“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
– John Muir
My family and I live a few blocks off the blue-line train in Chicago. When I’m traveling alone or with my husband, most often public transit is the the chosen means to the airport. The el is the cheapest and fastest way to O’Hare. Yet with the girls, we mostly cabbed it or parked our car at the airport.
Until this trip.
Onto a new era.
The girls are growing and this was their first time on the el en route to a bon voyage.
We spent a few days in San Francisco and Oakland, visiting with family, before our crew took a solo overnight trip to Marin County.
I want to share my Favorite Day Trip from San Francisco.
Just north of the city, in Marin County, there are miles upon miles of hills and valley that are a hiker’s heaven. The hikes range from cardio-pumping all-day treks to little half-day loops that are kid friendly.
This time we opted to explore the beautiful redwood grove called Muir Woods.
We embarked on the Main Trail along with the crowds of people. The boardwalk extends along wooden, level planks, which made for an easy stroll. It’s scenic, yet very popular.
We wanted more seclusion. A few minutes into our stroll, my husband spotted a path petering to the right off the main walkway. The path branched uphill and into the trees. So, up we went!
The trail we stumbled upon was the classic off-the-planked-path called the Canopy View Trail.
Into the woods … into the woods … In my head, I kept singing the song, Into the Woods.
The trees go up and up and up. Did you know? The tallest coastal redwood tree recorded to date is 379.1 feet tall. It’s the same height as 37-story building.
Then we chose the Lost Trail, hoping not to aha, get lost.
Our girls are like little puppies the way they rumble, tumble, and fight … and yet, they’re besties all the same.
The last turn led us to Fern Creek Trail, which was a pay off for our tiring legs. It was mostly downhill and there we found incredible nature. A babbling stream and a hard-working woodpecker …
Spider webs glistening in the rays of sun that found the forest floor.
As Muir said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Words of truth as it felt like we were in a fairyland.
Stella tested her strength. Strong woman on the trail … watch out!
The hike was cleansing; we spent time together, connecting as a family.
Again with the Muir, but he says, “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
We romped around the woods for a few hours in the mid-morning to early afternoon.
Then we hopped on Highway 1 to visit Muir Beach.
The girls had fun running from the waves.
And climbing on the rocks.
Next stop – the stunning overview just north of Muir beach called the Muir Beach Overlook.
Veronica wanted jump ahead of Stephen and Stella, saying: “Sometimes a girl needs a little mommy time.”
A short, but sloped, wooden walkway led to a fenced area at the edge of some rocky cliffs, and she pushed me to the brink.
I was sweating it when Veronica wanted to run down the plank, but did it anyway.
I felt like we were on the edge of the world – on top of a cliff, looking over the Pacific Ocean. It’s windy up there, which enhances the vertigo feeling.
After the lookout, we had a choice: Head to our hotel or continue up Highway 1 toward Stinson Beach, Pt. Reyes, and finish with an early dinner at Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma (their IPA is my hands-down favorite beer).
We chose the latter. The drive was worthwhile, but the brewery was a bust. (It’s in an industrial park north of Petaluma and as it were, the tap room is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays).
When the sun is setting and you don’t have your bearings, I tell you: Stay on the path most traveled. Don’t seek out the shortcuts. Thanks to my navigating, we ended up in Cascade Canyon in Mill Valley. Good thing my husband is a MD (master driver) and navigator because full of fear, fatigue, and hunger, I feel apart. At one point he said, “just pick a path,” and I responded with, “I can’t choose.”
I was totally paralyzed by these winding, narrow roads in the near dark.
We arrived at our hotel just as the sun was sinking.
Key learnings: Check in before the sun threatens to set. Settle in at the hotel, freshen up, and and then go off to enjoy the rest of your day. Skip Lagunitas and sink into the coast in Stinson Beach.
We stayed at Mountain Home Inn. It’s a charming 10-room bed and breakfast on the slopes Mount Tamalpais.
This was our view while sipping on Mill Valley’s Equator coffee and eating pancakes, toast, and fruit.
On the terrace, the sun warmed our bodies.
After breakfast, we drove up the windy mountain road to hike Mount Tam.
Quelle belle vue! San Francisco was mystical looking.
This 2,500-foot mountain in Marin provides spectacular 360-degree views of the Bay Area.
Stella loves making the Home Alone face.
From the peak of Mount Tam, Veronica gazed over the Marin Hills to San Francisco and across the bay to Oakland.
Stella pulled me down the path, which was faster than I anticipated.
We always end our trips here in the Marin Headlands.
P.S. I love to Say Yes to California adventures. We celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary by driving down the coast from San Francisco to LA. It was a five-day trip and we got to spend two incredible days in Big Sur. I shared a post entitled 10 Things I Know after 10 Years of Marriage.