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    From San Francisco to Muir Woods National Monument: discovering the giant sequoias

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    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    Not many people know it but in the surroundings of San Francisco (about 40 minutes by car), there are the giant sequoias of Muir Woods National Monument, a park where you can admire the majestic giants of nature characteristic of the wooded landscapes of California. Today we are talking about an itinerary that, passing through the famous Golden Gate and the picturesque Sausalito, reaches the splendid protected forest of Marin County.   


    • From San Francisco to Muir Woods, crossing the Golden Gate and Sausalito
    • Visita a Muir Woods National Monument
    • Muir Woods Cathedral Grove
    • Fauna of Muir Woods
    • Information and services
    • Muir Woods how to get there?
      • Route by car
      • Transportation to Muir Woods
      • Tour per Muir Woods
    • Mill Valley: events, shops, restaurants and hotels
    • Tips for staying overnight
    • Muir Woods and surroundings

    From San Francisco to Muir Woods, crossing the Golden Gate and Sausalito

    It is in the area of Bay area North of San Francisco (also called Frisco) that today we go, beyond the mythical Golden Gate bridge, the famous bridge with its unmistakable orange color. Our destination is a natural wonder, the Muir Woods National Monument, but before reaching it we will make some necessary stops. We are in county di Marin, one of the wealthiest in the United States, which fascinates visitors for its biodiversity that goes from the coast to the wooded areas passing through the reservoirs. Saint Rafael is the capital of this pleasant Californian corner whose symbol is the Mission San Rafael Arcangel (1104 5th Ave.).

    In this county, perhaps the most famous town is the picturesque Sausalito, which is located just nine minutes north of the Golden Gate; is a residential area, many years ago a humble fishing village, where you can choose to stroll along the pleasant Marina with shops, restaurants and house boats (boats-houses on the water), as well as along Main Street, the main street in the center, or at the Marin Gateway shopping center (190 Donahue St.). And there's nothing quite like a stop at one of the many oceanfront restaurants.

    We flank the Richardson Bay, an important area where resident and migratory birds live and where the utmost attention is paid to the delicate ecosystem linked to the life of fish, molluscs, marine mammals and gray seals. Due to the complicated structure and lack of depth of the bay (6 meters), only the use of kayaks and small boats is allowed while along its perimeter you can give free rein to the practice of biking and hiking.

    We then enter the big one Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a natural and coastal paradise that stretches over 323 square kilometers surrounded by the San Francisco Bay. This area includes the Garrison, a natural wooded and hilly place where you can admire the panorama of the bay, the famous former prison of Alcatraz (one of the many attractions in San Francisco) and the Monte Tamalpais or Mt.Tam (3801 Panoramic Hwy.), the highest in the county, also visible from the city, where you can climb and cycle inside the homonymous Mt.Tamalpais State Park.

    We then head to the country of Mill Valley on the northwest shore of Richardson Bay on the slopes of the aforementioned mountain. In the village you can visit the botanical gardens (436 Edgewood Ave.) where native plants grow, that is, existing in California before the arrival of the colonizers. The climate of this area is characterized by humid winters, dry summers and the typical haze of the Californian north coast (that suggestive fog that also envelops San Francisco and makes the Golden Gate bridge magically veil, disappear and appear).

    Visita a Muir Woods National Monument

    From Mill Valley we are close to our aforementioned destination, Muir Woods National Monument (1 Muir Woods Rd.), A luxuriant forest inside which rise imposing "redwoods of the coast" called redwoods. This park, which spans 2,24 square km with 6 miles of walkways, was created on January 9, 1908, and that same day, President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national monument. The name Muir was chosen in honor of the Scottish-American John Muir, a naturalist, geologist and environmental philosopher. Outside the building used as a cafe, a wooden statue representing him has been carved in his memory.

    Given the park's location near the Pacific Ocean, the forest is covered in a layer of fog at certain times of the day, which helps create a humid environment. This allows the plants to grow and benefit especially in dry periods. In this natural environment, rainy in winter and dry in summer, there is an average annual temperature ranging from 4 to 21 degrees. It is possible to visit this green area all the year, with opening at 8 in the morning and variable closing according to the season.

    It is good to consider almeno two or three hours to get a good idea of ​​the park and enjoy what it has to offer. Admission is subject to a fee (10 dollars from 16 years upwards) but we assure you that it is money well spent. To the Visitor Center (1 Muir Woods Rd.), As well as asking for information and the park map, tickets are bought, exhibitions are held, books are sold and you can shop. It is important to remember that the Visitor Center is no longer open 30 minutes before the park closes. At the disposal of visitors there is also the Trading Post café & gift shop where you can buy food and souvenirs while at the café there are food and drinks and permanent exhibitions of historical photos.

