The Point Bonita Lighthouse in Sausalito, California was built in 1855 and, at the time, was the third largest lighthouse on the west coast. Part of Point Bonita National Park, the lighthouse is still active and maintained by the coast guard presently. The national park service provides access to the lighthouse to visitors of the Bay Area. A half mile long trail through the largest urban park in America leads up steep cliff side to the lighthouse.

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The gold rush in 1848 turned San Francisco into the Gold Hub, bringing thousands of miners from all over the world to California, hoping to strike it rich. San Francisco went from a small settlement of 900 to a booming town of 20,000 almost overnight. Because of the influx of settlers and miners, a system of lighthouses was created. Three in total were built, one on Alcatraz to show the way in front of the golden gate bridge, another on the edge of the bay, and Point Bonita Lighthouse to show travelers from the south safe passage into the harbor.

The original site of the Point Bonita Lighthouse was 300 feet above sea level. The dense fog, presented a to provide another option of navigational aid so that light was not obscured by the fog. The solution was to acquire a largecannon that would need to be fired every half-hour in when dense fog came upon the coast. Ships complained of not being able to hear the cannon and so a mechanical bell replaced the historic fog signal.

Soon it became clear that none of the fog solutions were working, so a new, lower, location was chosen. Because of rocky terrain making it difficult to provide access to the lighthouse, a tunnel needed to be built that would extend a railway from the landing platform to the fog signal and the light keeper's house. Workmen from China, who had successfully completed other tunneling projects, were brought in to complete the 118 feet tunnel in 1876. Around this time, some remodeling was needed to be done to the original lighthouse. A three room brick structure, was built and brought to the site in orderto support the top half of the structure.

The structure for the steam siren fog symbol was eventually turned into a home for the lighthouse keepers and his family. The lighthouse could once be reached without a bridge, but due toerosion in the 1940s, the trail leading to the lighthouse was washed away into the sea. The solution was a wooden walkway, but that too became treacherous leading to the suspension bridge being built in the early 1950's. Point Bonita lighthouse is the only one in the U.S. that can be reached only by crossing a suspension bridge.

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2.Camp Grounds at Point Bonita

Camp Grounds at Point Bonita
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In the Marin Headlands of Point Bonita, four campgrounds, can be found for those visiting the Lighthouse and State Park. Reservations are required to acquire a camping space and three of the four are open year around.

Bicentennial campground is the most easily accessible campground at the park. The campground is small, with only three sites that allow three campers and one tent on each. Only 100 yard from Battery Wallace parking, this is an ideal spot for visitors who wish to do some sightseeing. The maximum stay is three nights and there are no facilities on these grounds. For water, campers can follow the road another mile to the visitor's center. Campfires are not allowed in this campground.

Hawk Camp Campground is located high above Gerbode Valley and is the most remote of all the campgrounds. There are only three sites, each of which can occupy four people. These sites are perfect for the camper who is there to enjoy the nature and wildlife the park has to offer. Hawk Camp ground can be accessed by hiking with the rugged three-mile Bobcat trail from the visitor's center, or the slightly more traveled Tennessee Valley parking lot trail that is only 2 miles long. Although there are picnic tables and chemical bathrooms available, there are no places to get water. Fires are not allowed on these grounds either, but campers are allowed gas powered stoves to cook. The maximum stay here is three nights per year, and pets are not allowed.

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Things to Do in California: Point Bonita Lighthouse in Sausalito

  • History, Photo: Courtesy of heyengel -
  • Camp Grounds at Point Bonita, Photo: Courtesy of jpldesigns -
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Haypress Campground is located in the Tennessee valley on the north side of the Marin headlands. Only ¾ mile from the parking lot and the largest of the year around grounds, with five sites accommodating four campers in each. The same rules of no fires or pets applies to this ground that also lacks a water resource.

Kirby Cove Campground has limited availability and is open only from April 1st through October 31st. The most popular of the campgrounds, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco is spectacular. Campsites in this area were recently restored and campers can enjoy a more secluded setting. Although reservations are required to secure a site, hikers and visitors are welcome to walk the trails and enjoy the picnic area to see the bluffs, beaches, and vistas.

Military Forts at Point Bonita

There are four Endicott-period army posts at Point Bonita that were built during peace time, after the civil war, but before the Spanish-American war. The Army was instructed to modernize and re-arm all of its coastal fortifications, hence came the batteries and rebuilding of the forts in San Francisco. New and improved housing was built for soldiers, state of the art new weaponry was brought in. The housing included building large houses with stylish, wrap-around porches, columns, and decorative windows. Fort Baker, was also outfitted with a 12 room hospital, fully equipped gymnasium, post exchange, reading room, and bowling alley.

There were four forts in total that can be visited today. Fort Baker, Fort Barry, Fort Mason, and Fort Cronkhite. Visitors can take a cell phone tour of Fort Baker that tells of the history, people, and military presence at the fort, and also the attempts and importance of preserving this history.

There are two different tours offered at Fort Baker. One is a three-mile tour that takes around three hours to complete. Participants have 18 stops to make on this tour that delves deep into the detailed history of the Fort. The second option, is a ¾ mile tour that can be completed in only about an hour. This tour has only 10 stops, with the option of five additional stops that you can make in your vehicle.

Other places of interest

When visiting the lighthouse, there are many other places in the national park that are worth paying a visit to as well.

Alcatraz Island, the infamous United States Prison, is reachable through the National Park and located just south of the golden Gate Bridge.

Muir Woods, or the Redwoods Forrest, is one of the most hiked areas in the world, attracting visitors from many places. These woods were federally protected as a national monument in 1908.

Beaches- there are several beaches along the Point Bonita National Park, it is in California after all. Some of the more popular beaches to visit are China Beach, Baker Beach, and Ocean Beach. The latter is a particularly dangerous beach with high tides that make it an expert surfer's ideal location to catch some big waves. China beach is good place for laying in the sun, beach playtime for the children, and having a picnic. Many people also enjoy visiting the monument to the Chinese fishermen and early residents who camped and sailed along this shore searching for gold. Taking a stroll from China Beach to Baker Beach can uncover many ocean treasures such asstarfish, and other creature that are hidden in the rocky crevices of the cliff walls, or littered along the sandy bank during low tide. Baker Beach is not suitable for swimming due to strong undercurrent and high tides, but this beach is the best place to relax and enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can also find a “Clothing Optional” portion of the Bakers beach on the northwest side.

The Nike Missile sight is of great historical value. A volunteer group has partnered with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, on the never ending task of upkeep onthe only completely restored Nike missile site in the United States, site SF-88L. The venue also serves as a Cold War museum.

The Tennessee Valley is a great place for family hiking, as the trails are more level and the terrain much less rocky than that of the timber and cliffs surrounding the Point Bonita Lighthouse. A large array of wild life can be encounter in these woods from swallows to bobcats, and it is heavily advised not to feed or engage in any way with the wild life. You may even cross paths with a deer, coyote, or raptor in this section of the National Park. This stretch of land is especially beautiful in the spring as it comes alive with poppies, buttercups, blue-eyed grass, and many other beautiful plants and flowers.

Fort Barry, Building 948, Sausalito, CA 94965, Phone: 415 331-1540