An Excursion to Muir Woods & Wine Tasting in the Sonoma Valley
After a late night of exotic entertainment at Asia SF, our day got started very early. Although it was raining I decided to capture a few photos of the area surrounding our hotel, The Handlery Union Square Hotel, which is located on downtown Geary Street. I walked just a few steps east to Union Square, the heart of San Francisco’s shopping, hotel and theatre district. Big shopping venues such as Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus surround this historic square. Luxury stores such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, Chanel, Prada, Armani and Hermes are also represented.
Union Square: a shopping mecca
Just west from The Handlery are two historic theatres: the Geary and Curran Theatres. The Moscone Convention Centre and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art are close by as well. Before our excursion to Muir Woods I embarked on an hour long walk to check out some of the streets surrounding Union Square and had a delicious waffle breakfast in a little 24 hour eatery called Pinecrest Diner. I enjoyed looking out the windows, seeing the city awake.
Downtown San Francisco
Punctually at 8:30 am we got picked up by a biodiesel-powered van from Incredible Adventures, chauffered by our charming driver and local expert Michelle. Incredible Adventures is a local adventure travel company that offers various day tours from San Francisco, including the Muir Woods & Wine Country Tours, Muir Woods & Brewery Tours, Yosemite National Park Tours as well as Whitewater Rafting & Wine Tours. In addition they offer tours out of Las Vegas and Baja California. Their vans are powered by biodiesel which is a renewable, biodegradable and cleaner-burning fuel, and the company is committed to minimum impact tourism.
Union Square in the rain
Rather than renting a car to explore the areas north of San Francisco we had decided in favour of the convenience of a guided tour and were picked up right in front of our hotel. Particularly for a wine-tasting excursion, a chauffeured excursion seemed to be a much better idea. Michelle helped us with our luggage, and off we went on our adventure. Three other guests were already in the van: a grandmother, mother and granddaughter team from Texas who were here for a quick girls’ weekend getaway.
The historic Curran Theatre
As we started driving Michelle explained the various parts of San Francisco and Marin County that we were driving through. We drove past the affluent neighbourhoods of Russian Hill and Pacific Heights and had a glimpse at the classic Greek-inspired 1915 Palace of Fine Arts. The Presidio, a former military facility dating back all the way to 1776, is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In the rain we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, and Michelle filled us in about the history of this historic landmark. On the other side of the bridge are the two affluent communities of Sausalito and Tiburon.
Great architecture in downtown San Francisco
We entered Marin County, the region located across from San Francisco, north of the Golden Gate Bridge. According to the 2000 Census, Marin County had the highest per capita income, and homes costing several million dollars are no rarity. Notable current and former residents of this area include Andre Agassi, Jennifer Aniston, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Huey Lewis, George Lucas, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Robin Williams and many more. We exited off the main highway and started to drive on side roads through mountainous terrain with the rain blocking out much of our view.
Entrance to the Muir Woods National Monument
After about an hour’s drive we arrived at the Muir Woods National Monument, a protected forest of Coastal Redwood trees and part of the National Park Service. Before logging started in California there were an estimated 2 million acres (or 8000 square kilometers) of redwood forests. By the early part of the last century, most of these trees had vanished, cut down for construction and industrial purposes. In the early 1900s, a local Congressman by the name of William Kent was acutely aware of the need to preserve some of the last remainders of these forests, and he purchased 611 acres (2.47 square kilometers) of land from the Tamalpais Land and Water Company to protect these unique redwood trees. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt declared the land a national monument, the first such area to be created from land that was donated by a private individual. The forest was named after naturalist John Muir, who helped to create the national park system with his environmental campaigns.
Giant Sequoia trees
Today Muir Woods features Giant Sequoia trees that can grow up to 380 feet or 115 metres. The tallest tree in the Muir Woods actually measures 285 feet or 79 metres. On average the trees are between 500 and 800 years old, and the oldest is about 1,200 years old. Michelle explained that Coastal Redwood trees contain a special ingredient that repels pests which allows them to become that old. Other species in the forest include California Bay Laurel, Bigleaf Maple Trees and Tanoak. More than 50 species of birds make Muir Woods their home.
Interesting views in the rain