Muir Beach & Muir Beach Park in the GGNRA
Muir Beach is an area with a small village about 3 miles (5 km.) below the slopes of Muir Woods. It’s located on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, and Muir Beach residents get their mail via the Sausalito Post Office and fall under Sausalito’s 94965 zip code (hence our coverage).
The name “Muir Beach” can refer to three different areas under three different jurisdictions, which often causes confusion. These three different administrative meanings of Muir Beach are:
1. Muir Beach: the Place
A (beautiful) beach at the mouth of Redwood Creek where Frank Valley meets the Pacific Ocean about 9 miles (15 km) west of Sausalito on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Redwood Creek runs through Muir Woods before descending the mountainside to enter the Pacific Ocean here. Muir Beach is not as well known (nor as mobbed in warm weather by desperate San Franciscans) as Stinson Beach to the north. Used in this sense Muir Beach refers to a place, without worrying about who manages it.
Insiders Tip: The northern end of the beach is informally regarded as “clothing optional”, which many families like to know before the kids start exploring the area. This is the area to your right as you’re facing the ocean.
The Muir Beach Overlook is located at the end of a steep path on top of a promontory just north of the beach. It features spectacular views of the rocky coastline and the Pacific Ocean.
Muir Beach is an unincorporated community in West Marin (County) that is adjacent to the beach to the north and west, with a census population of 310 in 2010. Although most services come from Marin County offices, there is a Community Services District that handles local issues like fire protection (via the Muir Beach Volunteer Fire Department), roads, maintanance, etc. The village is surrounded by the GGNRA but is private land and not part of the park.
Insiders Tip: Cell phone coverage is “unreliable” at best (and often nonexistent) in many parts of West Marin, although the residential part of Muir Beach does have its own wi-fi system. Plan for this when you begin your trip.
Insiders Tip: Because the town is surrounded by a National Park, once in a while visitors forget that the local residents are not park employees. This is a very warm and welcoming community, but treating people here like neighbors is very much appreciated.
Although it’s not a separate National Park, this section of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the huge Mega-Park that covers the northwestern corner of San Francisco and much of southern and western Marin County. This includes the beach, the 235-foot-long pedestrian bridge across the lagoon and sensitive dunes to the beach, a parking lot, the Muir Beach Overlook and some nearby hiking trails that connect to other parts of the GGNRA. This area is under the administration of the National Park Service.
Getting to Muir Beach
Muir Beach lies in a cove of the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco and west of Sausalito.
Insiders Tip: On warm weekend and holiday mornings throngs (and sometimes thongs) of San Francisco residents crowd Highway 1 on the way to Stinson Beach and Muir Beach. Although they are far more likely to go to Stinson rather than to Muir Beach, this combines with Muir Woods visitors to create traffic jams around the junction of Highway 1 and Highway 101 in Mill Valley.
This can slow down your trip and/or make your cab ride much more expensive. If the weather is nice plan to leave especially early to avoid the crowds.
On the warmest days the Muir Beach parking lot can fill up, and there is no nearby overflow location so cars have to wait for spaces to open up.
Bus Stops and Public Transit
The beautiful isolation of Muir Beach comes at a price: there are no public transit connections that run directly to the area. The closest transit hubs (with links to bus routes and schedules) are:
The Marin City Bus Stop and the Pohono St. / Manzanita Park and Ride Bus Stops on the border between Sausalito and Mill Valley, over 6 miles (10 km.) away. These stops are served by buses from both Marin Transit and Golden Gate Transit. Cab fare from those two locations will be about $35, with Manzanita being a little less expensive and Marin City a little more.
Stinson Beach (corner of Shoreline and Calle del Mar) via the West Marin “Stagecoach” bus Route 61. This is also about 6 miles (10 km.) from Muir Beach. You may have to wait longer for a taxi than you would at Manzanita, Pohono or Marin City, so call ahead to schedule your pickup. The trip, however, may be faster than coming from Mill Valley once you get your cab.
Insiders Tip: On warm summer weekend and holiday mornings the roads to West Marin can get clogged with beach-goers. Taking the “Stagecoach” bus Route 61 carries you through the worst of the traffic for one low fare, so you’re likely to have a cheaper taxi ride to Muir Beach on a less-packed stretch of Highway 1 along the coast. On bad traffic days this tip could save you $20 or more on the taxi fare.
The drive from Sausalito or San Francisco to Muir Beach is gorgeous, and I love going “over the hill” through such beautiful parkland. That said, it is a steep, narrow road and we have guidance below for drivers who may not relish that kind of trip.
Insiders Tip: Although the road starts at sea level next to the Bay and reaches Muir Beach at sea level at the Pacific Ocean, a ridge of Mt. Tamalpais lies between the two locations. The road is narrow, twisty, turny, and the last 2+ miles (4 km.) are cut into the side of steep (and beautiful) cliffs. If anyone in your group is prone to getting carsick they may want to take Dramamine or other protective measures before departing.
Insiders Tip: Some drivers prefer to make the drive only during daylight hours, though the road is a fully paved State highway and remains well traveled in the evening. For the locals it’s the primary link to the outside world and no big deal, but if you’re not used to this kind of driving some people find it uncomfortable.
