Visiting Muir Woods National Monument and Point Reyes National Seashore make the perfect day trip from San Francisco, California. Both parks are surreal in both beauty and size. With gigantic old-growth redwood trees in Muir Woods and an endless seashore at Point Reyes, be prepared to be stunned by the enormity of their beauty.
In this post, I will share some of the beauty we saw on our trip as well as how you can visit both parks as a day trip when visiting San Francisco or surrounding areas. Be sure to keep reading, I’ll include an easy-to-follow itinerary at the bottom!
Muir Woods National Monument & Point Reyes National Seashore Day Trip Itinerary
Golden Gate Bridge Views at Battery Spencer – Point Reyes and Muir Woods Day Trip
After you get breakfast in San Francisco, you’ll want to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to get across the Bay and start your Muir Woods and Point Reyes adventure. I highly recommend you take some time and stop at Battery Spencer for epic views of the most iconic San Francisco scene, The Golden Gate Bridge. Once you cross the bridge into Sausalito, you’ll want to follow your directions to Battery Spencer. Depending on the time, it could be very busy as it’s one of the most popular destinations to view the bridge. You may witness photoshoots and tons of selfies as these panoramic views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge are worth remembering.
Historic coastal defense
Behind this iconic view are the remnants that started here shortly after the Civil War. This gave the army a birdseye view allowing them to protect San Francisco and the United States from potential incoming attacks. Starting with 15-inch cannonball shooting guns and in the late 1800s were replaced with newer 12-inch rifled guns. You’ll see some fort-like structures that still remain as you imagine what it might have been like over 100 years ago defending the California coast.
Plan Your Visit To Battery Spencer
Visit Site | Conzelman Rd, Sausalito, CA 94965
What To Do: See panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and remnants of Fort Baker, a 19th-century concrete battery.
Photo Op: Get up close to the edge of the viewing area to get the most iconic shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Also a perfect spot for a selfie or couples/friends photo with San Francisco in the background.
Fun Fact: The intro to the 80s sitcom Full House was filmed from Battery Spencer.
Tip: Parking may be hard to come by and be prepared to do some walking.
Hang Out With Ancient Redwood Trees at Muir Woods National Monument – Muir Woods and Point Reyes Day Trip
Seeing old-growth redwood trees has been on our bucket list and Muir Woods National Monument did not disappoint. As a federally protected National Monument since 1908, thousands visit this primeval forest yearly. What we loved the most about this park is how easy it was to customize our hike with its versatile trails and options. Oh, and the amazing, giant redwood trees, too!
Located just 30 minutes north of San Francisco, and about a 10-minute drive from Muir Beach Overlook (the next stop on your day trip adventure!), this densely wooded forest covered in old-growth coastal redwoods, moss, and lush ferns is a perfect and easy day trip from San Francisco.
There is so much to experience in Muir Woods, but you are on an adventure to see two incredible parks in one day so I will lay out how we were able to visit and still have time to experience Point Reyes below.
Muir Woods Travel Resources & Books
These Muir Woods National Monument books & Travel Guides will give you more insight into this beautiful park as you plan your visit. As an FYI, these four items are affiliate links. If you click an image and make a purchase, I may receive a small part of that purchase at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for your support!
How To Visit Muir Woods National Monument
This is the first official stop on your Muir Woods and Point Reyes day trip and there are a few things to be aware of before visiting this beloved park. From parking passes to entry fees, this is what you need to know before visiting Muir Woods National Monument.
Entry To Muir Woods National Monument
Hours & Days of Operation
Muir Woods is open 8 am to 8 pm and the visitor center is open 8 am to 30 minutes before the park closes. The park is usually open 365 days, however, there may be unforeseen circumstances that cause park closure. Be sure to check the NPS Before You Go info for the most up-to-date information
Free Days in 2022
There are five entrance fee-free days in 2022 at Muir Woods National Monument. MLK’s Birthday is January 17, the first day of National Park Week on April 16, the Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act on August 4, National Public Lands Day on September 24, and Veterans Day on November 11. You will still need to buy a parking reservation or shuttle bus ticket.
