The ocean in Northern California might be cold, but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting some of the best beaches near San Francisco on your vacation! With its abundant wildlife, swimmable spots, and miles of pristine coastline, it’s worth spending a day or two during your trip exploring the shorelines of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Whether you want to go sunbathing on wide stretches of sand, surf big waves, or enjoy the Bay Area’s lovely coastal scenery, plan your adventure with this guide to the most beautiful San Francisco beaches!
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On the western shores of Presidio, you’ll find Baker Beach, with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands in the background. This small section of beautiful sand is about a mile long, underneath the rocky cliffs, and is a natural sanctuary within the city of San Francisco. Thanks to its proximity to downtown Baker Beach is one of the most popular beaches in San Francisco for travelers and residents alike.
Amenities at Baker Beach include picnic areas and restrooms, along with the long stretch of sand where you can enjoy a beach walk and take in the scenery. Don’t forget to search for serpentine, California’s State Rock. It’s known to appear at this location.
Not far from the waterfront, history buffs will also find the Battery Chamberlin. One of the 17 gun batteries along the Presidio, the historic landmark is home to the last “disappearing gun” on the West Coast of the United States.
It’s important to keep in mind that swimming is not recommended at Baker Beach due to the cold water temperatures, large waves, and strong currents. The northern part of the beach is clothing optional, so don’t be shocked if you see locals taking advantage of the sunshine on that part of the coast.
If you’re interested in hiking, you can access the Coastal Trail on the cliffside near the beach. The trailhead for the Batteries to Bluffs Trail also lies to the north.
With 3.5 miles of white sand beach, locals and tourists love to visit Ocean Beach, located on the western border of San Francisco next to the Richmond neighborhood and Sunset District. The beach has plenty of space to spread out or enjoy a long walk and often feels less crowded than other beaches in the area.
The water at Ocean Beach is cold, with big waves and powerful rip currents, so swimming and surfing are not recommended. Occasionally you might see a few experienced surfers and windsurfers catching waves, but unless you’re a professional, you shouldn’t try to join them.
In the spring and summer, Ocean Beach is often misty and cool, with temperatures in the 50s, so pack a jacket regardless of when you visit. The sunniest months for your SF beach experience are September and October.
After enjoying some relaxation, set aside time to explore nearby Golden Gate Park. Spanning over 1,000 acres, the park has something for everyone, from museums to nature trails to playgrounds for the kids.
Near the northern entrance, history buffs should exert a little effort to bump up to the Lands End Lookout. From the perch, you’ll spot the historic Sutro Baths ruins. Due to the Bay Area’s rough seas, rocky coastline, and fog, there are also several shipwrecks visible in the distance during low tide from the Lands End Lookout.
Pop over to the Cliff House for dramatic views over the coastline, including the Seal Rocks. Once a high-end restaurant, the historic Cliff House is now managed by the National Park Service. The structure is still worth a gander from the exterior to dazzle at its stunning neoclassical design.
Nestled between Lands End and Baker Beach, you’ll find the sheltered cove of China Beach. With views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands, it’s a beautiful spot to escape the city for an afternoon and enjoy the beauty of Northern California’s rugged coastline.
One of the most famous beaches near San Francisco, the stretch of shoreline in the Sea Cliff neighborhood is named for the Chinese fishermen who would anchor nearby and camp on the sands. There’s a monument dedicated to them near the parking area.
Although it’s in a sheltered cove, the strong currents at China Beach make it less than ideal for swimming. Families with young children will want to stick to onshore activities. Options here include picnicking and playing in the sand among the tide pools.
Note that amenities here are limited: There are no lifeguards, food concessions, restrooms, or showers.
Crissy Field Beach
Also known as East Beach, Crissy Field Beach can be found in the Presidio Area on the Eastern edge of Crissy Field Park, located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The beach is an amazing spot to take in San Francisco Bay, with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, Angel Island, and even Alcatraz Island as your backdrop.
