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Inside Scoop: Samantha's guide to attractions in the Marin Headlands

Samantha Stones

Samantha Stones, a front desk associate at the Marin Headlands Hostel, was born and raised amidst the golden hills of Petaluma in Sonoma County, California. At the age of 18, she found herself thirsty for travel and took her first backpacking trip in the UK. Her next trip was a yearlong adventure through Southeast Asia and Australia -- in Sydney, she started working at a hostel and discovered a passion for the hostel industry. After a brief stint as a graveyard receptionist at a San Francisco hostel, Samantha joined the Marin Headlands Hostel family, and hasn't looked back. During her free time, Samantha says you can find her,"exploring the many trails of the Marin Headlands, making friends with the local bobcat, shaking my fist at the pesky raccoons, or taking an adventure to the big city where I roam the streets in hopes of becoming a movie star." Here's her guide to places you won't want to miss during a visit to the remarkable Marin Headlands.

Just a short drive from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge lies the beautiful Marin Headlands, part of the National Park lands of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. From the top of Hawk Hill, you can enjoy some of the best views of the City. The Headlands are also home to many nonprofit organizations that open their doors to the public. Plan a visit to our hostel and spend a couple of days exploring these amazing organizations.

Point Bonita Lighthouse 
The hike from the parking lot down to the Point Bonita Lighthouse is fairly short but pretty steep, so be prepared! While you're here you may want to check out Battery Wallace, which is on the other side of the parking lot. It's one of the park's most scenic picnic areas and a good place to take a break during your tour of the park. The coolest part about visiting the Point Bonita Lighthouse is that it's still in use today. As you start the descent to the lighthouse you'll walk between the rocky bluffs of the coast and be greeted with an amazing view of the vast San Francisco Bay. Along the steep path you can stop and read facts about the geology, wildlife, and history of Point Bonita while taking in the view. Once you get to the bottom of the trail, make your way through a short tunnel carved into rock; on the other side stands beautiful Point Bonita. The docent greets you right before you cross the suspended bridge, which lightly bounces in the wind as you cross over to the lighthouse itself. If you want to visit, be sure to plan accordingly as the lighthouse is only open for visitors Saturday - Monday from 12:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. 

The Marine Mammal Center 
This amazing organization rescues and rehabilitates sick and injured marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Center offers docent-led tours for $7 per person where they show you around their facilities and educate people on what the center does. You can also take a free, self-guided visit as well. Stop by and see all the sea lions and seals! 

Headlands Center for the Arts
The Headlands Center for the Arts provides programs for many types of artists (visual artists, performers, musicians, writers, videographers), including an awesome resident program that offers housing for 4-10 weeks in the Headlands. About twice a month they open their doors to the public for an open house or exhibition where you can see what all the artists have been up to. If they don't have an event going on, you can still swing by and check it out during open hours. They even have an organic garden and cook up some killer meals in their mess hall. 

Nike Missile Museum 
If you're into American history, the Nike Missile Museum will definitely be on your to-do list. During the Cold War, the US Army built around 300 Nike missile batteries in the United States. Dubbed SF - 88, the site in the Marin Headlands is the only restored Nike missile site in the entire country. The site is pretty intense-looking when you come up the road and see a completely fenced-off area with military equipment all along the pavement. Once you walk inside though, you are greeted by only smiles. The museum is completely volunteer-run and tours are offered Thursday - Saturday. The guided walking tours explain the history of the site and allow you to see the equipment up close. On the first Saturday of every month, they host an open house where Nike veterans speak about their firsthand experiences at the site. 

Presidio Yacht Club
Although the Presidio Yacht Club is not a nonprofit, it's still worthy of a visit. It's located in Fort Baker along the harbor at Horseshoe Cove. Come here expecting to find a jaunty, nautically-themed dive bar. The Yacht Club has a relaxed vibe and you can enjoy food and cold beverages right at the water's edge, gazing at the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco in the background as the sun goes down. If you come by on a weekend there's often live music, and it's a nice hangout after a long day of hiking. 

This story is part of a series asking hostel staff to share their insider tips and recommendations with travelers. Last time, Becca shared her favorite offbeat events in San Francisco. Before that, Suzu showed us around SF's best bars and dives, and Oak guided us to the top spots to snap photos in the Marin Headlands.

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