Hikes

A Beautiful Beacon: Point Bonita Lighthouse

Nestled among the golden rolling hills of the Marin Headlands, Point Bonita Lighthouse, the last manned lighthouse on the Pacific Coast, continues its stalwart mission to guide ships to safe passage in the Golden Gate straits.

Before heading to the lighthouse trailhead, we took a short side trip to Battery Mendell in Fort Barry. Now a canvas for colorful graffiti, this was one of five powerful batteries constructed as part of the fort’s seacoast fortification.

Vivid wildflowers grace the cliffs along the steep, half mile hike to the lighthouse.

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Other sights along the way include the ruins of a historic Coast Guard rescue station and harbor seals taking a time-out on the rocks in Point Bonita Cove.

The hand-carved rock tunnel leading to the lighthouse is only open during visiting hours on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., so plan your trip accordingly.

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Located on a rock formation away from the main land, a suspension bridge is needed to get to the lighthouse. Up until 1940, lighthouse keepers could scramble to the lighthouse without a bridge, but erosion soon caused the trail to crumble into the sea.

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Point Bonita is the only lighthouse in America that can be reached by a suspension bridge.

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Built in 1855, the lighthouse is now maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, and the original second order French Fresnel lens is still in use.

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The high vantage point of the lighthouse offers scenic ocean vistas and great whale-watching. Even though it was past the gray whale migration season (typically from December to May), we saw many spouts and as many as three whales breaching at a time!

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In addition to wild beauty and rich history, spectacular views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge is also on proud display along this coastal hike.

IF YOU GO:

  • Location: Point Bonita Lighthouse in the Marin Headlands
  • Directions: From San Francisco, take Hwy 101 northbound across the Golden Gate Bridge. Exit Alexander Avenue; bear right. Follow Alexander Avenue for 0.2 miles; turn left onto Bunker Road. On Bunker Road, pass through one way Baker-Barry Tunnel. Follow Bunker Road for 3 miles; turn left on Field Road. Follow Field Road for 0.8 miles to Point Bonita parking lot and trailhead. Walk the half-mile trail to the lighthouse.
  • Level: Moderate (short but uphill hike)
  • Attractions: Historic lighthouse, wildflowers, views of San Francisco Bay, harbor seals, whale-watching
  • Note: The lighthouse is only open Friday-Sunday, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. To experience the lighthouse at night, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy offers a sunset/full moon walk every month. Reservations required. Check out their calendar for details.
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