An Insider’s Guide to San Francisco’s Best Beaches

August 9, 2019

Though it’s surrounded by water on three sides, San Francisco isn’t what most would picture when imagining a beach town. That being said, the city—better known for its man-made glory—is home to some pretty spectacular beaches. From a surfer’s paradise to dog- and family-friendly options, these are the best sandy spots in San Francisco.

Baker Beach

Starting at the southwest end of the Presidio and extending north toward the Golden Gate, Baker Beach is one of the best places to sit and watch the sunset in the city. From the beach, you can enjoy views of Lands End to the south, the Marin Headlands across the bay and San Francisco’s most famous bridge to the north.

Unfortunately, this is not a beach to go to if you want to get in the water (the rip currents and waves can be very dangerous), but it’s a good spot for fishing or exploring the terrain and wildlife along the rocky shoreline.

Baker Beach Tips:

  • It’s not safe to swim here.
  • The northernmost end is clothing optional.
  • Restrooms, grills and picnic tables are available.

Mile Rock Beach

Another beach requiring a trek to get to is Mile Rock Beach, located at the end of the Lands End trail. Unlike Baker Beach, this locale is much better suited for adventuring than a quiet admiration of nature. From the Lands End visitor center, it’s about a mile to get down to the water (the trail includes a 243-stair-step descent).

Once you’re there, it’s a great place for exploring tidepools and the creatures within (if you get there at the right time of day). This spot also offers stunning vistas of the Marin Headlands and the Presidio.

Mile Rock Beach Tips:

  • Pack water and snacks (if you forget food, you can eat before or after your hike at the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center or the nearby Cliff House Restaurant).
  • The beach gets very small at high tide, so check times before you go.
  • Free parking!
  • Dogs are allowed off leash.

Crissy Field – East Beach

Located just east of the Golden Gate, Crissy Field’s East Beach offers the whole “fun in the sun” type of beach experience. It’s safe for swimming, is one of the best places for kitesurfing and easy to get to (no hiking shoes necessary).

East Beach Tips:

  • Picnic tables, grills, and restrooms are available.
  • Check out the nearby Crissy Marsh for birdwatching.
  • Keep in mind: this beach is very popular and may be crowded.

Marshall’s Beach

For starters, this beach is only accessible via the Batteries to Bluffs hiking trail in the Presidio, which makes it a much quieter and more exclusive experience than most of the other beaches—simply because of the effort required to get there.

Don’t worry; the views make all the effort worth it. Both the natural terrain and the proximity to the Golden Gate make for a photographer’s dream. Chances are you’ve seen a picture of the bridge taken from Marshall’s Beach, with rock formations in the foreground.

Marshall’s Beach Tips:

  • Prepare for a workout (requires a hike there and back).
  • Leave your dog at home (the trail is not dog friendly).
  • No restrooms available.

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach is considered one of the best surfing spots in San Francisco; unfortunately, this also means the water is off limits for amateurs and casual beachgoers. Despite the dangerous waters, Ocean Beach is a beautiful natural park to visit. Bring your dog, kids, fishing gear, and BBQ supplies to enjoy the sand and the sea. While you’re there, consider checking out the nearby historic Cliff House and Sutro Baths or the Camera Obscura.

Ocean Beach Tips:

  • Avoid the water unless you’re an experienced surfer.
  • Bonfires are allowed in provided fire pits.
  • Dogs are allowed.

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