There’s something purely magical in looking at San Francisco from across the Golden Gate Bridge in the Marin Headlands! You know the hustle and bustle is all right there, but you can’t hear it and you are truly astounded by the beautiful blend of nature and city and immediately think, “wow, rent check worth it!”
We lucked out with a seriously sunny and warm late January day. Arriving at lunch time, we traveled through the one-lane tunnel straight up to Battery Wallace where the kids could stretch their legs and we could eat at the picnic tables while watching ships and kayakers come in and out of the Bay. There were several tables, barbecues for you to use, grassy areas, clean restrooms and parking right there. I haven’t been to a more scenic picnic spot in all my life.
After lunch we headed to Point Bonita Lighthouse. Open Saturday – Monday from 12:30 – 3:30PM, the lighthouse is a half-mile hike from the trailhead (which was probably a quarter-mile downhill from the picnic area). It’s in full sun and it’s steep in places on the way back, but absolutely doable for both young and old (or even people in high-heels and dresses) and has several points where you can move aside and rest on a bench and enjoy the view or read a little history about the place or the wildlife in the waters below. The path gets more narrow and goes from paved to dirt, winding you down thru a hand-hewn rock tunnel to the suspension bridge that, somewhat terrifyingly, leads you out to the lighthouse.
The best way to end this beautiful day is relaxing on the beach. Walking on after you get back to the beginning of the trailhead, you will pass the YMCA on your left and come to a parking lot from which you can take the short 0.2 mile South Rodeo Beach Trail down to Rodeo Cove. Here you can enjoy surfers, people fishing, dogs playing and the birds and ducks in Rodeo Lagoon.
Marin Headlands offers everything: stunning views, hiking/biking/running trails, camping, beaches, wildlife, history. It’s good for your spirit, it’s like a cleanse. You see the city in a different light, different than the fast-paced work life you experience there and you just shake your head in disbelief at the beauty you’re lucky enough to be a part of.
Anyone have any favorite trails here? We will definitely be going back soon for more!
Ok, I know not everyone is a golf fanatic who walks around Pebble Beach golf course grinning ear-to-ear, imagining all the greats who have walked these paths and dreaming of what it feels like on tournament weekends, but it certainly is one of the many remarkable things the 17-Mile Drive has to offer. Here are 17 reasons why the 17-Mile Drive makes a perfect day trip that you will never get sick of and the kiddos will ask to repeat!
- This stunning drive will illuminate you from the core as you make your way to one picturesque stop after another along the Pacific Coast. From the ocean front mansions, pristine golf courses, to the wind-sculpted cypress trees, varying coastline and harbor seals, your camera roll will have a significantly higher number of photos after this trip and you will leave feeling refreshed and reminded of how lucky you are.
- While you could conseivably do this drive in 20 minutes, you can also spend an entire day here. There have been times, especially in the winter, when we have mismanaged the amount of time we have spent at each stop and were left racing against time to get make it to Carmel Beach (more one this later) to watch the sunset.
- And speaking of spending the whole day here, did I mention it will cost you only $10 for this day of bliss? You must pay an entrance fee, as Pebble Beach is a private community. And of course there are restaurants, pubs, carryouts and golfing all along the way where you could spend money as well, but you will have an amazing time without adding any of those, I promise!
- Kids love exploring the many stops along the way, like China Rock and Bird Rock, where they can climb rocks, for some of which you’ll definitely want to be within arms reach. It’s pretty special to see the pride they feel in daring to place their hand and foot just there and successfully climb up and down these jagged rocks. This is the stuff that helps wire their brains differently and gives them the confidence to get all they can out of nature.
- There’s a little cove down over such rocks at Bird Rock that is sometimes filled with little seashells. My children could spend hours here searching them all, collecting ones of all different shapes, sizes and colors. Other times, this area is sandy and the waves can chase you in and out of it, which of course I’d only feel comfortable recommending with supervision and only for older children (mine were 5 and 7) who are swimmers, but is sure to elicit squeals of delight.
- Kick off your shoes and sink your feet into some sand! As Midwest natives, we vacationed on the East Coast a lot, which meant long and wide beautiful sandy beaches and bathtub-warm water. So anytime we can run around on a sandy beach here in Nor Cal, we get pretty excited. There are several little beaches to do just that along the drive. The picnic area at Seal Rock has a sandy beach sitting below it that has a little stream that has carved the beach into two. As the waves come in and out, this stream can be pretty deep. As it’s wider than possible for the kids to jump across, this is the spot my children love to be daredevils and try not to get swept away or soaking wet as they dart back and forth. I like to sit back and give myself a bit of pedicure, rubbing my feet in the sand, and smile at their laughter.
- Speaking of picnic areas, we always pack our lunch and snacks and sit down and eat along the way because there’s nothing like eating while watching the waves with no real place to go. We typically eat lunch at the picnic tables at Spanish Bay and then snack at Seal Rock.
- And while you’re eating your lunch with no worries in the world you can look upon all the wildlife in the area. From chasing the birds at Bird Rock, listening to the seals barking at Seal Rock or reading about them and observing them at Cypress Point Lookout, to spotting all the deer on the golf courses, the kids never get tired of finding all the animals who call this place home.
- I’ve been to many beautiful places in the world, but I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere as tranquil as The Lone Cypress. The water is like glass in it’s calm and the sun hits it just so that you feel immediate relaxation and every time I’m there the crowds are so silent. There’s also a meditative little deck perched down below that makes a great spot for eating a snack, cuddling while staring into the never ending distance or having the kids burn off some more energy on the stairs.
- Yet, a stop at Point Joe lets you also see the turbulent side of the sea. Maybe that’s what makes the contrast at the Lone Cypress so comforting.
- Whether you’re feeling calm or restless, you and the kids will have fun gawking at the ocean front mansions. It could be the sheer size or the astounding location or even the design like the gingerbread house by Seal Rock, its fun dreaming!
- Lets get back to those trees! There is something so fascinating and haunting about the way the cypress trees have been washed white or shaped by the winds and sea water. The kids will love to walk in the grove and get creeped out at the ghost tree.
- I would love to say I’ve played Pebble Beach, but I’d also love to be able to justify throwing down $500 to suck at a round of golf. Luckily, The Peter Hay course gives you the best of both worlds! This par-3 will cost your just $35 including club rentals (adults, children 12 and under are free)!
- This drive always gives me a sense of nostalgia for those days in my childhood where we would just go for a drive. I feel like nowadays it’s difficult to for children to just look out the window and take the time to let the scenery sink in and make you wonder. Too often they want their electronics to play on in the back seat. But, this drive, with it’s many stops, doesn’t even allow for them to get started with a game, allowing for everyone to be completely present in this experience.
- Because it is an all day experience, uninterrupted by things at home or in a restaurant, because you’re out in nature and have nothing else to do but explore together, this little day trip for me is the epitome of quality time.
- Carmel-By-The-Sea is a darling town at the end of the 17-Mile Drive. It’s a place to eat, look at art, get dessert, shop. This is a continuation of slow down and take it all in and the perfect almost end to the day.
- As for the very end of the day, let the kids run, build structures, chase waves at Carmel Beach. With views of Pebble Beach golf course, a huge sand hill they will run up and town and totally exhausted themselves, and a sunset that everyone stops and watches, this place at this moment will kind of make your heart explode for this area, especially after the day you just spent.
There are many more things I would like to do on the 17-Mile Drive, like listen to the bagpipes at sunset at Spanish Bay and have a drink in the pub at Pebble Beach, but I know we will be back soon!
Let me know some of your experiences or recommendations here! Happy exploring!