Established in 1908 and named for naturalist and author John Muir, Muir Woods National Monument (Panoramic Hwy., off Hwy. 1, 415/388-2596, daily 8am–sunset, adults $7, under age 15 free) comprises acres of staggeringly beautiful redwood forest nestled in Marin County. More than six miles of trails wind through the redwoods and accompanying Mount Tamalpais area, crossing verdant creeks and the lush forest. These are some of the most stunning—and accessible—redwoods in the Bay Area.
The visitors center is a great place to begin your exploration. The Muir Woods Visitors Center (1 Muir Woods Rd., daily 8am-close, closing hours vary) abuts the main parking area and marks the entrance to Muir Woods. In addition to maps, information, and advice about hiking, you’ll also find a few amenities. Inside the park, slightly past the visitors center, is the Muir Woods Trading Company Gift Shop and Cafe (415/388-7059, daily 9am-close, closing hours vary) where you can purchase souvenirs and sustenance made from high-quality local ingredients.
Muir Woods is accessed via the long and winding Muir Woods Road. From U.S. 101, take the Stinson Beach/Highway 1 exit. On Highway 1, also named the Shoreline Highway, follow the road under the freeway and proceed until the road splits in a T-junction at the light. Turn left, continuing on Shoreline Highway for 2.5 miles. At the intersection with Panoramic Highway, make a sharp right turn and continue climbing uphill. At the junction of Panoramic Highway and Muir Woods Road, turn left and follow the road 1.5 twisty miles down to the Muir Woods parking lots on the right.
If you’re visiting on a holiday or a summer weekend, get to the Muir Woods parking areas early—they fill fast, and afternoon hopefuls often cannot find a spot. Lighted signs on U.S. 101 will alert you to parking conditions at the main parking lot. To avoid the traffic hassle, there is a Muir Woods Shuttle (415/455-2000, summer Sat.-Sun., adults $2, children and seniors $1, children under 6 free) that leaves from various points in southern Marin County, including the Sausalito ferry terminal.
Few coves on the California coast can boast as much beauty as Muir Beach (just south of the town of Muir Beach, daily sunrise-sunset). From the overlook above Highway 1 to the edge of the ocean beyond the dunes, Muir Beach is a haven for both wildlife and beachcombers. In the wintertime, beachgoers bundle up against the chill and walk the sands of the cove or along the many trails that lead from the beach. If you’re lucky, you might find a Monterey pine tree filled with sleepy monarch butterflies, here to overwinter before making their long migration back north in the spring. Springtime brings rare rays of sunshine to Muir Cove, and as the air grows (a little bit) warmer in summer, the north end of the cove attracts another breed of beach life: nudists. If the clothing-optional California lifestyle makes you uncomfortable, stick to the south side, the brackish Redwood Creek lagoon, and the windswept picnic grounds.
Muir Beach is directly off Highway 1. The most direct route is to take U.S. 101 to the Stinson Beach/Highway 1 exit and follow Highway 1 (also called Shoreline Highway) for 6.5 miles to Pacific Way (look for the Pelican Inn). Turn left onto Pacific Way and continue straight to the Muir Beach parking lot. If arriving from Muir Woods, simply continue following Muir Woods Road down to the junction with Highway 1 and turn left onto Pacific Way.
Accommodations and Food
One fine Marin lodging is The Pelican Inn (10 Pacific Way, Muir Beach, 415/383-6000, $206-289). Inside the Tudor structure, the guest room decor continues the historic ambiance, with big-beam construction, canopy beds, and historic portrait prints. The seven mostly small guest rooms each come with private baths and full English-style breakfast, but no TVs or phones. (There is free Wi-Fi though.)
In addition to quaint bedchambers, you can also get hearty food at The Pelican Inn (Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-3pm and 5:30pm-9pm, Sat.-Sun. 8am-11am, 11:30am-3pm, and 5:30pm-9pm, $16-34). Dark wood and a long trestle table give the proper old English feeling to the dimly lit dining room. The cuisine brings home the flavors of old England, with dishes like beef Wellington, shepherd’s pie, and fish-and-chips. True fans of the British Isles will round off the meal with a pint of Guinness.