Insiders Tip: If you have a strong fear of heights you may want to take a longer but less dramatic road to Muir Beach to avoid the last couple of clifftop miles of Highway 1 by taking a much longer route from Sausalito to Muir Beach (click here for a map) compared to what we describe below. It’s 90 minutes instead of 30 minutes but will take you through several different State and Federal parks and along a beautiful stretch of the California coast.
Take Highway 101 (from either San Francisco to the south or Marin County to the north) to the Highway 1 / Stinson Beach exit. Then…
Northbound from San Francisco: Follow the exit ramp and the connecting road under the freeway and you’ll be on Highway 1. Signs will clearly mark the route to Stinson Beach. Muir Beach is on Highway 1 en route to Stinson Beach.
Southbound from Marin and the Wine Country: Turn right at the stop sign at the bottom of the offramp, and proceed about 1 block to a stoplight. Turn left at the stoplight and you’ll be on Highway 1 heading in the right direction. Signs will lead you towards Stinson Beach, and Muir Beach will be on the same highway along the way.
After about 2.5 miles (4 km.) on Highway 1 the road will fork near the top of a ridge. Bear left at the fork and drive down the steep canyon towards Muir Beach. (See Insiders Tip above about this narrow, twisty-turny clifftop road.)
You’ll reach the town and the beach about 2.5 miles (4 km.) after the fork at the crest of the hill.
Fun Activities and Points of Interest
Golden Gate Dairy Stables, a non-profit operated by Ocean Riders of Marin, offers horseback riding, boarding and educational programs for kids and adults.
The Green Gulch Farm Zen Center is a Zen teaching and practice center with its own organic farm, and is crossed by several GGNRA trails..
The Muir Beach Overlook offers great views of the rocky shoreline from a promontory that juts out into the ocean.
Slide Ranch is an educational working farm just north of Muir Beach that provides day camps and educational programs for kids. Its trails are all open to the public.
Weather and What to Wear
Muir Beach weather is very similar to the weather in the side of San Francisco that faces the Pacific Ocean. Mornings are often foggy, especially in summer. Many afternoons the fog clears for several hours to create gorgeous vistas, although it may return in late afternoon or early evening.
As in San Francisco. always plan to dress in layers so you can get warm if the fog rolls in and still stay cool if it’s sunny.
There is one restaurant in Muir Beach, the English pub style Pelican Inn. You’ll see locals abbreviate the name of the building to just “the PI.”
There is one hotel in Muir Beach, the English-themed Pelican Inn. (Noticing a pattern here?)
The Green Gulch Farm Zen Center adjacent to Muir Beach has meeting facilities that they rent to outside groups, and they have a limited number of residential units that participants may rent.
Webcam and Boater Information
You can find a webcam that shows the beach here. The same page also has links to other weather, tide and wave information for boaters.
History of Muir Beach
Before the coming of the Spaniards the Northern California shores of the Pacific were inhabited by the Coast Miwok Indians, and shell midden sites have been found around the location of the lagoon (once much larger than it is today) at Muir Beach.
Under Mexico (where Muir Beach was part of Rancho Sausalito) and then the United States these coastal areas became home to dairies and ranches. The area around the cove was initially called Bello Beach after Portuguese settler Antonio Bello, who (as the story goes) bought the acreage for a $10 gold piece.
For a great local website with historic photos of Bello Beach, click here.
Bello founded a hotel here in 1919 and sold inexpensive summer cabins in the area, which before the building of the Golden Gate Bridge was regarded as remote and rural. Other Portuguese imnmigrants with experience in dairy ranching came to Muir Beach from the Azores, islands off the coast of Portugal. After the land was sold the area was renamed Muir Beach in 1940.
After World War II the Green Gulch pasture up the hill from Muir Beach was purchased by a wealthy industrialist who ran it as a working farm. This fit in well with the region’s agricultural traditions, but over the course of 20 years he increased the size of his dairy herds until the land was over-grazed, dammed portions of Redwood Creek (choking off the local salmon run) and built levees that shrank the Muir Beach Lagoon to a much smaller shadow of its original 45-acre size.
As this was happening on the farm, the summer cabins in Muir Beach were being joined by the homes of new arrivals, many of them artists and musicians looking for a more rural lifestyle within easy travel range of San Francisco. The Old Tavern hosted 1960’s “San Francisco Rock” bands like Big Brother and the Holding Company, and there’s a story that Muir Beach is the location where Janis Joplin’s ashes were scattered.
The 1919 tavern and cottages at the beach were torn down around the time that the GGNRA was formed in 1972, just after Slide Ranch was saved from developers and turned into an educational center. The Green Gulch Farm was acquired by the San Francisco Zen Center during the time when the GGNRA was being organized, and received permission to continue to operate with easements for local hiking trails to cross the property.
In recent years the National Park Service has undertaken several large projects to restore habitat for native species in the area, to reverse the damage done to Redwood Creek and restore the salmon run, and to return the lagoon to its natural state. As part of this the beach parking lot was rotated and realigned in 2013-14, with the beach being closed for several months. The work has now been completed and the beach re-opened.
Photo credit: latteda, accessed 5/28/14