One thing that I love about living in San Francisco is how, every now and then, you’ll catch an unexpected view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I also love that there are so many places in the city where you can get unobstructed views of the beautiful bridge. Hawk Hill is one of my favorite places for panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco skyline, the Pacific Ocean, and the Marin Headlands.
While Hawk Hill used to be a bit of a hidden gem, especially as Battery Spencer just south of the hill is one of the most popular places tourists go for an iconic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. However, Hawk Hill is becoming increasingly popular as people seek out less crowded places to view and photograph the bridge.
I also love Hawk Hill because not only do you have a great vantage point for the bridge, but on the other side of the hill, you have an epic view of the Marin Headlands, which is a great place to watch the sunset in San Francisco!
In this post, I’ll share with you everything you need to know about adding Hawk Hill to your San Francisco bucket list, including how to find the nearby black sand beach!
This post contains affiliate links, which means that, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a tiny bit of income if you decide to make a purchase or booking.
San Francisco Travel Resources
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How to Get to Hawk Hill
The easiest way to get to Hawk Hill is by driving!
From San Francisco, you’ll cross the Golden Gate Bridge and take the Alexander Avenue Exit, the first exit after the bridge. You’ll then turn left and pass through a one-way tunnel on Bunker Road. The traffic can back up here, so be patient and only go when the light turns green for you.
Once you pass through the tunnel, you’ll turn left on McCullough Road, which then connects with Conzelman Road. At the traffic circle, go to the right, up the hill. You’ll start to see parking along the side of Conzelman Road, but the main parking lot is at the top of Conzelman Road.
Don’t pass the final parking area at the top of Conzelman Road!
The road turns into a one-lane road that winds through the headlands. While it is a beautiful drive, it will take you a while to make your way back to Hawk Hill once you pass it.
If there is no parking at the top, turn back around and find a legal parking spot on the side of the road. The legal ones have designated white parking lines painted on the road.
Take caution when you’re driving, as this is an incredibly popular area for cyclists, and you’ll have to navigate around them.
Getting to the Top of Hawk Hill
Once you park your car, walk towards and through the tunnel.
Side note: Hawk Hill was once a Nike Missile Site. There are many former bunkers throughout San Francisco. Bunker 149 at the top of Hawk Hill was used for air defense. Large guns were built into the cliff and covered with vegetation to fend off potential threats (that never came).
As you walk through the bunker, you can take the stairs to the right and follow the short trail to the top of the hill or walk through to the other side to see the views of the Headlands. The trail does loop around, so from there, you can join it to the top.
Once you’re at the top of the hill, take some time to explore and find your favorite spot. The further you walk away from the main area, the quieter it will be.
Best Time of Day to Visit Hawk Hill
Hawk Hill is a great place to visit any time of day, but particularly sunrise and sunset are epic.
The sun rises over the San Francisco skyline, slowly illuminating the Golden Gate Bridge.
The sun sets out over the Pacific Ocean, casting a beautiful golden glow over the bridge.
If it’s a foggy day, head to the highest point of Hawk Hill to watch the fog roll in and surround the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s such an iconic sight!
A sunny afternoon is equally beautiful to take in the great view of the bridge, the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and Sutro Tower and watch the boats sail under the bridge. A sunny afternoon is perfect to combine with a hike to the black sand beach and then returning to the top of Hawk Hill for sunset!
Things to Do Near Hawk Hill
Once you’ve spent a sufficient amount of time exploring Hawk Hill, there are a number of things you can do in the area.
Hike to Black Sands Beach
There is a trail at the back of Hawk Hill that leads to a beautiful black sand beach. It’s a 1-mile hike that starts as a series of staircases down the steep slope of the hill. The trail then joins the road, but be cautious when crossing to the other side, where you’ll find a dirt path on the side of the guard rail.
It’s an approximately 30-minute walk to reach the parking lot for black sands beach. From there it’s another 15 minutes down dirt staircases to reach the beach.
I remember being shocked when I found this beach the first time. I always thought I’d have to go to Hawaii or New Zealand to see a black sand beach. Little did I know there was one in my backyard!
