With gentle waves, fantastic picnicking, seclusion, shelter and a wonderful view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, Kirby Cove is a unique blend of the outdoors and civilization.
The south-facing cove is one of the few beaches along the prominent cliffs that dominate the area. The cove was originally developed in 1889 to serve as one of the many batteries protecting the entrance to the golden gate. The battery remained in service until 1934 when it was abandoned. Kirby Cove is now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) managed by the National Park Service. It is open for day and camping (seasonal) use.
The large abandoned battery building is located front and center in the cove and dominates the area. Most the battery is hidden from the beach except for an old brick drain tunnel through a man-made berm, which allows the creek in the cove to drain into the ocean. Several picnic tables are placed along the top of the grassy berm just above the gravely beach to look towards the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. The back of the cove is thickly planted with tall non-native pine, eucalyptus and some native cypress tress.
Even though the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco are close by, the cove is very quiet. The sound of the ocean covers what little human noise there is. Like a sitting in front of a glowing fire, you can just sit in the cove transfixed by the bridge, the city and the activity at the entrance to the Bay. Huge ships quietly glide by. Fishing and sail boats come and go. Sea birds fly by or stop for a rest. While we were there dozens of large butterflies were flitting about with each other and landing everywhere. We wished we had remembered to bring binoculars.
A wide one-mile dirt road drops 400 feet down to the cove from the newly renovated Conzelman Road, at the last Marin exit before the Golden Gate Bridge. The grade is fairy gentle and easy to travel on. Along the way there is some interesting geology. Red Chert, a sedimentary rock that was formed in the deep Pacific between 100 and 200 million years ago, is clearly visible, thrusted diagonally upwards on the road cut. The area has excellent examples of this layered rock loaded with microscopic fossils. Geologists from all over the region travel here to study and view these perfectly laid down layers of sediment, plants, and animals from over 100 million years ago.
To reach the cove you can hike or bike. If you have a small trailer for your bike you can load it up with picnic supplies and make a day of hanging out in the cove. Bring your frisbee or football, there is a great grassy area for catch. Just be sure to haul out whatever you hauled in. No dogs in Kirby Cove.