Crissy Field Beach is one of the few beaches in San Francisco that’s considered safe for swimming, so it’s often packed on warm days. It’s a nice wide beach, meaning there’s plenty of space to accommodate the crowds who flock there for sports, sunbathing, swimming, and picnics.
From the beach, Crissy Marsh is within easy walking distance. The tidal lagoon is a great place to view local wildlife like birds.
To get the best views of the wildlife, check out the trails and viewing platforms. There’s also a large multi-purpose path that goes all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge, commonly used for walking, running, cycling, and skating.
If you need a snack, stop by the Beach Hut Cafe, or pack a lunch and enjoy one of the beach’s many picnic areas.
As it’s the closest stretch of sand to the city center, Crissy Field is an easy addition to your SF itinerary if you’re on a time crunch. Rent a bike to enjoy a leisurely 15-minute ride via Marina Boulevard to Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Fort Funston Beach
Head to the southwest side of San Francisco’s coast for a visit to Fort Funston Beach, one of the world’s premier destinations for hang-gliding. With sandy bluffs that reach 200 feet into the sky, this stunning stretch of coast is a must-visit beach on your trip to San Francisco.
There are well-maintained trails that are perfect for hiking and horseback riding. As a bonus, Fort Funston Beach is dog-friendly, so the whole family can enjoy the sun and sand.
With strong currents and big waves, swimming is not encouraged here. You can also visit the Fort Funston Native Plant Nursery or volunteer to help protect the fragile ecosystems in the area.
If you’re looking for a popular beach to take a swim on a warm day, Stinson Beach is the spot. As it’s located in Marin County, you’ll have to drive a little way outside of San Francisco, but it’s well worth the trip.
With long stretches of white sand and waters that are gentle enough for swimming, Stinson Beach is the perfect spot for surfing, picnics, and windsurfing.
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Lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day to give you some peace of mind. The nearby town of Stinson Beach has a variety of restaurants and shops, as well as a grocery store where you can pick up ingredients for a picnic lunch.
Rodeo Beach is a gorgeous stretch of rugged coastline with a beach made up of tiny red and green pebbles instead of white sand. Located three miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s surrounded by rocky cliffs and the Marin Headlands. It offers amazing opportunities for photographers, kite enthusiasts, and stone connoisseurs, with jasper, carnelian, black agate, and jade prevalent in the area.
For twitchers, Rodeo Beach is also a great place to go bird watching, especially along the Coastal Trail near Bird Island. On weekends you can reach the beach via a special bus service; otherwise, you’ll have to drive or grab an Uber.
There are some nice picnic areas overlooking the beach along Rodeo Lagoon, restroom facilities, and outdoor showers available.
Mile Rock Beach
Secluded Mile Rock Beach is a fantastic place to explore. It feels almost secretive, tucked within the Golden Gate National Recreation area near the Lands End Viewpoint. You can access the beach from the Lands End Trail and Coastal Trail by taking a steep, signposted staircase about 100 steps down from the main trail.
Mile Rock Beach is a natural rocky beach with lots of driftwood that doubles as a great place to sit and admire the coastline or enjoy a snack and a water break if you’re hiking the trail.
A small seepage path takes you up to the Mile Rock Beach viewpoint, where you can see the stunning views of Baker Beach and the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s also a labyrinth for you to walk through or spend some time meditating.
For a quiet spot in a cove, check out Muir Beach located just along the coast in Muir Woods. A favorite for locals is to hike along the Dias Ridge Trail above the beach before venturing down to the beach and lagoon.
The Redwood Creek at Muir Beach allows nature lovers to spot native wildlife like birds, amphibians, salmon, and lots of native plants like rushes. It’s a unique ecosystem with wetlands, a lagoon, as well as sand dunes.
Thornton State Beach
Thornton State Beach is a protected area of coastline located in Daly City just outside of San Francisco in San Mateo County. The beach is not currently open to the public and has no public beach access points. Nonetheless, it’s a great place to enjoy gorgeous views from the viewing platform near the parking lot.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail begins near the park. Lace up your hiking shoes to enjoy the views from one of the best places to go for a hike just outside of the city.
