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Bus Camping without Reservation

We had a blast camping across the Golden Gate Bridge at Pantoll Campground this weekend!  It’s one of the few campgrounds in the Bay Area where reservations aren’t required, and even better yet, you don’t have to drive to get there!

We set out on Friday afternoon from San Francisco State University on the 28 and rode to the Golden​ Gate Transit (GGT) Center stop.  From there we walked upstairs, hopped on the GGT 4, and took it across the bridge to Equator Coffee in Mill Valley.  The coffee shop is great for kids, and has enough outdoor seating for our gang of 5, (3 kids and 2 parents).  If you forgot to bring water, (we did), the liquor store situated next to the coffee shop is also handy.  We waited at the coffee shop for a pleasant 20 minutes or so for the Marin Transit 61.  The 61 winds up through the mountains passing Muir Woods on the way, and stops directly across the street from Pantoll campground.

The forecast for Friday night at Pantoll called for an 83% chance of rain.  I’m guessing this contributed our getting the pick of the campsites.  The kids put up the tent, and we went for a hike through the foggy woods full of furry trees.  An hour or so later, the sun went down, we climbed into our tent, and went to sleep.

We were expecting more of the typical Bay Area mist-as-rain storm, but for once, it full-on rained!  We slept all night bundled into our bags with torrents of rain bouncing off the rain-fly just a few feet above our heads.  It was incredible!  Thing cleared off around 5 AM, and then we would up getting up around 6 because the full  moon was so bright, it was lighting up the tent.

By 7:30 or so, we were on our way into Stinson Beach via the 3-mile long, all downhill Steep Ravine Trail.  Six-year-old No. 1 and five-year-old No. 2 bounded ahead of us, occasionally coming back to make sure everyone was still coming.  Mom-person took time with them later in the hike to point out that if they came to a fork in the trail, they were to stop and wait for us.  (There are only two forks somewhat late in the trail closer to Stinson Beach.)  Two-year-old No. 3 also walked the entire hike minus perhaps 100 yards, but hung with us most of the time.

There are only a few technically difficult parts of the hike denpending on how tall you are.  There are some fairly steep, fairly tall steps where 3 asked us to hold her hand on her way down.  There’s also a ladder-cum-staircase that bridges a seven-foot cliff in the middle of the trail.  1 and 2 made it down the inclined ladder rungs on their own.  I carried 3 with me.  The last time we were up here, she and I made our way down the ladder with her in the Moby wrap.

Once we arrived in Stinson Beach, we made our way immediately to the ParkSide Restaurant.  Having now done this twice, I’ll go instead to the ParkSide snack bar located in the same building two entrances down next time.  The restaurant is kid-friendly, and decent enough, but it’s more of a place to be seen than to hangout.  Save yourself a lot of money and time, and hit the snack bar with similar sorts of food, (they appear to both be owned by the same outfit), for far less money.

Having made our three mile hike down the hill, we elected not to hike back up, and instead caught the 61 at the corner of Shoreline Highway, and Calle del Mar back to the campground.  Before the bus came, we picked up some slightly over-priced groceries at Shoreline Market right across from the downtown Stinson Beach bus stop, and had a mini-picnic in the tent that evening under the rainfly to block the wind, and stay warm while we told ghost stories.

Only one warning: be sure to lock your campsite food-box thoroughly.  We lost most of our groceries to raccoons in the middle of the night.  We were returning home the next day, so it was no great loss.

I stressed a little over finding bus routes home Saturday night before the phone battery died.  It turns out I need not have worried.  The return trip is even easier than the trip out, as long as your return on a weekend.  On weekends, instead of terminating in Marin City, the 61 ends its route at the Sausalito Ferry port.  If you have a Clipper Card with cash funds on it just get in line.  You can take the ferry back to San Francisco for $4.75.  If you don’t you can purchase a Clipper Card from the vending machine at the port.  Mom-person and I treated ourselves to pretty decent Bloody Marys on the way across the bay, (yet another reason we love public transit here).  The kdis sat inside fascinated alternately with watching both the ball-game, (we watch next to no television at the house), and all the people moving to-and-fro on the ferry.  We sat outside and were treated to an escort of pelicans, and a sea lion headed the opposite direction across the bay.

From the ferry terminal it was an easy two block walk to Embarcadero BART station where we made our way home.


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