Tag Archives: Marin Headlands

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Cozelman Road heading out to Point Bonita

Cozelman Road heading out to Point Bonita. We love this road. It's a cheap thrill.

Point Bonita Lighthouse has sat on a rocky outcrop, safeguarding the entrance to San Francisco Bay, since 1877. The only way to get to it is by walking down a steep path, through a tunnel hewn through rock and across a vertigo inducing, swaying suspension bridge. Tom and I last visited this lighthouse two years ago, just before it closed for two years for the bridge to be replaced.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Before we reached the headlands, we headed to Irving Street for breakfast. Afterwards we took a walk on Irving between 7th and 10th Avenue. On those three blocks there is an amazing variety of shops and restaurants. Of course there were the usual scattering of banks, boutique clothes stores and beauty salons plus quite a few coffee shops including the ubiquitous Starbucks. A lot of the shops were several decades out of date – a cobbler, a hardware shop and two, family run grocery stores almost next door to each other with fresh fruit displayed outside. There were at least four bars along the way, lots of restaurants and cafes including four breakfast places. On one block, a Korean, a Japanese and an Italian restaurant were just a couple of doors apart.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge. Just one of the many million dollar views from the Marin Headlands.

After our little walk, we headed to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. We drove up Conzelman Road for over four miles, enjoying every twist and turn and some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the city of  San Francisco and the bay.  As it was a beautiful day, lots of boats, ranging in size from tankers to kayaks were out on the water. All the parking bays along the road were full which meant there were lots of tourists around. We were lucky to find an empty parking space where we could look back at the bridge. Cars approaching and driving across the bridge sparkled in the sunlight. After a week of rain, people were making the most of the sunny weather. California poppies and other wild flowers adorned the headlands as they sloped towards the bay. We stood admiring the view for fifteen minutes.

Just below Hawk Hill, Conzelman Road becomes one-way. The road hugs the coast and is like a roller coaster ride. From the top, looking towards the Point Bonita Lighthouse, we could see dozens of bikes whizzing down the hill. After the steep and strenuous drive up, they were enjoying the exhilerating drive downhill. We could see the lighthouse standing sentinel on the point and, across the bay, Lands End with the Palace of the Legion of Honor perching on its hill could be seen.

Now for the white knuckle drive. As we started down the hill, Tom said that he thought there was something wrong with the brakes, then said the steering felt weird. I’m used to his sense of humor by now and let him have his fun. It’s truly one of the most scenic rides in the Bay Area and one not to be missed.

We reached the parking lot for the lighthouse which is now the end of the road. The road used to carry on past Battery Mendell and end at the parking lot overlooking Bird Island. Now the road has been turned into a footpath. Already there were a lot of cars parked in the small parking area for the lighthouse and it was only 11.45. The lighthouse opens at 12.30 but, as this is the first day of opening after two years, people were obviously very keen to see the new suspension bridge. We had to go round the roundabout and find somewhere else to park. There is a large car park a short distance away, which I think is new, but we found a convenient spot on the road instead.

Trail down to the Point Bonita Lighthouse

Trail down to the Point Bonita Lighthouse. A little steep but well worth it.

The path to the lighthouse is not very long, probably no more than half a mile, but it is quite steep. It is an interesting walk and, at this time of the year, there were a few wild flowers along the way. Glancing down towards the water, I could see a small, black, sandy, inaccessible beach with half a dozen harbor seals basking in the sunlight. Also down in the water are the remnants of an old slipway used to launch a lifeboat.

When we reached the tunnel, our way was barred not only by a locked steel door but also by a dozen people already waiting there. There was still half an hour to wait so we joined the end of the line and waited patiently. When we first reached the point, the sun was overhead and it was pleasantly warm, though windy. While we waited though, the sun disappeared over the top of the headland and it began to get chilly. More and more people arrived behind us and it was surprising the number of people who squeezed past us to get closer to the front. We couldn’t help overhearing the conversation of the people behind is. Two older guys had driven down from the Oregon border in order to watch the Giants game that night at AT&T Park and had heard of the lighthouse reopening and decided to stop off to see it.

