Visited August 15-30, 2009 – The Marin Headlands is most of what you can see looking across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. It is a historic defensive position for San Francisco Bay and harbor. There are three forts and many gun batteries along the outer rim of the headlands. Getting there is easy, just take the first exit, Alexander Ave (not the viewpoint exit) as you cross the bridge from San Francisco. This exit puts you into Fort Baker but you want to take the tunnel under U.S. 101 and head up Alexander Ave past Battery Spencer (the best viewpoint for the bridge and the city) and a couple of other batteries that are still on Fort Baker (more on them later).
When you get to Conzelman Road follow it until you get to Battery 129, this was a 16″ gun battery on Fort Barry that was built during World War II but never actually armed. You can spend an hour here easy. Go all the way through both tunnels until you reach the gun pits and make sure you climb up to the top of the battery.
Continue to follow Conzelman Road even though it narrows and becomes very twisty until you reach Battery Rathbone-McIndoe and then on to Battery Wallace. Battery Wallace was a 12″ casemated gun battery built during World War I.
You should go through both entrances to the gun pits. If you want some details about the batteries in book form, I suggest “Harbor Defenses of San Francisco – A Field Guide 1890-1950″ by Matt Kent, available online from Blurb.com. It is a bit pricey, $65, but worth every penny.
Past Battery Wallace the road gets better and becomes two way and you have choices. I would park close to Mortar Battery Alexander, see it first, and then go on foot up and to the right to get to batteries Smith-Guthrie and on to Battery O’Rorke hit Battery Mendell as you leave. The mine casemate and many fire control/observation stations are in this area so don’t miss them. You are looking at about two hours to see it all.
Head out via the Bunker Road and don’t miss the Nike missile site SF-88L, it has a great display of Nike equipment and some of it actually works. The Visitor Center is along this same route and you should stop there also. As you continue down Bunker Road you can choose to go left onto Fort Cronkhite and up to Battery Townsley or you can head back to U.S. 101. If you have time you should see Battery Townsley, it is a bit of a climb but well worth it.
On your way back, if you have time, you should stop at Battery Spencer and hike down to Battery Wagner and Battery Kirby. Battery Kirby is a great picture spot. Fort Baker is also well worth seeing and it has a couple of batteries on the east side of the bridge.
A note of caution, the weather is a great variable here and the wind is always blowing, Matt tells me that the best time of year is September-October and I found that it was not advisable to start any earlier than 11am, lots of fog when I was there in the last half of August.
This post was written by JohnStanton on September 12, 2009