The 7 Best Beaches in San Francisco

Christopher Caldwell/Flickr

As the balmy, carefree days of summer are coming to an end for most of the country, San Franciscans are just gearing up for the best (and hottest) time of year. Unlike the rest of California, a layer of fog typically brings cool, cloudy weather to SF from June through August. Then come September, the sun shows itself and summer finally arrives in the city, bringing warm temps through early fall.

While San Francisco is better known for its hilly streets, funky culture, and famed sights like the Golden Gate Bridge, the City by the Bay also has some beautiful stretches of beach. That’s right, San Francisco has beaches! And since these seven spots are within city limits, you can get there by public transit, or they are just a Lyft ride away. However, unlike the more renowned beaches of Los Angeles and southern Cali, don't expect to go for a dip at SF beaches -- the water is always cold, with temps as low as the 50s. Don't fret, bathing suits are still in order for soaking up the sun. So pack a picnic, grab some friends, and head out for a day in the sand. (But you still might want to bring a jacket, just in case that pesky fog rolls in.)

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1. Baker Beach

Allie Caulfield/Flickr

When the sun comes out, local beachgoers flock to this popular beach destination, making it into a very lively and social scene. Baker Beach runs for roughly a mile along the western edge of the Presidio and faces out along the San Francisco Bay. It’s dog-friendly and has fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands across the bay. 

The parking fills up super quickly on weekends with nice weather, so be prepared to either fight for a parking spot or do a bit of walking. Also quite important to note: the northernmost end of Baker Beach is clothing-optional and has become a popular spot for nude sunbathers over the years. A certain comfort with public nudity is one of those things that makes San Francisco a unique and special place. If that’s not really your scene, just stick to the south side of the beach and you’ll be in the clear.

2. China Beach

Christopher Caldwell/Flickr

Located close to Baker Beach, but usually less crowded than it, China Beach is a short strip of sand wedged between two tall cliffs in the city’s posh Sea Cliff neighborhood. This beach was once the location of a Chinese fishing camp, which is how it got its name. There is generally street parking available in the area if the tiny parking lot is full, which will give you an opportunity to gawk at the many beautiful mansions in this neighborhood. When you reach the beach, the views of the Golden Gate Bridge are equally as gawk-worthy. When the tide is low, you can climb across the rocks to Baker.

The best thing about China Beach is that its location tucked away in a cove between steep cliffs keeps out the strong winds that typically whip along the coast, allowing for a warm and pleasant afternoon in the sand.

3. Marshall’s Beach

Brad Coy/Flickr

Located on the other side of Baker Beach to the north, Marshall’s Beach is more rugged and secluded, and perhaps even more beautiful than its more popular neighbors. The reason why Marshall’s Beach is less frequented is because you can only access it by hiking down the steep stairs and footpaths that wind down the bluffs to the shore. The beach can get super narrow at high tide, so you might want to check the tides before heading down with your gear. Like the north side of Baker, Marshall’s is a popular clothing-optional beach where it’s common to see nude sunbathers enjoying their best life.

For the adventurous visitor, when the tides are low you can climb across the rocks, moving north along the shoreline, until you reach the very foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Just be sure not to get caught by the rising tides!

4. Ocean Beach

Pip R. Lagenta/Flickr

By far the longest and widest beach in San Francisco, Ocean Beach runs the length of the coast along the Pacific Ocean for 3.5 miles. Due to its expansive size, there’s plenty of room to spread out on this beach, and it never gets crowded. San Francisco likes to keep it natural, so you won’t see high rises or commercial properties along the oceanfront here -- just miles of sand and sea. The central part of Ocean Beach is bordered by the western end of Golden Gate Park, which makes for easy back-to-back sightseeing. 

Swimmers should be aware: Like all beaches in the area, due to the strong currents and frigid temps of the Pacific, Ocean Beach is not very accommodating for swimming. However the impressive waves make this a good spot to watch surfers and kiteboarders, especially towards the beach’s north end.

Having a bonfire with your friends on the beach might sound like a scene from a reality TV show, but it’s actually attainable here. If you show up early enough (and with a bit of luck), you might be able to nab one of Ocean Beach’s six public bonfire rings (b.y.o. firewood), and live out your California dreams.

5. Fort Funston

Michelle Wu Cunningham

Just south of Ocean Beach, but often overlooked, Fort Funston is a beautiful stretch of natural California coastline and a great place for collecting seashells. It’s also a seaside paradise for dog owners. The tall cliffs that line this beach create natural barriers that allow pups to roam free without having to be watched too closely. 

Fort Funston is also a mecca for hang gliding enthusiasts in the Bay area. The conditions along the coast here create air drafts that are perfect for riding the wind. It’s thrilling to watch the hang gliders take off from the cliffs above the beach and swoop around in the air with seemingly little effort. Just be sure not to stand in the landing area -- and watch your head!

6. Chrissy Field

Chrissy Field, San Francisco/Oyster

Fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands, ample parking, and an accessible location next to the lovely greens of the Presidio make Chrissy Field a popular choice for many.  While the sandy beach area at Chrissy isn’t very big, you also get the benefit of being close to nice picnic areas, walking paths, birdwatching areas, and sights like Fort Point or Fort Mason. On a windy day, you will also get to watch the kiteboarders and windsurfers who flock to this spot to ride the bay and zip back and forth under the Golden Gate Bridge.

7. Mile Rock Beach

David Fulmer/Flickr

Mile Rock Beach is located in a small, secluded cove hidden among the rugged cliffs of San Francisco’s beautiful Lands End recreation area. Lands End sits at the corner of the city where the ocean meets the bay, and thus provides sweeping panoramic views from the Golden Gate Bridge out to the Pacific. The smallest stretch of beach on the list, Mile Rock Beach is more suited for a nice stroll and exploring the rocks and tide pools. It’s only accessible from a series of hiking paths and sits at the foot of a long, steep set of stairs, so get ready for a strenuous hike back up.

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