Montara State Beach
A mile-long stretch of sandy beach north of Montara, Montara State Beach provides the opportunity to view sandstone cliffs, play beach volleyball with friends, or simply pack a great book and read on a beach blanket in the sun before exploring the tidal pools.
Aside from checking out the tide pools in low tide, Montara State Beach is also a popular spot for surfing and fishing during high tide. You can bring your pets along, too: It’s one of the few places along the coast where dogs are allowed.
Visit McNee Ranch nearby with its hiking trails that’ll take you to Montara Mountain. There’s even a hostel in a Lighthouse if you plan to stay a night or two.
Pescadero State Beach
With coves, rocky cliffs, and tidal pools, as well as a mile of sandy beach, Pescadero State Beach is a great choice for laid-back nature lovers. The Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve is nearby and is an attractive spot for those who enjoy observing wildlife like blue herons, kites, deer, and foxes.
There’s an $8 parking fee at Pescadero State Beach, and it’s worth noting that there are no real bathrooms or running water. Still, it’s worth a visit to experience the natural wonder and pristine coast just outside San Francisco.
Pacifica State Beach
Pacifica State Beach, also known as Linda Mar Beach by locals, is one of the most beloved spots around San Francisco. It’s a crescent-shaped stretch of soft sand with a hiking and biking trail along the ocean and remains a popular spot for surfers.
Amenities at Pacific State Beach include bathrooms and showers, and it’s dog-friendly. Surf enthusiasts often host surf camps right on the beach. Parking is available for $9 per day.
Natural Bridges State Beach
Located in Santa Cruz, Natural Bridges State Beach is an amazing place to spot wildlife species like seals, sea lions, and otters splashing about. It’s also a popular place for birdwatchers, and during the season, many people flock here to view the migrating whales.
Large rock formations protrude from the sandy beach. If you take a walk, you’ll find tidal pools full of sea stars, anemones, and crabs. In the spring, the park bordering Natural Bridges State Beach is scattered with native wildflowers. It’s a little paradise, and there’s even a monarch butterfly habitat where the creatures make their homes from fall to winter.
There’s a $10 vehicle fee to enter the park; the picnic area is open for use and includes restrooms, showers, and barbecue grills. There aren’t any lifeguards and visitors are warned to watch out for the big rogue waves. Swimming is not recommended here due to the rip tides.
Seal Cove Beach
Seal Cove Beach is nestled within the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, California. Also known as Cypress Cove, it’s a paradise for nature lovers. With tidal pools full of ocean life and hiking trails through an incredible cypress forest, it’s worth driving out of the city for.
After you’ve explored Seal Cove Beach and hiked the trails, head to the nearby Moss Beach Distillery. This historic spot was once used for rum-running bootlegged liquor and was home to speakeasies, like the infamous Frank’s Place located on the cliffs of Moss Beach.
Bolinas Beach can be found in the small town of Bolinas, California. Known by locals as Brighton Beach, it’s gained popularity among beginner surfers who want to try catching some waves. The sandy shores sit at the mouth of Bolinas Lagoon, sheltering the beach from some of the rougher Northern California surf, creating a nice, gentle wave that surfers love.
Not only is Bolinas Beach dog-friendly, but it’s also one of the only beaches near San Francisco where dogs are allowed off-leash. Other popular activities at Bolinas Beach include bodysurfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding.
San Gregorio State Beach
Ten miles from Half Moon Bay, you’ll find San Gregorio State Beach. This breathtaking stretch of coastline is rugged and natural, despite being just a short car ride away from Silicon Valley.
With driftwood scattered across the wide sandy beach and a lagoon that sometimes fills the cove, San Gregorio State Beach is the perfect place to take a beach walk and explore the surrounding areas.
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To the north, you’ll find the tall rocky cliffs of Pomponio State Beach, and to the south, there are caves and fossils embedded in the cliffs. There’s so much to explore! Keep in mind that if you walk far enough, you’ll stumble upon San Gregorio Private Beach, where clothing is optional.