Entry Fee for Muir Woods National Monument
$15 per adult (16+) and free per child (15-). Fourth graders, Veterans, and Gold Star Families can visit for free. Muir Woods Annual Pass and America the Beautiful National Park Annual Passes are both accepted but do not include parking.
Trip Planning in Muir Woods National Monument
Reservations for parking at Muir Woods National Monument
It is now required to make a reservation to enter Muir Woods. To do so, book your reservation at GoMuirWoods.com or call 1-800-410-2419. You will want to download your reservation as there is no cell phone or WIFI service in and near the park. Standard vehicles cost $9, and medium to large vehicles cost $30+. You can also utilize shuttle services by reservation starting at $3.50 for adults (16+), children 15- are free. You must have a parking reservation for a specific time or you will be turned away at the entrance. Even if you have an annual parks pass, you will need to make a reservation.
Maps & Planning Tools: Download the free NPS app for offline map access to every National Park. Do not expect reliable phone or WIFI service while exploring Muir Woods.
Hiking in Muir Woods National Monument
After parking, we entered Muir Woods National Monument and were greeted by the Visitor Center. Here is where you pay your entrance fee and a wooded arch sign welcoming us to the park. This is a great photo-op! The trail starts as a plank surface and takes you past the Muir Woods Trading Company, a small gift shop. If you need the bathroom this is your only chance as there are no restrooms throughout the park. You’ll also encounter the Redwood Cross-Section from a tree that fell in 1930. The concentric rings reveal that they started to grow a little over 1000 years ago. Did you know if left uninterrupted, Redwoods can live and grow for over 2000 years?
As you continue your hike, you’ll notice a bridge nearby the gift shop. You will want to continue along the Main Trail passing Bridge 1. Why? What is really cool about this park is that you can customize your trail experience. You’ll encounter multiple trailheads connected to the Main Trail including 4 bridges that cross Redwood Creek. These bridges help make your Muir Woods Main Trail hike versatile in length and time.
This allows you to be in control of your Muir Woods experience and how long you want to spend exploring. Reference this NPS map for a visual. Here is a rundown of the four bridges:
Trail Bridges of Muir Woods National Monument
- Bridge 1: You’ll encounter Bridge 1 right away, don’t cross this bridge just yet. You will cross this bridge later in your hike unless you choose to stick to the Main Trail only.
- Bridge 2: For a short 1/2-hour long, 1/2-mile loop trail, cross Bridge 2 and return taking the Bohemian Grove Trail. You will cross Bridge 1 on your return.
- Bridge 3: If you continue on the Main Trail, cross Bridge 3 for a 1-hour long, 1-mile loop. You’ll return along the Bohemian Grove Trail and could cross Bridges 1 and 2 to return to the main trail.
Bridge 4: For the full 1.5-hour, 2-mile loop trail experience, hike out on the Main Trail to Bridge 4. You will return along the Hillside and Bohemian Grove Trails.
Note: You could cross the bridges at any point on your trip to modify your experience. Times are average assumptions, you may hike faster or take longer depending on what you do. If you stop to take in the scenery or take photos, your trip may be longer.
We took the Main Trail all the way through to Bridge 4. This made our trip a 2-mile loop returning back to the Hillside Trail and Bohemian Grove Trail. Along the trail, we encountered three notable groves of trees.
Notable Tree Groves in Muir Woods National Monument
- Founders Grove: Home to one of the biggest trees on the trail. The Pinchot Redwood is dedicated to a man known for his conservancy efforts, Gifford Pinchot. This tree is also the centerpiece of a small rest area where you can also experience Ranger-led programs. The Pinchot Redwood has a girth of 28.5 feet (from 4.5 feet up), and is 245 feet tall. Wow.
- Cathedral Grove: The tallest tree in this grove is 249 feet tall! Tree 76 was recently discovered to be 777 years old, half as old as originally believed (source). So interesting! This is a silent grove, it is asked you enjoy this part of the hike as quietly as possible. We were near a loud group that ruined it for us, so please be respectful of this.
