5 Days in San Francisco

September 14, 2014

Day 5: Muir Woods to Point Reyes

Mara’s Italian Pastries San FranciscoFor the last of our 5 days in San Francisco, we actually took a day trip outside the city, and see some nature. Getting an early start, we picked up a rental car ($35 per day including insurance – not bad ah?) and headed for breakfast at Mama’s. This place is super famous for their breakfast and you really need to get there early. By the time we go there around 9am, the queue was already stretching around the block. Onto ‘plan B’ which wasn’t bad at all, we headed to nearby Mara’s Italian Pastries. As close to a simple Italian cafe outside of Italy, the cafe’s walls are covered with Italian souvenirs and the lovely owner/barista can be your grandfather. The pastries are buttery and the coffee is strong. Try the cannolis or Nutella croissant.

Our Route:

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Muir Woods Itinerary 5 days in san francisco

The drive from San Francisco to Muir Woods takes about 45 minutes without stops. However, there is a ‘must stop’ just as you cross the Golden Gate Bridge heading north. Turn right into the vista for a great view back towards the bridge and the city skyline across the bay. Even when foggy, this view never fails to impress.

Golden Gate Bridge 5 days in san francisco

After a short and windy drive through the woods, you’ll eventually make it to Muir Woods National Monument ($7). This forest is home to thousands of the tall Redwood trees, some started their growth many centuries ago! Muir Woods is a popular city escape so you’re not alone. Try and visit on a weekday morning. Parking can be a little bit tricky as there aren’t many spots. However, there are plenty of walking trails inside the park so once you’ve parked the car, you’re pretty much set. There are a number of easy loop paths running on the forest floor that you can choose from. The longest one is only 2 miles long and the farther you walk, the fewer people you’ll encounter (you might even be able to hear the Woodpeckers). There are also a few proper trails in this area that connect to the forest floor loop. The Redwoods were a prized commodity in the past and we all owe our visit to William Kent and his wife Elizabeth Thacher, who bought this land in 1905 and donated it to the government in order to create the park.

  • Muir Woods California

The next stop was Stinson Beach and for that, we got back onto the Pacific Coast Highway (HWY 1). Just after Muir Beach, there’s a superb lookout point at Muir Beach Overlook. Park the car and head down towards the cliff’s edge on the marked trail. You’ll notice on your way old WWII defense positions carved into the cliff, a relic of years past. The view from the end of the trail is amazing, with fine southerly views of Muir Beach and north towards Stinson Beach. You might even spot a few whales.

Muir Beach Overlook

From the lookout, it’s another 15 minutes to Stinson beach. There’s another great viewing spot just before you descend towards the beach. Stinson Beach is wide and long. I hope you get to see it without fog as it is beautiful, but it can get foggy. The beach is popular with surfers and the town with holidaymakers. We grabbed some snacks to-go at the Parkside Cafe and enjoyed the beach.

Stinson Beach California

We received a highly recommended tip to head in the direction of Point Reyes and grab lunch at Marin Sun Farms. The 25-minute drive is a pleasant one, driving on HWY 1 by lagoons and through forests until you hit the spot to your left. The food here is amazing and not for vegetarians if you know what I mean. Choose from a selection of fine cuts inside and enjoy lunch in the sunny outside garden. We had the aged New York steak and it was one of the best we’ve ever tasted. It’s really worth the drive.

Marin Sun Farms California

Heading back towards San Francisco, we drove on Sir Francis Drake Blvd all the way to HWY 1, through beautiful ranches and Redwood forests.

California Scenic Road

If it’s not dark at this point, just before hopping on the Golden Gate Bridge (don’t forget the toll, see the earlier San Francisco travel tips section), get off at Conzelman Rd towards Marin Headlands. Stop at the lookout point for probably the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. This was a great spot to finish our San Francisco adventure!

Marin Headlands 5 days in san francisco

For drinks on our last night, we headed nearby to the Armory Club on Mission St. It’s a really vibrant place with excellent cocktails and local beers. Another good option in nearby Zeitgeist, very popular with Mission residents – with a great selection of beers, famous bloody mary’s and outside garden. We had an amazing 5 days in San Francisco. We saw so much but there is till much more to explore. We can’t wait to be back!

