Ever wonder who takes care of the seals and other marine mammals that end up stranded on California's coast? Marin's Marine Mammal Center has been on the scene rescuing and caring for sick, injured, malnourished, and abandoned marine mammals—including elephant seals, seal lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and even whales—since 1975.
Located at Fort Cronkhite in the Marin Headlands, the Marin Mammal Center's new $32 million facility opened in the summer of 2009, and offers daily tours and educational activities for the entire family. It's a great destination as an outing on its own, and as a not-to-miss part of a visit to the Headlands.
Admission and self-guided tours are free of charge. Pick up a guide card from the information desk (remember to return it on your way out) and take a look around. At the back of the center you'll find the pools and pens where the Center's patients stay while recovering. The best place to check out the pens and their residents is from the second floor observation area. There are often volunteer docents stationed here who can answer questions about what you're seeing down below in the pens, and who the current patients are. Remember to be quiet here—you're visiting a hospital for sensitive wild animals.
Point Bonita Lighthouse stands sentinel over the Golden Gate, where it's warned ships of the hazards of the Marin's rugged coastline for over 150 years. The lighthouse is only reachable via a trail that passes through a rock-cut tunnel and over a swaying suspension bridge. The bridge was closed in 2010 due to structural stability problems, but the span was entirely rebuilt and is once again open to the public.
A trip to the Point Bonita Lighthouse is a fun family outing and a highlight of a visit to the Marin Headlands. It's also far easier to get to than Marin's other famous lighthouse in Point Reyes, but nearly as dramatic. It's also a great place to take out-of-town guests to check out a piece of San Francisco Bay Area history and take in some breathtaking views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a must-do outdoor adventure for families in Marin and the Bay Area!
Point Bonita Lighthouse was originally built in 1855 on the cliffs above the present site. The light proved difficult for mariners to see at this location, so the lighthouse was moved to its current location in 1877, which necessitated the creation of a 118-foot, hand-dug tunnel for access. The bridge was built in the 1950s, and was designed to reflect the design of its nearby bigger sibling, the Golden Gate Bridge. The lighthouse and fog horn are currently maintained and used by the United States Coast Guard, so it's still an actual functioning light station. Despite the presence of lighthouses at the Golden Gate, there were over 300 shipwrecks here in the 19th century.
With its wind-swept hills, vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean, and wealth of natural wonders and historic sites, the Marin Headlands sounds like the ideal place for a summer camp. Well, in fact, it is—Coastal Camp by Naturebridge offers educational and fun day camps in the Marin Headlands for children entering kindergarten through 9th grade, and partners with the National Park Service and the Marine Mammal Center for some fantastic educational opportunities.
Campers will explore this amazing national park and learn about the area's natural and cultural history, marine mammals, and coastal ecology, investigate tidepool creatures in the intertidal marine lab, hike along coastal trails, and even sail San Francisco Bay on board an 82-foot schooner. Coastal Camp programs are led by college-age camp counselors and experienced professional field science educators.
Located at the very south end of Marin County, the Marin Headlands have much to offer for families and is one of our favorite destinations for a day of outdoor adventure. Wildlife, beaches, history, natural beauty, sweeping vistas of the Pacific and San Francisco—the Headlands have all that and more.
Now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Headlands were at one time home to a Spanish and Mexican rancho, military fortifications and Cold-war Nike missile sites, and narrowly escaped becoming a housing development called Marincello back in the 1960s. Thankfully that never came to pass, and we're left with a superlative national park enjoyed by countless Bay Area residents and visitors.
Local Marin author Jeanne Walker Harvey chronicles the adventures of a wayward sea lion pup in her book Astro: The Steller Sea Lion (32 pages, SylvanDell, 2010). Astro is the true story of a lost sea lion pup who was rescued and cared for by Marin's own Marine Mammal Center, located in the Marin Headlands near Sausalito. Astro is nursed back to health and then released back into the wild—twice. It soon becomes apparent that Astro is more used to humans than other pinnipeds, and can't be released to the ocean. Don't worry, there's a happy ending for everyone!
Kids will love the heartwarming tale of poor lost Astro, and budding marine biologists will relish the detail spent in describing what goes on behind the scenes at the Marine Mammal Center. Illustrator Shennen Bersani's vibrant illustrations feature some landscapes that will be familiar to Marin readers, and kids should have fun seeing some familiar places in the book. Speaking of familiar places, if you haven't been to the Marine Mammal Center, it's well worth a visit. (It's free, too.) Get the scoop on how and when to visit here.
Want to have fun, get some exercise, and support a great cause? Sign up for the Marine Mammal Center's 27th Run for the Seals! This annual run/walk supports the Center's programs and rescue work, and is open to participants of all ages, including casual and serious runners, walkers, and families. Strollers and on-leash dogs are welcome, too. All prodeeds go directly towards the Marin Mammal Center's mission of helping sick, injured, and orphaned marine mammals.
The 2011 Run for the Seals takes place this Saturday, March 12. Check-in starts at 7:30 am, and the races begin at 9:30. Participants can choose either a four-mile run on a dirt trail through the headlands or a two-mile walk on a scenic route overlooking the ocean. Both routes feature refreshment stations, and the walk/hike route will also include informative education stations along the way.
After, participants are invited to join in on the Family Fun Day, which takes place at the Marine Mammal Center. Enjoy complimentary food, drinks, stories, and educaitonal tours, as well as booths from the Run for the Seals Community Partners.