Marin Headlands

Drive north over the the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, turn left, and there's the Marin Headlands, some of the most spectacular scenery on the California coast. From the 101, take Conzelman Road toward Point Bonita Lighthouse for panoramic views of San Francisco and the rocky coast, but allow time to hike the trails, especially in spring, when colorful wildflowers cover the hills.

Marin Headlands Visitor Center - Be sure to stop into the visitor center before you start exploring the headlands. There are exhibits about the early inhabitants - kids can go inside a Miwok bark hut or climb on a saddle like the vaqueros (cowboys). A touch table has antlers and shells, learn about local plants and animals, and rocks that make up the dark sand on the beaches. If the weather is cold and foggy, this is a great place to spend some time; there's also kid's books and puzzles to borrow, tea and comfy chairs.
Point Bonita Lighthouse -Step into the 19th century, when ships were wrecked on the rocks as they tried to sail into San Francisco Bay. Built in 1855 on a precipitous ridge, Point Bonita Lighthouse marked the rocky cliffs at the north side of the entrance to the bay. From the lighthouse, there are panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Part of the fun of visiting the lighthouse is the trail goes through a tunnel in the hillside, hand-hewn by Chinese railroad workers in the 1860's. To reach the lighthouse, you walk over a suspension bridge, high above the crashing waves and rocks below. At the beginning of the trail, down near the old crumbing wooden pier, keep an eye out for groups of harbor seals, lolling on the rocks.
Visit the lighthouse Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 12:30pm - 3:30pm (start up the trail by 3:00pm). The trail to the lighthouse is wide, paved most of the way, strollers are okay. The trail is fenced, but it goes along a straight-down ridge, so don't let kids run on ahead.
Marine Mammal Center - At the Marine Mammal Center, injured animals (mostly sea lions) are rescued, treated and when they're healthy again, released back into the wild. Visit the fish kitchen, where volunteers prepare the fish and medication for the "patients," then see who's in residence. The day we visited, there were young elephant seals, nuzzling each other's noses and barking.
Rodeo Lagoon - There are picnic tables here, but it can be chilly. The beach is beautiful dark sand, but not good for making sand castles, watch out for dog poop, and no wading in the water, either in the lagoon or ocean.
Spring wildflowers - During the spring months, wildflowers bloom in profusion on emerald green hills. Ask at the Visitor Center for best trails to see wildflowers when you visit.
Our favorite trail is the Bobcat Trail , or lower part of the Rodeo Valley Trail . Toddlers can start up both trails, with older kids, hike up the Bobcat Trail through Gerbode Valley to the top of the ridge, take the connector trail across to the Rodeo Valley Trail, then return back down the valley.
Tip: Even when it's bright sun in San Francisco or Sausalito, it can be foggy on the headlands. Bring a jacket or sweatshirt.