12.30 approached and no sign of the park ranger who would open the door. Some of the folks waiting expected the door to be opened from the other side but I knew that the park ranger comes down from the Visitors Center and opens the door from this side. From where we stood, we could see some way up the path and there was sign of anyone in uniform. 12.30 came and went and still no one to open the door. Finally, nearly ten minutes after it was due to open, the volunteer arrived and then took a long time trying to find the right key. Eventually the heavy door opened noisily and we entered the tunnel. Inside it was really dark with no lighting at all and it was hard to see where we were going. The rough rock face hemmed us in on both sides and above. It gradually became lighter and soon we were out in bright sunshine. Someone behind us remarked it was just as if we’d been through a time warp and we had just arrived in Hawaii.

The trail becomes just the width of the path several times with the ocean pounding on the rocks on both sides. The wind hit us from the side with a chilling slap. We got our first decent view of the new bridge. It is painted brilliant white. The old one was made of wood but we weren’t sure whether this one would be the same or made out of metal. It certainly looks like an copy of the old one. When we were here the last time, only two people were allowed on the bridge at the same time and a volunteer would be at the bridge to monitor it. Now there seems to be no limit.

Point Bonita Lighthouse and the swaying suspension bridge.

Point Bonita Lighthouse and the swaying suspension bridge.

Tom and I had decided that we would just go to look at the bridge as neither of us had any intention of crossing it. At the last moment though, we looked at each other and went for it anyway. The previous one had swayed a lot and I fully expected that this one wouldn’t. I should have realized that suspension bridges are supposed to sway and, as it was windy day, it certainly did sway. Once it started to sway, we just wanted to get to the other side as soon as possible. It is not a long bridge and really doesn’t take more than two minutes to walk across, but it seems much longer when you’re feeling jittery.

The lighthouse stood there all spruced up for it’s reopening with the sunlight glittering on the glass at the top.  With the hordes of people piling over the bridge, we knew the cramped interior of the lighthouse would be crammed packed.  There are interesting displays inside, including a fascinating map showing of the Golden Gate with the depth of water in places and the size and position of sandbanks. I  like to study that map for ages, always finding something interesting I hadn’t noticed before. Today we stayed outside and lent on the railings, in the sun and out of the wind, contemplating the activity out on the water. There were tour boats sailing under the bridge, then turning round to head back; a flotilla of small boats were off Chrisie Field, a large tanker entering the bay with its attending pilot boat but the most amazing sight was of a lone kayaker paddling out to the ocean. We watched him for some time wandering when he would turn back but he never did. Where was he heading, we pondered.

We geared ourselves up for a return across the bridge. We stood there for a few moments, took and deep breath and boldly walked back across the bridge.  Once safely back on dry land at the other side, we took a little time looking back at the lighthouse and watching folks crossing the bridge. It was rewarding to see that everything is very much as it bad been before on our last visit and we are glad that people have not forgotten this isolated corner and hope that more people will discover it.

Opening time are Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 – 3:30 pm. The best part is that it is all free of charge.

Marin Headlands-Above the Golden Gate

Just a short post with some photos.  Margaret was taking a class in Sausalito so I tagged along and while she was in class I took a few photos.  The weather on Saturday was pretty lousy but Sunday it cleared up a little bit so I headed out to the Marin Headlands above the Golden Gate.

Cozelman Road has just reopened after being upgraded so you can drive all the way to Point Bonita without any detours.  They did a great job on the road and points along the way where you can stop and take it all in. There’s even a roundabout! Don’t see too many of those here in the US.

I went out to Fort Barry and stopped at several of the old batteries along the way.  Lots of fascinating history out there. The fort was built in 1908.  Not too old by world standards but here in California anything older than 100 years is pretty amazing.

So in this gallery there’s a photo of the Golden Gate in both color and black and white.  I’ve always been partial to B&W (probably has something to do with my color blindness) but Margaret likes color.  Which do you like? Click on a thumbnail for larger versions.

