Brage's birthday is on May 26th and, luckily for him, it always falls near the British late May bank holiday. This year, we were on a two-week trip to meet up with my family in San Francisco. San Francisco holds a very dear place in my heart because both my parents lived there for some time before they got married and we've been spending most of our summers there since I was four years old. I couldn't wait to show Brage the place which we all consider our second home.
Because he's such a nature buff, I spent months planning the perfect celebration for his birthday. Despite being such a cosmopolitan city, San Francisco is also home to many great hiking trails. For Brage's birthday, we woke up early and chose to start our day at Land's End park, which is in between the Sutro District and Lincoln Park. On the way there, we passed the massive mansions of Sea Cliff neighbourhood in northwestern San Francisco. Famous past and current residents include Robin Williams, Sharon Stone, Gap founder Donald Fisher, and SF Giants CEO Larry Baer. We stared at the houses (one was five stories high) and wondered what it must be like to have such a beautiful home in the city, yet be so near to the outdoors.
Of the many trails in the park, one of the most popular is the Coastal Trail which ends at the famous Cliff House restaurant (built in the 1880s) and Ocean Beach (popular with surfers). A relatively easy hike (though there are options where the trail forks out and you can take on steeper and rockier terrain), the Coastal Trail is anything but lacking when it comes to things to see -- from the Sutro Baths (which used to be a public swimming pool) to the old shipwrecks, you'll almost forget that you'll have panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge nearly the entire time.
After working up an appetite, we got to Ocean Beach and took an Uber to the Ferry Building, which is where our tour operator was picking us up. It was the perfect place to grab a bite because the Ferry Building is host to a farmers market and a variety of artisanal producers who offer good grub to tourists and locals alike.
I came across the Muir Woods, which is north of the city and is part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area. Open everyday, it costs $10 for adults and entrance is free for young people 15 years and below. I had read up on the area and how to get there. Many people talked about how parking was very limited and was a bit of a hassle. I decided that in order for us to have a nice leisurely day, it would be best to book through a tour company who could pick us up in San Francisco, drive us to Muir Woods, take us on a hike, and arrange for us to get back. After lots of searching and comparing different companies, I finally settled on the Downhill Muir Woods Hiking Tour with Ferry Cruise from Sausalito by San Francisco Shuttle Tours. I picked this tour because it fit all of my requirements:
1) Pick-up from central SF
2) Took you to Muir Woods without the hassle of finding parking
3) Promised to have the longest time possible in the woods (2 full hours)
4) Brought you to Sausalito for some free time 5) Sausalito--SF ferry trip included in the price.
Now back to the actual Muir Woods hike. The hike through the woods was an easy one, as they dropped us off on the mountaintop and from there we hiked down and into the woods. Starting at the top gives you an aerial view of the redwoods, as well as an idea of how vast the park is.
The hike is an easy one, with lots to look at long the way, like wild flowers and herbs. As you get deeper into the woods, it's all very quiet and the guide will prompt you to stay completely silent for a minute or two to really enjoy the serenity of the woods. At times, the only sounds you'll hear are the soft sounds of the creeks which run through the park and are filled with salmon in the wintertime. Aside from the fish, there were also signs that pointed out fox dens and other animals that may call the area home.
The tallest redwood tree in Muir Woods is 258 feet (79 m), but these magnificent plants can grow to up to 380 feet (115 m). One of the most interesting things I learned from our guide was the concept of a "family circle". When a tree undergoes stress, it releases sprouts near its base. If these sprouts survive, they grow into trees themselves and surround the original tree. Sometimes the original tree in the middle eventually dies, but it leaves its "family" behind, surrounding it and guarding it for life.
After our hike, we jumped back on the shuttle and were taken to Sausalito. Sausalito is quite touristy and touristy will make up most of the people you'll see there. They'll be popping in and out of jewelry shops or eating ice cream on the sidewalks. We didn't really have a plan for Sausalito so we decided to use that time to grab a quick bite before catching the ferry back to the city.
The Salsalito Taco Shop (gotta give them credit for that name) did the trick. This little eatery on the side of one of the road serves up Baja-style Mexican food with a wide array of food and drinks. Because we had dinner booked back at La Mar, we decided to go light and their nachos definitely hit the spot.
After our quick merienda, it was time to get back on the ferry and cruise back to bustling San Francisco.