looking up to decks at Tourist Club on Mt. Tam, image

Enjoy a frosty beer at the Tourist Club after a hike on Mt. Tamalpais.

Mill Valley's Hidden Beer Garden

Road Journals Blog—It’s hard to imagine being whisked away to a German beer house in the woods when it’s a sweltering 95 degrees outside and my legs stick to my car’s leather interior, but I couldn’t shake the image of a Bavarian cottage, dark woods, and mugs of frosty beer from my head. After some research, I discovered the Tourist Club, a piece of the German countryside hidden in the Muir Woods, where in-the-know locals—and girls tired of their legs sticking to their car seats—can pretend they’ve escaped to the outskirts of Munich.

Much of the Tourist Club’s charm lies in its location. You can only access the beer cottage from trails inside Muir Woods, near Mt. Tamalpais. I chose a 45-minute hike up Mill Valley’s Dipsea Steps and across the Sun Trail. First my hiking partner and I parked at Old Mill Park, roughly 30 minutes northeast of San Francisco, and followed the crowds to the Dipsea Steps, which included 688 stairs up three flights. Once we (finally) reached the top, we continued onto the shaded Dipsea Trail and weaved our way through the foliage to the Sun Trail, which flanks a large hill to its right and a sharp cliff drop to the left.

I felt like Frodo taking the ring to Mordor, and after what seemed like an eternity on the narrow trail, we reached a wooded clearing and could hear raucous laughter coming from below. A chalkboard beer sign welcomed us to the Tourist Club, and we climbed down the steps to the wooden cabin, relieved we hadn’t gotten lost or fallen off the cliff. We grabbed a pitcher of European beer from inside the cottage, which was painted with pastel flowers and alpine designs, and snagged a seat on the deck before it filled up. Most other visitors opted to bring sandwiches for a makeshift picnic, and by the time we had finished, the deck was filled with hikers strewn on blankets, devouring late afternoon meals.

Whether it was the beers or surviving the first pass, the return trip on the cliff trail didn’t seem nearly as harrowing, especially when a young dad with his child strapped to his chest passed me. Next time I may opt to park in the nearby lot and walk the quarter-mile trail to the Tourist Club, but nothing makes you feel like you deserve a beer quite like surviving 688 steps and a steep cliff trail.

Open to the public the first, second, and fourth weekends of the month. Be sure to check their site to see when they are open for guests, as the rest of the time this is a private club.

30 Ridge Ave., Mill Valley, Calif., touristclubsf.org. Directions: touristclubsf.org/directions

Photography by Kristen Haney

This blog post was first published in July 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.