We met my in-laws in San Francisco for Memorial Day weekend and decided to split our time between sightseeing downtown and driving along the California coast.
We ended up spending two days along the coast, making our way north to Novato for the night via Muir Beach and Muir Overlook and then retracing some of our steps to see a few things we hadn’t been able to access the day before on our way back, including Muir Woods National Monument.
Muir Woods National Monument
The highlight for me was Muir Woods National Monument, which has been on my list for some time. Who isn’t blown away by the giant, old-growth coastal redwoods? (Well, there was one girl with a group that passed us while we were there who muttered to her friends that she “thought they would be bigger.” It was all I could do to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head.)
I was glad I looked into this stop ahead of time because it does require a reservation regardless of whether you’re driving and parking or taking one of the shuttles. There weren’t many time slots left when I looked so the reservation somewhat dictated when we did other activities that day. It all worked out, but if you’re heading there during a busy time of year, plan ahead!
There were a good number of people there but it still seemed like we had entire sections of the park to ourselves. The walk through the woods is relatively flat and easy, making it accessible to most people, and there was a nice visitor’s center near the entrance with rangers who were available to answer questions. We ended up walking the “long” loop to bridge four and back via the Hillside Trail for a nice two-mile loop.
What a beautiful area– if you find yourself in San Francisco, escape from the city for a few hours and enjoy this incredible forest.
Muir Beach and Muir Beach Overlook
I’m not much of a beach person, but I do love rocky beaches where you can watch powerful waves crash along the shore. Muir Beach is more of a traditional beach and likely very popular when the weather cooperates–the first day we drove by we couldn’t find a place to park and gave up after we’d circled the parking lot a few times. Our second attempt the following day was a success–the skies were blue but the weather was cool, and we were early enough in the day to beat the crowds.
There’s a nice walk over a 450-foot long pedestrian bridge out to the beach, where we spent some time looking for sea glass. Brian climbed up a nearby overlook to take some pictures of the area–you can just see Ann and I waving in the one shot!
Nearby Muir Beach Overlook is an incredible spot for viewing the Pacific ocean and coast in either direction. Formerly an observation point for the San Francisco Bay coastal defense system, you can still see the remains of some of the historic stations.
While we had great views from the Golden Gate Bridge and Point Bonita Lighthouse on our trip as well, I think this overlook offered some of the best!
As we drove to Muir Beach we passed the Pelican Inn and decided to stop in for lunch. What an incredible find! Although built in 1979, this traditional Tudor-style inn looks and feels as though it’s out of the 16th century.
We lucked out finding a parking spot and headed in for lunch. There was a cozy bar just inside the front door to our left, and to the right was a giant dining area that looked like an old English pub–exposed wooden beams overhead and giant stone fireplaces along the wall. It was warm inside so we were thrilled to find a shady spot on the patio out back for our meal. The menu was replete with hearty English pub fare–my fish and chips were delicious!
Many people were outside on the lawn enjoying picnic lunches–it was a popular spot. I’d love to stay there sometime and see how the rooms hold up against the rest of the experience!
Point Bonita Lighthouse
The Point Bonita Lighthouse was pretty high on Brian’s list of things to do so when our first venture proved unsuccessful we tried again! While it’s possible to park and walk part of the way to the lighthouse at any time, the tunnel out to the lighthouse is only open certain hours on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays, and we had just missed the 3:30 p.m. close on our first attempt.
We still enjoyed walking down to the tunnel entrance– we had great views of the Golden Gate Bridge across the water, and we were able to watch dozens of sea lions grabbing spots along the beach just below the trail we were on.
The next day we planned our arrival so we could enter the tunnel and head on to the lighthouse. Part of the trail was blocked from the air coming directly off the Pacific Ocean and thriving with succulents and other plants. As soon as we moved beyond the cover everything became rocky and we could see out to the lighthouse on the point.
Point Bonita Lighthouse, the third lighthouse on the West Coast, was completed in 1855. Built upon a high ridge 300 feet above the water, there were soon complaints that thick fog frequently obscured the light beam. A new site at a lower elevation was chosen nearby at the tip of Point Bonita. Unstable rock made construction of a hand-hewn tunnel and trail to the site challenging. A new 3-room brick structure was built to support the upper half of the original lighthouse that was moved to the new site in 1877.
A long white bridge leads from the trail to the rocky outcropping where the lighthouse is perched. It’s a bit of a precarious walk across, but we all managed it! A friendly volunteer took our picture before we left–one of my favorites from our trip.
There’s so much to see and do along the California coast. If you only have a short amount of time in San Francisco and want to get a taste of the coast without venturing too far from the city, I would recommend anything from our list. Enjoy!