Marin County, in the North Bay, is San Francisco’s backyard. Beginning with the Marin Headlands at the terminus of the Golden Gate Bridge, there is a nearly unbroken expanse of wildlands from San Francisco Bay to Tomales Bay. Here you’ll find rugged cliffs plunging into the Pacific, towering redwoods, the area’s tallest mountain, and verdant pastures home to the Bay Area’s celebrated grass-fed beef and award-winning, cheese-producing dairy cows.
The Marin Headlands lie north of San Francisco at the end of the Golden Gate Bridge. The land here encompasses a wide swath of virgin wilderness, former military structures, and a historical lighthouse.
Folks come from all over the world to hike the trails that thread through the Marin Headlands. The landscape is some of the most beautiful in the state, with unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean.
From the Marin Headlands Visitors Center parking lot (Field Rd. and Bunker Rd.), the Lagoon Trail (1.75 miles, easy) encircles Rodeo Lagoon and gives bird-watchers an eagle’s-eye view of the egrets, pelicans, and other seabirds that call the lagoon home. The trailhead is near the restrooms.
An easy spot to get to, Rodeo Beach draws many visitors on summer weekends—do not expect solitude on the beach or the trails, or even in the water. Locals come out to surf when the break is going while beachcombers watch from the shore. Note that the wind can really howl out here. The Lagoon Trail accesses the beach, but there is also a fairly large parking lot on Bunker Road that is much closer.
At Rodeo Beach is a trailhead for the Coastal Trail. To explore some of the battery ruins that pockmark these hills, follow the Coastal Trail (1.5 miles, easy) north to its intersection with Old Bunker Road Trail and return to Bunker Road near the Marine Mammal Center. Or extend this hike by continuing 2.3 miles up the Coastal Trail to the summit of Hill 88 and stellar views. You can loop this trail by linking it with Wolf Ridge Trail to Miwok Trail for a moderate 3.8-mile round-trip hike.
To reach the trailheads and parking lots, follow Bunker Road west to either Rodeo Beach or the Marin Headlands Visitors Center and their adjoining parking lots.
If you prefer two wheels to two feet, you’ll find the road and trail biking in the Marin Headlands both plentiful and spectacular. From the Tennessee Valley Trailhead, there are many multiuse trails designated for bikers as well as hikers.
The Valley Trail (4 miles round-trip) takes you down the Tennessee Valley and all the way out to Tennessee Beach. A longer ride runs up the Miwok Trail (2 miles) northward, also accessed by Tennessee Valley Road. Turn southwest onto the Coyote Ridge Trail (0.7 mile); then catch the Coastal Fire Road (1.4 miles) the rest of the way west to Muir Beach. Another fun ride leads from just off U.S. 101 at the Rodeo Avenue exit. Park your car on the side of Rodeo Avenue, and then bike down the short Rodeo Avenue Trail, which ends in a T intersection after 0.7 mile at Alta Trail. Take a left, and access to Bobcat Trail is a few yards away. Continue on Bobcat Trail for 2.5 miles straight through the Headlands to the Miwok Trail for just 0.5 mile, and you’ll find yourself out at Rodeo Beach.
Need to rent a bicycle for your travels? In San Francisco, Bike and Roll (899 Columbus Ave., 415/229-2000, 8am-6pm daily) offers road ($58-110/day), mountain ($39-58/day), and hybrid ($32-39/day) bikes and loads of helpful advice.