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From San Francisco to Muir Woods National Monument: Discover the Giant Redwoods

June 18, 2021 /
San Francisco to Muir Woods National Monument

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

Not many people know this, but near San Francisco (about 40 minutes by car), you’ll find the giant redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument, a park where you can admire the majestic giants found in California‘s wooded landscapes. Today we are talking about an itinerary that takes you across the famous Golden Gate Bridge and through picturesque Sausalito to the beautiful protected forest of Marin County.

From San Francisco to Muir Woods: Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito

From San Francisco to Muir WoodsThe itinerary is in the Bay Area north of San Francisco (also called Frisco), beyond the mythical Golden Gate Bridge, the famous red bridge. The destination is a natural wonder, the Muir Woods National Monument, but before arriving there, you will make a few stops. You will be traveling through Marin County, one of the most affluent counties in the United States. Visitors are fascinated by its biodiversity that goes from the coast to the wooded areas through the water basins. San Rafael is the capital of this delightful county in California and its symbol is the Mission San Rafael Arcangel (1104 5th Ave).

Perhaps the most famous city in this county is Sausalito, located just nine minutes north of the Golden Gate. Many years ago, Sausalito was a humble fishing village, but now it is a residential area where you can stroll along the pleasant marina that has shops, restaurants, and houseboats, on Main Street, the artery of the city, or at the Marin Gateway Shopping Center (190 Donahue St). And there’s nothing better than enjoying a meal at one of the many oceanfront restaurants.

San Francisco Muir WoodsAfter Sausalito, you will go to Richardson Bay, an important area where native and migratory birds live. The delicate ecosystem is well-preserved by conservation efforts and in it, there are fish, mollusks, marine mammals, and grey seals. Because the bay is so shallow (20 ft), only kayaks and small boats are allowed, while along the perimeter of the bay, you can enjoy biking and hiking.

We then enter the large Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a natural and coastal paradise that extends for more than 125 square miles surrounded by San Francisco Bay. This area includes the Presidium, a natural wooded and hilly place where you can admire the view of the bay, the famous former prison known as Alcatraz (one of the many places of interest of San Francisco), and Mount Tamalpais or Mt.Tam (3801 Panoramic Hwy), the tallest mountain in the county, also visible from the city. You can hike Mount Tamalpais or ride a bike inside Mt.Tamalpais State Park.

Next, you will head to Mill Valley, a city on the northwest bank of Richardson Bay on the slopes of that mountain. In Mill Valley, you can visit the botanical gardens (436 Edgewood Ave) where native plants grow, more specifically, those that existed in California before the arrival of the colonists. The climate of this area is characterized by wet winters, dry summers, and the typical fog on the coast of Northern California (the enchanting fog that envelops even San Francisco and creates a magical veil over the Golden Gate Bridge so that it disappears and reappears).

Visit Muir Woods National Monument

San Francisco to Muir Woods driveFrom Mill Valley, you will approach your destination, Muir Woods National Monument (1 Muir Woods Rd), a lush forest where imposing redwoods grow. This park, which covers 553 acres and has 6 miles of trails, was created on January 9, 1908, and on that day, President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national monument. The name Muir was chosen in honor of Scottish-American John Muir, a naturalist, geologist, and environmental philosopher. Outside the café, there is a wooden statue depicting him that was carved in his memory.

Given the location of the park near the Pacific Ocean, at certain times of the day, the forest is covered by a layer of fog that causes humidity in the forest. This allows the plants to grow and benefit especially in dry periods. In this natural environment with rainy winters and dry summers, the average annual temperature is between 39 and 70 degrees. Therefore, it is possible to visit Muir Woods all year. It opens at 8:00 am and closes seasonally.

San Francisco to Muir Woods tourYou should dedicate at least two or three hours to get a good idea of Muir Woods National Monument and enjoy what it has to offer. There is a fee to enter Muir Woods ($15 for everyone 16 years old and up), but we assure you that it’s worth every penny. At the Visitor Center (1 Muir Woods Rd), in addition to asking for information and a map of the park, you can buy tickets, view exhibits, buy books, and shop. It is important to remember that the Visitor Center closes 30 minutes before the park does. There is also the Muir Woods Trading Post, a cafe & gift shop where you can buy souvenirs, food, and drinks as well as view permanent exhibits of historical photos.

