Early Morning at Bay Landing Hotel
Our day started with a lovely continental breakfast at Bay Landing Hotel near the San Francisco International Airport. We chose to stay in this particular hotel because of all the positive ratings we had read, and the fact it was near the airport. Our car was with us, so we weren’t planning on flying anywhere. Hubby and I, as well as the kids, just happen to really like airplanes. This is why Bay Landing Hotel turned out to be even better than we expected. It had a small outdoor patio, which offered a great view of all the airplanes coming in for landing over San Francisco Bay. We took some time to enjoy our breakfast while watching the steady stream of landing airplanes.
When we were finished, we all got in the car and headed toward new adventures. Our plan for today was to visit Muir Woods National Monument, a beautiful forest of ancient redwood trees, just north of San Francisco.
Our First Stop, Fort Point
Since the road we needed went right through the Golden Gate Bridge, we decided to take a short stop there before we crossed. Our kids were eager to collect some Junior Ranger badges, and since this was a National Recreational Area, they could do that. All we needed was to pick up the relevant Junior Ranger booklets for them to fill out. We found the booklets in question right under the Golden Gate Bridge, in Fort Point.
Originally, we weren’t planning on stopping here but our quest for Junior Ranger badges sent us to this place. It turned out, Fort Point was a fascinating three-story superstructure with numerous hallways, arched entrances, and cannons on display. We learned that it was completed shortly before the Civil War to protect San Francisco Bay from the invasion of hostile ships.
The kids picked up their Junior Ranger booklets, and we looked around a little bit. We would have liked to stay longer, but the cold wind on this foggy San Francisco morning was cutting through our clothes like a knife. This reminded me of a quote by Mark Twain, who once said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
Golden Gate Bridge, Foggy and Mystic
After we left Fort Point, we stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was quite foggy and mystic looking, which was very different from the previous day, when it was clear, and illuminated by the late afternoon sun.
We got in our car, and excitedly made our way to the entrance point of the Golden Gate Bridge. The kids were thrilled that they not only got to see it, but also had the opportunity to cross it. While driving on the bridge, I kept looking up through the windshield of the car, trying to snap a few photos. The fog was so thick that it covered most of the two supporting towers. Even so, we all truly enjoyed it because it was such an authentic San Francisco experience.
On the Other Side
Once we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, the fog quickly dissipated. The further away from the Bay we drove, the clearer the sky became. As we got closer to Muir Woods, the road became more curvy, and started to slowly descend. When we finally arrived at the National Monument, we quickly realized that finding a parking spot near the entrance would be next to impossible. It was a beautiful, late summer day, and the place was absolutely packed.
Everyone Wants to Visit Muir Woods
We continued driving further down the road, desperately looking for a parking spot. We drove for what felt like a couple miles. There were no empty lots, so a ton of people had parked on the side of the road. We decided to turn aroun at one point. As we got closer to the entrance, hubby noticed that one of the parking lots nearby had its barriers lifted. What luck! Just as we were trying to see whether there were available spaces, a park employee waved us in. We saw a couple of open spots that had just freed up, so we happily pulled in one.
Finally in the Woods
From the parking lot, we walked on a short trail that led to the park entrance. As we always do when visiting national parks with kids, we stopped by the visitor center to pick up the Junior Ranger booklets. It was a busy day, and there were a ton of kiddos who were aspiring future Junior Rangers. When we were all equipped with our booklets and maps, we finally entered the park.
We started walking on the main Redwood Creek Trail, and were immediately taken into an ancient sanctuary of majestic Redwood trees. Our heads turned up towards the sky as we tried to perceive exactly how high these trees were. It was an incredible feeling to be walking among some of the tallest living things on Earth.
First Stop, Cross Section of Life
Our first stop was near a large display featuring a cross section of a Redwood tree. It showed how the age of the tree was calculated by the number of its rings. The tree on the display was apparently born in year 909, and fell in 1930, which would make it 1021 years old. Along some of the rings in the cross section, there were dates, which marked various important events in the history of humankind.
While staring with fascination at this sign, hubby and I remembered that the kids had Junior Ranger booklets to work on. We sat down on the nearby bench, and had them start on some of the activities, one of which was to draw a cross section of their lives.
California Bay Laurel Tree Leaves
After about ten minutes of intense thinking and writing, the kids were ready to continue exploring the park. Their next mission was to find a certain mysterious yellow leaf along the trail, smell it, and describe its smell. We didn’t have to look too far to find such a leaf. In fact, there were several right near the trail.
We all took turns smelling it, and we knew it was a somewhat familiar smell. Hubby and I just couldn’t quite put our finger on it. The kids described the smell as that of a “nice soap” or a “nice candle”. Hubby said it reminded him of a familiar spice. As we found out later from a park ranger, the leaf was indeed very close in appearance and smell to what we know as a bay leaf. It was from a tree called California Bay Laurel Tree, which was used by the Native American as a medicine for headaches and colds, as well as a bug repellent.
On to Cathedral Grove
As we continued our walk on the Redwood Creek Trail, we passed the Canopy View Trail, which began with a set of stairs. This was a beautiful, quiet dirt trail through the forest, which takes visitors away from the crowds on the main loop. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to explore it.
Not too much further down the main Redwood Creek Trail, was the enchanted Cathedral Grove area of Muir Woods National Monument. This was a dense part of the forest, where along with single trees, there were several redwood family circles growing close together. It was truly a cathedral built by Mother Nature.
This is where in 1945 a memorial for President Franklin D. Roosevelt was held with a large number of United Nations delegates in attendance.
