updated on March 18th, 2021
If you’re considering renting a car for a short day trip, or forking out the money for an extended Uber tour, this is a must-see. In fact, if you weren’t considering renting a car for a day or hiring an Uber for longer drive, you should definitely rethink your plans and do this drive.
Start by heading north across the Golden Gate Bridge. Just after the bridge you’ll be exiting a quarter mile after Vista Point at Alexander Avenue. After your exit, stay in the left lane and make a left on Alexander, which heads under the freeway. Just before getting back on the 101, make a right turn on Conzelman Road. Here’s the sights, in order, that you should see on your Marin Headlands drive:
Just a third of a mile up Conzelman Road you’ll find the parking area for Battery Spencer, arguably the most popular spot to view the Golden Gate Bridge. Named after the revolutionary war hero Joseph Spencer, this was the site of three M1888 12″ guns. While the guns were active from 1897 to 1942, you’ll now only find their concrete housings and an absolutely incredible view of the Golden Gate. If you can, plan to visit on a weekday as the crowds will be thinner.
History buffs can find more information on Battery Spencer here.
Once you’ve gotten that primo photo to post to Instagram, get back in the car and continue further up Conzelman Road.
Driving the Marin Headlands on your trip to San Francisco? Make sure you bring Lonely Planet’s Guide to San Francisco. Use coupon code BOLDTOURIST10 at checkout to get 10% off your order!
Vista Point & Nike Missile Control Site
Vista Point, San Francisco will be our first of a few Nike Missile Sites along your drive of the Marin Headlands, San Francisco. This spot in particular offers some of the most incredible aerial views of downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. This Nike Missile Launch site operated from 1955 to 1977 with its counterpart SF-87CS located later in the drive near Fort Cronkhite.
Continue down the one-way Conzelman Road.
Unless you stop and get out of your car, this battery will be seen as three large concrete structures from Conzelman Road. Active through WWI and WWII from 1905 to 1948, it’s hard to escape the feeling of driving straight through history. Which you absolutely are. More history on Battery Rathbone-McIndoe can be found here.
Follow Conzelman Road at your leisure for 4 miles until it intersects with Field Road, and turn left.
Point Bonita Lighthouse
We’re turning left on Field Road, which is a quick detour. You’ll find Battery Mendell and a potential hike to Point Bonita Lighthouse. Watching over the entrance to the San Francisco Bay, the lighthouse was built in 1855 and was the third lighthouse in the US on the West Coast. The hike is a half mile and can get quite steep in parts, so bring some good shoes.
While you’re out here, you’ll see a short turnoff to Battery Mendel. One of the first battery sites built on Fort Barry, today Battery Mendell offers some picnic tables for lunch and coastal sites to take in.
After these spots, head back to Conzelman Road and continue the Marin Headlands drive.
Nike Missile Control Site SF-88
Passing through here may not seem all that interesting, given what you have already driven past, but this site houses the only completely restored Nike Missile Site in the country. This site also offers a small museum and tours. Hours and information can be found here. If there are any military buffs in your group, it’s highly recommended to stop and take a quick peek at the museum.
Rodeo Lagoon, Beach, and Cove
When Field Road (what you’ve been on) intersects with Bunker Road, take a left. You’ll be following Rodeo Lagoon towards Rodeo Beach.
There are no views of the Golden Gate or the City here, making it feel even more like it’s own completely unique place. Rodeo Beach is a popular site for locals to scavenge for sea glass and other treasures that wash up on the beach after a storm.
Fort Cronkhite, next to Rodeo Beach, is a former WWII military post. The old mess houses and barracks are now used by the National Parks Service as offices. From here you can hike the coastal trail to Battery Townsley, go bird watching at the Lagoon, or explore the many miles of backcountry coastal trails.
Nearby is the Marine Mammal Center, an animal hospital for all sorts of creatures near the San Francisco Bay.
Finishing the drive
Return to Field Road, heading east, until it intersects Bunker Road. This is the intersection you came from earlier when you turned off from Field Road. Go straight through the intersection, continuing to head east. Bunker Road will take you up to and through the historic Baker-Barry tunnel. This tunnel passes under the mountain and will bring you all the way back around to Alexander Avenue, where you started from. You can jump back on the 101 to cross the bridge to downtown, head down to Fort Baker (our suggestion), make your way to Sausalito, or continue heading north for an extended day drive to Point Reyes and Drakes Beach.
If you’re looking for an amazing view, we highly recommend a quick stop at Fork Baker. This is where you’ll get a perfect photo of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the area nearby is serene.
You can find our Google Maps guide to the Marin Headlands drive here.