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San Francisco’s got fantastic restaurants, great museums, picturesque parks and vibrant neighborhoods. Add the beautiful beaches near San Francisco to the list of what makes this world-class, northern California city so distinctive. From stunning options within city limits to several gems nearby, the beach bounty of San Francisco will not disappoint.
And just in case you’re wondering: Yes—it’s worth devoting a half or full day of your itinerary to include a beach in your San Francisco trip! Not only will you get a nature fix, you’ll see a side of the city that’s essential to its enduring magic.
So, when you need a break from the urban highlights of San Francisco, or want some sand between your toes after walking up and down all those hills, pick one of these popular beach spots for a memorable excursion in the Bay Area. A day by the Pacific Ocean or the San Francisco Bay will make your trip complete.
Read More: Best Spas in San Francisco
But first, a quick note: Unless otherwise noted, most San Francisco and Northern California beaches are non-swimming beaches. Cold water temperatures, riptide currents, undertow and in some cases rogue waves, make conditions too dangerous for swimming. (For novice surf and swim options, see Pacifica, Aquatic Park and Stinson Beach below.)
Pacific Ocean Beaches: West of Golden Gate Bridge
With more than three miles of beach, a paved boardwalk, ample free parking and easy cable car access, Ocean Beach is the crown jewel of San Francisco’s beaches.
On the westernmost edge of the city, Ocean Beach can be fogged in, especially during summer months. But fog or shine, it offers an authentic glimpse of the city and is an enduring local favorite.
Want to just park and play for the day? Ocean Beach has tons of space for setting up a base camp so you can frolic in the sand and surf. The gradual shoreline makes for excellent beach walking, sand castle building and play at the surf’s edge, especially at low tide.
Riptides mean this is not a beach for the casual swimmer or wading into the deep. When conditions are right, you’ll see local, experienced surfers in wetsuits scouting the waves.
How to Make the Most of a Visit to Ocean Beach
- Want to combine other city highlights with your beach trip? Take the N-Judah line to the beach, grab some provisions at Other Avenues Grocery Cooperative or takeout from the long-standing Java Beach Cafe and head to the sand.
- Walk up the beach for lunch at The Beach Chalet, a restaurant and brewery located at the end of Golden Gate Park with indoor/outdoor seating and great views of The Murphy Windmill.
- Need a zoo fix? The San Francisco Zoo is conveniently located at the southern end of the beach.
- How about a beach hike to walk off all that great food the city offers? Head north on Ocean Beach to vista points at The Cliff House historic site (be sure to try The Camera Obscura) and Land’s End Lookout.
- Just past the north end of Ocean Beach explore Point Lobos, the Sutro Bath ruins and Battery Lobos.
- Hop on the Land’s End coastal trail on the bluff overlooking the ocean and wind your way through The Golden Gate National Recreation Area toward the Golden Gate Bridge. This easy, well-maintained, spectacular urban trail offers access to yet more great spots: Mile Rock Beach, China Beach, Baker Beach, and Marshall’s Beach. (See separate entries below.)
- For a true Northern California beach experience, build a bonfire at Ocean Beach at night! Check out the NPS guidelines for bonfires here.
Mile Rock Beach
A small cove only accessible from the Land’s End Trail, known for the rock cairns built and left by beachgoers. Adjacent to a lookout point with an amazing rock labyrinth at the ocean’s edge.
Small beach below the Sea Cliff neighborhood with a small parking lot and easy paved access. Offers great views of the Golden Gate Bridge (when it’s not obscured by fog!) and, at low tide, the best tidepool option in the city.
If you are working your way around the Land’s End trail, towards the Golden Gate Bridge, China Beach is just off a short stretch of neighborhood walking which will connect you back into the coastal trail and its next highlight, Baker Beach.
SheBuysTravel Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a beach vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we're traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.
The best beach in the city? On a fog-free day, many would say “absolutely!” At the base of rugged cliffs, this mile-long beach offers great views of the GG Bridge to the east, Land’s End to the west and the Marin Headlands to the north. Fantastic option for sunbathing on fog-free days and for picnics anytime.
Large waves, undertows and riptide current make the water here unsuitable for swimming. (Be forewarned: the east end of the beach is clothing-optional.)
Decent parking availability, but the lot will fill up quickly on sunny weekend days. Restrooms and limited picnic tables available. (From Baker Beach you can connect to the Battery to Bluffs Trail which will take you onward to the GG bridge and east beaches.)
