It does not really make a difference wherever you visit San Francisco as a destination by itself, as a port of call during your cruise or as a stopover when heading North or South. There is always something new to explore in and around Belle of the Bay. How do seashore waterfalls and mighty Redwoods, each just a little over an hour drive away from downtown, sound to you? Join me on a thrilling day trip into the amazing nature that awaits just off the San Francisco city limits and spend a day at the heart of Planet Earth.
It was an ambitious plan that I had set for myself. After an hour of research (I mostly plan my trips spontaneously) and many, many cups of black coffee at a fiendish time, I finally came up with how I wanted to spend my day off during this layover in the beautiful city of San Francisco. My cardinal intention was to head North this time, but I was not in the mood for just a scenic drive through those cute little coastal towns that California is popular for, I had the urge to be a little bit more active. Yet it should be physically makeable and not too strenuous. By far not too dangerous :).
Both trips can be either done in one day (challenge!) or separately if you have more time. I recommend the latter to enjoy both highlights to the fullest. For me, the intense combination was just perfect as I could link visual inspiration with a body workout outdoors. This requires solid physical fitness and good time-planning.
The best time to walk the trail is weekdays in the mornings. Try to leave San Francisco not later than 8/8.30am! One of my favourite rental car companies in the Bay area is the Sixt location at Fisherman´s Wharf. They let you place online reservations just hours before your desired car pick-up and always have great deals for spoiled minds like me on luxury cars such as my gorgeous white leather BMW X1 that they powered me with.
If you are using satellite navigation, don´t be surprised that your system may not find the search term Alamere Falls or Palomarin Trail Head. Try Mesa Road, Bolinas instead. This will guide you to the right street on which (dirt road!) end you will find the parking lot and starting point for the 2 hours (one-way) hike.
The drive up North is breathtaking itself. You will cross over the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge and then follow the winding coastal roads through Mt Tamalpais State Park. There is not much traffic in the mornings, so plenty of opportunities to stop here and there for a short moment to simply indulge in Nature´s awesomeness.
Stinson Beach is a cute little coastal town located pretty much half-way to Mesa Road. Make a short stop at the beach for chasing seagulls and the meditative sounds of the powerful Pacific Ocean. There is also a well stocked superette where you can buy drinks and snacks for a picnic at the falls later on or grab another coffee.
Just about 30 minutes later, you will arrive at your destination. The moment the paved street turns into a gravel road will make you question wherever this is the right way, but don´t worry, just follow it to the end. Only be cautious with your speed. You don´t want to ruin your car by all the stones, do you?
Make sure to have adequate footwear with you and clothes to layer. The trail leads over different terrains and can get quite rocky from time to time. Do NOT wear flip-flops or shoes with slippery soles. I had a second outfit with me which I left in the car and which was urgently needed after my return. I highly recommend a windbreaker on top of long trousers and I also had a sweatshirt along, just in case. Do not wear things that you would not want to get dirty, dusty or torn!
Sun screen, mosquito protection and a hat are advisable. Definitely take water along. By the way, there is absolutely no mobile reception in this area. Keep your eyes open for the proper signage. The path is well beaten, so getting lost should not really be an option (if you tend to get lost anyways, maybe bringing a map isn´t the worst idea).
I did take photos of the map right at the entrance to the trail. This was a great help for orientation, but if you stay on the track, you will be fine!
As I had dense timing for the day, I literally ran to the falls in 1 hour 15 minutes. The last part of the trail is the most strenuous one. This is where you will have to climb and really pay attention to avoid injuries of any kind. But it is well worth it!
Standing at the edge of the cliff right next to the waterfall and overlooking the Pacific Ocean is quite an experience though and well worth it. All the sweat literally payed off, LOL. Even though it is not recommended (and a little dangerous), I did descend down to the beach. If you are suffering from fear of heights (acrophobia), please refrain from doing this. My partner probably would kill me if he knew what kind of steep cliff I climbed down…
The decision to walk the trail first before heading to the Redwoods was perfect. With my timing it was about noon when I reached the falls and there was only one couple with me there. Having this site almost for yourself is a fantastic experience. On my way back, I ran into quite a few souls heading to Alamere and I saw snakes, lizards and quite an array of birds. This hike really is fun to do. I might just have allowed myself a little bit too few of time to savour this experience a little more intensely.
Muir Woods National Monument
It was a great decision to do the Redwood forest after the hike. First of all, the most exhausting part of the excursion was already history and secondly, the lesser number of visitors at Muir Woods during the last hours before the park closes at 7pm makes it much more relaxed and enjoyable (and you get to park your car close to the entrance).
Muir Woods National Monument was established in 1908 and is a great spot to take a little dive into the mystic and tranquil environment that these woods come along with. There are several possible hiking trails within the whole area, yet if you simply want to wander next to the sleeping giants, the 2-mile loop walk (about 1 1/2 hours) is perfectly fine for getting a little knowledge about, insight and sense for this exceptional Natural beauty.
Many wooden benches along the elevated walkway invite to rest a few moments and simply listen to the sounds of wildlife, birds or just to enjoy the magical atmosphere. A real enchanted place!
I got goosebumps walking through the forest, trying to imagine how many untold stories these massive columns would hold inside. Considering that one tree can age up to 2,000 years while being over 100 metres high, this is a place where you unmistakably realize how small you are and that mankind is nothing in comparison to Mother Nature.
Another advantage of visiting the park in the late afternoon is the fantastic light scenery inside Muir Woods. I kept walking most of the trail with my head up in the sky, completely fascinated by the majestic presence of these beautiful trees.
What a day. What an experience. I feel so blessed being able to enjoy all these fantastic places that our beautiful planet has to offer. And you should, too! So next time you’re in San Francisco, maybe you will find yourself walking in my footsteps on the Coast Trail or breathing in the magic air underneath the Redwood trees… Keep exploring, peeps! Safe travels.