Armory Club 5 days in san francisco

Any Regrets?

  1. There are excellent day (and short overnight) trips you can do from San Francisco. We really wanted to experience Napa Valley (or Sonoma) but that really deserves at least a full day.
  2. If you’re already there and it’s not foggy, the lighthouse in Point Reyes looks cool. This area is really wild. By the time we finished lunch, the Reyes Peninsula was covered in fog.

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20 comments

  1. hi! we’re goin on a trip in august and i love your recommendation for biking over the Golden Gate to Sausalito ..but if we bike there,is there a place to drop off the bikes so we can take the ferry back over? ..i missed that in case u mentioned..
    ps thank you for your trip itinerary! VERY helpful!!

    1. Hi Stephanie!

      Thanks for the feedback, glad you find it useful! Nothing keeps me more motivated to continue writing that fellow travel readers joining the newsletter 🙂

      As for your question, the Sausalito ferry is very bike friendly so you’ll actually take the your rented bike on the ferry. It’s all very organized.

      Have fun in SFO and don’t forget to pack some warm clothes 🙂

  2. Hi Avichai,
    I’m planning a vacation for my family in September in California. We plan to fly into San Diego and drive to San Francisco making our way through important points such as disneyland, LA, coasts, etc.
    I’ve started with planning the San Diego side of the trip and there are so many things we want to do there that I was planning to give it 5 days (Seaworld, zoo, safari park, USS Midway, Coronado, etc, etc) [Your post was very helpful btw!] I was only planning for 1-2 days in San Francisco but now that I see you took 5 days there I’m a little confused. Do you think we should spend less time in San Diego and more time in San Francisco? We want to go to the parks as well as the beaches!

    1. Thanks for reaching out. I can understand why you would want to spend this amount of time in San Diego. There’s more family stuff to do there with the Zoo, Seaworld etc. I think 5 days might be a bit too much though, depending on how old the kids are and how quickly you can get from place to place. Keep in mind that you’re talking about a very long drive with both L.A and the PCH on the way. Since I spent a lot of time in San Francisco, I got to see a lot of it. I wouldn’t think places like The Mission, Golden Gate Park & Chinatown are musts if you’re on a family trip with young children so perhaps 3 full days in SFO are OK. I would say the musts in SFO are: crossing the bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf area (for the kids), Alcatraz, a bit of nature (Muir Woods) and a bit of walking around. So to make a long story short – if the kids are young and you’re looking primarily to entertain them, your plan seems to be right. Maybe just reduce SD by one day. Have a great trip and feel free to ask anything else!

  3. Great guide! I used to live in San Francisco and it always makes me sad that tourists waste their time going to Pier 39, which only contains restaurants and stores you can find all over the US, if not the world. That being said, I guess I don’t really understand the tourist mentality having lived there. To add to your list: hiking Land’s End, exploring the Presidio, Lyon Street steps in Pacific Heights for some beautiful views and breathtaking mansions, walking down Clement Street in the Richmond, shopping and dining on Fillmore Street, California Science Academy in Golden Gate Park, and taking a tour of the Anchor Steam brewery (with free tastings – must reserve in advance).

  4. Hi there. Great info and so thoughtfully laid out! My husband is travelling to SF for work the first week in March and my 13 month old daughter and I are going to join him. We get a Tuesday-Friday, just the two of us, to explore and have an adventure, then will be staying Friday-Sunday with my husband not working so we can enjoy the area as a family. I feel confident that we can do most of what you suggested and am so excited. The only part that’s a bummer is the biking, because she’s just too young to haul around in a bike trailer. I wear her and have a lightweight, very fold-able stroller. Any tips for substituting the biking with a combo of walking and public transit? Perhaps other travelers with small children would gain some insight from this as well. Again, great post!

    1. FYI, we are staying in near Fisherman’s Wharf the entire time. Tues-Fri my husband will be working, so it’s just the baby and myself exploring. Friday night through Sunday night (taking a red-eye home, so have all day Sunday as well) my husband will be off work and joining us.

