Near & Dear Escape: Marine Mammal Center by Nancy Botkin

Another in our occasional series about getting the heck out of town on yor bike.

Located in Rodeo Valley in the Marin Headlands, the Marine Mammal Center (MMC) is a perfect destination for a February or March bike ride. When you can tell it's going to be at least four hours until the next deluge, hop on your bike for this pleasant winter ride. If you're like most SF cyclists, you've probably biked the Marin Headlands loop and never gone the extra 1/2 mile out of the way to see the MMC.

The Marine Mammal Center takes in orphaned and sick animals. Starting in February, when elephant seals and harbor seals start to give birth, abandoned or ill babies begin to show up at the center. After one visit, you'll find you want to go back and see how the little guys are doing week after week.

These are awesome (awww!) creatures and surprisingly cute when young. You'll see a 300-pound baby elephant seal with "underweight" as its medical condition. Signs explain the basics about the animals, but usually there's a docent or highly trained volunteer available to answer more detailed questions. Watch out, though. If you're a sucker for helpless baby animals, you'll find yourself signing up to volunteer there regularly!

There are several routes to the center. I like to ride up Conzelman Road to the fork in the road with McCullough and then decide which route to take. All three end up on Bunker Road in Rodeo Valley:

  1. Stay left on Conzelman to take the complete Headlands loop down to Rodeo Valley.
  2. Or, turn right for McCullough, then left on Bunker.
  3. Or, take the dirt trail between the two roads. If not muddy, the Coast Trail is a nice downhill mountain bike ride. Turn left on Bunker.

Once you are in the valley, head towards the water along Rodeo Lagoon. About halfway alongside the lagoon, the road forks and you will see a sign on your right-hand side for the Marine Mammal Center. Bear right, up the hill. Soon you'll see a small driveway heading uphill on your right with another Marine Mammal Center sign.

Going home, I like to take Bunker Road all the way through the tunnel and then right on Alexander to get back to the bridge. The roundtrip ride is 16-20 miles, depending on your route.

The Marine Mammal Center is open daily from 10am–4pm. Admission is free, but consider dropping a couple of dollars in the donation box. More information is available online at or by calling (415) 289-SEAL.