We recently spent fall break in San Francisco. It was our kids’ first visit to the city. We brought my dad along for a multigenerational adventure that included lots of sightseeing. There are so many things to experience in San Francisco that it was hard to narrow down our must see places but high on our list was a visit to Muir Woods. After a little research, we opted to take a private Muir Woods tour. I’m here to tell you why a private Muir Woods tour is totally worth it.
Let’s start with Muir Woods itself. I think everyone should visit Muir Woods. Being desert dwellers, we are generally enthralled with any type of forest but Muir Woods is more than just any old forest. It’s a primeval forest where you can walk among old growth coast redwoods.
Walking through a forest of trees that are amazingly tall, green and lush is awesome. The stillness and natural quiet of the forest is almost magical.
Walking through Muir Woods is how I image what walking around on Endor would be like. I kept my eyes peeled but never saw an Ewok. 😉 It’s not a huge surprise given that George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch is pretty close by. I was lucky enough to visit Skywalker Ranch a couple years ago and can confirm it’s also pretty darn amazing.
Tips for Visiting Muir Woods
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that you should put Muir Woods high on your sightseeing list. Here are a few tips when visiting Muir Woods.
1. Avoid visiting on holidays and weekends if possible. Obviously, summer is the busiest season so if you can avoid the summer that would be best. We visited in mid-October during the week.
2. Arrive early or late to minimize crowds. It was extremely quiet and peaceful with only a few groups already on the trail. Plus because we actually arrived a few minutes before the visitors center opened, we skipped paying the park entrance fee. Our tour guide let us in on that secret tip when he realized we arrived early. I felt a little weird walking past the closed visitors center but a park ranger waiting to open up the booth actually confirmed the practice to another family who arrived at the same time as us.
3. Parking is very limited and due to the awesomeness of Muir Woods and it’s proximity to the city, it’s parking lots can fill up within an hour or so of opening. Additional parking is available along Muir Woods Road but on a busy day that could mean a 2-mile walk just to get to the entrance. I highly recommend taking a tour to avoid this craziness. There was even designated commercial tour parking spaces near the front of the lot that our tour guide was able to park in.
If you do plan on driving yourself, check out these Tips for Visiting Muir Woods which includes the low down on the parking situation. You can reserve parking spaces now!
4. The trail is an awesome multigenerational experience from little ones all the way up to grandparents.The trail is accessible to strollers and wheelchairs. Plus there are bathrooms and a cafe near the park entrance.
Reasons to Take a Muir Woods Tour
Avoiding the parking nightmare on site and being able to enjoy the scenery while driving to Muir Woods would be two key reasons on why you should consider a Muir Woods Tour.
While only park rangers can give tours within Muir Woods, a tour guide can give you tips like what to eat the cafe (the scones are locally sourced) and what trails might work best for your family to venture down. Plus they can take the quintessential picture of your family picture at the park entrance for you.
And unless you had other road trips out of the city planned, it’d be best to avoid the rental car fee and insane hotel parking rates. Seriously it was over $50 a night to park at our hotel.
Why you should Splurge on a Private Muir Woods Tour
I realize a private tour is more costly than a standard big bus tour and we did debate between the two while planning our San Fransico trip. In the end, we decided to go for it and I’m so glad we did. The private Muir Woods tour was totally worth splurging for, here’s why:
- Avoiding a huge bus. Those winding, curvy roads into Muir Woods aren’t designed for huge buses. In fact, we saw signs warning against vehicles over a certain length driving on the road. Our private tour’s Ford Expedition easily maneuvered the winding roads to Muir Woods. Plus for me, riding a bus can trigger motion sickness in even normal situations but driving along those crazy, curvy roads would be an instant nausea situation for me.
- No extra people to worry about for hotel pick ups and drop offs or even waiting for various parties to arrive back at the bus. Your tour guide isn’t herding a big group of tourists, it’s just your family and the guide.
- No random people herding means more time for touring and also the ability to make tour adjustments that work best for your family.
The traditional Muir Woods tour offered by many companies includes a short stop in Sausalito. We were done at Muir Woods a little ahead of schedule but were not interested in stopping in Sausalito, so instead our guide took us to Muir Beach. The boys enjoyed playing in the sand and the adults to enjoy the gorgeous views.
We also had time to stop at Hawk Hill which is an excellent place to see a panoramic view of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. These two extra stops were a much better fit for our family and they wouldn’t have been possible on a regular tour. The last surprise was driving by the famous Lombard street on our way back to the hotel, another thing a big bus tour with a schedule to follow couldn’t do.