Northern California Roadtrip Part 1: Muir Beach and Point Reyes


My parent’s 30th wedding anniversary was on July 25th, and to celebrate, M and I planned a road trip throughout Northern California for them as well as M’s parents. My father does not like to fly on planes, so a roadtrip staycation for them was the perfect solution. It was also a great opportunity to show M’s parents, who have lived on the East Coast their whole lives, around the Bay where I grew up.

We spent the first half of the trip exploring the area north of San Francisco, including Marin, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, and Point Reyes National Park.

We stayed at an Airbnb in Mt. Tamalpais State Park, meaning we lived high up in the mountains where we could see the fog rolling and swirling in at seemingly at eye level. Our Airbnb had floor to ceiling windows in every room, so we got to enjoy the unique 360 degree panoramic views thoroughly. If you ever want to take a multi-day vacation in this area, I highly recommend renting an Airbnb or staying at a bed and breakfast close by so you can make the most of your day. The only thing is there aren’t many restaurants or grocery stores up in the mountains, so do some meal planning in advance and bring all your groceries with you.

The first day we went to Muir Beach Overlook, a cliffside park off of Highway 1, with beautiful views up and down the Pacific Coastline. It was a little foggy when we went, so unfortunately our views were somewhat obscured, but the coastline was still gorgeous. We hiked a small trail to the right of the overlook called Owl’s Trail, a 2.8 mi round trip trail that leads to Slide Ranch and then to two different beaches, North Beach (turbulent and private, according to this blog) and South Beach (wildflowers and tidepools). We started heading back after we reached Slide Ranch but I highly recommend going to visit South Beach; we ran into several hikers who were coming back from there and they said the tidepools were a lot of fun.

The next day we drove about an hour north to Point Reyes National Park, stopping at Stinson Beach along the way. Within Point Reyes we drove to the westernmost tip to visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse, said to be the windiest spot on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest area in North America. Once we parked there was a short 0.4 mi hike to the lighthouse itself and then over 300 steps down to the actual lighthouse! It was so…insanely…windy, so dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes because you are going to work for it. I will shamefully admit here that my calves were burning the next day! (The area gets shut down with high winds, so make sure to check the visitor center for hours of operation before you go.) The inside of the lighthouse had a neat light house keeper log excerpt where you can read about all the drama (more like loneliness) between the lighthouse workers. Though whale watching season is December through February, we spotted a humpback whale twice – definite highlight of the lighthouse stop!

After the lighthouse we were desperate to find some sunshine, and we found an easy hike called the Kule Loklo Trail by the Bear Valley Visitor Center. This 0.8 mi trail was mostly flat and contained a replica of a Miwok Native American village. If we had more time we wanted to do the 8.2 mile Bear Valley Trail, the most popular trail with scenic views that leads to the ocean. A complete list of trails divided by length and difficulty level is available here.

We had plans to go to Muir Woods on our last day but unfortunately my mother in law had a bad fall the day before. She is fine now, thank God, with no torn ligaments or broken bones. We will save Muir Woods for another trip! If you’re in the area, definitely check out the Muir Woods redwood forest; there’s nothing quite like seeing all those tall regal trees that are thousands of years old, stretching up high as far as the eye can see.

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