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I just came back from San Francisco and it helped me so much, basically I did everything you have in this itinerary and I really I felt like I didn’t miss a single thing of the city.
    You should do this to every other city in America!, this guides help us so we can avoid wasting time in the middle of our trip asking ourselves what can we do next.

    1. Thanks so much Madeleine!

      I’m glad you found the itinerary useful. Working on getting more published, so stay tuned, and tell your friends 🙂

  6. Hello, do you have a recommendation re. where to stay/what area is a good central location, if a family with teens is planning to do this itinerary?

    1. Hi Shannon

      You can’t go wrong with Union Square area hotels. Though on the expensive side, the location is central and you’re close to everything. Another option is by Fisherman’s Wharf. There are lots of family hotels just behind it. Airbnb has a lot of options if you’re comfortable with that. For the ‘real’ experience, you can find a place in Nob Hill or Russian Hill (though you’ll have to negotiate the hills). I put a few recommendations for hotels I stayed on the second page. Enjoy!

  7. Hello Avichai,

    Considering your 5 day itinerary, do you think is usefull to take a hop-on hop-off bus service? or your itinerary considers to walk and use of public transportation to reach every spot.

    I am going to stay 5 1/3 days in SF and your itinerary looks fantastic. Let me know your opinion.

    Thanks in advance

    Ricardo

    1. Hi Ricardo

      I used the trams to get down to fisherman’s wharf, subway to get back from Bernal Heights and cable car to get back from that day of cycling. We did a lot of walking though (a lot), which is something I enjoy very much. My friend who went with her mom to SFO (who can’t walk so much), did the hop on / hop off bus and it was ideal for them. The bus does stop at all these attractions and if you don’t want to use public transportation, it’s probably a convenient thing to have. Let me know if you have more questions and have fun in SFO!

  8. Hello,
    We’re coming from New Orleans to SFO and Napa. Our first time visiting.
    Any suggestions for our trip there? We’ll be staying 6 days and would like to do the wine train and coast as well.
    Thanks in advance for all info.

    1. Hi Beverly

      If it’s your first time in the area, I would recommend doing a combination of days 1,3 & 4 from this SFO itinerary http://xdaysiny.com/5-days-san-francisco-california-itinerary-guide/ and days 2 & 3 in this Pacific Coast Highway itinerary http://xdaysiny.com/3-days-pacific-coast-highway-california-road-trip-itinerary-guide/ Napa Valley requires one day from SFO and simply means one person will need to be the designated driver. It’s a bit tight to squeeze everything in 6 days but possible. Enjoy!

  9. Hi Avichai,

    Really interesting subjects covered. Thank You

    Me, my wife and two kids (2 & 4months) are staying in fremont with family and plan to visit SF in three days. Few questions we had was how to travel (Car back and forth or bart train ) We are not staying in SF so would visit , see sites and come back to fremont each day. Can you suggest some itenaries and also how with kids one would reach from one point to the other (For eg Union Square to Fishermans Wharf ). Further down we will drive down to LA from fremont and spend 5 days there (staying in a hotel). and then moving to San Diego for 3 days and back to fremont.

    1. Hi

      So normally I would suggest to take the BART and then Uber around town but you need car seats… If that’s not an issue then you can probably leave the car behind and avoid the parking fees in town. As for itineraries considering you have small infants, that’s difficult for me to say b/c I don’t know how comfortable you are carrying the kids around. However, I would say that Golden Gate Park, Crissey Field area (waterfront + Golden Gate Bridge), Fisherman’s Wharf area (watch the seals), Bernal Heights (get a ride there), Alcatraz – are all sites that you can enjoy as a family (Alcatraz is probably more for the adults). You could also check if Blazing Saddles rents bicycles with child seats or small ‘carriages’ in the back and then enjoy what is (for me) the highlight of visiting SFO – riding across the Golden Gate Bridge. If you do have a car, you can also check out Muir Woods. Hope this helps. Enjoy!!

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