Hike (+ Beer): Dipsea Stairs to the Tourist Club

One thing the Germans understand is that hiking and beer-drinking are very complimentary activities. I mean, how often have you started on a hike and about 45 minutes in, thought to yourself, “Boy I wish I was sitting on the sunny deck of an Alpine-style chalet drinking a cold one right now”? As it turns out, you can have your hike and drink it too. Among the many wonders of Mt. Tam — redwoods, waterfalls, jaw-dropping views — is the Tourist Club.

The whole idea of the Tourist Club is a bit wacky to me: it’s a “private membership club” in the middle of public land that is open to the public most weekends (the second weekend of the month is members-only). The thing to remember is that it’s charming as all get out and serves beer (also: kettle chips and pickles) in the middle of the forest.

Now you can drive to the Tourist Club, but I personally don’t believe that’s the German way. (In my high school German class, after we learned how to ask “How are you?” and say “My name is…”, we were taught to the word fleißig which, if memory serves, our book translated as ‘industrious’.) So do a little walking before you reward yourself with a beer.

Start in Mill Valley at Old Mill Park and head up the Dipsea stairs along with everyone else. The stairs are like a more wooded version of what San Francisco’s staircases; each steep stretch leads to another block that’s a little higher up the mountain.

The low part of this excursion is a short section that cuts through a small housing development, but once you leave the cul-de-sac and cross Panoramic Highway, you’re on a much more typical Tam landscape: a narrow trail along the wildflower-strewn hillside with a view of the Pacific.

This is where it starts to feel and look a lot more like a typical hike. Since we were less than a mile away and the views were so clear, I’d expected to see the Tourist Club ahead of us, but the club is tucked into a wooded area so my sister and I didn’t see it until were nearly at the entrance gate.

Although we were following the directions published on the Tourist Club website, it seemed almost impossible that we’d walked out of a little town 45 minutes ago, headed up some stairs, through some residential neighborhoods and around part of Mt. Tam to end up here, drinking a beer on a sunny deck in the woods.

We weren’t alone on this sunny April Sunday afternoon, as you can see, but there was plenty of room to spread out and only a short line at the bar. There are board games to available if you want to do more than simply relax and drink. Many people came in groups (although the “rules” forbid groups larger than 7 people) and settled in with Scrabble and a pitcher of beer.

As an added bonus, we ran into people speaking German both on the trail and at the Tourist Club. I declined to test out my high school language skills, but I appreciated the way that the German-speakers made our excursion feel that much more authentic.

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