Point Bonita Lighthouse, Marin Headlands

Rodeo Beach

Rodeo Beach

After breakfast in Sausalito we headed back the way we came towards Point Bonita Lighthouse . This lighthouse stands at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, west of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is only open to the public of Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12.30 – 3.30.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Part of the pleasure of going to this lighthouse is the drive along Conzalman Road to it. Once past Battery Spencer and Hawk Hill, the road becomes one way. Up to this point the views of the bridge, the city and the bay have been wonderful. After this point the views are still spectacular, looking towards the lighthouse and the ocean but the road itself becomes a roller coaster ride. Today though we were out of luck as the one way road was closed. We could see construction work and earth moving vehicles on the road ahead and surmised the recent rains had caused a landslide.  There was a detour pointing off to the right to the lighthouse and beach. This route took us past the Marin Headlands Visitor Center and the Nike Missile Site. We also had a good view down to Rodeo Beach.

As we were very early and had time to kill, we drove past the lighthouse and Battery Mendell to the end of the road. Here the road dead ended in a car park with lovely views. To the south we could see the lighthouse and part of the suspension bridge leading to it. Just below us was Bird Island. It is separated from the mainland by a narrow strip of water and is a haven for seabirds especially corm0rants. The top is more or less flat and looks white in color but that is due to the guano which covers it. We could also see the stretch of sand which is Rodeo Beach with its cool lagoon behind.

I found a rather uncomfortable rock to sit on while I did some writing. Every so often I glanced out to sea in the hope of spotting some whales but was out of luck. The sun was shining but hazy offshore which meant we could not see the Farallon Islands today. There was also a bit of a breeze and as I did not have my sweater on I could not stand it for long. There is no protection here from the elements.

We drove back to Point Bonita lighthouse and parked the car. It was still half an hour before the lighthouse opened but already there were quite a few cars around. There is a half mile trail to the lighthouse which was open but only so far. To get all the way to the lighthouse there is a tunnel to walk through and that is kept locked until 12.30.

Instead of waiting in the car, we decided to amble on down the trail. Although the trail is short it is quite steep in parts. All the way along we had good views of the Golden Gate Bridge to the east. There were a few information boards along the way, mostly about the harbor seals which haul themselves out of the ocean onto the rocks and tiny strips of beach down below. There were warnings to stay at least 300 feet from them but you would have to go off the trail and clamber down steep dangerous cliffs to get anywhere near them. We did see a few trying to haul themselves onto the beach. The tide swept them in but then dragged them out to sea again. After a few tries, they eventually managed to get above the high water mark for a well earned rest.

At several spots the trail was just a rock bridge with the bay on one side and the ocean on the other. The waves are slowly eroding the rocks away and one day Point Bonita will be an island. Just before the tunnel we could see the remains of a slipway which was used for a lifeboat. It has obviously not been used for long time.

Once we reached the tunnel we could go no further so we walked part way up the path again to a bench where we plonked ourselves down to wait. Out on the water were several boats including a tug boat which did not move for a long time. Eventually we saw a ship being towed towards the bridge. It looked like a submarine but we were not too sure. The tug boat was obviously waiting to escort it into the bay.

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Point Bonita Lighthouse and the only way to it.

At 12.30 we saw a park ranger walk down the path to unlock the door to the tunnel. By this time there were a lot of people waiting so we took our place in the line. The heavy green metal door was unlocked and we started to move towards the entrance. The tunnel is narrow and not very high and has been carved out of solid rock.  Inside there are no lights but as it is relatively short we were not in the dark for long. On the other side of the tunnel the path is very narrow with a sheer rock wall on one side. Amazingly the cliffs were ablaze with all manner of wildflowers.

Ahead we saw the last barrier to the lighthouse – the suspension bridge. Neither Tom nor I have a head for heights and crossing the bridge will be a challenge. As we got closer we could see that the bridge was old and rusty which was not very encouraging. Only two people could walk across at a time which caused us some anxiety but we have come this far and will see it through. A ranger stood at each end of the bridge to regulate the number of people crossing. A sign nearby said the bridge was due to be replaced soon.

