San Francisco's Baker Beach has got one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, plus it's one of the most comfortable beaches for sunbathing and picnics.
Is it a nude beach? Well, sort of. More on that below...
Baker Beach is open 24 hours a day, and entry to beach is free, but the parking lots next to the beach close one hour after sundown.
Baker Beach is a great spot for sunbathing and picnicking.
Many people bring food to eat and spread a blanket on the sand, but the beach also has a nice picnic area in a cypress grove behind the beach, near the parking lot.
There are picnic tables and grills available, first come, first served.
Note on dogs: Baker Beach is a very popular place to bring dogs. Almost the entire beach is off-leash, and it's a fairly wide beach, so there's lots of room for them to run. The rule is dogs can be off-leash except for south of Lobos Creek.
You'll notice that the small trickle of water known as "Lobos Creek" is at the far southern end of the beach, just below the first parking lot as you come in. If you park where most people park, in the northern lot, you won't even see the creek, so it feels like basically the whole beach is leash-free.
Baker Beach lies along the channel leading to the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.
The beach is about a mile (1.6 km) long and lies in the Presidio, a district that was a U.S. military installation until 1997.
The beach is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, administered by the National Park Service.
Battery Chamberlin, with its "disappearing" artillery guns, was built in 1904 at Baker Beach to defend the approach to San Francisco.
When you arrive at the beach, you'll see a series of bunkers on the right. The gun is in the first section of bunkers.
It's designed to pop up and shoot, then drop down behind the wall, hence the "disappearance".
They were never used, since San Francisco was never attacked.
After the World War 2, the guns were removed, but in 1977, a "disappearing" gun similar to the original one was placed in the battery. It's the only one in the country still functioning.
Gun demonstration. The gun is there for viewing all the time, but on the first full weekend of every month, they demonstrate how it works.
Time of demonstration. The park rangers are there from 11 am until 3 pm. The don't have fixed times for the demonstrations; they'll do a talk and demonstrate the firing procedure when they get enough people there, usually about every hour or so.
The Battery was intended to protect the mine fields in the bay, but was never used, and became obsolete with the invention of airplanes. The gun could fire a projectile 7 miles.
Firing the gun. The demo is interesting, and you can participate in a simulated firing exercise. No real ammunition, of course. When I went, six people got to play the various roles in loading and firing the gun.
There's also a small museum in the bunker about all the batteries and guns that used to line the approach to San Francisco Bay. It's open 11 to 3 on the weekends of the demonstrations.
The Burning Man festival had its start at Baker Beach. It grew out of an annual summer solstice ritual involving bonfires at the beach during the 1980's.
Then for the 1986 solstice, several local men burned an 8-foot, wooden man on the beach. Each following year, the "man" got bigger; by 1988, the Burning Man was 30 feet tall.
In 1990, the burning was stopped for lack of a permit, and the event moved to Black Rock Desert outside of Reno.
Most people just relax in the sand, or walk and admire the views. You may see some people fishing, and, occasionally, some nude people at the far northern end (towards the bridge).
On warm, sunny days, especially on weekends, Baker Beach can get crowded and the parking lots fill up by noon. But otherwise, it's pretty easy to drive here and park.
In summer, it's often foggy and cold, so there's not a lot of competition for spots on the beach or parking!
Although Baker Beach is a more sheltered than Ocean Beach which faces the Pacific, it's still not a safe beach for swimming.
Rip currents are the danger here, plus there's a strong current that runs from the bay, through the Golden Gate, out to the ocean.
Swimmers can get pulled out into the channel and out towards the ocean. You'll see some people in the water on warm days, but it's not a good idea.
For more information on the dangers of swimming at San Francisco beaches, see rip currents for what to do if caught in one (which won't happen if you don't go in the water).
Also, the water temperature is around 58 degrees (14 C) all year round...brrr!
What about sharks? Sharks aren't the problem. There are sharks in the bay, and the Great Whites are patrolling just off the coast, but shark attacks are extremely rare.
There's been only one shark attack at Baker Beach. Unfortunately it was a fatal attack, but it happened back in 1959.
Baker Beach has a great view of the channel leading towards the bay. You have a chance of seeing whales, dolphins, sea lions and harbor seals in the water just off the beach.
Also, at low tide, you can see mussels, sea anemones and sea stars clinging to the lower part of the rocks at both ends of the beach.
At very low tide, you can actually walk around the corner to China Beach at the southern end of Baker Beach, but be watchful of the waves coming in.
See photos of what the walk looks like from the China Beach side, plus info on the sea anemones you'll see.
Yes, sort of...
Baker Beach is part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, administered by the U.S. Park Service, not the city.
