If you have ever been to San Francisco, chances are you were unaware that some of the biggest trees in the world were a mere 15 miles away from you. That’s right, some of the biggest trees in the entire world are located just 15 miles north of downtown San Francisco. Pretty incredible, ha?
I, like many other people, wasn’t aware of this. I have been to San Francisco dozens of times over the past 15 years, but had never been to the Muir Woods National Monument. If it wasn’t for a good friend mentioning it before our last trip to the San Francisco area, I may not have heard of the Muir Woods to this day.
The fact that such an amazing treasure, that is so close to San Francisco, can in tact amazes me. It is a true testament to how wonderful our National Parks System is. Thank goodness people like John Muir had the foresight to save these beautiful trees for future generations.
I have been to the Redwood State and National Parks in Northern California, and they are beautiful parks. They are also relatively far away from any major metropolitan city. They are located where I would expect large Redwood trees to still be standing, on the north coast of California. I think Muir Woods National Monument is so unique because it is where you wouldn’t expect large, old-growth trees to still be standing.
If you haven’t visited the Muir Woods National Monument yet, you really are missing out. It should be near the top of any itinerary if you are visiting the San Francisco area. It’s a great place to take a hike, visit the coast, and of course stare in awe at the gigantic trees.
There is also a ton to do in the San Francisco area that we would recommend. It is a fantastic and beautiful city that is a blast to explore. In addition to covering everything you need to know about the Muir Woods National Monument, we have also included some of our favorite sights in-and-around the city of San Francisco in this guide as well.
How to Get There
The Muir Woods National Monument is insanely easy to get to. It sits just 16 miles north of San Francisco, which translates into about a 45 minute drive with traffic. Without traffic, it takes even less time to get to. If you are traveling from the Sonoma Valley in the north, the Muir Woods National Monument is about a 1 hour drive from Santa Rosa. Not a bad side activity to plan if you are visiting wine country. For those interested, we’ll be writing up a visitor’s guide for Sonoma Valley in the near future.
|San Francisco||16 miles (45 minute drive)|
|Santa Rosa||47 miles (1 hour drive)|
|Sausalito||8 miles (22 minutes drive)|
Best Time to Visit
Being located in California, the Muir Woods National Monument is an excellent place to visit nearly year-round. However, should you visit during the fall, be aware that this is also the foggiest time of year in San Francisco. The fog typically burns off by afternoon, and shouldn’t effect your visit to the Muir Woods specifically, but it can impact your ability to see the Golden Gate Bridge and the city of San Francisco from the ocean bluffs.
If you do want to visit the Muir Woods National Monument, we absolutely recommend that you plan on arriving early in the morning. The Muir Woods attract over 1 million visitors a year, and the hiking paths can get pretty busy later in the day. If you arrive early in the morning, you should beat most of the crowds.
Top Things to See and Do
There is so much to see and do in the Muir Woods National Monument and the surrounding area. In addition to being able to see some of the largest and most beautiful trees in the world, you can also see some of the most beautiful coastline in the United States.
Beyond the national monument itself, the surrounding area has some fantastic tourist opportunities for you to take advantage of. The city of Sausalito is close by, and is a fantastically beautiful city that is built-up on the ocean bluffs. It’s a great place to stop for lunch and admire the views.
The Muir Woods are also relatively close to San Francisco, which means that you have access to all of the fantastic things to see and do in the city by the bay. This includes, but is not limited to, viewing the Golden Gate Bridge, visiting Pier 39 for some great seafood and fun, touring the famous island prison of Alcatraz, and checking out the fascinating Lombard Street.
- Muir Woods National Monument – Map
- Muir Woods National Monument – Plan Your Visit
- Muir Woods National Monument – Things to Do
- Muir Woods National Monument – Hiking Trails
- San Francisco – Visitor Guide
Hike Among Giants
Undoubtedly, the biggest attraction in the Muir Woods National Monument is the old growth Redwood Trees. Some of the largest Redwood trees in the United States, some of which are over 600 years old, live in the Muir Woods. There are plenty of hiking trails that you can use to explore these magnificent trees, so we would suggest that you schedule at least a half day to explore.
Visit the Coast
In addition to the magnificent Redwood trees, the Muir Woods area also has some absolutely amazing coastline to explore. Both Muir Beach and Stinson Beach are incredibly popular because of their beauty.
At Muir Beach, a 450 foot boardwalk crosses the flood plain to connect the parking area to the beach. The beach itself is incredible, but you should be aware that there are no lifeguards on duty. We would also recommend exploring the beach overview trail, but be aware that it may not be suitable for those who are afraid of heights.