When Tom and I were next in line we had to wait for several people to cross back to our side and we chatted to the ranger. She told us the bridge was built in 1954. During our conversation with her she mentioned that the work on repairing the road would have to be finished before the bridge could be replaced. Now we know that the road closure was planned and not due to a landslide.

It was our turn to cross. Tom went in front and I followed. To keep my mind off what was below I concentrated on taking a video of the crossing on my Flip video camcorder. The crossing was OK until about the middle then it became scary because everything started to sway. I blindly followed Tom wishing that we would get there in one piece. Safely on the other side we took a deep breath and then started to worry about the walk back.

Originally the lighthouse was built further back and 0n top of a 300 foot cliff in 1855.  It was soon realized that it was too high. Nobody had taken into account that when the fog rolled in the light could not be seen. A new location at the end of the point was chosen and in 1877 it was in operation. In addition to the light, a cannon was used as a fog horn and every half and hour during foggy weather the gun would be fired.

The lighthouse stands on a very small piece of rock and it took only a few minutes to walk round the base. I would have liked to spend some time just looking out at the view but there was no seat to sit on and, though the sun was shining, there was no shelter from the chilly wind. Several small rooms at the base of the lighthouse have been turned into a museum and it was fascinating to read the history of the lighthouse. There was a large map on the wall which showed the location of all the shipwrecks in the area, including the worst disaster of all in 1901. The steamer ‘City of Rio de Janeiro’ sunk near Point Bonita with the loss of all 128 passengers and crew.

It was time to face the suspension bridge again. Once again we had to wait before Tom and I could cross and the ranger told us that down below was an archway through the rock. The best place to see it is half way across the bridge. There was no way either of us was going to stop on the bridge to look down at it! As you can see from the photo above, Tom got a good shot of it from the other side.

We climbed leisurely back up the trail and through the tunnel, reminiscing about all we have seen today. It has been an exciting and interesting day.

Kirby Cove, Marin Headlands

The Golden Gate Bridge taken from the usually crowded vista point

The Golden Gate Bridge taken from the usually crowded vista point

One of our favorite places to take photos of the Golden Gate Bridge is the overlook at Battery Spencer. Nearby there is a trail head and I often wondered where it led to. I decided to do some research on the Marin headlands and eventually found a trail map. I discovered the trail lead to Kirby Cove. We promised ourselves that one day we would check it out. That day was today.

Check out the Google map at the end of this post to get an idea where Kirby Cove beach is. The trail head is off that winding road up the hill.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

As usual we left before day break.When it began to get light, the sky was overcast with no sun visible at all. We hoped the weather would improve. Driving north on 19th Avenue in San Francisco we would normally see the southern tower of the bridge but not today. We wondered whether we would even be able to see the bridge from the beach but a plan was a plan.

I read a description of the trail before we left home and it sounded a bit daunting. To get to the beach is a steep one mile hike so obviously to get back up again is a very steep one mile climb, but we were up for it.

Oakland, on the other side of the bay, was hidden by fog as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz was hardly visible. We pulled into the vista point on the right at the end of the bridge. This place gets really crowded at weekends and even though there are lots of parking spaces they would all be filled in a few hours time. Now, at 7 o’clock in the morning, we have the place more or less to ourselves and, surprise, surprise, the sun was beginning to shine through the cloud cover. Maybe it will be a nice day after all.

Tom went a little way over the bridge to take photos and I wandered around the sidewalk. On my very first visit to California in January 1998, I was brought here straight from the plane. At that time, I was overwhelmed by the view of both the bridge and the city by the bay and today, 12 years later, I felt the same way.

The layout of the vista point has changed a little since that visit. Now there are more information boards and direction finders. I noticed a bronze statue on the island in the middle of the car park, so I went to investigate. It was of a sailor standing next to his kit bag. Nearby was a plaque commemorating all the sailors who passed this point on their way to serve their country, some of whom never returned. Reading the words brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. The statue reminded me of my father who was in the Royal Navy and served for 22 years. He was shipwrecked twice in the Second World War but thankfully survived both and lived to the ripe old age of 86.

The eucalyptus trees smell wonderful but really don't belong here.