- Bohemian Grove: This grove is great for learning about the health and ecology of Redwood trees. A fire from many years ago left scars on many surviving trees, including the Selfie Tree. This tree has a burn scar so large one can stand inside for a photo-op. You can also see a nurse log, a fallen tree other trees have grown from.
Plan Your Visit To Muir Woods National Monument
Visit Site | Mill Valley, CA 94941
What To Do: Walk & Hike, Sightsee, Photography
Photo Op: Literally the entire park, but a few notable photo ops are the Selfie Tree and Pinchot Redwood
Tip: Put your smartphone in airplane mode so it doesn’t drain your battery searching for WIFI. Download the NPS park app or bring a printed map. There will be no cell service or WIFI.
Visit Muir Beach Overlook For Panoramic Views
After visiting Muir Woods, head over to Muir Beach Overlook for more panoramic views of the Pacific. You can also see the Point Reyes Peninsula to your right and San Francisco to the left. This is a nice spot to visit before making the trek up north to Point Reyes National Seashore. Take a moment, relax, and enjoy these expansive, breathtaking views. More adventure and hiking lay ahead of you!
Plan Your Visit To Muir Beach Overlook
Visit Site | Muir Beach Overlook, Muir Beach, CA 94965
Hours: Closes one hour after sunset
What To Do: See expansive views of San Francisco and Point Reyes Peninsula. Whale watching, Photography, Picnic.
Photo Op: The staircase leading down to the overlook is iconic and makes a perfect photo. Try capturing someone you’re with walking down it for more visual interest.
Tip: If you are afraid of heights, this is not the place for you. Cell phone service is minimal to none, and emergency services will take some time to arrive if needed.
Feel Transported to Another Country at Point Reyes National Seashore – Muir Woods and Point Reyes Day Trip
The last stop on your Muir Woods to Point Reyes day trip adventure is one of the most beautiful. The first thing I noticed about Point Reyes was how it felt like I was exploring the European countryside. These sweeping coastal views dotted with farmland and wide-open spaces are insanely breathtaking. You’ll find rocky headlands, brushy hillsides, forested ridges, grassland, and beaches, a little something for everyone. It’s serene, otherworldly, and beautiful.
There is a lot to see in Point Reyes National Seashore. Since this is half of your day, I am pointing out just a few experiences. Don’t worry, these are some of the most beautiful and possibly some of the most photographed destinations in Point Reyes. You’ll have time to see a lot!
Point Reyes Travel Resources & Books
These Point Reyes National Seashore books & Travel Guides will give you more insight into this beautiful park as you plan your visit. As an FYI, these four items are affiliate links. If you click an image and make a purchase, I may receive a small part of that purchase at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for your support!
How To Visit Point Reyes National Seashore
This is the second official stop on your Muir Woods and Point Reyes day. Here are a few things to be aware of before visiting this huge, coastal park. From parking passes to entry fees, this is what you need to know before visiting Point Reyes National Seashore
Entry To Point Reyes National Seashore
Hours & Days of Operation
Point Reyes is open 6 am-12 am and the visitor center is open 9:30 am-5 pm daily. The park is open 365 days, some hours may differ during official holidays.
Entry Fee for Point Reyes National Seashore
No entrance fee for this park
Trip Planning in Point Reyes National Seashore
Parking will vary depending on the point you are visiting. The destinations and trailheads mentioned in this itinerary all had free parking lots with ample space.
Maps & Planning Tools: Download the free NPS app for offline map access to every national park. Do not expect reliable phone or WIFI service while exploring Point Reyes.
Point Reyes Shipwreck
This 100+-year-old decaying shipwreck on the shore of Tomales Bay is a top destination for photographers and travelers alike. As you drive into this part of Inverness, California, you’ll find this shipwreck behind the Inverness Store. There is parking nearby and some picnic benches in the back of the store if you want to make this a quick stop to grab a bite to eat.
