San Francisco beaches combine great views with the fresh tang of cold ocean breakers, perfect for long walks or just contemplation.
San Francisco isn't known as a beach town, but we've got some gorgeous beaches well-worth exploring:
COVID-19 note: the beaches in San Francisco are all open, though the parking lots at Baker Beach, China Beach and Fort Funston are closed, as well as the Langdon Court (Overlook) lot for Marshall Beach and the Hamilton St. lot for Crissy Field. The two lots for Lands End and the Ocean Beach lot at the end of Sloat Blvd. are also closed.
The main lot at Ocean Beach (across from the Beach Chalet) is open.
Marshall's Beach isn't shown on the map, but it's between Baker Beach and the Golden Gate Bridge, on the western side of the bridge.
Ocean Beach is the grand-daddy of San Francisco beaches, stretching out for three miles along the entire western edge of San Francisco. This wide, flat expanse of sand is the best beach for long walks or a run.
It's also the most visited beach, which means lots of people on our warm, sunny days. This is a great surfing beach, and dogs can be off-leash in certain (small) parts.
More info on Ocean Beach, and why only experienced surfers should go in the water!
Baker Beach has the famous postcard view of the Golden Gate Bridge. This beach sits outside the Golden Gate, with the old guns of Battery Chamberlin guarding the approach to the bay.
This San Francisco beach is a must-see; be sure to bring your camera! (It's also the local nude beach, but only one end of it, and usually it's too cold for that!)
See Baker Beach for more info.
China Beach is a pocket-beach: a miniature, lesser-known cove next door to Baker Beach, tucked away in an exclusive neighborhood. Too small for long walks, but with a pretty view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Good beach for sun-bathing and picnicking. Check out the mussels and sea anemones on the rocks at low tide. A few brave souls swim here.
More info and tips for visiting China Beach.
Marshall's Beach is the most secluded and least-visited of the San Francisco Beaches, but it's the closest one to the Golden Gate Bridge, so the views are amazing. Great views from the trail going down there, too.
It's the least crowded because it's the hardest to get to. There's a long, steep climb from the top of the cliffs, but the trail is well-maintained and quite safe. The route to the beach branches off from the popular Batteries to Bluffs Trail. Rated moderate to strenuous, but well-worth the effort! Also clothing-optional.
See Marshall's Beach for tips on visiting and how to get there.
Another San Francisco beach located near an old fort. Fort Funston is my favorite, a rugged beach with crashing surf at the bottom of 200 foot cliffs, just south of Ocean Beach. Very popular with dogs, as well. When the winds are blowing, you'll see hang gliders soaring from the cliff tops.
More info on visiting Fort Funston.
Just inside the Golden Gate, Crissy Field has a wide, sandy beach with a pretty view of the bridge and Alcatraz. It's a short, 10-minute walk from Fisherman's Wharf. Of all the San Francisco beaches, this one's the most popular with windsurfers.
Lots of fun activities nearby: trampolines, rock-climbing, bike rentals, and more, plus tasty snacks at the Warming Hut. Short walk to Fort Point, a cool Civil War era fort and museum right under the bridge.
More about Crissy Field.
This San Francisco beach is in a protected cove at the western end of Fisherman's Wharf, an easy stroll from the popular tourist areas. Great spot for a peaceful picnic on the sand and taking a break from the crowds at Pier 39. Most popular (and safest) for swimming of all our beaches.
At the western tip of San Francisco, jutting out into ocean, is Lands End: a nature park of steep cliffs with beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands.
Lands End has a small, rocky beach, called Mile Rock Beach, accessible from the Coastal Trail. Wonderful beach to walk to.
More info on Mile Rock Beach and hiking at beautiful Lands End.
This is a nice beach across the Golden Gate Bridge in the Marin Headlands, popular with surfers and folks just hanging out. It has pretty views and a relaxed atmosphere, and is less crowded than the SF beaches.
There's a good-sized, free parking lot at the beach, as well as bathrooms and outdoor showers, plus water for the pups.
Take the Alexander exit after you cross the bridge, and follow the signs to the Marin Headlands. You'll see signs directing you to Rodeo Beach.
A bus will bring you out here from San Francisco on weekends. See the 76X schedule and route for places to catch it, and get off at the Fort Cronkhite parking lot stop.
You can also check out the cool Marine Mammal Center while you're there; it's just up the road from the beach. They're a non-profit group that takes care of all the sick and injured seals rescued up and down the coast.
Admission is free, and you can book a tour for a nominal price. I went on the tour and found it very interesting; they do good work and save a lot of animals.