The eucalyptus trees smell wonderful but really don't belong here

From the vista point car park, we drove a short distance to the Sausalito exit and then turned left to cross back under the freeway and headed to the Marin headlands. We parked by Battery Spencer and the trail head down to Kirby Cove was a few steps away.

At 7.30 we started walking down. There was a gate across the trail but it was easy to walk around. The trail itself is a gravel road. To the left of the road is a steep grassy slope down to the water. A small, and I’m sure inaccessible, beach is visible at the bottom. There is also a view of the bridge.

It was a lovely walk down. The trail turned inland and the bridge disappeared from view. Wildflowers abounded, some clinging to the rocks and others lining the path. Birdsong was all about and it was very peaceful. At first there was nobody else on the path, then we heard voices. Behind us another couple were walking down the trail and they had a dog with them. By the gate at the top of the trail was a sign saying bicycles were allowed but not pets or dogs.

We walked through a grove of eucalyptus trees. Apart from being non native, these trees are also very untidy. Their bark hangs down in strips looking as if they are shedding their skin – which in a sense they are of course. The ground is littered with their debris, including large boughs which have fallen off. The only positive aspect is the wonderful smell of them. Close your eyes and you can immediately tell that you are surrounded by eucalyptus trees.

Near the bottom we passed a whole array of large and majestic calla lilies.  A couple of weeks ago they would have been in their full glory. Now they are beginning to go brown at the edges and to be a little wilted but still glorious none the less.

We passed a parking lot for the overnight campers. Here is one of a very few places where you can get a permit to camp on the Marin Headlands. Now the pervading smell is of woodsmoke and the sound of the breaking surf is added to the birdsong.

Kirby Cove Beach

Kirby Cove Beach

After a leisurely half an hour walk, with numerous stops to take photos, we arrived at the Kirby Cove beach. Right above the beach is the old Battery Kirby. It was built in 1894 and decommissioned in 1934. I imagine it would be a fun place for kids to explore. From here you look down on the dark gray, gritty looking sand. On the grass at the top of the bluff, a lone Canada Goose sat looking out over the bay and a solitary fisherman stood knee deep in the surf. The bridge looked very close and imposing. This is a completely different view of it. There can’t be too many angles now we have not viewed the bridge but from every one it still looks wonderful.

We walked down onto the beach and I sat on an old wooden pontoon with extremely rusty ironwork and wrote in my journal. The sun felt warm and I would have happily sat there for ages but we had to move because the tide seemed to be coming in. We walked up to the picnic tables on the bluffs at the other end of the beach and watched the boats and one very large container ship exit the bay under the bridge.

At 9 am, we started our climb back up the trail. Our sudden movement disturbed a rabbit which bounded alongside the trail in front of me. It took us half an hour to climb up which I thought was pretty remarkable. We only stopped twice for a breather. At one point we watched 13 kayakers propel themselves across the bay and we wondered whether they were making their way to Kirby Cove. We passed nobody on the way up and yet there were loads of cars parked at the top. Not that we were complaining as we much prefer the peace and quiet of our own company.

Time to head into Sausalito for breakfast.

Here’s where Kirby Cove is:

Sausalito and the Marin Headlands

Well this time it’s a little different.  Normally Margaret does the writing and I do the photos but this weekend she’s attending a class in Sausalito so I tagged along.  This will be more photos and less talking.

I was kind of bummed because it looked like rain for Saturday however after an overcast start the sun came out .  I explored Sausalito, Fort Baker and the Marin Headlands.  It turned out to be a beautiful day and these came out pretty nice.   Check out the small gallery below.  When viewing the photos clicking on the image will take you back to this post.

Hawk Hill, Marin Headlands

Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from Hawk Hill in the Marin HeadlandsIf you like raptors, now is the best time of the year to observe them at close quarters at several points in the Bay Area.  For more information read Tom Stienstra’s recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Today we decided to go to Hawk Hill on the Marin Headlands.  Tom and I have been quite close to it in the past but today was the first time we climbed to the top of the hill.

The drive to it is magnificent on any day but today was extra special  As I’ve said before, the weather in the city is unpredictable is always a hit and miss affair.  Any day of the year the headlands can be shrouded in fog.  It could be cold, wet and miserable.  Or, like today, it could be warm and sunny.

