Even for locals who get blase about great views, the Marin Headlands’ vistas from Hendrik Point and Kirby Cove stand out.
From Hendrik Point at Battery Spencer, you gaze down at the Golden Gate Bridge. You can then descend 400 feet along a fire road to Kirby Cove, where you can see the same astonishing views, only this time from sea level. Dramatic both in fog and on clear days, these spots are favorites for photographers.
Both sites are home to batteries – the concrete military installations designed to protect San Francisco Bay from attack. Batteries and bunkers played a role in the Marin Headlands from the Civil War through the Cold War, when the secret Nike Missile Site was built. No wartime shots were fired from these batteries. Today, you can wander through the deserted rooms and imagine the huge guns once mounted here.
Hendrik Point at Battery Spencer
From the parking area, walk out on the path past the historic military fortifications. Informational signs tell you about the batteries and the Golden Gate Bridge. Battery Spencer is a reinforced concrete gun battery, and one of the most significant guardians of the Golden Gate during the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II. Named after Maj. Gen. Joseph Spencer, a hero of the Revolutionary War, it was completed in 1897 and deactivated during World War II.
The path splits, with the lower section best for exploring the battery, and the upper leading more directly to Hendrik Point. Occasional benches are provided for rest. Both paths end at the Hendrik Point overlook, with the bay spread out beneath you. Looking at the Golden Gate Bridge, you are tower height, gazing down at the bridge’s 220-foot-high roadbed. To your left is Angel Island, Belvedere and Raccoon Strait; across the bay, the San Francisco skyline; and farther east, towering Mount Diablo.
At the end of the parking area, a clearly marked 1-mile fire trail leads to the little beach and historic battery at Kirby Cove. Bikes are permitted. Walk through groves of pine, cypress and eucalyptus. The bright orange rock formations are radiolarian chert formed from layers of skeletal radiolarian (protozoans) on the ocean floor.
About a third of the way down on your left is an unmarked trail. This leads to neglected, graffiti-filled Battery Wagner. Wander through the tumbled-down rooms and climb on top to get the unique views and latest murals by graffiti artists before continuing on the fire road to Kirby Cove.
At the cove, you will find picnic tables, a restroom and, best of all, wooden steps leading to a sheltered beach where you can dip your toes into the Pacific Ocean. Here, at sea level, away from the crowds, watch sailboats and ships pass under the Golden Gate Bridge, which almost seems close enough to touch. You might see a whale or a romping sea lion. Explore Battery Kirby, an old gun battery that guarded San Francisco from 1898 to 1934.
Kirby Cove offers four highly sought-after camping sites. To reserve a site call (877) 444-6777 or go to www.recreation.gov.
On Sundays and holidays (New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas), Muni’s No. 76 stops at the trailhead to Kirby Cove. This bus runs hourly and tours the Marin Headlands. You can catch it at the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza or at many downtown stops. Go to www.transit511.org for stop locations and schedule.
By car, from San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and take Exit 442 for Alexander Avenue. Keep left at the fork, following signs for Highway 101 south to San Francisco. Turn left onto Sausalito Lateral Road and then right onto Conzelman Road. A short way up at the crest of the hill is a parking area on the left for Battery Spencer.
Photo: Jeff via Flickr