This shipwreck is also known as the Tomales Bay Shipwreck, the SS. Point Reyes or the Inverness Shipwreck survives due to the intense interest of photographers and visitors alike. This is a fun, quick stop on your journey through Point Reyes and will give you a great photo-op.
Plan Your Visit To Point Reyes Shipwreck
12788 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, Inverness, California, 94937
What To Do: Photography
Tip: Wear waterproof shoes as you might get a little wet getting near the ship.
Cypress Tree Tunnel & Historic KPH Maritime Radio Station at Point Reyes
One of the most popular destinations in Point Reyes is the Cypress Tree Tunnel. This tunnel created out of Monterey Cypress trees planted in 1930 is iconic. At the end of the tunnel, you’ll see the historic KPH Maritime Radio Station, a cool Art Deco building that was once a communication hub for this area.
Plan Your Visit To The Cypress Tree Tunnel
Visit Site | 17400 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, Inverness, California, 94937
What To Do: Photography
South Beach Overlook, Sea Lion Overlook, and The Point Reyes Lighthouse
This secluded area features sweeping views of the Point Reyes Headlands and South Beach meets the Pacific Ocean. When we visited, the Point Reyes Lighthouse was still undergoing renovations. We were unable to check it out, however, we utilized the parking area which has ample spaces. On the drive, you’ll pass through several ranches and might witness some happy California cows running to get their meal. (I’ve never seen cows run before, cute!)
South Beach Overlook gives expansive views of the headlands and feels like you are exploring land never explored before. It’s so incredibly beautiful and feels endless as you look out to the sea.
A Pod Of Whales Near sea Lion Overlook at point Reyes
It’s tiny, but if you look in the center of the image you’ll see a small black speck. This was a pod of whales! I did not have a telephoto lens with me so I did the best I could with what I had. It was so awesome to see!
South Beach Overlook is easily accessed from a narrow dirt path with a slight incline. Sea Lion Overlook can be seen from the opposite side of the parking lot along a dirt path. The actual overlook is a bit down the road, however, we felt this view was similar enough. If you visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse, expect a steep downhill walk to the edge of the cliff.
Plan Your Visit To Point Reyes Lighthouse Area
Visit Site | Map | 27000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Inverness, CA 94937
Hours: Park 6:00 am-11:59 pm daily
What To Do: Sightseeing, Photography, Whale watching, and visiting the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
Photo Op: Bring a telephoto lens if you are hoping to capture wildlife, especially whales. The lighthouse is a great photo-op, there is also the famous ‘leaning tree’ over the path to the lighthouse. The coast from South Beach Overlook and the wide expanse of the ocean from Sea Lion Overlook has many photo-ops.
Tip: There is a parking lot with 38 spaces and a bathroom. Check out the linked website for full details.
Chimney Rock Hike at Point Reyes
Our last hike of the day, and most taxing and exhausting was Chimney Rock. This 1.75-mile out-and-back trail takes you through a narrow peninsula. You will have vast views of Drakes Bay and the coastline stretching to the southeast. Almost immediately after starting your hike, you will encounter an iconic building with a red-orange roof. I’m not 100% sure if this is someone’s home, but it makes for such an idyllic photo op. On the trail, you’ll see a swooping tree which is also very photogenic. The rest of your hike is going to mostly be out in the open.
Since we’ve been hiking all day, this trail felt very strenuous to us. We misread the trailhead and thought it was a .2-mile hike, but realized it was almost a 2-mile hike. Oops! This was the perfect end to our day. The hike to the edge of Chimney Rock gave us a peaceful, quiet time with nature. It gave us the perfect send-off from our epic 5-Day San Francisco trip. While I don’t think the hike is very hard when you are that tired it can feel more intense. The trail is a narrow dirt path. Some of it had grooves and uneven dirt which can make your feet and ankles feel tired.
It was 1000% worth it. The views were mind-bogglingly beautiful.
