Muir Beach is a small community situated on the west coast of the Marin Peninsula overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with the adjacent sand beach in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, about 11 miles (18 km) northwest of San Francisco and 5 miles (8 km) southeast of Stinson Beach, California. The community was reputedly named after the nearby Muir Woods National Monument which in turn was named for John Muir an influential Scottish American naturalist and an early advocate for the preservation of wilderness. The beach was once called Big Lagoon in reference to a tidal lagoon that formed when the mouth of Redwood Creek was blocked or partially blocked by the beach barrier. This lagoon once covered an area of approximately 25 acres (10 ha), but in 1967, most of the lagoon was filled in to make a parking area and only a small remnant remains. The beach is about 1,000 feet (305 m) long, with the outlet of Redwood Creek at the northern end. Redwood Creek is about 4.7 miles (7.6 km) long and drains a watershed of 4,480 acres (1,813 ha) which includes Muir Woods. The creek is formed at an elevation of about 300 feet (91 m) on Mount Tamalpais by the confluence of Bootjack Creek, Rattlesnake Creek, and Spike Buck Creeks, however, these tributaries begin at about 2,000 feet (610 m) on the same mountain. Mainstem tributaries include Fern Creek, Green Gulch Creek, and Kent Creek which historically supported a coho salmon population. In 2008, the National Park Service began a creek restoration project designed to bring back the ecological functions of the creek, freshwater wetlands, tidal lagoon, and dunes on 46 acres (19 ha) at the mouth of the creek. The coho salmon population in Central California is so low that the species is on the brink of local extinction. The restoration project targets elements of the ecosystem known to be important for salmon habitat such as side channels, flow obstructions to create eddies and backwater, and large woody debris that provides food and shelter for young coho and steelhead trout.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the Marin Peninsula had over 600 village sites inhabited by the Coast Miwok tribe, and the band that occupied the area of Big Lagoon was called the Huimen. Prehistoric middens are located throughout the area and provide evidence of their lifestyle. Family groups moved annually between temporary and permanent village sites in a seasonal round of hunting, fishing, and gathering. Periodic burning of grasslands was conducted to promote the growth of native grasses for seed gathering and to create forage for deer and elk. In the spring they would head to the coast to catch salmon and other seafood including seaweeds. Their staple foods were primarily acorns, particularly from black and tan oak, and wild game such as rabbits and deer. When hunting deer, Miwok hunters traditionally used Brewer’s angelica to eliminate human scent. Yerba buena tea leaves were used medicinally. Their vast knowledge of plants and wildlife was passed to future generations through their oral tradition of storytelling. The Coast Miwok spoke their own distinctive language related to the Utian language group. Tattooing was a traditional practice among Coast Miwok, and they burned poison oak for a pigment. Their traditional houses were called ‘kotcha‘ and were constructed with slabs of tule grass or redwood bark and assembled in a conical form. In 1776, Spanish military and civilian settlers arrived in the bay area and established presidios, Franciscan missions, and civilian settlements that abruptly changed life for the Native people. Spanish colonization introduced diseases that decimated the Native population and the missions banned tribal organization and rituals. The Coast Miwok on the Marin Peninsula were relatively isolated from the mission and presidio at San Francisco by the Golden Gate. In 1783, several members of the Huimen community were the first of the Coast Miwok to leave their homeland for Mission San Francisco. In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain, and in 1833, the Mexican Secularization Act officially secularized the Californian missions, transferring their ownership from the Franciscan Order of the Catholic Church to the Mexican authorities. In 1834, the Coast Miwoks were freed from the control of the Franciscan missionaries, but at the same time, the Mission lands were partitioned into ranchos and most Coast Miwok began to live in servitude on the ranchos for the new California land grant owners that were dependent on the labor pool.
In 1835, a Mexican land grant called Rancho Saucelito of 19,752 acres (7,993 ha) was given by Governor José Figueroa to José Antonio Galindo. The name means ‘ranch of the little willow grove’. The grant extended from the Pacific Ocean on the west, to Richardson Bay on the east, and Mount Tamalpais on the north, to the Golden Gate on the south and included present-day Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, Sausalito, Tamalpais Valley, and Homestead Valley. In 1838, Galindo was arrested for the murder of José Doroteo Peralta, and Rancho Saucelito was re-granted by Governor Juan Alvarado to William A. Richardson. In 1848, Alta California was ceded to the United States following the Mexican-American War, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided that the land grants would be honored. As required by the Land Act of 1851, a claim for Rancho Saucelito was filed with the Public Land Commission in 1852 and the grant was patented in 1879. Richardson made a series of poor investments and in 1856, ailing and in financial straits, he put Rancho Saucelito into the hands of an administrator, Samuel R. Throckmorton, and died two months later. Throckmorton acquired a major part of Rancho Saucelito as payment of debt and leased the land to Portuguese dairymen. Much of this success was based on the hard work of immigrants known as the Azoreans. Originally from the Azores, an archipelago of rural islands west of Iberian Portugal, these men arrived in California on whaling ships. Once the vessels docked in the San Francisco area, the allure of the Gold Rush, along with the dissatisfaction of life on a ship, prompted many Azoreans to ‘immigrate’ and those who did not find their fortune in gold were able to use their native dairy experience to get jobs in Marin’s newly established dairy ranches. The chain of migrations from the Azores to Sausalito were sustained by intermarriage and strong social connections, largely based in the Roman Catholic Church. Soon Marin County was California’s largest producer of fresh milk and butter. Around 1866, Throckmorton built a lodge named the Homestead where he brought friends to hunt elk and bear. In 1868, Throckmorton sold the rancho to a group of San Francisco businessmen representing the Sausalito Land & Ferry Company who developed the town of Sausalito and established a ferry link to San Francisco. The town of Muir Beach was originally called Bello Beach after Antonio Bello who established one of the first hotels as a beach resort in 1919. He also began subdivisions and built summer vacation cabins. This provided tourists a place to stay, and in the 1950s San Francisco urbanites began to move here for the rural lifestyle. The beach taverns and cottages were removed in the late 1960s after California State Parks acquired the beach property. The National Park Service acquired the property in 1980. Read more here and here. Explore more of Muir Beach here: