Hidden gem: John Muir National Historic Site


Nestled in the hills of the East Bay next to California State Route 4 is the mansion and 325 acres of woods and grassland that famed writer and naturalist John Muir called home from 1890 until his death in 1914. Among the activities the site offers are guided and self-guided tours of the mansion and grounds, exhibits detailing California history, and hikes on Mt. Wanda and the surrounding areas. The Muir home site is open everyday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. year-round, while the Mt. Wanda area is open everyday from sunrise to sunset.

Parking and public transportation at ​John Muir National Historic Site
This location can be reached by car, bike, and bus, but traveling by car is recommended due to the limited number of public transportation options. The nearest BART station is nearly 10 miles away in Concord, although there is an Amtrak station in downtown Martinez that is two miles away and has a County Connection bus line (#16) which stops at the park. The parking lot at the site is small (16 spaces) but parking is also available on surrounding streets.

Best and worst time to go to John Muir National Historic Site
It doesn't get too packed and there's plenty of space, so there aren't many bad times to go. However, this part of the Bay Area can get quite warm in the spring and summer, so take that into consideration if you plan on exploring outdoors.

Admission to John Muir National Historical Site
Visiting is completely free! Visitors are more than welcome to come tour the house and grounds as much as they like.

Must see/do at John Muir National Historical Site
Taking a guided tour of the Victorian mansion should be at the top of your list if you really want to learn more about the life and work of John Muir. Self-guided cell phone tours are available as well, but they only cover the park grounds and make no stops in the mansion. Other opportunities for exploration include seasonal wildflower walks, camp fire programs, bird walks and full moon walks. Events are going on all the time, so be sure to check the website's calendar.

Other places to visit near John Muir National Historical Site
The Benicia Clock Tower in neighboring Benicia is a great place to get more local history lessons while enjoying a spectacular view of the ocean that surrounds the city. Also in Benicia is the Benicia Historical Museum, which details the history of the city and the military presence there. If you want a museum with some added thrills, The Cobra Experience in Martinez is dedicated to the conservation of classic muscle cars produced by Shelby American.

Insider tip for visitors to John Muir National Historical Site
While you're on the grounds, take some time to stop by the fruit orchard and do some picking. The trees produce fruit year-round, so there's likely to be something nice and ripe whenever you visit. Just be careful to be gentle with the branches. Visitors are allowed to take home a small amount of fruit, but the park asks to keep picking to a minimum.

Dennis Biles is a freelance journalist who was born and raised in the Bay Area.