Rocky, rugged beach accessed from Battery to Bluffs Trail. Great views of Golden Gate Bridge, weather permitting.
For parking, there’s a small lot for GG Bridge a short distance away on Battery to Bluffs Trail from the beach.
San Francisco Bay Beaches: East of Golden Gate Bridge
While Ocean Beach looks upon the great Pacific and lets you forget the bustle of the city, Crissy Field gazes upon the bay and offers a great experience of a thriving nature-city corridor.
With excellent bike/walk paths, well-maintained picnic areas, birding opportunities and lots of bayfront beach space, Crissy Field is a great option for a “one and done” beach day experience.
Tips for Visiting Crissy Field Beach
- For a sandy beach perfect for walking and picnicking (and, when there’s no fog, sunbathing!) head to Crissy Field East Beach. Parking, changing rooms and picnic tables available. At the beach, relax and enjoy views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Bay Bridge, kitesurfers, sailboats and windsurfers.
- The new 14-acre Presidio Tunnel Tops Park adjacent to Crissy Field and The Presidio Visitor Center makes this a great beach destination for families and kids. A 2-acre play space, The Outpost, features climbing structures made of natural materials such as driftwood. On-site adventure guides, classes and special events, and a kid-oriented field station make this new park an exciting attraction for families.
- Are you a birder? The Crissy Field Marsh offers fantastic birdwatching as the blend of fresh water and saltwater creates a unique habitat next to the bay.
- Parking: Yes, at East Beach and next to The Outpost. Availability will vary.
Aquatic Park & Cove
Your best bet for beach swimming within the city is Aquatic Park, situated on a protected, boat-free cove at the end of the Powell & Hyde cable car line. Perfect for younger children or anyone wanting to take a dip without waves and surf.
Want to visit tourist favorites like Fisherman’s Wharf, The Cannery and Ghiradelli Square? Their proximity to Aquatic Cove lets you combine several popular spots in one day. (Note: This area of the city is dense and bustling—if that’s your thing, you’ll love it. If not, enjoy your time in other less-touristed areas).
There is limited street parking; walk from garages serving Ghiradelli Square or enjoy a cable car ride there. Public restroom at east end of beach at Hyde Street Pier.
Marin Headlands: North of Golden Gate Bridge
The quintessential experience of driving across the Golden Gate bridge is unforgettable. The drive can also take you to some great beaches just beyond San Francisco.
A Marin Headlands favorite due to its short distance from San Francisco (about a 30-minute drive, depending on traffic).
Dog-friendly and a local surfer spot. Swimming is not advised due to current and unpredictable waves. The adjacent lagoon hosts a rich ecosystem for wildlife viewing (but no swimming due to its protected status).
A great option for combining beach and hike time—the 1.5 mile lagoon loop is an easy amble and goes by an old missile site. Or hop on the coastal trail north to Tennessee Point labyrinth and connect into the sprawling Marin Headlands trail system.
Small beach and secluded cove just past the famous Green Gulch Zen Center and a few miles west of Muir Woods.
Mellow vibe and popular with locals. Be watchful of unpredictable surf and waves. Accessed via long footpath from the free parking lot, or hike there via the Golden Gate National Recreation Area coastal trail system.
The adjacent Redwood Creek Lagon is closed to all access due to coho salmon and red-legged frog protections.
About 45 minutes from San Francisco, depending on traffic.
Stinson is the ultimate Northern California sunny day beach, and only an hour from San Francisco (depending on traffic).
White sand and swimmable surf make Stinson a perennial family favorite in the Marin Headlands. Also great for fishing, surfing, volleyball and picnicking.
The only lifeguard-staffed beach in the region during summer. Pack up a cooler, blankets and an umbrella and live the California dream for the day.
For a full Marin Headlands experience, and if your children are older, hike down to the beach on the Matt Davis Trail (start from Pantoll Campground parking lot). Just be prepared to hike back up at the end of the day! Or, connect to the Dipsea and Steep Ravine trails for longer, more strenuous hike-beach excursions.
Parking at Stinson: Free lot; fills quickly on good weather days. Restrooms available. Snack bar available in summer if you forget provisions. Brimming blackberry bushes in late summer.
If you really want to get away from the city and experience Northern California at its grandest, head to Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. The beach parking lot is about 1.5 hours from San Francisco and rarely full.
Walk for miles on the beach and run into no one. Shorebirds, harbor seals and gray whales (in spring) can be viewed here. While a fantastic beach for sand play, exploring and enjoying the surf’s edge, this is not a swimmable area due to rogue waves and rip currents.
The nearby town of Pt. Reyes Station is as picturesque as it gets—great bakeries, people watching, the fabulous Cowgirl Creamery headquarters and one of the best independent bookstores in California, Pt. Reyes Books.
South of San Francisco: Highway 1 Beaches
At the southern outskirts of the city or a short drive on iconic Highway 1 are several fantastic beach options, especially for dogs, surfing and tidepooling.
These beaches and surrounding communities offer a totally different vibe from the Marin Headlands beach and town circuit.
Fort Funston Beach
Traveling with your dog? Then you’ll want to check out Fort Funston Beach, just south of Ocean Beach at the edge of the city. With easy parking and tons of spacious beach, Fort Funston is the best pet-friendly and pet-legal beach in the area.
The beach is at the base of 200-foot bluffs, and accessible by a long, sandy, strenuous pathway. Not up for the hike back up or have mobility concerns? There’s plenty of space at the top to roam and catch tremendous ocean views from paved walkways.
The bluffs are a premier destination for hang gliders. The trails here afford many options for dog walking, hiking and even horseback riding.
The surf here is dangerous and young children should be kept nearby due to unpredictable waves and undertow.
Parking: Free and rarely full.
Pacifica State Beach/Linda Mar
A real locals’ gem on the peninsula, Pacifica Beach is a short drive from San Francisco (about 30 minutes depending on traffic). The mile-long, crescent shaped beach is known for its beginner-friendly surfing, great sunsets and relaxing vibe.
Pacifica State Beach is great for families who want a classic day at the beach with a non-fussy, community feel.
Parking: Lots available for small fee.
Montara State Beach
Four miles down the road from Pacifica is Montara State Beach, a great spot for long sandy beach strolls beneath high Northern California bluffs with few other visitors.
Ever spend the night in a lighthouse? Reserve accommodations at Point Montara Lighthouse next door to the beach through Hosteling International.
Moss Beach/Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
Around the bend on Highway 1 from Montara is Moss Beach and the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, a protected area due to its tide-pool biodiversity. Check the tide charts and bring the reserve’s self-guided tour map which can be found here.
This is the place to come if sea creature and plant exploration is your idea of a stellar beach day.
Parking: At marine reserve ranger station; short walking path down to the beach.
Half Moon Bay
One of the longest stretches of beach in the Bay Area, Half Moon Bay has four miles of fabulous beach possibilities. On the way there, be sure to check out the view from Pillar Point, above world-famous Maverick’s Beach, where surfers come to test their mettle in the annual winter big wave competition.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Use caution at the point as crumbling soil conditions can exist. Also, if you descend to the beach itself, always keep an eye on the surf as rogue waves can occur. Children should never be unattended due to surf conditions.
Half Moon Bay has four state beaches:
They are excellent for walking, surfing, fishing, picnicking and even camping. Visitor’s center and camping are located at Francis Beach, the southernmost state beach and most popular. Dunes Beach and Venice Beach are great options as well and have their own parking lots.
Just south on Highway 1, past Francis Beach, you’ll find Poplar Beach, a local favorite for dogs and horseback riding.
Parking: Yes, with fee. Availability can vary by beach.
Best Beaches near San Francisco by Activity:
- Walking: Ocean, Crissy Field, Limantour, Montara
- Swimming: Aquatic Park, Stinson
- Surfing (beginner or higher): Pacifica
- Tidepooling: Moss Beach/Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
- Picnicking: Baker Beach, Crissy Field, Pacifica, Stinson
- Bonfires: Ocean Beach
- Pet-friendly: Fort Funston, Poplar
- People watching: Crissy Field
- With hiking options: Land’s End beach circuit, Muir, Stinson
- Cable car access: Ocean, Aquatic Park
- Kite flying: Crissy Field, Ocean Beach
- Biking: Ocean Beach (beginning), Ocean Beach to Marin Headlands beaches via GG bridge (for intermediate and advanced biking)
- Birdwatching: Crissy Field Marsh
- Horseback riding: Fort Funston, Poplar