How To Plan A DIY Muir Woods Tour From San Francisco

Posted in Frugal Travel
on December 15, 2018

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One of the top things I wanted to do on our trip to San Francisco was to get to Muir Woods to see the giant redwoods. When I saw the cost for a Muir Woods tour (which started at $95 per person!) I knew there had to be a way to DIY a Muir Woods and Sausalito tour on the cheap.

In this post, I’ll walk you through the easy process of planning a self-guided Muir Woods tour from San Francisco. You’ll get to experience a gorgeous ferry ride across the bay, grab some lunch in famous Sausalito, and soak up the beauty of the largest living things on the planet, the giant redwoods. 

This day trip ended up being my favorite thing we did on our visit to San Francisco, so I’m excited to share how you can do it yourself – here’s how!

How To Get To Muir Woods From San Francisco 

To get to Muir Woods, I suggest taking a scenic ferry ride across the bay to Sausalito, then grabbing the shuttle bus to Muir Woods.

You’ll get great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and get to explore the lovely town of Sausalito. I will show you have to arrange this on the cheap and share a hack for saving money on your ferry tickets!

If you have a car on your trip to San Francisco (which I don’t recommend if you are staying in the city – parking is $50 per night on average), then you can drive to Muir Woods via the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Muir Woods Tour: Ferry to Sausalito

We took the Golden Gate Ferry from the Ferry Building at Embarcadero. Check out the view from the ferry!

There’s lots of comfortable seating on the ferry, wi-fi, plus food and drink for sale (complete with a full bar!) The trip to Sausalito take about 30 minutes. 

You can get the schedule for the ferry to Sausalito from the Ferry Building here but be sure to come back for my hack to save on tickets!

If you have never been to the historic Ferry Building, it is a destination in and of itself. There’s incredible food for sale there with lots of options. We had empanadas that I’m still thinking about. 

There is another ferry to Sausalito that departs from Pier 41, which is close to Fisherman’s Wharf. I haven’t taken that ferry myself so I can’t share any tips, but you can get the schedule and info for the Blue & Gold Fleet ferry here.

How To Buy Your Ferry Tickets At A Discount

I suggest buying your ferry tickets from the machines that are located at the entrance to the ferry dock (they take all major credit cards).  Plan to arrive about 20-30 minutes before your departure time to get tickets.

The regular cost for an adult round-trip ferry ticket is $25. But here’s how to get them for $18, saving you $7 per ticket (almost 30% off):

 
If you are buying an adult ticket, select “Buy New Clipper Card Adult” at the machine. Then buy the card (which costs $3) and add $15 in value to it. This will be enough for your round-trip ferry ride and you will even have money left over. 

If you are buying tickets for youth ages 5-18 (or Seniors 65 and older), select “Tickets To & From Sausalito” and select a Youth/Senior Roundtrip ticket which will cost $12.50. Children 4 and under are free!

Muir Woods Tour: Shuttle To/From Muir Woods

Before you plan your ferry trip, you should first purchase your tickets for the Muir Woods shuttle bus. The shuttle is run by Ace Parking, a private company that works with Muir Woods National Monument to handle the very limited parking. 

The shuttle is SUPER affordable – kids 18 and under are free and adults are only $3 roundtrip.

There is a shuttle stop right in Sausalito at the intersection of Bay and Bridgeway streets, less than a 5-minute walk from the Ferry dock. The shuttle ride took 40 minutes are was very scenic – check out the video below for a glimpse of the views!

You can make your shuttle reservation online here. Be sure to pick a time that will work with the ferry schedule. For example, on the weekends the first ferry arrives in Sausalito at 11:10 am. So the earliest shuttle you could get to Muir Woods is 11:30.

We opted for the 12:30 shuttle so we would have time to explore Sausalito and grab some lunch there. 

You’ll also have the option to purchase your entry to Muir Woods along with your shuttle ticket. I suggest doing that so you don’t have to wait in line to purchase your ticket once you get to Muir Woods!

