Andy Falk
Coldwell Banker Realty

Surfing Muir Beach at Sunset

Muir Beach - It's best once every 145 years

Some of my greatest Marin County surf sessions ever have been at Muir Beach. This may seem very hard to believe, especially for a wave that breaks with consistently low quality. I never even knew people surfed there until the winter of 2015/2016, when I started surfing there because we were having the strongest El Nino event in the past 145 years (,beach%20erosion%20across%20the%20region). Local surfers say it breaks decently every 10 years or so. The last time Muir Beach broke like that was probably back in 1870 when the Miwok Indians lived off the land, bay and sea in Marin County.

The 2015/2016 winter was something special in the California surfing community. Reading Surfer Magazine at the time, there was an article about all these beaches up and down the coast that never got good surf suddenly catching fire! The swells were too big for many of the typical surfing spots. Sheltered breaks like Muir that normally didn’t get waves were pumping out once in a lifetime waves. XL swells, 16-20 feet, regularly marched down from the Aleutian Island chain in Alaska and were running at long intervals, making the waves even bigger when they exploded along the coastline.

Muir Beach is a small cove-like beach protected by a reef which makes it great for swimming but not so much for surfing. While south swells at a specific angle can make it into the beach without losing too much energy, swells from the north need to wrap around the reef to get into the cove which makes the waves much smaller. By February 2016, while everywhere else was too big the waves were 6-10 feet at Muir and exceptionally good. The local winter storms had been pretty fierce, and the water coming out of the creek that feeds into Muir Beach had carved out some great sandbars. This went on until the end of March, with the wave quality deteriorating throughout the month as the sandbars became washed out and the waves reverted to their typical closed out form.

I’m not much of a tube rider, but I had some of the best tubes in my life at Muir Beach that winter. I’m talking about standup, in and out barrels when it was 6-8 feet at Muir. To this day almost every time I see him, local surfing legend and retired Fairfax fire captain Tim Ecke still reminds me of one day in particular we shared at Muir. There were just a few of us in the water and the waves were 6 foot perfect A-frames breaking from the outside all the way to the beach. The inside part of the waves got particularly hollow and fast and as the waters in the trough became very shallow, the waves jacked up, and the tops threw forward several feet creating perfectly makeable tubes. Usually when I visit Muir people are wearing coats and dressing in layers, but this was a beautiful day, the weather was warm and to top it off there was a group of six ladies in bikinis doing a photo shoot on the beach. I kept getting these mind-blowing barrels right in front of the bikini models, and I have to admit having them on the beach gave me a boost of courage to charge the inside section. I don’t think the models surfed though or appreciated what we were doing, as they were pretty much ignoring our rides. Maybe they were just ignoring me, but I was still doing my best to impress them. That was truly a once in a lifetime season. 

That was then, this is now. Muir is typically a small, slow, closed out wave. The good news is that the water is usually uncrowded and when it’s on there can be a couple of take-off spots: south by the rocks, north by the big rock, and two peaks in the middle of the beach. As my brother Bob famously said about Manhattan Beach in the 1980’s when he lived there, “There are lefts and rights, but mostly straights.” I took my brother Fred to surf Muir at the end of the epic run in 2015/2016, and we got mostly straights. If you are a surfer most likely you will be frequenting other Marin beaches. I haven’t surfed Muir in a couple of years.

However, if you love spending time in a treasured location, Muir is the place for you. The parking area and rest rooms are about a ¼ mile from the beach. The hiking and biking in the area is first rate. Muir is one of the few beaches in Marin where you can let your dog run without a leash, and there are fire pits which get a lot of use during cool evenings and weekends. Muir is not a big beach, which adds to its very special, magical feel. Looking up at the surrounding hills it feels timeless. Ignore the houses on the hillside to the north (which give off a medieval vibe because of the way they are surrounded by the wild coastal brush, flora and fauna) and this little gem of a cove has had the same look and feel for hundreds, if not thousands of years. I consider it one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Side note, Muir Beach homes are all on septic systems, most of which are leaky old redwood tanks that should be replaced. When we get big winter rains the septic systems become overloaded and the run-off into the creek and down to the ocean creates dangerously high levels of fecal microbial pollution, or e-coli. ( It’s recommended that people stay out of the ocean for up to three days after a significant rain of .10 inches or more. For more information on current water quality in Marin checkout this website:

Traffic going to Muir Woods can be a problem, but I’ve rarely had an issue getting to Muir Beach because the roads are separate. I did need to park on Highway One and walk in on one warm, late spring weekend day when the parking lot was full and the beach was packed. Like Stinson Beach, its neighbor to the north, unless you enjoy crowds Muir is best to be avoided during warm weekends and holidays. Due to winter storm damage, Highway One has been closed in the past for repairs, which caused some major challenges for the residents of Muir Beach as they have no choice but to commute over the hill through the dense tourist traffic in Muir Woods.

If you’ve got a mountain bike, I suggest taking the Green Gulch singletrack trail down past the Zen Center to the beach. I’ve ridden past bobcats on that trail. Cover your arms and legs though because you will be brushing past poison oak. You can also continue to ride through Muir Woods and up Mount Tamalpais if you’ve got the stamina. I don’t suggest riding on Highway One. There’s too much traffic and the road is too narrow, but I still see cyclists on the road, especially on weekends. If you’ve got a mountain bike stick to the trails and fire roads.