Muir Woods National Monument Muir Woods is the last remaining grove of Giant Redwood trees in the Bay Area, located just outside the city of San Francisco. In 1908, it was declared a national monument and named after the naturalist John Muir, in recognition of his conservation efforts.

This is a must-see spot for nature lovers and hikers. It was also the filming location for the 2011 movie "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

You can take a shuttle from the ferry terminal in Sausalito to Muir Woods and stay car-free, or you can drive up to the woods. For shuttle service information, click here.

Tip: On busy days, parking may be difficult to find at the monument. It is strongly suggested to use public transit.

Once you arrive, you can choose from several easy trails or longer trails into the surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park.

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Muir Woods Trails The monument trails are boardwalk loops of various lengths (from 0.5 to 2 miles) and are very easy with no elevation gain. The main trail, which is about 2 miles long, runs along a stream with mid-sized redwoods on either side. Three bridges cross the stream. You can loop back at any of those bridges or just cross over for better views.

For a more challenging hike, head to the upper trails in the state park. You can take the "Tourist Club Loop," which is about 4.5 miles long and offers views that most visitors miss.

The park has a good snack and gift shop near the entrance. The snack shop offers deli-style sandwiches, and there are clean restrooms next door.

Another way to experience this natural wonder is with a bus tour. I recently went with "Best Bay Area Tours" on their Muir Woods and Wine Tasting Tour.

Best Bay Area Tours We rode in a luxurious Mercedes van with our driver and tour guide, Mike. Mike was pleasant and knowledgeable about Muir Woods and the Sonoma wine country.

During the first part of the trip, we went up the hills on Pacific Coast Highway to the monument. Along the way, we learned about the history of the park and various plants and trees. We spent about 2 hours hiking the trails and stopping for amazing photo opportunities.

After a stop at the snack bar for coffee and a restroom break, we headed out to Sonoma. Mike continued to educate us about the different types of wine and the two Sonoma valleys.

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Cline Cellars Our first wine stop was at the "Cline Cellars." The building looked like an old plantation house surrounded by vineyards. A big fish pond on the side offers entertainment to non-wine drinkers. There is also a museum on the premises. You can sample five non-reserve wines for free and a flight of reserve wine for $5. The wines offered were not especially good, just average.

The next stop was at the "Larson Family Winery." This winery looks like an old converted barn, with two friendly Lab dogs greeting visitors. The dogs are a hit with the kids, who can also play some games in the backyard while adults sample the wines. The wines were above average, with a few that were very good. I especially liked the Merlot offering.

Lunch in Sonoma For lunch, we stopped in the city of Sonoma. Sonoma is a nice, quiet old town with a historic downtown plaza. At the center of the plaza, you will find the beautiful colonial city hall building. On three sides of the plaza, there is a large selection of shops and restaurants. I enjoyed a delicious salad at "The Girl & The Fig."

After lunch, we met Mike at the cheese factory, where you can taste their cheese and fudge selection. I also enjoyed a tasty dessert of gelato ice cream.

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Our last stop was at the "Jacuzzi Family Vineyards," which is right across the street from the first stop, "Cline Cellars." We learned that both wineries are owned by the same parent company but have distinct differences.

Jacuzzi is more upscale and situated in a very nice building. They offer free wine tasting and free olive oil tasting. The tasting host is very knowledgeable about the wines and the Jacuzzi family history. Did you know that Roy Jacuzzi invented the water pump and designed a very light propeller? The history lessons were a great bonus, and the wines were a hit. I liked several of their offerings, and the prices were reasonable. Don’t forget to visit the tower with commanding views of the valley and the hills.

View from Marin Headlands On the way back, we drove through the beautiful town of Sausalito and up to the Marin Headlands. I always pass under the headlands when going over the Golden Gate Bridge. It never occurred to me to go up there. Now I know what I was missing. The view of the bridge and the city from above is breathtaking.

As a whole, I really enjoyed my trip with Best Bay Area Tours. I only have one small critique: the time allotted for each stop was too long. We finished wine tasting and exploring quickly, then had to wait for the van to pick us up.

Best Bay Area Tours offers other wine tasting tours as well as city tours and Yosemite day tours.