Also be sure to save your tickets to your phone right after you buy them. There is NO cell service at Muir Woods so you won’t be able to access your tickets once you are there. 

Muir Woods Tour: Sausalito

Sausalito is a gorgeous town that has a very European look and feel to it. There’s a small downtown area right off of the Ferry dock with lots of options for grabbing lunch or a snack. 

We grabbed sandwiches at the Venice Gourmet Deli for under $10. The view from our little table was great as was the people watching!

California Club from The Venice Deli

We had some ice cream while we were waiting for our return ferry from one of the many ice cream shops in Sausalito. It’s a lovely stop on your Muir Woods tour and shouldn’t be missed!

Muir Woods Tour: The Giant Redwoods

And of course, the main attraction on this DIY Muir Woods Tour are the giant redwoods themselves. The cost to enter Muir Woods National Monument is $10 for adults and kids 15 and under are free. 

These redwoods top out at around 250 feet tall, which means they aren’t the tallest redwoods in California (those are over 350 feet tall). But they are majestic nonetheless!

We spent about an hour and a half in Muir Woods and stayed on the main trail that weaves back into the grove. There are other longer trails if you have more time (which you might if you visit during the week). 

There is a tiny visitor’s center and a cafe (with crazily priced items – like $5 for a bottle of Coke, etc.) but not much else to see and do here except walk among the trees. 


Be sure to walk far enough back to experience the Cathedral Grove – the sign as you enter asks for everyone to be silent as they walk through. This was a challenge for my five-year-old but the peace and quiet were priceless. 

I’ve been to the redwood grove in Yosemite National Park, and these trees in Muir Woods aren’t quite as impressive. But the whole experience was amazing and well worth the trip from San Francisco!

Plan your shuttle time back to Sausalito carefully so you can catch your ferry back to San Francisco. 

DIY Muir Woods Tour Cost

Here is the breakdown of the cost involved in this self-guided Muir Woods tour:

ADULT
Roundtrip Discount Ferry Ticket: $18
Shuttle to Muir Woods: $3
Entry to Muir Woods: $10
TOTAL: $31

YOUTH (Under 16)
Roundtrip Ferry Ticket: $13
Shuttle to Muir Woods: Free
Entry to Muir Woods: Free
TOTAL: $13

So your grand total for a family of four with two kids under 16 would be $88 – less than the cost of ONE adult ticket if you purchase this all from a tour company!

While it was some work to coordinate the ferry and shuttle bus times, I would gladly do that to save over $60 per person. 

After our Muir Woods adventure

Here’s a quick summary of how to plan a self-guided Muir Woods tour from San Francisco:

How To DIY A Muir Woods Tour From San Francisco

How to plan a self-guided Muir Woods tour from San Francisco with a side trip to Sausalito.
Active Time 6 hours
Total Time 6 hours

Instructions

  1. Take a ferry from the Ferry Building or Fisherman's Wharf to Sausalito. Get discount fare with a Clipper Card from the Ferry Building.
  2. Take the Muir Woods shuttle from Sausalito - it leaves on the half hour from 10:30 am to 2:30 pm. Purchase your ticket ahead of time online.
  3. Experience Muir Woods for 1-2 hours.
  4. Make the return trip to San Francisco via the shuttle bus and ferry.
Any questions about planning your trip to Muir Woods and Sausalito? Please leave a comment below or send me a message on The Frugal South’s Facebook page!

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2 Comments

  • Family Travel To San Francisco On A Budget? Yes, It's Possible - Here's How! - The Frugal South

    […] We took an affordable day trip to see the giant redwoods in Muir Woods. […]

    March 2, 2019 at 1:55 pm Reply
  • Affordable Things To Do With Kids In San Francisco - The Frugal South

    […] Our DIY trip saved us $60 compared to what a tour company would charge for the exact same trip. Learn how to put your own day trip to Muir Woods together in this post! […]

    March 2, 2019 at 12:08 pm Reply
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