To familiarize yourself with all the Marin Headlands have to offer, start at the National Park Service’s Marin Headlands Visitor Center. There, browse their historical and natural history exhibits, tap into their educational resources on the Miwok Indians or the Headland’s military history, and swing by the gift shop.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area offers a number of programs for the public at the Headlands. You can join Lynda Bartek for an easy, 1-mile wildflower hike, or attempt the strenuous 8-mile Pirate’s Cove hike with Ken Lavin. If bones are your thing, hang out with “Roadkill Nancy” Valente and her collection of bones and skulls. For night owls, Steffen Bartschat will lead some strenuous evening hikes atop Coyote Ridge to teach guests about our coyote and mountain lion neighbors. To find out about park program dates and times, and for additional program listings, visit their website or contact the Visitor’s Center to request a printed copy of their “Park Adventures” brochure.
For a taste of history, visit SF-88, the only restored Nike missile firing battery built in the United States during the Cold War. Now a museum, SF-88 was built atop the Headlands to protect the U.S. from the threat of Soviet bombers. A guided tour will take you to the Testing and Assembly Building, then down to the underground storage area via the missile elevator. SF-88 is open Wednesday through Friday, 12:30 to 3:30; on the first Sunday of every month, the museum holds an open house led by docents and Nike veterans.
Past the Headlands Visitor Center and the Nike missile site, a half-mile of steep trail will take you to the Point Bonita Lighthouse and an exceptional view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Built in 1855—and still functional today—this lighthouse was the third of its kind built on the West Coast. On July 12th and 13th, take part in a sunset full moon walk to the Lighthouse. Point Bonita is open Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 12:30 to 3:30 pm.
The Headlands Institute is a private non-profit environmental education facility situated at the Headlands, operated by the Yosemite National Institutes. It offers outdoor youth summer programs, field science school programs, and adult field courses in the natural sciences. The Institute also has classes and programs covering Native American culture, wilderness skills, and tidepooling. The historic military buildings of former Fort Cronkhite have been renovated, offering visitors a functional natural science lab, interactive learning rooms, dormitories, kitchen, and a dining hall.
In the mood for eclectic art? Try the Headlands Center for the Arts, which serves as a home base to a changing cast of more than 30 local and international experimental artists in the visual, literary, film/video, and performing arts. On Sunday July 13th, the HCA’s Spring Open House will allow visitors to explore the studios and meet the artists in person. On August 17th, the center will host “Ice Ages, Ghost Rivers, Tree Clocks: Twenty-first Century Times in Yosemite,” a blend of rephotography and history retracing Eadweard Muybridge’s 1872 photographic exploration of Yosemite.
The Marin Headland’s own Marine Mammal Center is responsible for the rescue, rehabilition, and release of hundreds of northern elephant seals, Pacific harbor seals, California sea lions, Guadalupe fur seals, southern sea otters, and cetaceans. Last year, more than 700 marine mammals were admitted to the facility; of those, 268 were rehabilitated and released back into the wild. The Marine Mammal Center is also involved in research to better understand the causes of marine mammal strandings, and to track the success of their rehabilitation programs. Visit their website to volunteer, adopt a seal, or learn more about marine mammal strandings.
The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (formerly Golden Gate National Parks Association) is a nonprofit organization that works together with the National Park Service, the Presidio Trust Fund, and community volunteers to preserve and restore GGNR parks and offer services and education programs for park visitors. As part of its work, the GGNPC has created the Trails Forever initiatve aimed at revializing, expanding, and maintaining the networks of trails that thread the parklands. Currently, Trails Forever is working on extending the Bay Trail from Crissy Field to the Golden Gate Bridge, restoring trails in Muir Woods, and installing new trailside interpretive waysides and kiosks. To volunteer, inquire about internships, or to learn more about the work they’re involved in, visit their website.
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The California Coastal Trail runs west of Highway 1 along this scenic stretch of the San Mateo coast.