Escape from San Francisco
Rodeo Beach a fun, affordable California day trip
RODEO BEACH, Calif. – It’s easy to relax into a California groove when I’m perched on a log, devouring a beefy sandwich and watching surfers get tossed into the air by the Pacific Ocean. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch movement that turns out to be two little kids scaling a cliff. They’re intercepted by a park ranger, whose flailing indicates she’s telling them that’s dangerous. They scamper off.
As much as my husband and I love San Francisco, we’re always looking for ways to escape into nature for a bit without spending much money. Rodeo Beach, a small cove in the Marin Headlands and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, provides a perfect, effortless respite.
And it’s cheap because we got here on the bus. The 45-minute ride on the San Francisco Muni system’s 76X Marin Headlands Express, available hourly on Saturdays and Sundays, costs just $2.75 each way.
We caught the bus at Sutter and Leavenworth streets, just two blocks up the street from our home for the week, Hotel Carlton. We caught an online deal and paid only $127 nightly at this good business hotel, far less than its standard rate. The Joie de Vivre hotel recently added a $17.47 amenity fee, which basically is the hotel going back to charging for Wi-Fi. There’s no fitness center, pool or spa, and the restaurant is open for breakfast only. (We were given four $5-off coupons to use for breakfast as a sort-of apology for the amenity fee.) There’s a 5 p.m. daily half-hour of free wine in the lobby, though, with live local music, and the staff here is one of the city’s best.
The bus stop is right in front of a takeaway sandwich spot called Bite, where we bought immense sandwiches to enjoy at the beach. Mine, the Mama Mia, overflowed with coppa salami, ham, provolone and pesto. My husband opted for the Chickenapolis, with chicken, feta, cucumber, olives and balsamic.
The bus arrived, and we were off on a head-swiveling 45-minute trip past the Palace of the Fine Arts (a much-photographed remnant of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition) and over the Golden Gate Bridge. This bus used to make a stop on the other side of the bay so everyone could pile out and take photos of the city skyline then dash back on, but, sadly, that doesn’t happen anymore. At least we got to see the skyline as we wound our way into the headlands, then back into the valley that holds Fort Cronkhite and Rodeo Beach. The address is Sausalito, but it’s on the Pacific Ocean, on the other side of U.S. 101 from that Sausalito, and the bus doesn’t stop in the town.
We arrived at the parking lot that serves both the beach and, right next to it, Fort Cronkhite, a former World War II military installation now surrounded by many hiking trails.
You can check out the former wood-frame barracks and other structures of the fort where the U.S. stood ready to defend against enemies who never arrived on our shores. These days, the National Park Service inhabits the buildings. So, here’s where we let you know that if the federal government is closed, so are these buildings, and so are the restrooms. I’d choose a day when the government is open.
There’s an easy trail that directly overlooks Rodeo Beach, and that one’s great for its vista over the Pacific. There’s also a 45-minute, harder, very vertical trail that takes you up to see Battery Townsley, a 1940 gun installation complete with concrete crew quarters. Fort Cronkhite was closed after the war, but its buildings were used for training in subsequent conflicts.
In the late 1970s, the fort’s land housed one of 300 Nike missile sites throughout the country. Those sites were closed by 1974. This one remains as the only site you can tour, reachable by one of the trails. It’s open only on Saturdays between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m., and on the first Saturday of each month veterans of Project Nike are around to tell their stories.
Also at Fort Cronkhite is a Marine Mammal Center where rescued animals are kept and rehabilitated so they can return to the ocean. Like everything else here, it’s free to visit. Depending on the time of year, you’re likely to see seals, seal pups or sea lions.
When you’re through hiking and exploring, there’s the beach, perfect for a picnic, cavorting with dogs and, of course, surfing. When you’re done, hop the bus back to San Francisco.
IF YOU GO
The bus to Rodeo Beach: sfmta.com/routes/76x-marin-headlands-express
Rodeo Beach and Fort Cronkhite: nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/focr.htm. This park is free to visit.
Bite, 912 Sutter St., San Francisco
Hotel Carlton, 1075 Sutter St., San Francisco, Calif., bit.ly/2O69SWu