San Francisco: Marin Headlands

Marin Headlands Lookout

As you may be aware, there was a severe atmospheric river that brought a huge downpour and strong winds to the Bay Area around January 7th. Unfortunately, the weather delayed our flight several hours and we spent our first day in SF driving throughout the city in a Zipcar. In and of itself, the Zipcar was an excellent way to see the city, despite the weather. We made sure to take advantage of the clear days though!

“Fog rises and surprises, winds strafe the bridge. Light streams through the mist, revealing construction in cross-section. Hawk hill is your in, the cliffs are your out. Brakes become useless as tires start screeching.”       – Alex Valoman

Marin Headlands Recap 


On Monday, we were lucky enough to have some partial sun! After renting a bike from Rapha (more on this in another post), we took a Zipcar over the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Marin Headlands. We parked at the end of the bridge, near the entrance to Conzelman Road. This road leads up to the iconic “Hawk Hill” where the vistas are truly breathtaking. It was really nice to have my girlfriend and puppy there. We had a chance to take pictures, my girlfriend captured some footage of me on the bike, and my dog seemed to love the area! There were spots to park every half mile or so, which was neat to have places to regroup and take in the view along the climb.

The Hawk Hill ascent was approximately 1.6 miles long with an average grade of 6%. The median time to climb was around 19 minutes, 30 seconds. My first attempt took a little over 21 minutes, but I was very content with taking in the scenery instead of trying to power through. The first part of Conzelman is relatively steep (about a 12.4% grade that settles into ~10% grade). Well, what I considered to be steep, until I tried riding up a 22% grade in the Russian Hill district of SF!


Hawk Hill Marin Headlands


Overall, with brief stops to enjoy the views, the Hawk Hill climb wasn’t bad at all. I remember reading somewhere, “the worst part of this ride would be the best part of your ride elsewhere.” That’s really true – the raw nature, combined with the sweeping curves, were breathtaking. After reaching the top of Hawk Hill, the iconic -18% descent comes into view. Remnants of the previous day’s torrential rain made for a very slick slope. I pretty much had to keep lightly on the brakes for most of the descent.


Marin Headlands Hawk Hill Descent


At one point, the narrow 23mm tires locked up and I went into a split second whip-skid. Definitely a bit nerve-wracking! The -18% grade, combined with that larger distance from saddle to drops, made this bike feel like a rocket! As the road leveled out, I could see the Point Bonita lighthouse approaching in the distance. We stopped there, but saw that the lighthouse itself was closed, so we returned through Field Road (onto Bunker Road). The Bunker Road tunnel was closed due to flooding, unfortunately, so we had to take the detour via McCollough Road to lead us back to the traffic roundabout on Conzelman Road.


Marin Headlands Bike Marking


Marin Headlands


Marin Headlands Point Bonita
Approaching Point Bonita Lighthouse



Marin Headlands Point Bonita 2


Conzelman Marin Headlaands

Returning over the GGB


At this point, I figured it would be a good idea to ride over the Golden Gate and meet up with my girlfriend and dog over by Baker Beach. As expected, tourists were all over the place on the GGB, but it wasn’t AS bad as I expected. Perhaps I’m too used to tourists using the 8th avenue bike lane as an extended sidewalk, haha. From there, riding through Presidio was inspiring. It’s difficult to put into words, but the clearly marked bike routes, the windblown trees, and the dramatic cliffs were gorgeous.


Golden Gate SF Side
SF side of Golden Gate bike path


Marin Headlands


All in all, the Marin Headlands were incredible and I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to ride through the alluring landscape. I’m looking forward to my next trip to SF, during a non-rainy season! There’s really so much to say about Cycling in SF, as you may know, I’m dedicating a series of posts during this NYC winter to talk about different unique elements that I perceived during my trip to SF.


SF Marin Headlands Outer Sunset
Back in Outer Sunset!



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