A favorite getaway for locals, Muir Beach is a quiet cove tucked away in the redwood trees of Muir Woods National Monument. It's located in Marin County just 20 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge, making it one of the closest beaches to San Francisco. As with most beaches in Northern California, the weather is fickle. Even if it's sunny and warm just a few miles inland, it's entirely possible that the beach is overcast or covered with fog. Even without sunshine, you can still enjoy an outing with a scenic hike.
The much bigger and more popular Stinson Beach is just a few miles north, but beachgoers looking for a quiet outing and fewer crowds will appreciate the intimacy of Muir Beach. Whether you're going with your young kids, your four-legged companion, or your free-spirited naturist friends, Muir Beach appeals to everyone.
Best Time to Visit
You might assume that summer is the best time to hit up the beach in California, but the locals would quickly tell you that's not the case. May and June are usually the cloudiest months of the year around the Bay Area when "June Gloom" arrives, blocking out the sun—and the views—with a thick blanket of fog. Sunny days arrive later in the summer along with huge crowds, so aim for a trip in September when kids are back in school and the weather is at its best.
Late summer and early fall may be best for laying out on the beach or going for a swim, but other times of the year have their own advantages. From mid-October to February, monarch butterflies winter in the pine trees in the grove around Muir Beach before their long migration. Keep an eye out and you may see giant orange and black balls of butterflies huddling together.
Once the butterflies are getting ready to leave, grey whales start to arrive on their own migration from Alaska to Mexico. From January to March, they typically pass by the Northern California coast and can be seen right from the beach. Since the beach itself is partially enclosed from the ocean, the best place to see whales is from the Muir Beach Overlook just up the road.
Things to Do
Muir Beach is easily one of the best beaches in Marin County and offers all kinds of activities. Apart from sunbathing or swimming in the ocean, there are also tide pools to explore with anemones, hermit crabs, starfish, sea urchins, and other sea creatures (just make sure to respect the wildlife).
Even if you visit on a day that doesn't have "beach weather," there's still plenty to keep busy. The beach is nestled inside the redwood forest of Muir Woods with its various hiking trails, like the Dias Ridge Trail which follows the ridgeline over Muir Beach and offers breathtaking views of the ocean and the Marin Headlands. A bit inland, Redwood Creek is a freshwater lagoon that's home to shorebirds, amphibians, salmon, and all kinds of marshy plants. It's ideal for birdwatching or just a serene hike through the trees.
Continue just a mile north on Highway 1 past the Muir Beach parking lot and you'll see a turnoff for the Muir Beach Overlook, where a long staircase descends to the promontory and gives a sweeping view of the coastline. Those who are sensitive to heights may want to reconsider before starting the Overlook trail.
There are some picnic tables in the Muir Beach and the Muir Beach Overlook parking lots, but it's usually pretty windy and you may have food flying all over the place.
Off of Highway 1 between Muir Beach and Stinson Beach, the Slide Ranch is a real working farm where the whole family can learn about local ecology, organic farming, and protecting the environment. Not only are there public hiking trails, but kids can try milking a goat or collecting fresh eggs to get a small taste of living on a ranch.
There is no entrance fee to use the beach and parking in the paved lot is free as well. From the parking lot, it's a short walk to the water via an accessible footbridge that goes directly to the beach (beach wheelchairs are available to use with an advance reservation if you need them). You can find porta-potties in the parking lot but there are no restrooms on the beach.
Muir Beach doesn't have lifeguards, so watch the waves and keep an eye on children while they're swimming. The northern end of the beach is clothing-optional, so you may see some sunbathers taking advantage to even out their tan lines.
Campfires are allowed on the beach but only in one of the designated fire rings. The beach closes an hour after sunset, so make sure your fire is extinguished before then. When putting out your fire, use only water and not sand, since sand just insulates the embers and makes it harder for the next group to start a fire.
Muir Beach is especially popular with dog owners since it's one of the few beaches in the area that allows dogs. Your pet can be off-leash as long as it stays within earshot and eyesight of the owner.
Muir Beach is one of the southernmost beaches in Marin County and just a 20-minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge. Cross the bridge coming from San Francisco and continue north on Highway 1 until you see the turnoff for the Muir Beach parking lot right in front of the Pelican Inn.
Since it's so close to San Francisco, the parking lot can fill up quickly on sunny days or holiday weekends. If it's full, don't park on the street that leads into the lot or you'll end up with a costly ticket. Instead, go back out to the main road and park beside it or on the street about 100 yards north.