While San Francisco is best known for its hilly streets, funky culture, and famous attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, 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 the city limits, you can get there by public transportation, or they’re just a Lyft ride. However, unlike the more popular beaches in Los Angelesand southern Cali, don’t expect to take a dip in SF’s beaches – the water is always cold, with temperatures as low as the 1950s. Don’t worry, the swimsuits are still in order for sunbathing. So have a picnic, grab some friends, and go out for a day in the sand. (But you may still want to bring a jacket, in case an annoying fog comes in.)
1. Baker Beach
When the sun comes out, local beachgoers flock to this popular beach destination, turning it into a very lively and social scene. Baker Beach runs approximately one mile along the western edge of the Presidio and overlooks the San Francisco Bay. It is dog friendly and offers fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands across the bay.
The parking lot fills up quickly on weekends in good weather, so be prepared to fight to park or do some walking. It’s also important to note that Baker Beach‘s northernmost end is clothing-optional and has become a popular spot for nude bathers over the years. Some comfort with public nudity is one of those things that make San Francisco a unique and special place. If this isn’t your scene, just stick to the south side of the beach and you’ll be clear.
Located near Baker Beach, but usually less crowded, China Beach is a short strip of sand nestled between two high cliffs in the upscale Sea Cliff neighborhood. This beach was once the location of a Chinese fishing camp, which is how it got its name. There is usually street parking in the area if the small parking lot is full, which will give you the opportunity to wander around the many beautiful mansions in this neighborhood. When you reach the beach, the views of the Golden Gate Bridge are just as noteworthy. When the tide is low, you can walk 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 break along the coast, allowing for a warm and pleasant afternoon in the sand.
3. Marshall’s Beach
Located on the other side of Baker Beach to the north, Marshall’s Beach is more rugged and secluded, and perhaps even prettier than its more famous neighbors. The reason Marshall’s Beach is less crowded is because you can only access it by walking down the steep stairs and paths that wind along the cliffs to the shore. The beach can get super narrow at high tide, so you might want to check the tides before getting off with your gear. Like the north side of Baker, Marshall’s is a popular beach for clothing, where it’s common to see naked beachgoers enjoying their best life.
For the adventurous visitor, when the tides are low you can scale the rocks, moving north along the coast, until you reach the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Just be sure not to get caught up in the rising tides!
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’s never crowded. San Francisco likes to keep it natural, so you won’t see skyscrapers or commercial properties along the ocean here – just miles of sand and sea. The central part of Ocean Beach is bordered at the western end of Golden Gate Park, which makes the visit quick and easy.
Swimmers should be aware: Like all beaches in the area, due to the Pacific’s strong currents and frigid storms, Ocean Beach isn’t very accommodating to swimming. However, the impressive waves make this a good spot to watch surfers and kiteboards, especially towards the north side of the beach.
Having a bonfire with your friends on the beach might seem like a scene from a reality show, but it’s actually achievable here. If you show up early enough (and with any luck), you may be able to capture one of Ocean Beach’s six public bonfire rings (byo firewood) and live out your California dreams.
5. Fort Funston
Just south of Ocean Beach, but often overlooked, Fort Funston is a beautiful stretch of California’s natural coastline and a great place to collect shells. It is also a bathing paradise for dog owners. The high cliffs that line this beach create natural barriers that allow puppies to roam freely 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 perfect drafts for riding the wind. It is thrilling to watch the hang gliders take off from the cliffs above the beach and plummet into the air with seemingly little effort. Make sure you’re not in the landing zone – and watch your head!
Fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands, ample parking, and an accessible location beside the Presidio’s lovely greens make Chrissy Field a popular choice for many. While the Chrissy Sandy Beach area isn’t very large, it also has the added bonus of being close to nice picnic areas, hiking trails, birding areas, and attractions like Fort Point or Fort Mason. On a windy day, you’ll also be able to watch kiteboarders and windsurfers flock to this spot to ride the bay and zip back and forth under the Golden Gate Bridge.
7. Mile Rock Beach
Mile Rock Beach is located in a small cove hidden among the rugged cliffs of San Francisco’s beautiful Lands End recreation area. Lands End is located on the corner of the city, where the ocean meets the bay and thus offers stunning views from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Pacific. The smallest stretch of beach on the list, Mile Rock Beach is best suited for a nice stroll and exploring the rocks and tide pools. It is only accessible by a series of hiking trails and sits at the foot of a long, steep staircase, so be prepared for a strenuous hike.