Urban Hike: Point Bonita Lighthouse

Wow, what a day it was yesterday. Gorgeous and clear! It was pretty cold at my house, but once I got to the north end of town on my journey it really wasn’t all that bad. In fact, I was peeling off layers before too long.

I wanted to try something a little farther from home for one of my Urban Hikes this time. Highlight a spot a bit farther away than the parks in walking distance from my house. I’d recently read another blog post about the Muni 76x bus and its journey to the Marin Headlands and thought that would make an excellent excursion. A couple of weeks ago there was a TV show (California’s Gold) featuring the Point Bonita Lighthouse. I put the two together, and bam, there’s an Urban Hike.

I took the 24 bus north from home out to the end in Pacific Heights, and walked down through Cow Hollow to catch the 76x at Lombard and Fillmore. The bus only runs on weekends, once every hour. At that stop, it arrives right around 12 minutes before the hour. Here’s the schedule for specific stops. The ride out to the end of the line is only about 20 minutes. Shorter than the trip from home to the transfer, actually.

Satellite map of the 76x route.

Satellite map of the 76x route within the headlands.

The bus crosses the Golden Gate Bridge and turns up into the Marin Headlands, winding along the scenic road and dropping over the other side by Rodeo Lagoon and the Marine Mammal Center. Note to self to check out the Marine Mammal Center someday. They resuscitate injured and wayward seals and the like for release back into the wild. Cool place. On the map it shows the bus route making a southern extension to the Point Bonita Lighthouse before backtracking and heading to the westernmost terminus at Fort Cronkhite, on the lagoon. The bus did not make that lower loop, instead heading right for Cronkhite. I asked the driver what’s up yo, and he mumbled something about the other road being closed for roadwork. I walked it later, and there was no such roadwork to be seen, and cars were driving it a-plenty. Ended up with the same driver on the way home and called him on it, and he mumbled unintelligibly. I think it’s a typical case of a muni driver pulling an Eric Cartman “I do what I want” maneuver.

Playing with some different types of galleries. Bear with me. Each has the same click-through abilities… The first gallery is home-to-headlands shots. Sorry for the glare on the bus window. 🙂

No biggie, though. I was out to hike, and hike I did. Had I gone right to the lighthouse stop I would have missed a lot. As it was, I got off at Cronkhite and headed off across the beach. The parking lot is full of lots of hot surfers changing in and out of wetsuits. A must-see. The beach is fine gravel, and you sink with every step. Much like walking on snow. It was slow going, even at water’s edge where it’s usually more compact, and my legs felt the delicious burn by the time I reached the cliffs on the far side. Lots of people were out on the beach with picnics and/or dogs. Beautiful spot. Bucolic setting.

The views from the headlands are amazing! You can see all the way out to the Farallones Islands on a clear day. Immediately offshore the water is about 80 feet deep on average, but a couple hundred feet out is a shallower area (about 20 feet deep) called the Potato Patch Shoals. The water’s a little choppier there, and very distinctive. The old potato boats coming down from Point Reyes would sometimes bottom-out here and wreck, thus the name. The shoals run along the lip of the submerged portion of the San Andreas Fault.

Crossing the headlands you see many, many “hidden” WWII bunkers and gun turrets. This was once a heavily militarized zone to protect San Francisco, even going back to the Civil War. It’s pretty cool how many ruins there are to explore. There’s even a Nike Missile silo underground that offers tours sometimes, but I didn’t do that part.

Passing a YMCA (!) you finally come to the lighthouse parking lot. There’s only room for half a dozen cars, so it’s better to park farther down the road and walk up. The hike from the parking lot is about half a mile, and very very steep in parts. Coming back up the hill, it’s nice to get behind someone with a good butt for an enjoyable view, cuz it’ll be at eye level when they’re about five feet in front of you. That’s how steep it is.

You cross little wooden bridges and go through a hand-hewn tunnel through the mountainside, ultimately crossing a wooden suspension bridge before coming to the lighthouse itself. There are docent-led tours of the lighthouse on weekends, but even without, it’s a beautiful trip. The lighthouse is only open on weekends, so check the schedule here for more info, or print out this pdf brochure about it. From the tip you can see gorgeous views of the SF skyline, and up and down the coast. You can even see my beloved Alcatraz under the bridge! You’ll pass beautiful pillow basalts (fascinating, if you’re a geology buff), and see Harbor Seals sunning on the rocks below.

After the lighthouse I explored an old bunker right next to the parking lot. What looked just like a little bump of a hill had some vents on top of it, so I knew there was more to it. A little exploration turned up a sort of hidden staircase through the shrubbery. There was a tunnel into the berm, and a decrepit concrete building with lots of phenomenal graffiti. What fun! Then, it was off down the “closed” road to get back to the bus home…

It’s an excellent day trip out there, and so easy by bus! It’s phenomenal scenery, and it would have been amazing to live in one of the historic Army houses along the cliffs. Really worth the effort to go for an Urban Hike.

4 responses to “Urban Hike: Point Bonita Lighthouse

  1. Pingback: Urban Hike: Yerba Buena Island | boZannical Gardens

  2. Pingback: Urban Hike: Mt. Tamalpais | boZannical Gardens

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