National Park Getaway: John Muir National Historic Site

By Jim MacDonald, Lead Interpretive Ranger, John Muir National Historic Site
a tall white building
The Strenzel-Muir House

NPS Photo

This year is the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service - celebrate by visiting the place where the idea for the National Park Service began! Stop by the John Muir National Historic Site and visit the home of prominent naturalist and writer John Muir in Martinez, California. Experience the famous "scribble den," the room where John Muir compiled many of his most influential writings. Stroll through historic orchards tended to by Muir himself and saunter through more than 300 acres of a nature preserve where he taught his daughters, Wanda and Helen, about nature. Not only is the park conveniently located right off Highway 4 at the Alhambra Avenue exit, it is also a perfect place to begin your national park experience in the San Francisco Bay area.

The historic Italianate Victorian home, originally built in 1882 by John Muir’s father-in-law, John Strenzel, is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm for a self-guided experience or ranger-led tours. The three levels of the house contain museum exhibits, historic artifacts, and original features of the home. Stop by the visitor center to see a 20-minute film about John Muir’s life and legacy. You can also walk through nine acres of orchards with surviving examples of some of the many varieties of fruits cultivated on what was once a ranch of over 2,600 acres. On the grounds sits the 167-year-old Martinez Adobe, the oldest structure in the town of Martinez. The Martinez Adobe features exhibits about the historic 1776 expedition of Lt. Col. Juan Bautista de Anza. The expedition began in present-day Mexico and successfully established Spain’s northernmost colony of Alta California. It is now part of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail.

If, like Muir, you are hungry for nature and wilderness, head to the other side of Highway 4 to find the Mt. Wanda area trailhead. Sauntering up the main trail will transport you away from the city into a peaceful bit of wilderness surrounded by diverse plants and numerous birds. Visitors regularly join rangers for nature walks and spring wildflower hikes. From spring through fall, rangers lead full moon hikes bringing you to the top of Mt. Wanda to see the sunset and the full moon rise.

Check John Muir National Historic Site's calendar before visiting. The park offers many other public programs, such as seasonal guided hikes, campfire programs full of stories and songs, and opportunities to learn about the night sky as you peer through the park’s powerful telescope. Or make a day of it and visit three national parks within driving distance; tour award-winning playwright Eugene O'Neill's house in Danville, learn about the homefront effort during World War II at Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, or visit Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial in Concord, the site of the worst homefront disaster during World War II.

Plan your visit to John Muir National Historic Site today. Park rangers and docents are excited to share the full story of the man known as “the Father of the National Park Service.”