    At various times of the day there is the possibility to listen to the tales of rangers and volunteers; they last about fifteen minutes, or you can opt for a group tour one hour or for a private tour. As soon as you pass under the park entrance sign, the adventure begins. THE walkways equipped with a fence they indicate the path to follow and shortly after the sun's rays begin to be less penetrating, they only manage to "peek" because the peaks become high and the forest thickens, often the nose goes up to take a picture or simply to admire the glorious nature in which you are immersed.

    And when you meet the giant redwoods, the most important specimens in width, every hollow corner of the barks is an opportunity to go inside those magnificent living beings. Wooden bridges and the stream Redwood Creek which runs along a part of the park, complete an engaging scenario. Nature is capable of moving and this is a place where one cannot help but thank creation for this gift.

    The "coast redwoods", relatives of the giant sequoias that we always find in California but further east (how can we forget the majestic beauty of Sequoia National Park), are not found only here but extend from Monterey County in California to the coast northern Oregon. They can live on average from 500 to 800 years, even over 1000-1200 years, continue to grow and are the tallest trees on earth; they can reach a height of 115 meters without taking into account the roots (within this park the tallest specimen reaches 79 meters).

    Muir Woods Cathedral Grove

    In Muir Woods there are also California bay laurels, large-leaved maples, ferns, tanoks (evergreen trees belonging to the beech family) and there is no shortage of mushrooms. In the area called Cathedral Grove there are the tallest specimens in the park. A noteworthy historical event took place in this area on May 19, 1945. United Nations delegates, who were holding a meeting in San Francisco at the time, met here to hold a memorial ceremony in homage to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who died on April 12, 1945, one of the founders of the United Nations.

    And it was in Muir Woods that they decided to remember it, not only because it is a town near San Francisco but for the knowledge, attention and passion that Roosevelt had for trees and woodlands. He had worked hard to make sure the United Nations considered environmental preservation and the value of natural resources. There has been a commemorative plaque in his honor in the Cathedral Grove area since 1995.

    Fauna of Muir Woods

    Inside this forest the attention of visitors is also captured by the passage of deer that do not seem at all disturbed by the presence of visitors. In addition, local wildlife enthusiasts or scholars may seek out golden salmon, rainbow trout, northern spotted owls, woodpeckers, deer, American mole-shrew (the smallest mole species), western gray squirrels, striped squirrels. Sonoma, bats and with a bit of luck could see the black bear. Even if it is now rare to see it here, be sure it is there and if you have the privilege of meeting it ………. do not give him the "cuddles", he is not very sociable! Sea otters have been spotted in the Redwood Creek area.

    Information and services

    If nature and animals are not enough and you want something more, the park offers visitors trails with different levels to practice hiking. The magnificence of this area will not leave the visitor disappointed. Much attention is paid to children for whom activities dedicated to them are planned, as well as to safeguarding the environment: inside the Muir Woods National Monument it is not allowed to bring your four or two-legged friend, nor is it possible picnic, camp, stay overnight, smoke and have a telephone connection.

    Amenities are available in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Therefore, for those wishing to stay in a campsite, we suggest contacting the Pantoll Campground (801 Panoramic Hwy.) Adjacent to Mount Tamalpais State Park for an immersion in a rustic, wooded setting with a pleasant view; the ideal place for lovers of nature, tranquility and simplicity. If you love mountain biking, follow the marked trails for a nice and healthy ride. The map of the whole area that you receive together with the entrance ticket provides detailed information.

    Muir Woods how to get there?

    Route by car

    Il drive to Muir Woods it is quite simple and short, consider about forty minutes (one way) and take into account that the passage over the bridge requires a toll (if you have a rental car, ask the company directly). We also recommend our guide on car rental in the USA.

    Attention! From 1 January 2018 it is mandatory to book in advance via web or by phone a parking space or one moving with the shuttle to enter the park! Read all the useful information on the various options at this link, where it is also possible to book.

    Transportation to Muir Woods

    Muir Woods can also be reached by public transport via a bus link. Mill Valley is not far from pretty 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 the US-101 and CA-121 N.) and Sacramento (1 hour and 32 minutes along S-101 N. and CA-121 N.).

    Mill Valley is easily accessible from San Francisco International Airport. Ferry transportation to and from San Francisco can be found in Tiburon, a town 17 minutes from Mill Valley. Connections within Marin County can be made via the Marin Transit Bus Service, while if you want to explore this county by combining the visit of San Francisco, Sonoma County and Contra Costa County just rely on the Golden Gate Transit And that's it.

