San Francisco’s coastal regions offer the perfect antidote to civilization — places where fresh air and nature abounds and strands of sand invite vigorous hikes or meditative ambles along the water’s edge. Here are some of the best ocean view hikes in Marin County, plus one that gives you a full view of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge from the other side.
Photo Credit: Ben Davidson
Tennessee Valley Trail
Level: Easy — 3.4 miles
This popular 3.4 mile out-and-back hike brings you through a lovely valley in the Marin Headlands to a small cove flanked by massive coastal cliffs. From the large, free parking area you follow a paved and dirt road on a slightly rolling route to picnic perfect Tennessee Cove. Be sure to ascend the short but steep trail near the beach to an overlook for stellar ocean and city views. The route is mostly exposed (no shade) but is frequently overcast and foggy. In late spring and early summer, native wildflowers decorate the route and deer and red-tailed hawks are commonly seen.
Level: Moderate — 3 miles
Start this scenic walk at Sausalito’s Fort Baker, where there’s ample free parking near the Discovery Museum. Just past the fishing pier on Horseshoe Cove, ascend a car-free paved road, pass under the Golden Gate Bridge, then take a short connecting trail from the northwest parking area to Conzelman Road. Follow the trail on the road’s shoulder a short distance to Battery Spencer (a historic seacoast defense site) and world-famous views of the bridge from the Marin side. A dirt fire road descends from Battery Spencer for about a mile to Kirby Cove, with its breathtaking views of the city and the bridge. Picnic on the beach before returning the way you came for a remarkable four-mile walking adventure on the Golden Gate coast.
Marshall Beach Trail
Level: Moderate — 2.4 miles
This secluded, scenic beach near the base of the Golden Gate Bridge (on the San Francisco side) is one of the City’s greatest coastal secrets. At low tide, it’s perfect for picnicking, photography, birdwatching and beach-strolling. Park in a large dirt parking lot near the trailhead to Batteries to Bluff trail and make a steep descent to Marshall’s Beach. You might see migrating gray whales in winter and humpbacks in summer and seabirds abound year-round on this rugged coast. Return via the parking area by following the trail to the south of the beach to complete a two-mile loop.
Stinson Beach Trail
Level: Easy — 4 miles
A Bay Area favorite, Marin County’s Stinson Beach invites meditative strolls along the ocean shoreline. You can park in the large, free state park lots and take off on a four-mile roundtrip walk along the water’s edge, taking in views of the wide and wild Pacific Ocean and verdant Bolinas Ridge rising steeply up the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais. To the south you can see views of San Francisco and the community of Bolinas to the northwest.
Coyote Ridge Trail to Muir Beach
Level: Moderate — 5.2 miles
You know how they say it’s not about the destination, but the journey? Well, step aside clichés because this trail gives you both a journey AND a destination. How does walking under the shade of eucalyptus trees sound? A picnic at Muir Beach without the chore of parking in it’s infamously small lot? Did we mention coastal views on 80 percent of the trail? C’mon, tell us that’s not the perfect weekend hike. To be transparent, there is a slight caveat, if you’re not feeling a good glute workout. The hike back from Muir Beach to the trailhead is a good 1,300 feet up — everyone feels it a little — but set your own pace and you’ll ride the high of this trail’s crazy beautiful view. Go for a picnic, catch some rays and mosey on back for a well-deserved beer in Tam Junction.