The Memorial Plaque at Cathedral Grove Stated:
Here in this grove of enduring redwoods, preserved for posterity, members of the United Nations Conference on International Organization met on May 19, 1945, to honor the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, thirty-first President of the United States, chief architect of the United Nations, and apostle of lasting peace for all mankind.
Going Back on Bohemian Grove Trail
While enjoying the quiet majestic beauty of Cathedral Grove, hubby and I helped the kids complete their Junior Ranger booklets. At this point, we decided it was best to turn around and get back to the city for an early dinner. We crossed the nearby Bridge 3 over Redwood Creek, and took the Bohemian Grove Trail back towards the visitor center.
Hubby and Angie went ahead of me and Dani since they both needed to stop by the restroom. We continued a little more slowly behind, taking in every sight of this ancient forest.
At one point, we came to a Redwood tree that had a large lump protruding from its trunk. This was quite a giant burl.
We had learned earlier that burls are irregular growths, filled with redwood buds. They are commonly found on the roots or trunks of redwoods. When there is a forest fire, or anything else that causes stress to the tree, these buds sprout, giving life to a new tree. This is how redwood family circles form, from the sprouting of burls near the roots of the original tree.
Redwood Photo Booth
As we continued our walk back on the Bohemian Grove Trail, we came to a huge Redwood tree that had a giant opening at the bottom of its trunk. Naturally, there was a line of people in front of it waiting to take a picture standing inside this crevice. Dani saw it, and excitedly asked me to wait in line for this unique photo op. I agreed, and when our turn came, one of the other people in line kindly took our picture.
Muir Woods Junior Rangers
Shorty thereafter, Dani and I arrived at the visitor center where hubby and Angie were waiting for us. It was time for the kids to get their Muir Woods Junior Ranger badges. We found a nice park ranger who asked them a few questions, which they answered with as much confidence as a mouse standing in front of a cat. They did however demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the material, so after taking the pledge, the ranger handed them their new badges. Speaking of badges, the ones issued by Muir Woods are really quite special because they were actually made of recycled redwood. Thrilled with these newfound treasures, we walked back on the short trail leading to our car.
More Junior Ranger Affairs
As soon as we left Muir Woods National Monument, the kids had to focus their attention on another set of Junior Ranger booklets. These were the ones we picked up earlier at Fort Point, under the Golden Gate Bridge. Now, we had to go back there with completed booklets, and ready to answer a few more questions. There wasn’t much time left until closing, so the kids had to work on their booklets during the car ride from Muir Woods back to San Francisco. With our help, they quickly answered the required questions, and were ready to take another pledge.
Back on the Bridge
As we got closer to the Golden Gate Bridge, we encountered the fog once again. This time however, it was not quite as dense as in the morning.
One could actually see the tops of the two supporting towers, and there were even a few small patches of blue sky. The kids were very excited to have one more opportunity to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and so were we. It’s one of those things that never gets old; one of those things that is truly so much more special than it sounds!
To Fort Point for the Badges
After we made our way across, hubby drove us back to Fort Point, where the kids had to speak with a ranger and get another set of the precious Junior Ranger badges. Since there were no parking spots, hubby just dropped us off, and we ran towards the entrance. The wind under the bridge was once again cutting through our clothes, and it felt even stronger and colder than the morning.
We walked through the gate, and luckily found a ranger standing nearby. The kids went up to him, and presented their completed booklets. He checked them, and kindly told the kids what a great job they did. He didn’t think it was necessary to ask them any more specific questions, so he just congratulated our daughters, and presented them with their badges. They were of course beyond excited to get not one but two Junior Ranger badges on the same day.
The Marina District
After we completed the whole badge mission for the day, we decided it was time to get something to eat. We hadn’t really eaten lunch, and it was past 6:00 pm. After consulting Yelp, we drove to a nice little restaurant nearby that offered fresh salads and sandwiches, as well as healthy kid combos. Since the restaurant was located in the beautiful Marina District of San Francisco, we decided to take a walk after dinner, and enjoy the cool evening.
The Palace of Fine Arts
As we strolled along the sidewalk, hubby and I kept admiring the unique facades, and the high end housing in this particular area. Meanwhile, our children noticed pretty much none of it, as they were too busy giggling and chasing each other in disorienting circles.
At last, we arrived at The Palace of Fine Arts, one of San Francisco’s top tourist attractions. The garden near the palace was crowded with people, some just visitors, and others posing for photos as part of wedding parties. It was in a way a scene of joyful chaos.
The Itchy Swan
While I was looking around at all the people, our kids ran off towards the small lake in the garden. Something else caught their attention. Hubby and I went after them, and saw a white swan gracefully gliding on the water surface. We followed the swan until he stopped near the edge of the lake under a bush to groom and scratch himself.
The kids had great fun observing the swan as he ruffled his feathers with his beak, and twisted his long neck to reach all the itchy spots. This was their greatest memory from San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts.
Back to Bay Landing Hotel
After the swan started gliding gracefully back to the middle of the lake, we decided to head back to the car. Our walk went pretty much the same way as before. While hubby and I quietly enjoyed the fresh evening, our kids loudly giggled and ran around all over the sidewalk.
We got in the car, and agreed that it might be fun to stop by the famous zigzagging Lombard Street. Unfortunately, we soon found out that there was very heavy traffic in that area. So, we decided it would be best to head back to our hotel, and enjoy a relaxing evening there.
After spending a little time in the lobby, and looking at all the airplanes landing on the nearby runway, we went to our room. We were all content with such a productive day. Not only did we visit Muir Woods, but we also picked up two brand new Junior Ranger badges. It was another great day in California, another great day for the books!
Join us again as we continue to explore the central California coast, on a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
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