Best Beaches in San Francisco and the Surrounding Area

When picturing a vacation in San Francisco, you probably envision the Golden Gate Bridge enshrouded in fog, or perhaps famous Pier 39 and a sourdough bread bowl filled with piping hot clam chowder; but if you don’t get the opportunity to go to the beach often, you should certainly take advantage of the time you have on the west coast to visit the area’s best. Keep in mind that the beaches in Northern California are not the typical beaches that you’ll find down south – packed with people in teeny bikinis romping through the water. Here, the water is cold and the waves are often great for surfing – you’re more likely to watch surfers in wet suits riding the waves or spend time exploring tide pools and looking for sea shells here.

Ocean Beach

On the west side of the city you’ll find Ocean Beach. This is a beautiful 3 ½ mile stretch of white sand beach that lies adjacent to Golden Gate Park. The famous Cliff House restaurant sits on the north end, offering a perfect place to take in breathtaking views of the Pacific and enjoy fantastic fare featuring fresh organic produce, delectable seafood and award-winning wines. After your meal, take a stroll down the beach, fly a kite or see the Sutro Bath ruins. These baths were opened in the late 19th century to the public as the world’s largest indoor swimming pool with the complex constructed at the edge of the cliffs. In 1966, they were burned down and abandoned but the ruins remain and are fascinating to visit.

Baker Beach

Baker Beach is the closest beach to downtown San Francisco offering amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and a mile stretch of beach just below the rugged cliffs on the Presidio’s western shoreline. This beach is often a little warmer with a better chance of sunbathing as well as spotting dolphins frolicking in the surf. Beware- if nudity bothers you, the northern most end of the beach is clothing optional.

Montara Beach

Montara Beach is 20 miles south of the city off Highway One. This is a fairly secluded beach not often frequented by tourists and offers dramatic cliff views and private coves where you can lie down in the sand and relax without bumping elbows with strangers. This is an ideal place to spot whales, seals or dolphins, be mesmerized by the sounds of the surf or hypnotized by a dramatic sunset.

If you have time, pay a visit to the Moss Beach Distillery just two miles further south on Highway One. While meals are pricey, you can enjoy drinks and less expensive appetizers on the heated patio overlooking the Pacific.

Marin Headlands

Just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate you’ll find Rodeo Beach and the Marin Headlands in Sausalito. Here you’ll have access to miles of trails with incredible views of the city and an ideal romantic spot to watch the sun go down. Even in a cool, misty fog, this beach provides a great escape from civilization.