When you’re done at the beach, follow the trail in reverse back to Hawk Hill. While a short 1 mile, it is a very steep mile. Your calves and lungs will feel it on the way back so take your time!
If you don’t feel like hiking, you can drive, passing by Hawk Hill onto the one-lane road to the beach.
There is a restroom in the parking lot.
Point Bonita Lighthouse
Continue your drive from black sands beach to Point Bonita Lighthouse.
Point Bonita Lighthouse was the third lighthouse built on the West Coast to help ships navigate their way through the rocky and treacherous waters of the Golden Gate. The lighthouse is still active today.
You can visit the lighthouse Friday through Monday from 12:30-3:30, with the last entry at 3:20. It does close during inclement weather.
There are also sunset tours offered on the first Saturday of every month, which provide a beautiful and unique opportunity to witness the “world’s end”. A $16 ticket purchased in advance is required for the sunset tour.
There is a small parking lot for the lighthouse with a short walk, although steep, down to the tunnel to the lighthouse.
There is a restroom near the parking lot.
Visit Rodeo Beach
If you’re already driving out this way, you may as well continue on into Marin County and see another beautiful beach, Rodeo Beach, which you can see from the top of Hawk Hill.
Rodeo Beach is a beautiful beach with green and red pebbles. Remember, if you find any unique pebbles, follow leave no trace principles and leave them behind.
Rodeo Beach has picnic tables if you’d like to bring snacks!
There is a restroom at the north parking lot that has outdoor showers.
Walk Down to Kirby Cove
Kirby Cove is a small beach with a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge from below. It’s found in between Hawk Hill and Battery Spencer off of Conzelman Rd.
To access Kirby Cove, park on Conzelman Road and walk the steep 1-mile road down to the campground. From there, you’ll find the beach access.
There are day-use sites and campground sites available for a unique overnight stay in the Bay Area.
See the View from Battery Spencer
As mentioned above, Battery Spencer is the more popular place to view the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands.
It will be especially crowded at sunset, but it is a great place to see the bridge. You’ll see a rope that’s meant to block access to the edge of the cliff.
Many people will climb down the perilous cliff for an “epic photo”. Don’t be that person.
I promise you’ll have an epic photo from Battery Spencer from behind the rope!
What to Wear to Visit Hawk Hill
One thing to know about visiting San Francisco is that it is a city of microclimates. The west side of the city near the beach may be covered in fog, while the east side is sunny and warm.
Additionally, I’ve driven across the bridge out of the fog of the city to find a beautiful sunny day awaiting on the other side of it.
However, it can get chilly and windy at the top of the hill.
When you’re packing for San Francisco think of layers and wear them when you visit Hawk Hill, especially if you’re visiting for sunrise or sunset.
Make sure you’re wearing sturdy walking shoes as well. The walking trail to the top is short, but it is dirt and steep. The climb down can be difficult with poor traction on your shoes.
I like wearing my Blundstones for adventures on Hawk Hill.
Safety Tips for Visiting Hawk Hill
Hawk Hill is a very popular place to visit for locals and tourists alike. Unfortunately, that means crime does happen here. Additionally, the Marin Headlands are home to various animals that could potentially cause harm. Plus, the steep drop-offs from the cliffs pose their own danger!
So here’s how to stay safe when visiting Hawk Hill.
- Don’t leave valuables in your car. Honestly, this is a rule for anywhere in San Francisco. Smash and grabs are so common in the city now that even if you don’t have anything in your vehicle, you may still come back to a smashed window. Take anything valuable, all electronics, photography equipment, money, etc with you. It only takes 10 seconds for thieves to smash your window and grab anything left out.
- Be aware of wildlife. The headlands are home to mountain lions, coyotes, and foxes to name a few. While you’ll likely not see them at Hawk Hill due to the amount of people, it’s still possible. Keep your pets on a leash and be aware.
- Stay away from the edge of the cliff, especially on windy and rainy days.
Hawk Hill is a special place in the Bay Area and the best spot to see the Golden Gate Bridge for fewer crowds. I also love that there are hiking trails connecting it to the rest of the headlands. You can easily spend an entire day exploring the area, and I hope you do! It’s one of the most beautiful places in California!