At various times of the day, there is the possibility to listen to rangers and volunteers tell stories, which last about fifteen minutes. Otherwise, you can opt for a group tour of one hour or a private tour. As soon as you pass through the park entrance, the adventure begins. The fenced trails indicate the path to follow and soon, as the forest thickens and you find taller peaks, the sunlight barely manages to pass through. As you walk, you may often find yourself looking up to take a picture or simply admire the glorious nature that surrounds you.

things to do at Muir WoodsAnd when you see the giant redwoods, the most important specimens of their size, every hollow space in the tree trunks is an opportunity to get inside these magnificent trees. Along the trails, there are also wooden bridges and you will pass by Redwood Creek. Muir Woods is stupendous and you will be grateful that you get to experience the natural beauty here.

The “Coastal Redwoods”, relatives of the giant sequoias that are also found in California but further east (not to mention the majestic beauty of Sequoia National Park), are not only found here but extend from Monterey County in California to the coast of Oregon further north. They can live on average from 500 to 800 years, even over 1,000-1,200 years, and they continue to grow during their lifetime. Redwoods are the tallest trees on earth; they can reach a height of 377 ft not counting the roots (in Muir Woods, the tallest redwood reaches 259 ft).

Muir Woods Cathedral Grove

Muir Woods Cathedral GroveIn Muir Woods, you can also find California Bay laurels, large-leaved maples, ferns, tanoak trees (evergreen trees belonging to the beech family), and also mushrooms. In Cathedral Grove, there are the tallest redwoods in the park. On May 19, 1945, a noteworthy historical event took place here in Cathedral Grove. United Nations delegates who were holding a meeting in San Francisco at the time met here to hold a ceremony in memory of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the founders of the United Nations, who died on 12 April 1945.

Cathedral Grove Muir WoodsThey decided to honor President Roosevelt in Muir Woods not only because it is near San Francisco, but because of the knowledge, attention, and passion that Roosevelt had for trees and forests. He had worked hard to ensure that the United Nations took environmental conservation and the value of natural resources into account. In 1995, a commemorative plaque was placed in Cathedral Grove in his honor.

Muir Woods Fauna

Muir Woods faunaInside this forest, visitors will be surprised to see deer suddenly pass by. The deer usually do not seem at all disturbed by the presence of visitors. In addition, local wildlife enthusiasts or scholars can try to spot golden salmon, rainbow trout, spotted owls from the north, woodpeckers, deer, American moles (the smallest species of mole), grey squirrels from the west, striped squirrels from Sonoma, bats, and with a bit of luck, they might see the black bear. Although it’s rare to see bears here now, rest assured that they are there and if you have the privilege to meet a bear… don’t try to hug the bear. It will not be very friendly! Also, sea otters can be sighted in Redwood Creek.

Information and Services

best way to visit Muir Woods national monumentIf you want to have a more complete experience of what the park offers, there are hiking trails with different levels of difficulty. Because of the incredible beauty of Muir Woods, visitors will not leave disappointed. There are several kid-friendly activities as well as environmental activities. Pets are not allowed inside Muir Woods National Monument,  and additionally having picnics, camping, staying overnight, and smoking are all forbidden. There is no phone service in Muir Woods.

Services are available in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. So, for those who wish to stay at a campsite, we suggest contacting the Pantoll Campground (801 Panoramic Hwy) that is adjacent to Mount Tamalpais State Park. There you will find a rustic, wooded environment with a pleasant view; it is the ideal place for lovers of nature, tranquility, and simplicity. If you love mountain biking, follow the marked trails and enjoy a nice and healthy ride. The map of the whole area that you receive together with the entrance ticket provides detailed information.

How to Get from San Francisco to Muir Woods

By car

The journey by car to Muir Woods is quite simple and short. It will take you about forty minutes (one way) and remember that there is a toll to cross the Golden Gate Bridge (if you have a rental car, please inquire directly with the car rental company). If you don’t have your own car, we also recommend you read our guide on renting a car.

Starting January 1, 2018 it is mandatory to book in advance a parking space or a shuttle to enter the park! You can do so online or on the phone. Read all the useful information about the various options on this website, where you can also make your reservation.

San Francisco to Muir Woods Bus

Muir Woods can also be reached by bus. Mill Valley is not far from lovely and popular locations such as Sausalito (12 minutes along E Blithedale Ave, US-101 S, and Bridgeway), San Francisco (30 minutes along US-101 S), Napa (52 minutes along US-101 and CA-121 N), and Sacramento (1 hour 32 minutes along S-101 N and CA-121 N).

Mill Valley is easily accessible from San Francisco International Airport. You can take a ferry to San Francisco in Tiburon, and vice versa. Tiburon is a town 17 minutes from Mill Valley. To travel within Marin County, use the Marin Transit Bus Service, while if you want to explore this county in combination with San Francisco, Sonoma County, and Contra Costa County, just rely on the Golden Gate Transit and you’re set.