Stinson Beach is more of a recreation beach than Muir Beach is. The beach is popular for boogie boarding, surfing, fishing, beach volleyball, and grilling out. Lifeguards are generally on duty between Memorial Day and Labor Day, so it is a much safer beach for children.
The beach is in very close proximity to the town of Stinson Beach, making the town a convenient stop for lunch or dinner in between or after beach activities. If you are adventurous, we would also suggest checking out the various trails in the area. There are some pretty incredible scenic look-outs along the trails.
Stop in Sausalito
The city of Sausalito is one of our favorite spots in the San Francisco bay area. It is a beautiful and charming city that we can never seem to get enough of. With houses that are built up on the ocean bluffs, it reminds us a lot of the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
There are a lot of fantastic restaurants in Sausalito, so it is a great spot to stop for lunch or dinner after exploring the Muir Woods National Monument. If you are looking for a fantastic seafood meal, we would recommend you check out Scoma’s Of Sausalito. Situated right on the water, with some of the best seafood in the bay area, it is a great spot to eat.
We would also recommend talking a walk down by the Marina. It is one of the nicer marinas we have seen on the West Coast, and it is fun to check out all of the beautiful boats that are docked there. You can usually see some pretty amazing boats at the docks.
The Golden Gate Bridge
One of the most iconic images of the city of San Francisco, as well as the West Coast of the United States, the Golden Gate Bridge is as beautiful as advertised. If you want to get some great photos of the bridge, we would advise avoiding a visit in the fall. That is the peak season for fog, and the bridge is obscured by fog a majority of the time. The fog does tend to burn off some as the day wears on, so if you must visit in the fall we would suggest checking out the bridge towards the end of the day.
You can get the best views, and pictures, of the bridge from the bluffs on the other side of the bay from San Francisco, as well as down near the bottom of the bridge. To give you an idea of where the best viewpoints are, we have provided you a map below.
Pier 39 is an absolute blast for families. If there is one place in San Francisco I would suggest you go with children, Pier 39 would be the spot. There is a very wide assortment of fun things to do at the pier. There is plenty of shopping, lots of great places to eat, a fun merry-go-round, some fun and unique museums, and of course a lot of harbor seals to watch.
There are a lot of really cool and unique shops to explore in the Pier 39 area. You will find everything from great book stores, chocolate and wine shops, Alcatraz themed gift shops, as well as clothing and jewelry stores at the pier. You could spend hours just looking thru the neat shops.
The pier also has some really great restaurants. If you are looking for something fun for kids, there is a Hard Rock Cafe, Luigi’s Pizza, and a Bubba Gump’s Shrimp at the pier. All have great atmospheres for kids. If you are looking for something more upscale, the Fog Harbor Fish House and Scoma’s are excellent choices. No matter what you are in the mood for, you will probably find it among the many restaurants at or near Pier 39.
One of our favorite things to do at the pier is watch the harbor seals. They can often be found lounging on the floating docks, and they are a real treat to watch. If you don’t know where to find them, just stop and listen. Chances are you will be able to hear them from a ways a way.
Alcatraz is such an iconic place that it really doesn’t need too much of an introduction. From the time it opened in 1934 until the day it closed in 1963, Alcatraz housed some of America’s most notorious criminals. What I didn’t realize until I first visited San Francisco is how easy it is to see from shore. Sitting just 1.25 miles off the coast, you can make out many of the features of the island. Though I should say, close is a relative term. That 1.25 miles was plenty far enough to deter most inmates from even attempting an escape.
There are two different ways in which you can get up-close to Alcatraz, depending on what you want to see and how much time you have. If you would just like to get a closer look, but don’t have much time, there are Alcatraz cruises available that will bring you close to the island. If you would like to get on shore and tour the island, there are also plenty of guided Alcatraz tours that you can take. Though these tours typically require more of a time commitment. In case you are wondering which tour is right for you, here is a great resource on picking the right Alcatraz tour for your needs.
Lombard street is a fun stop in San Francisco that won’t take you very long to see. San Francisco is known for its unusual roads. Unusual in that they are very steep, and because of this, tend to include some switch-back turns. Well, Lombard street takes this to a whole new level. The road is very steep and includes 8 hair-pin switch-back turns in a very short distance. It’s one of those things that you have to see to appreciate.
If you don’t feel comfortable driving down Lombard street, we would suggest at least driving by the bottom of the hill to watch other driver’s try and navigate this road. It’s pretty crazy to watch.
Here are just some of the stunning pictures we were able to capture in Muir Woods National Monument and the San Francisco area. It’s an amazing place to explore.