This is understandable since beaches tend to make people think of laying in the sun and frolicking in the water. That's what a beach is all about, right?
Well, as someone who knows the California coastline quite well, I'm always a tad surprised at how little people know about the many beaches of Northern California.
This is unfortunate since the 400 mile stretch of coastline from Santa Cruz all the way to Oregon is home to, in my humble view, an array of the most varied and beautiful beaches in all of California.
So as a service to beach lovers coming to California, today I begin a series of posts on the beaches of the San Francisco Bay Area. And while this is just a small sampling of all that Northern California has to offer, it is a very high quality sampling. Each of these beaches is either in San Francisco - or within 30 minutes of The City. And each is unique and well worth knowing about.
We begin a little north of San Francisco, just across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. There are many great beaches in Marin (and I'll be covering most of them), but one of my favorites is Muir Beach. It's a small, intimate space, resting in a little inlet along the Marin headlands.
Completely surrounded by high hills, it is virtually hidden. In-fact, if you didn't know it was there, you could easily drive right past it without knowing.
This is a beach for social living; for being with friends and amongst people. It's compactness does not really lend itself to long contemplative strolls or solitude. This is more of a place to sit, enjoy, and share.
Muir Beach is one of those kind of places where you can build a campfire right on the sand, pull some drift-logs around it, and sit sipping wine while you barbeque with friends. And it is extremely popular with locals for just that reason.
And while you are certainly welcome to go in the water - this is really not a swimmer's beach. The weather is cool, the water cold, and fog is a frequent visitor.
But with a sweatshirt, stocking cap and shorts, you can spend many comfortable hours here. And if you get the itch to move around, there are hiking trails leading up into the surrounding hills, which have the added benefit of offering some truly magnificent views of the beach, nearby Mt. Tam, and the Marin Headlands.
A lot of effort has gone into keeping Muir Beach natural. Redwood Stream runs into Muir Beach from nearby Mt. Tamalpais, and is the source of the beautiful marsh behind the beach.
Over the last several years The National Park Service has put a lot of effort into restoring this marsh to create a functional and self-sustaining eco-system. Their efforts have been rewarded with both a thriving marsh and the return of Coho Salmon spawning to the creek.
And one of my favorite activities at the beach is observing the many kinds of birds that frequent the area. Pelicans soar over the water searching for prey - and then diving into the ocean like missiles to make their catch.
Large spotted owls can be heard and seen during calm fall evenings. As you stroll along the sand, keep an eye on the waves and you will often catch sight of sea otters playfully surfing. And if you're lucky, you'll catch an early morning or late evening glimpse of a hunting bobcat.
At low tide you can access the large coastal rocks at the beach, where you'll see clams, starfish, mussels, and any number of aquatic creatures.
The restrooms at Muir Beach are in the parking lot and were recently refurbished. There are also pic-nic tables and enclosed barbeque stoves provided in the parking area. Beach access is provided by a wooden walkway across the marsh.
Adjacent to the beach along Highway 1 is a lovely English style restaurant called The Pelican Inn. It's a great place to warm-up after a cool afternoon at the beach, and offers a full range of delicious libations and food. You can even rent a room there.
To get to Muir Beach from San Francisco, take the Golden Gate Bridge north. Go past the exits for Sausalito, over a big hill, and follow the signs for Stinson Beach as you come down the other side. You'll then follow highway 1 over another big hill till you get to the coast - and the beach.
And as you sit there soaking in the atmosphere, congratulate yourself on being among the very few visitors to San Francisco to make it to this Bay Area gem. Enjoy!