We encountered some animal friends along the trail. On the trail out, I was extra tired and this yellow butterfly followed me, fluttering ahead and waiting for me. It was almost as if it was saying “you got this, keep going”. (I was that tired!). But what was so special is the association I have with yellow butterflies and my grandma. We also encountered deer and a coyote! On our return hike, I was trailing behind and taking in the views and froze when I saw it. We made eye contact and I panicked for just a moment. What are you supposed to do when encountering a coyote? My mind blanked. It felt like we had a silent communication. You don’t bother me, I won’t bother you. He soon trotted off, uninterested.
The story about the yellow butterfly. After leaving my grandma’s funeral, we went to a beach on the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio. I was heartbroken to lose my grandma, and finding peace by the water I saw a yellow butterfly. This butterfly hovered, and wouldn’t fly away. It almost felt as if it was my grandma saying hi. From that moment, I declared that yellow butterflies represented my grandma saying hi. It’s happened twice since then, this being the first encounter. Glad I caught a photo as it was an impactful and special moment along this hike for me.
The end of the hike was so worth it for these views. There were some benches so you could relax and enjoy your reward for your hike. One of the most peaceful and serene hikes I can remember taking. So glad we pushed ourselves at the end of the day to do this one.
Wrap Up Your Day
The day is wrapping up and it’s time to head back to your hotel.
On our adventure, we saw whales, dear, elk, cows, birds, butterflies, and coyotes. We saw some of the world’s biggest trees, endless ocean coastline, serene headlands, and expansive, and iconic city views. Pushed ourselves on the exhausting end-of-the-day hikes and relaxed in scenic and peaceful viewpoints. We had an incredible adventure exploring Muir Woods and Point Reyes, one we’ll never forget. While we didn’t see everything these incredible California parks have to offer, we were able to fit in a lot during our day.
Your Muir Woods and Point Reyes Day Trip
Here is a handy summary of the post you read above. You can customize this and make it your own trip, or follow our adventure exactly. Either way, be prepared for an amazing adventure.
Point Reyes Half-Day Itinerary
- Breakfast in San Francisco
- Stop in Battery Spencer for an iconic view of the Golden Gate Bridge
- Hike Muir Woods National Monument Main, Hillside, and Bohemian Grove trails
- Visit Muir Beach Overlook for expansive ocean views
- Stop for lunch or eat packed lunch in Inverness
Point Reyes Half-Day Itinerary
- Stop to view the Point Reyes Shipwreck at 3:00 pm
- Visit the Cypress Tree Tunnel
- Enjoy the drive to South Beach Overlook
- Enjoy the views of South Beach from the overlook
- Whale watch in Sea Lion Cove at Sea Lion Overlook
- End the day at Chimney Rock Trail Head and take in the amazing views
- Head back to your hotel
What We Didn’t Do at Point Reyes
While we experienced a lot, there were some views I wish we had more time for. If we are fortunate enough to return, here are the things I’d like to check out:
- Alamere Falls: This 40-foot tall waterfall requires a 13-mile round-trip hike to visit. So, you can imagine you’ll need more than half a day to visit these falls and other views. Learn more.
- Point Reyes Lighthouse: When we visited, the lighthouse was closed due to renovations. I’d love to check it out sometime. Learn more.
- Beaches: There are several beaches along the Point Reyes peninsula. We didn’t have time to explore any of them, but on our next visit, I’d love to walk along: Drakes Beach, South & North Beach, Wildcat Beach, and more. Learn more.
- Tomales Point: This area also known as Pierce Point is located on the north end of Point Reyes. Known for its Tule Elk Reserve, birds and wildflowers as well as ranches, beaches, and more. Learn more.
- Explore Small Surrounding Towns: Inverness, Seahaven, Point Reyes Station, and more have charming shops, campsites & cabins, restaurants, and more. I’d love to experience these places to get more of a full Point Reyes experience. Here are some places I’m intrigued by. Eat Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Heidrun Meadery, Cowgirl Creamery, Cafe Reyes, Station House Cafe, Olema House. Shop Spirit Matters, Stay Black Heron Inn, Dancing Coyote Beach Cottages, Inn at Roundstone Farm.
I find the best way to find places is to explore Google Maps to see what’s around the destinations you want to visit.
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