San Francisco to Muir Woods Tours

A simpler way to visit Muir Woods is to take advantage of the organized tours departing from San Francisco. Here are the 3 most popular ones.

Mill Valley: Events, Shops, Restaurants, and Hotels

Mill Valley San franciscoTo better optimize your stay in this pretty area of California, here are some suggestions regarding events, shops, restaurants, and hotels in Mill Valley. From May to June at the Cushing Memorial Amphitheater, a natural amphitheater at the top of Mt.Tamalpais State Park (3801 Panoramic Hwy), there is the Mountain Play, a series of performances and shows of various kinds, including music, outdoors in a beautiful natural setting that is already worth a stop. In August and September, Shakespeare in the Park takes place. The performances of the famous English playwright’s plays are at the open-air theater in Old Mill Park (Throckmorton Ave).

Also in the same park in September, there is the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival to support emerging artists and art students. You can listen to music, attend puppet shows and storytelling, walk among the various stalls, including food, and there are arts and crafts for children. Shopping lovers will enjoy walking along the narrow streets of Mill Valley lined with charming and colorful buildings around Depot Plaza. Two other places in Mill Valley that are worth mentioning are Strawberry Village (Frontage Rd) and Alto Plaza Shopping Center (721 E Blithedale Ave).

There is no lack of great restaurants in Mill Valley to satisfy even the most refined palates. Bungalow 44 (44 E Blithedale Ave) is the best restaurant in Mill Valley and is renowned for its meat and seafood cooked with local seasonal ingredients. While waiting for a table on the patio or in the elegant dining room, you can have fun at the lively bar.

The best restaurant in Marin County is Buckeye Roadhouse (15 Shoreline Hwy) where contemporary American cuisine is served in a fancy setting. Taste the house specialties of this stylish California restaurant. The restaurant has a cozy, rustic-style bar. A Spanish Colonial setting is fully recreated at El Paseo (17 Throckmorton Ave), an example of a California mission with brick walls and a rustic patio in the garden. You can enjoy dishes made with ingredients from farms and ranches in Marin County. The San Francisco Chronicle has called it one of the best restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area [unfortunately the restaurant is closed permanently.]

Tips for Accommodations

Usually, due to its proximity, you will visit Muir Woods during your stay in San Francisco. Therefore, we recommend you read our advice on where to look for the places to stay in San Francisco, but if you prefer to get closer to the redwood forest, we recommend some nice hotels near Muir Woods.

Hidden in a small grove of redwoods at the foot of Mount Tamalpais, you will find The Mill Valley Inn (165 Throckmorton Ave), a fusion of European and Northern California city charm. This hotel has 25 rooms with everything you need and is decorated with wooden motifs. The charming Tam Valley B&B (508 Shasta Way) is a lovely cottage with a garden and a patio. The rooms have wood decor and are equipped with a kitchenette.

The refined Aqua Hotels (555 Redwood Hwy) is located near Richardson Bay and is adorned by the beauty of the bay and the surrounding landscape. The rooms have a relaxing zen vibe, and the decor consists of predominantly wood with white and light colors. For more information about Mill Valley, please visit the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center (85 Throckmorton Ave). Enjoy the natural beauty and your stay in this area.

Things to Do Near Muir Woods

Things to Do Near Muir WoodsMuir Woods National Monument is just one of the many wonders of Northern California that are definitely worth visiting. If possible, we recommend traveling on the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), which starts in San Francisco and continues south to San Diego via Monterey, Carmel, and Los Angeles. Along the way, there are panoramic views, high cliffs, and sunsets, and you have the opportunity to observe marine life.

The main attractions of Northern California are the San Francisco Bay, where San Francisco, also known as City by the Bay is located, Greater Sacramento, the metropolitan area of the capital of California, and Metropolitan Fresno, near the Sierra Nevada, further east.

I also encourage you to visit the enchanting Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park, where there are sequoias, pine trees, mountains, and waterfalls. Then there is Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine freshwater lake in North America shared in part with the state of Nevada, and the Sierra Nevada where you will find Mount Whitney, which is 14,505 ft high.

I should also mention Napa Valley, which is considered one of the best regions in the world for wine production. From December to April, you can admire the gray whales in the San Francisco Bay on a whale watching tour, while in summer and autumn other species of cetaceans travel through the bay.

Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Marianna Licia e Paolo

There are two passions that we share: photography and traveling, especially in the United States.

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