Take in lagoon, dune, and ocean views en route to 19th-century lighthouse.
Any day of the week you can enjoy most of the 4.5-mile round-trip stroll from Rodeo Lagoon to Point Bonita Lighthouse. To experience the pièce de résistance, though, the Point Bonita Lighthouse, schedule this walk on a Sunday or Monday. Between 12:30 pm and 3:30 pm on those days the tunnel that accesses the short suspension bridge to the lighthouse is open.
Rodeo Lagoon and Beach
Begin on the Rodeo Lagoon Trail Loop at the Marin Headlands Visitor Center (pick up the trail at the west end of the visitor center’s parking lot, to the right of the restrooms) and walk west toward Rodeo Beach. The path deposits you at the beach; continue toward the ocean another 200 feet to an unmarked trail that leads south (left) up a dune dense with iceplant and rich with Pacific and lagoon views.
Dune w/View, Lighthouse w/Better One
At a few points the dune trail gets close to the cliff edge; if this makes you nervous, look for paths through the iceplant a bit more inland. Catch your breath on the bench atop the lagoon, then continue to the parking lot for Battery Alexander. Turn right (west) on Field Road to get to the lighthouse.
Off to War
Backtrack from the lighthouse to the decaying but atmospheric Battery Mendel, just off Field Road north of the Point Bonita parking lot. The views from atop the battery are great. Follow Field Road past the Historic Nike Missile Site back to the visitor center.
Saturday Missile Site Option
Fascinating tours of the missile site, part of the U.S. missile defense system during the Cold War, take place on Saturday afternoon from 12:30 to 3:30. Confirm at the visitor center (or call 415-331-1540) that tours are taking place; weather or other issues can cause last-minute closures.
Rodeo Lagoon to Point Bonita Lighthouse Details
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate.
Why locals love it: Varied lagoon views; shorebirds; ocean; lighthouse; battery.
Cut to the chase: Field Road travels between the visitor center and the lighthouse trailhead; you’ll miss the lagoon and dune trails, but you’ll save about 1.5 miles.
Reward yourself: Have a snack or a meal at the Farley Bar at Cavallo Point in Fort Baker. From the Marin Headlands Visitor Center take Bunker Road east through the tunnel under U.S. 101; after emerging from the tunnel, turn left onto Bunker Road East and follow signs to the lodge.
The easiest way to visit the headlands is by car. If coming from San Francisco on a weekend or holiday, Muni 76x Marin Headlands Express bus is an option. The bus will get you partway up Conzelman Road and to the Marin Headlands Visitor Center and Rodeo Beach.
If heading north from San Francisco: Just after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, take the Alexander Avenue exit, continuing right at the fork for a quarter mile before turning left onto Bunker Road. The tunnel under the freeway is one lane; the wait for cars going in your direction usually isn’t more than 10 minutes. The visitor center (follow signs) is about 3 miles from the tunnel entrance, and the beach is about a mile farther.
If heading south on U.S. 101 from anywhere in Marin: Take the Alexander Avenue exit (the last one before the Golden Gate Bridge) and immediately turn right, following the brown sign that reads Marin Headlands Tunnel Route. You’ll make the same left turn described above off Alexander Avenue to Bunker Road before passing through the one-lane tunnel and continuing to the visitor center or the beach.
948 Fort Barry, Sausalito 94965
More Hikes Locals Love
Battery Mendell to Battery Townsley
Coastal Trail to Bass Lake and Alamere Falls
Coastal, Wolf Ridge, Miwok Trails Loop
East Peak Mount Tamalpais
Mount Tamalpais Muir Woods Loop
Olompali State Park
Rodeo Lagoon Trail Loop
Roy’s Redwoods Open Space Preserve
Steep Ravine to Matt Davis Loop
Tule Elk Preserve
This story first appeared online in 2017; it was fact-checked and updated in 2020.