Corbitt's National Parks
     John Muir
                National Historic Site


1964: National Historic Site

Size: 345 acres

2008 visitors: 28,770

Stamp: Yes

Rating (1-5):

About the Site

John Muir is revered for popularizing the idea of preserving wild lands not for their commodities like timber, grazing, and water, but for their wildness, openness, and natural splendor. Muir was the first president of the Sierra Club and advocated the creation of Yosemite, Sequoia, Mount Ranier, and Grand Canyon national parks.

"Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation?" he asked. His vision still inspires people to love nature and work to save wildlands and wildlife, and Muir is often called the father of national parks. He was born in 1836 in Dunbar, Scotland, and emigrated with his family to Wisconsin in 1849. In 1867, after a factory accident damaged his eye, he undertook a thousand-mile walk from Kentucky to the Gulf of Mexico. He kept a journal that was published after his death.

The next year he moved to California and got his first sight of something he would cherish for the rest of his life, Yosemite. He would discover glaciers there, meet Ralph Waldo Emerson there, begin his writing career there. In 1871 he published an article that claimed glaciers had carved Yosemite Valley. His ideas were ridiculed at the time, but later he was proven essentially correct. In 1882 he began fruit ranching at Martinez (at the location of this Site), and he campaigned for the creation of Yosemite National Park. His articles in magazines and newspapers helped change the prevailing attitude toward wilderness.

"I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it ... "

Some say Muir's three-day camping trip with then-president Theodore Roosevelt spurred the creation of many Parks. "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings", he said in 1901. He later explored Arizona's Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest.

What You're Going to See

This Site preserves the 14-room Victorian home that he lived in from 1890 until his death in 1914, along with 325 acres of open space and 8.5 acres of the fruit ranch. John Muir married into the fruit-ranching Strentzel family in 1880. Martinez would be his home until he died. He was hard-working and astute, and earned enough money from the orchards in five years to support his family for the rest of his life. Visitors can hike, picnic, tour the house and grounds, watch a film on Muir's life. There are guided tours, bird and wildflower walks, and junior ranger programs.

There is a Giant Sequoia near the house; Muir transplanted it as a sapling. The climate in Martinez is not the best for the tree, but it's tall and strong and very impressive. There are also redwoods on the property as well.

Personal Observations

John Muir National Historic Site is a good visit. It can be explored at leisure, but isn't so huge that one feels daunted. Take your time in the four-story house, see how Muir and his family lived back then. Wander through the orchards of apple, cherry, and citrus trees, enjoy the peach and cherry and almond trees. You can find plums, prunes, grapes, walnuts, pears, apricots and lemons. If in season, the Rangers will give away samples to visitors. "We can't charge you for the fruit", I was told by one helpful ranger in the small visitors center, "because you own it." He smiled. In season, the gardeners harvest the fruit and place it in boxes behind the visitors center.

Unfortunately, I visited John Muir's house in December, when fog hung thick over the ground and the fruit trees were bare sticks. No fruit for me! Be sure to dress appropriately -- that day, it was warmer and clear in San Francisco, and a chilly 44 degrees fahrenheit in Martinez. The Junior Ranger program intrigued my two sons who came along, and they spent nearly an hour wandering over the grounds, discovering redwoods and a giant fig tree and the Martinez House. There is an eight-minute movie that tells of Muir's life and accomplishments.

We arrived there at 11:00 a.m., and were only the second group to visit the Site that day. We saw one other family in the two hours we spent there. The Rangers told us that spring and fall is their busy time, when local elementary students arrive by the busload.

Getting There

Near San Francisco Bay, in Martinez. From Oakland, go north on I-80 and take Highway 4 east to Martinez, and take the Alhambra exit. Turn north (right) on Alhambra; the Site is immediately north of the highway, on your left (west).

From San Francisco, cross on the Bay Bridge and go northeast on I-80 to Highway 4. Take that east to the Alhambra exit. Turn north (left) on Alhambra, and go under the highway; the Site is immediately north of the highway, on your left (west).

Visited December 2004.

Nearby Attractions

Take a breath! There's a reason San Francisco is such a popular place. Within a few miles of John Muir National Historic Site, you'll find: Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park, Fort Point National Historic Site, San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site, Muir Woods National Monument, and Point Reyes National Seashore. Don't forget California Coastal National Monument.