Exploring San Francisco’s Magnificent Marin Headlands

When I lived in San Francisco years ago, and people would come to visit, I’d insist on taking them to the Marin Headlands—twice. My favorite view of the city is vastly different during the day and at nighttime, and the short trip across the Golden Gate Bridge is worth doing a second time.

The Marin Headlands are part of the much larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area and make up the southernmost part of Marin County, immediately west of the Golden Gate Bridge. To get there, take the Alexander Avenue exit just north of the bridge, head back under the highway and follow the signs.

The road up to the Marin Headlands is long and windy, with multiple places to pull over and admire the view—each seemingly more awe-inspiring than the last.

As you start the ascent, you seem to be driving up toward the northern tower of the bridge, which hovers nearby, tantalizingly close. As you continue further toward the top, the whole bridge span comes into view, beautifully framing the city skyline. From one vantage point, it’s even possible to snap a shot of the Transamerica Pyramid inside one of the bridge’s tower openings.

From up here, there are also stunning vistas of Alcatraz, the Presidio, Oakland, Golden Gate Park, the Pacific Ocean and the California coastline. You’ll be able to watch passenger ferries as well as oceangoing freighters plying the waters of the Golden Gate, as traffic cruises across the bridge itself. It’s like watching the world in miniature.

During the day, there are plenty of hiking opportunities in the Headlands. At minimum, take a walk up over the ridgeline toward the Pacific, where you’ll have some great views toward Mount Tamalpais and Point Reyes National Seashore to the north. You’ll also discover some interesting relics of the Second World War—shelters that house guns meant to protect San Francisco Bay in case of an attack from the Japanese fleet.

The headlands area also supports a wide variety of wildlife, from birds to deer and bobcats to coyotes. You may even see turkeys, fox, rabbits or mountain lions here.

Make sure to come back to the Marin Headlines after sunset for another enchanting view. The softly glowing bridge reflects on the currents of the Golden Gate like a pastel watercolor, and the city lights beyond are mesmerizing. If you’re lucky enough to have a crescent moon in the evening sky, it will illuminate the Pacific, adding just a bit more magic to an already stunning vista.

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