Public nudity was made illegal in San Francisco in 2012, except for certain events requiring permits, like parades and festivals (with the permission of the event organizers). See the KQED article on how and why nudity became illegal here.
So nudity isn't legal in San Francisco, but because the beach is administered by the Park Service, which doesn't forbid it, it is allowed there.
There's no written rules about it, but the custom is that only the northern end of the beach, towards the Golden Gate Bridge, is clothing-optional, and that practice is generally followed.
That said, most of the times I've been to Baker Beach, I haven't seen any nudes (probably because of the chilly SF weather!). The one time I did see a lot of nudes, and not just at the northern end, was a warm, sunny day in October when the Blue Angels were performing. What I've observed over the years, and others have noted this as well, is that most of the nudists are older men...nuff said.
So basically, if you avoid that end of the beach, it's unlikely you'll see any naked bodies. Lots of people do bring their kids to this beach, so that is something to keep in mind.
The best time to go to Baker Beach is in September and October, when it's usually sunny and warm (by SF standards). Most days will be in the 70's (21-25 C), occasionally in the 80's (26-31 C) and two or three days a year, in the 90's (32 C +).
April is often nice, too, with the high temperatures in the low to mid 60's (17 C).
Something to keep in mind: even on days that are warm in the afternoon, the temperature can drop when the sun goes down, so it's good to keep a jacket handy. No balmy nights in SF!
Summers are foggy. May, June and July are usually cool and gray, with highs around 58 degrees (14 C). August is iffy; it can be sunny off and on.
Baker Beach can get crowded on warm, sunny days, especially on weekend and holidays. The parking lots fill up and it's not easy to find parking in the neighborhood, so come before noon, or earlier. Weekdays are pretty good even when it's sunny.
But when it's foggy, it's easy to park and you'll be sharing the beach with only a few other people.
Baker Beach lies along the western edge of the Presidio.
Driving directions. Take Bowley Street off Lincoln Blvd. in the Presidio. Turn right on Gibson Road, then right at the fork towards the beach.
GPS: you can use "Baker Beach, San Francisco".
Parking at Baker Beach. There are four parking areas for the beach.
There's one parking lot at the intersection of Bowley and Gibson as you come in, right near the southern end of the beach, and another good-sized parking lot further on to the right, next to middle section of the beach. Plus two parking areas along Bowley Street as you're entering and leaving the park.
On warm, sunny days, especially on weekends, the parking areas fill up, so come before noon, or earlier.
Parking tip: the 2 parking lots near the beach close one hour after sundown. They close the gate, and don't open it until the next morning. The parking areas along Bowley Street stay open.
The 29-Sunset bus stops near Baker Beach. The first stop is just off Lincoln Blvd. on Bowley Street, but the second stop is closer to the beach.
Get off at the next stop, Bowley and Gibson Road; you can get to the beach through the parking lot right there, or walk a few minutes to the prettier part of the beach taking the right fork. See the 29-Sunset bus route and schedule.
Getting to Baker Beach from Union Square. Take the 38-Geary bus from Union Square and get off at Geary and 25th Avenue. Catch the 29-Sunset at the same intersection (northbound). See the 38-Geary route & schedule.
From downtown SF. You can also catch the 38-Geary bus at several stops along Market Street between 1st Street and 3rd Street.
There's a neat, free shuttle that runs from downtown to the Presidio seven days a week, that will get you to Baker Beach with one change.
There's a PresidiGo stop (Downtown route) near the Embarcadero BART station off Market Street (on Drumm Street at California Street). Take it to the Presidio main post (Presidio Transit Center) and catch the Presidio Hills route shuttle to Baker Beach. See Presidio Go for route maps.
There are two beautiful hikes near Baker Beach.
Batteries to Bluffs Trail. This is a pretty trail that follows the cliffs leading to the Golden Gate Bridge. You can join the trail by climbing the sand ladder at Baker Beach, which takes you up to the road. Go left a little ways on Lincoln Blvd. and you'll see the trailhead. The hike is moderate to strenuous; it does have some steep stairways here and there, but the trail is well-maintained and pretty easy to walk on.
Along the 2.2 mile trail (roundtrip) there's an optional path down to Marshall's Beach below.
Marshall's Beach is smaller and more secluded (also clothing-optional) and is the closest beach to the bridge. You'll be treated to some great views of the bridge and the Marin Headlands along the way.
At the end of the trail, you can keep going a short distance until you get to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lands End Coastal Trail. Lands End is an undeveloped, wild area of cypress forests at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. The walk has beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands.
You can get there from Baker Beach by going west on Lincoln Blvd, which turns into El Camino del Mar. That street leads right into Lands End and the beginning of the Coastal Trail.
A detour off the trail takes you to Mile Rock Beach and the labyrinth at Lands End Point.
For more info, see Lands End.