    Tour per Muir Woods

    To simplify everything, you can take advantage of the organized tours departing from San Francisco; here are the 3 most popular, one of them is also available in Spanish:

    • Alcatraz tour with day trip to Muir Woods, giant sequoias and Sausalito - a tour that includes the main sights of Marin County combined with a tour to the famous Alcatraz prison
    • San Francisco National Treasures Tour: Alcatraz and Muir Woods plus Madame Tussaud or the Dungeon, a package also available in Spanish that combines one of the city's most popular attractions with the stunning views of Muir Woods and Alcatraz Island
    • San Francisco Special Offer: Muir Woods and Wine Area with Optional Gourmet Lunch - Another very popular tour that combines a visit to the Sequoias with a tasting experience in the Napa Valley and Sonoma Country region

    Mill Valley: events, shops, restaurants and hotels

    To better optimize your stay in this pleasant corner of California, here are some suggestions regarding events, shops, restaurants and hotels in Mill Valley. At the Cushing Memorial Amphitheater, a natural amphitheater atop Mt.Tamalpais State Park (3801 Panoramic Hwy.), The Mountain Play, a series of performances and shows of various kinds, including musical ones, outdoors in a beautiful natural setting that is already worth the stop. In August and September, the Old Mill Park open-air theater (Throckmorton Ave.) is staged Shakespeare in the Park with performances of works by the famous English playwright.

    Also in the same park in September the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival with the aim of supporting emerging artists and students in the field of art. The ticket allows you to listen to music, attend puppet and storytelling shows, stroll among the various stalls, including food stalls, and for the little ones to participate in craft activities. Shoppers will find it pleasant to walk along the narrow streets of the city center with pretty buildings with colorful facades around Depot Plaza; two other places to report in the village are Strawberry Village (Frontage Rd.) e Alto Plaza Shopping Center (721 E. Blithedale Ave.).

    In the city there is no shortage of noteworthy dining options to satisfy even the most refined palates. Bungalow 44 (44 E. Blithedale Ave.) is the best restaurant in Mill Valley renowned for its meat and fish dishes cooked with seasonal local ingredients. While waiting for a table, located on the patio or in the elegant room, you can entertain yourself in the lively bar of the restaurant.

    Marin County's best restaurant is Buckeye road house (15 Shoreline Hwy.) Where contemporary American cuisine is served in an elegant setting. Enjoy the house specialties in a refined country-Californian style restaurant. The restaurant has a cozy bar with a rustic style. A “Spanish-like” environment is fully recreated by The walk (17 Throckmorton Ave.), an example of a California mission with brick walls and a rustic patio in the garden. In a cozy room you can enjoy dishes whose ingredients come from farmers, ranchers and farmers in the county of Marin. The San Francisco Chronicle called it one of the best restaurants in the San Francisco Bay.

    Tips for staying overnight

    Usually, given the proximity, we visit Muir Woods as part of the stay in San Francisco, and in this case we refer you to our in-depth study dedicated to the subject, with all our advice on where to look for a hotel in San Francisco; if you prefer to get even closer to the redwood forest, we recommend some cozy hotel to stay overnight near Muir Woods.

    Tucked away in a small redwood grove at the foot of Mount Tamalpais it is located The Mill Valley Inn (165 Throckmorton Ave.) with European charm and Northern California city charm. This hotel has 25 well-appointed rooms and the presence of wooden elements. The welcoming Tam Valley B&B (508 Shasta Way) opens its doors to a delightful cottage with a garden and patio. The rooms, decorated with wooden elements, are equipped with a kitchenette.

    Close to Richardson Bay is the upscale Aqua Hotel (555 Redwood Hwy.) Surrounded by the beauty of the bay and surrounding landscape. The rooms are furnished with a relaxing Zen touch, wood predominates with white and light colors. For more information on the country you can go to Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center (85 Throckmorton Ave.). Let yourself be carried away by the beauty of these places, enjoy this journey by adding another piece to your American puzzle.

    Muir Woods and surroundings

    Muir Woods National Monument is just one of the many wonders of Northern California which are definitely worth a stop. If possible, we recommend not to miss the view along the coastal road called Coastal Highway (Highway 1), which starts in San Francisco and continues south to San Diego via Monterey, Carmel and Los Angeles offering panoramic views, high cliffs, sunsets and observation of marine life.

    The main attractions of Northern California are there San Francisco bay, with the famous city of the same name also nicknamed City by the Bay (city near the bay), the Greater Sacramento, the metropolitan area of ​​the capital and the Metropolitan Fresno, near the Sierra Nevada, further east.

    For an enchanting nature it is worth visiting the redwood forest of the same name Sequoia National park, the park of Yosemite with pines, mountains and waterfalls, the Lago Tahoe, the largest freshwater alpine lake in North America shared in part with the state of Nevada, and the Sierra Nevada with the mount whitney 4.421 meters high.

    This is also the area of ​​the vineyards area of Napa Valley, considered one of the best regions in the world for wine production. From December to April, gray whales can be seen with a Whale watching tour in the bay of San Francisco while in summer and autumn other species of cetaceans travel the aforementioned bay.

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