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Mill Valley, California, United States

Marin Headlands

Headlands host beauty and history of San Francisco Bay Area

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Overview: The Marin Headlands are intoxicating and sobering. The hills north of San Francisco are peppered with relics of America's wars, so in the same afternoon you might see wonderful examples of waves crashing amid grim reminders of nations clashing.

The Headlands are a section of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, managed by the U.S. Park Service. Because the San Francisco Bay is essential to West Cost commerce, the narrow entrance to the bay spanned by the Golden Gate bridge has been, historically, armed to the teeth.

Things reached a lethal peak During the Cold War era, when nuclear-tipped Nike anti-aircraft missiles were installed at the Headlands. These and a host of decaying gun emplacements are out of commission, but history buffs can tour them all.

There's far more for nature buffs, though: breakers on the beaches, eye-popping vistas from the cliffs, explosions of wildflowers in spring, seasonal migrations of raptors and other avians, miles of trails for hikers, and twisting, challenging hills for road cyclists.

Finally, it's a shutterbug's delight: jagged coastline and pervasive fog create unforgettable images that practically take themselves -- just about any camera can yield picture-postcard results.


Tips: Check the weather forecast before going; if the forecast calls for fog or rain, it might be best to wait another day (though early morning fog typically burns off on summer afternoons). Use extreme caution around high cliffs and shoreline; a fall from the heights is certainly fatal, and ocean rip tides often can be. Walk, drive and ride defensively -- roads can get crowded, especially on weekends.

What to bring:
Layers, especially a windbreaker
Binoculars
Camera
Bay Area guidebook

Points of Interest

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Point Bonita Lighthouse

The short walk out to this lighthouse at the tip of the continent is unforgettable: You cross an old suspension bridge (two at a time just to be safe) high above a rocky outcrop for a quick tour of an old brick tower and huge lamp that helped guide mariners into the San Francisco Bay and away from the rocks nearby. Dress for gusty winds. Open Saturday, Sunday from Monday from 12:30 to 3:30 PM.
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Battery Mendell

A large, decaying concrete structure that once held an enormous anti-ship gun now provides a platform for the most stunning vistas in the Headlands. Nearby Bird Island (painted white by their scat) attracts avians by the hundreds or thousands while waves crash at the base of sheer cliffs below. One of the best places in America to photograph a sunset.
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Nike missile launch site

Tours here are fascinating and a bit terrifying. A park employee takes you down into a launch bay where disarmed examples of huge Nike anti-aircraft missiles await. These biggest of these missiles were designed to thwart an attack by exploding a nuclear warhead near a fleet of enemy bombers (it's small comfort to learn that intercontinental ballistic missiles made Nikes obsolete).

Open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 12:30 to 3:30 PM, and on the first Saturday of each month (except holidays).
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Fort Cronkhite

Surfers, picnickers and hikers have replaced the soldiers who lived here in years past. An excellent four-mile hike takes in the Coastal, Wolf Ridge and Miwok trails.
Pictures in this guide taken by: stevelabo, tommangan, mmp, jfinston, nicksowers, gkoffler

Marin Headlands Trail Map


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About the Author

tommangan
tommangan
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Keeper of Two Heel Drive, A Hiking Blog at http://tommangan.net/twoheeldrive |

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