Along the Northern California coast we have what is called Fogust…it keeps the mornings cool before the heat of the day sets in and the coast stays nice and chilly. Marin Headlands is a perfect place to hike all year but especially nice when us inlanders in wine country need a break from the constant sunshine. We decided to play tourist on our hike and hit a few gems along the Marin Headlands. The hike started at Black Sands Beach, headed up the Coastal Trail to Hawk Hill and down to the uber touristy Battery Spencer and down to Kirby Cove to enjoy the beach. The views when we were below the fog were spectacular!
Starting at Black Sands Beach parking lot, head up the Coastal Trail as it follows the one-way portion of Conzelman Road. We were prepared for cooler weather but not as prepared for the wind that hit us as soon as we got out of the car! Brr! It felt good! The gentle ascent was exactly what we needed to get our bodies warm and the blood flowing. When you see a crosswalk across Conzelman Road, carefully cross (watch out for cyclists excited to speed downhill!) and ignore the set of stairs ahead of you. Just kidding! Head for the stairs but don’t worry they lead to an old WWII fortification and some incredible views!
Hawk Hill not only has views of raptors cruising through the air but also of Point Bonita, fog, the Rodeo Valley, mission blue butterflies, and the great Pacific Ocean oh and an old military fortification. There are several battery fortifications that can be found along the northern California coast, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area has a few that are preserved and you can walk through them. It’s crazy to think back in time that this is how they would defend against ships and airplanes trying to attack the coast.
We saw a red-tailed hawk hunting for breakfast as we finished climbing the last set of stairs to the top of Hawk Hill. Once we were up there, the fog surrounded us and all we could see was Battery Construction 129. We then walked through the eerie tunnel toward Conzelman Road and kept following the Coastal Trail. During the spring, the wildflowers are in bloom all along the hill here! Will have to come back!
The Coastal Trail runs most of the length of California. Not all are along the coast, there are times when it heads inland or jumps spots because there is a break in the trail. The Marin County part of the Coastal Trail is amazing! Any part of it has amazing views along the coast! For this hike, we did a small portion of it and had some of the best views in the north bay! This part of the Coastal Trail follows Conzelman Road south toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
Goldie is in view the entire time! She’s so stunning and iconic that people from all over the world come here just to see her! We heard so many different languages as we hiked along the road and passed the small parking areas. Great to see so many other people appreciating her! We totally felt like we were one of the tourists completely in awe of this lovely orange piece of beautiful architecture!
While we have driven this road several times to get to Rodeo Beach, Point Bonita, and other spots for hiking we have not been able to fully enjoy and take in the views from this road. If you aren’t up for the full hike, get here early to claim one of the parking spots and do a portion of this so you can experience how amazingly beautiful our area is! Standing in wide-open space on a hill with the fog rolling by and looking across the water to a major metropolis with tall buildings shaping the skyline instead of hills is a sight and a feeling we love to have. We are so fortunate to have so much open space and rolling hills just across the bridge from San Francisco.
Battery Spencer can be seen from the Golden Gate Bridge and is one of the busiest spots to capture Goldie! This old gun battery was built to protect the Golden Gate Bridge. This was our turn around point before we headed down to Kirby Cove. We were joined with hundreds of other tourists in the morning enjoying the wind and views from this historic spot. You can walk around the old WWII fortification. Check out how some of the buildings have fireplaces and mantels still in them when you walk through!
From Battery Spencer, you can see Horseshoe Bay, Angel Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, Point Bonita, and the Marin Headlands. It’s always fun to watch the sailboats cruise under the GGB. During whale migration, you might even get to see whales cruising through too! The San Francisco skyline was in the background just visible through the fog.
Battery Spencer was a great stop for us to enjoy the views before heading down to Kirby Cove.
Battery Spencer has views of Goldie from the top and Kirby Cove has views of Goldie from sea level! The 1-mile walk down the dirt road to Kirby Cove Campground takes you down into a lush canyon filled with eucalyptus and cypress trees. If you don’t want to do the whole hike to be able to experience Kirby Cove, you can park at the parking for Battery Spencer and walk down from there. Several people were doing this but get there early for parking.
Battery Kirby was also a gun battery to protect Goldie. The structure remains and is slowly being taken over by mother nature. There are 5 campsites here that seem to always be booked. Now we know why! This secluded campground is hidden under a canopy of trees and in a cove sheltered from the winds that can blow hard across the ocean also has AMAZING views of Goldie and the city! Oh, to wake up and walk out of your tent to the beach to watch the sunrise over Goldie…must be magical! We kicked off our shoes and found some driftwood to sit on and soak in the views. Kirby Cove is one of the best views we have seen of the Golden Gate Bridge. Goldie is gorgeous from any angle but you get the sense of her size from sea level.
After a good rest, we put our shoes back on and headed back up the hill. We climbed and climbed back to Hawk Hill that was now completed fogged in and then back down to the black sands beach parking lot. Instead of walking down the stairs to this beach, we were tired, we got in the car and found a spot to pull over with views and ate our lunch.
This hike definitely hit all the gems along the Marin Headlands and we got to see all the touristy things we had been wanting to see…without all the traffic and crowds. Hiking this was definitely a great way to enjoy the views slowly!
On the way back home the sun started shining hard as we left the foggy coast and we were right back to reality. Sort of miss being the hiking tourist along the coast!
Parking is free! Easy to moderate 7.3 mile out and back hike with 1,417 ft elevation gain/loss, mostly sunny. Dress for the changing weather along the coast! Toilets available at Black Sands Beach parking lot, Hawk Hill, Battery Spencer and Kirby Cove…which is a good thing because there is no privacy along the trail! Dogs on leash ok for this part of the trail. Reception is spotty and there is no food or water out there so pack accordingly.