It was perfect weather for us and we could enjoy the views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the headlands as we drove up the hill towards Point Benita Lighthouse, passing numerous cyclists laboring up as well.  We parked the car just before the one way section to the lighthouse.  From here we could see the entire bridge in all its glory, though the sun was in our eyes.  On the breeze we could hear the faint hum of the traffic as it crossed the bridge just over a mile away as the crow flies.

From here you can walk through a tunnel to a spectacular view of the lighthouse and take a path off to thePoint Bonita Lighthouse from Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands right up the hill or you can follow a sign which says Hawk Hill to the left of the tunnel.  The climb up the hill from here is steep but mercifully short.  At the top is an old gun emplacement with abandoned structures and buildings and huge, round slabs of concrete.

There is also a magnificent view of the bay, with the San Francisco skyline framed between the two towers of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Enjoying the view was a man who remarked to me on the beauty of the day.  He told me he came here regularly just to drink in the spirituality of the place.

We walked a bit further along the top of the hill.  On one of the concrete slabs were a series of white strips.  When we got closer we could see that they had the names of all the hawks and raptors which have been spotted here and the length of the white strips indicated their wing span.  There are 28 birds listed ranging from the American Kestrel and the Sharp Skinned Haw, both with a 22″ wing span all the way to the Californian Condor with a wing span of 118″.  There was a special, thicker, strip which read ‘Mississippi Kite seen here Oct 25 08.  Third in 33 years.’

At the end of the little walk way there was a man with a high powered scope.  Obviously he was a keen bird watcher.  He was intent on studying the surrounding area so I didn’t disturb him.  I just stood and admired the nearly 360 degree view.  I took especial note of Angel Island.  Early last month it suffered a wildfire which burnt more than half the 740 acres on the island but where I stood I could not see any fire damage.

For half an hour we stood and watched – me with my binoculars and Tom with his camera.  We had a great view of Rodeo Beach and I watched hikers and cyclists in the distance.  There weren’t too many hawks around yet.

More people began to arrive and they all seemed to know each other and there was much chatter.  It became apparent that they are part of a voluntary raptor watch, with one lady obviously in charge.  She assigned them a location to stand and the official count started at 9.30.

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Marin Headlands

Golden Gate Bridge at dawn from the Marin HeadlandsAfter two weekends of stormy weather, we were keen to get out and about again. We decided to head for the Marin Headlands. As usual we left well before daybreak, just stopping at Peet’s on Geary Street in San Francisco to get some coffee.

At 7.30 a.m. we were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. We take the first exit towards Sausalito, a left turn back under the freeway and then a right onto Conzelmen Road. The last time we were up here was in February to watch the new Queen Mary sail under the bridge. We pass Battery Spencer, which is a great place to look down on the bridge and to take photos. A bit further along the road we pulled over to take some photos. It was cold and windy but we put our coats on a braved the weather. The sun was just coming up over the city and the first rays were hitting the northern tower on the bridge.

The only other people around at this time of the day are other serious photographers and several keen cyclists battling their way up the hill. Finding somewhere to park is easy now but come later in the day and the place will be packed solid with tourists.

The views are spectacular. Looking down I could see not only the bridge but also the silhouette of the San Francisco skyline. I could also see the Bay Bridge, Oakland, Alcatraz and the top of Angel Island, which had a cap of fog. There were no pleasure boats out on the water though we watched a large container ship sail under the bridge on its way to some other part of the world.

Continuing on up the hill we come to two tunnels into the hillside. We stop at the second one. This is Battery Construction 129. It was built in 1942 but never officially named, armed or manned. We walked through the tunnel and gazed down on a magnificent view of the entrance to the Golden Gate – which by the way is the name of the opening into the San Francisco Bay. It was so named by John Fremont in 1848 who was a topographical engineer. The Golden Gate is one mile broad at its narrowest part and five miles long. Our view also stretches as far south as Pacifica and looking straight out we could see the Farallon Islands which are about 20 miles west.

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