces devoid of bumper to bumper traffic, commercial strip malls or houses stacked on one another.

Defending the homeland

This militarily strategic high ground over looking

Artillery spotter/look out box at O’Rorke Battery.

the entrance into San Francisco Bay offers ample historical evidence to its defensive position. Abandoned and repurposed military installations span three general eras of WWI, WWII and the cold war. You can climb around concrete artillery and bunker positions from the turn of the 20th century, larger WWII fortifications and visit a refurbished Nike missile silo.

Touch the clouds on the ridge

View of Black Sands Beach west of Golden Gate Bridge where I scattered my mother’s ashes.

While the military played a prominent role in shaping the headlands all of that becomes a spec when you hike to the top of the surrounding ridges and cliffs. Words fail as you see fast moving layers of marine clouds waft over ridges and disappear into blue sky. The numerous trails can provide casual to moderate levels of hiking. We have had fun spending a couple nights at the very reasonable Hostel, meeting great people from around the country and hiking through the numerous military sites and nature trails.

A rare new installation

On our last visit we toured the relatively new Marine Mammal Center which opened in 2009. This

Young gentleman at the Marine Mammal Center tour allowing folks to feel the pelt of a sea lion.

new site, built on top of an old Nike Missile silo, is a hospital for orphaned and injured sea otters, seals and sea lions. It was a great hands-on education about the marine mammals we see and hear, but rarely interact with.

One visit and you are hooked

Alta trail looking down over Sausalito and Tiburon.

It is virtually impossible to see everything in one day. From the Point Bonita Light House, Marine Mammal Center, Rodeo Beach, Nike Missile silo, Headlands Center for the Arts and all the hiking trails, you will be scheduling multiple future trips to explore this special world set apart from the hustle and bustle of the Bay area.



  • Shelby

    Psst— The Marine Mammal Center opened in 1975. The rebuilding was completed in 2009.

    Glad you enjoyed your visit! That area is one of my favorite places in the world.

    • Kevin Knauss

      Thank you for the clarification. They are a nonprofit veterinarian hospital supported through grants and donations.