For me, the name John Muir invokes the vision of an expansive glacier or redwood tree filled forest with a small log cabin nearby. Indeed, I’ve heard of at least a couple such spots past and present around the places Muir visited but as the Muir house site shows, there is more to the story than just the naturalist & explorer personas we generally hear of.
These days Martinez may seem far too much a part of the urban world to be a cornerstone of such a prolific naturalist however, as it turns out, the house and its associated story are rather fundamental to the Muir we all know and thank.
As a brief history, a hundred plus years ago in 1880 (at a time when Martinez had less than a thousand residents), John Muir married Louisa Strentzel who’s family owned a large fruit ranch. By that point Muir was in his early 40s and though he had worked many odd jobs while traveling in his younger days, he soon partnered with his father in law in the business. According to the park’s information, he spent about a decade running the ranch which made him into a wealthy man, which along with his writings, would fuel his adventures to come. In short, Muir was many things: explorer, adventure, traveler, business guy with a booming fruit ranch, a family, and a 10,000+ square-foot house.
I’ll leave the full history of John Muir to the experts or at least the books from here on out however. Instead, I want to share why I think the John Muir House is a stop worth making by offering a few views into the sights and history that lies inside.
Simply put, the Muir house offers a glimpse inside the life of one of the outdoor community’s most important figures. While the historic site may not be a majestic mountain, towering waterfall, or glacier view, it is a stunning building and fascinating story to dive into beyond the brief plaques and photos we’re usually limited to.
As for the house, as one volunteer explained, the place was a creation of Muir’s in-laws so while the marble fireplaces and ornate designs may not have been his design, the collection of paintings and sketches, books and maps that fill it very much were Muir. Standing at the edge of Muir’s study which has been recreated to look as if it’s still in use, it’s incredible to think about the works that came off of the desk just feet away and the way the outdoor spaces of America were formed in great part because of the man sitting in the chair writing them.
The National Park service has done a wonderful job of presenting it all as well. In the Visitor Center, you’ll find a short film on John Muir and the home along with the typical bookstore, passport stamp and the like. From there, the path to the house takes you through an active orchard, up to the house, and then back through more land on the way to the oldest remaining home from Martinez.
The historic site is free to explore and quite easy to reach thanks to its increasingly urban location though I do wonder what Muir would think about having a 7/11 across the street from his front-door.
- Type: National History Site (Historic Building & Property)
- Location: 4202 Alhambra Ave Martinez, CA 94553 (East Bay Area)
- Hours: Open 7 days a week from 10:00am to 5:00pm, except select holidays
- Parking: Free on-site lot
- Cost: Free Admission
- Permits: None Needed