I don’t usually stop at Golden Gate National Recreation Area when I’m traveling up the coast since I grew up in the area and have seen the scenes many times. But sometimes when I’m crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, I see a view that I’ve never seen before. That is what happened on an early morning drive on March 6 when the sun was peaking through storm clouds highlighting the Bay Bridge. I took the exit and drove to the top of Hawk Hill, with the above photo being the result. I’m glad I stopped. Click on image to enlarge it.
While nearly everyone that visits San Francisco makes sure to visit the Golden Gate bridge, they often miss the other scenic areas of Golden Gate national Recreation Area that they certainly would want to see if they were a little better informaed and knew were just a few miles away. One of these is the Point Bonita lighthouse and hike.
While the main goal of doing the short hike to make your way to Point Bonita Lighthouse and the new Point Bonita lighthouse bridge, you should certainly slow down a bit and not make a beeline for the lighthouse. Taking your time will allow you to take advantage of the beautiful sights along the way. There are plenty of gorgeous views of the California coastline at the Marin Headlands, along with an abundance of wonderful plant life and trees which make for some incredible photographic opportunities:
This includes some beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge that many visitors to San Francisco never see:
The trail definitely is not flat with a hill that you descend (and thus must climb back up on the way out), bit it is paved and is wheelchair accessible:
In addition to the beautiful views, there is also the opportunity to see wildlife such as harbor seals basking on the rocks just offshore below the cliffs:
Toward the end of the trail you reach a tunnel that you must go through to reach Bonita lighthouse. When the lighthouse is open to the public (Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM), the tunnel is open. When the lighthouse is closed, there is a steel door that blocks you from entering which also means that you can’t see the lighthouse even from a distance:
Once you make it through the tunnel, you emerge to see this breathtaking sight:
If you have the opportunity to visit San Francisco, make sure that you give yourself at least a full day to explore some of the lesser known areas of Golden Gate National Recreation Area…
If you are looking for a beautiful and unique view of the Golden Gate Bridge, you definitely want to head to Hawk Hill in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. When driving north, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and take the Alexander Avenue exit which is immediately after the Golden gate Bridge Vista Point turnout where you park to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. After exiting, turn left and go under the highway. You will then make a right onto Conzelman Road. It’s a fairly steep road and the turn is the first right hand turn yo can make.
There are number of pullouts and parking stops along the road which all offer spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Hawk Hill is at the very of the hill (approximately a mile up). You’ll go around a small roundabout as you make your way to Hawk Hill and you have reached it when the two-way road turns into a one-way road. Here are a few photos taken from Hawk Hill.
After a two year wait, people can once again visit the Point Bonita lighthouse located in Golden Gate National Recreation Area via a newly built $1 million dollar, 132-foot-long bridge which spans rocky cliffs to the lighthouse. The old bridge became unsafe and the lighthouse was closed to the public until this new span could be built.
The sparkling white, narrow bridge is a much safer replica of the previous bridge and was built to withstand the high winds that frequent the area. The former bridge had a two-person limit before it became unsafe and was closed while the new bridge tops out at 50 people.
While the new bridge is built to last 50 years, it won’t be for everyone. For those that like their bridges solid and sturdy, this probably isn’t the bridge for you. When I visited the winds were in the mid to high teens and there was a sway and bounce as I crossed. With rocky cliffs below, it might also be a challenge for those with a great fear of heights. The national park volunteer who was monitoring the flow of people across the span said the bridge would remain open to visitors crossing as long as the wind remained under 27 miles per hour.
While the Coast Guard is in charge of operating and maintaining Point Bonita lighthouse, the National Park Service manages the lighthouse for visitors. The lighthouse is currently open to the public three days a week (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) from 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM (there is a tunnel that you must walk through before you reach the bridge and lighthouse — this door is closed promptly at 3:30 so you will miss seeing both completely if you are even a minute late)
Many of those who visit focus on the Golden Gate bridge and miss this incredible gem that is only a few miles away. It is one to definitely add to your list if you happen to be in the area visiting: