It's almost impossible to exaggerate the legacy of John Muir. Although the Scottish-American naturalist desperately fought against – and lost to – the politicians who would flood his beloved Hetch Hetchy Valley to deliver the water that San Francisco uses to this day, Muir's life is mostly the story of battles won for nature against shortsighted, private interests.
There he sits: statue of John Muir at historic site — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
His books portray a rugged outdoorsman, a man who leaped over crevasses in Alaska and stood toe-to-toe with Teddy Roosevelt during their iconic Yosemite trip. But a visit to his home and farm in Martinez, the place he grew fruit with his father-in-law and raised two daughters with his wife, reveals the private, personal side of this larger-than-life American icon.
John Muir's house — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
Although Muir Woods and Yosemite definitely draw more crowds, the hour-long trip from San Francisco to John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez is well worth it. Summers in this small, East Bay town can get quite hot (don't get fooled by the cool fog that you will leave behind on the Pacific), but the fall and winter seasons are comfortable and provide a unique opportunity: the chance to gather fruit from trees on Muir's farm.
Orchards ripe for the picking at John Muir's farm — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
Late fall visitors should find the apple trees laden with fruit, and park rangers enforce a simple rule on the nine-acre area: be careful when picking since branches can be delicate. And since the park rangers like everyone to get a chance to partake, keep picking to a minimum.
Other than fruit picking, activities on the historic site include ranger programs, daily guided tours at 2 pm, the historic Martinez Adobe, and a hike up Mount Wanda, a nearby hill that Muir named after one of his daughters which affords a good view of the area.
The best way to start your visit is a walk through the recently remodeled Visitor's Center. Be sure to watch A Glorious Journey, a 20-minute film that provides excellent background on Muir's influential life.
John Muir Vistor Center — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
Muir's house is open to the public, and it's been preserved to capture the daily life of the family in Muir's time. For those writers out there, a highlight is Muir's writing den. Here he labored over his "scribbles," as he called them, since Muir preferred walking through nature to any other activity on earth.
The world is indebted to him for that passion, and you'll get a real sense of the personal passions of John Muir with a visit to the John Muir National Historic Site.