It’s summertime in the San Francisco Bay Area, and while you aren’t sure you want to go swimming when its only 65 degrees out, you sure as heck aren’t going to miss seeing the Pacific Ocean close up. Good call. Because Northern California has some of the most superlative beaches in the whole of North America, and even if you don’t have a one-inch wetsuit, you can still enjoy them. Here are the 5 best beaches for sure summer fun, based on factors that are best described in exclamations like “Wow! That’s amazing.”
“Look at those seals! I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“Abalone diving!? Really? What’s that like?”
“Those surfers must be out of their minds!”
and, my favorite… “Nudists!? But its freezing!”
5. Ocean Beach at sunset and after dark, San Francisco – It’s there. Always. So much so that this three mile stretch of beach is overlooked completely by locals until that one Saturday in September when, miraculously it seems, the temp hits 85 degrees and everyone wants to be at the beach. That is not the time to go (see the beaches below). The time to go is tonight, or tomorrow night, Friday night, whenever you can gather up three or five or 16 of your friends, some delicious beverages (cans only, no bottles allowed!) and some firewood, also available at the nearby Safeway. See the full regulations for beach bonfires here. Bring a guitar, get the fire roaring at sundown, and put the city at your back for a night as the fog rolls in. (This is also a perfect ending to this, if you can get someone else to organize.)
4. Baker Beach, San Francisco – Here’s where the nudists come in… but don’t be alarmed, they gather at the North end of the beach… where you’ll naturally be drawn for a better picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. The iconic bridge dominates the view from this stunning speck of heaven just outside the Golden Gate on San Francisco’s northern edge. A trip here on a warm sunny weekend day means a long walk down to the beach since the parking lot fills up early, but at least you’re strolling through the calm and picturesque Presidio. On the right day, at sunset, a pod of dolphins heading towards San Francisco Bay may just grace your visit by playing in the surf. Or you could be dreaming. Either way, you’ll struggle to describe it later.
3. Gray Whale Cove State Beach, Devil’s Slide, Montara – Another “clothing optional” beach, this one has the benefit of being just off winding Highway 1, 30 minutes south of San Francisco, but feeling completely removed from the entire world. The staircase from the parking pullout off the highway descends at least 200 feet of steep cliff down to this little cove, where, back to the continent, naked as a songbird (“optional”) and with the very real possibility of spying migrating gray whales (from October to December and again April to June), it’s easy to forget that that silly thing called civilization is just a short drive away.
2. Alamere Falls, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County – This natural wonder is the perfect example of how a beach trip can be so much more than just a chance to splash around and get a tan. After a moderate 4.3 mile hike through Point Reyes National Seashore, past some sparkling lakes, you arrive at enchanting Alamere, where the creek falls some 40 feet straight down onto the beach. The tide pools south of the falls on the beach are a great spot to view some sea life up close, as long as the tide is out and you take care to keep one eye on the surf.
1. Blind Beach, Sonoma Coast State Beaches, Jenner – This sublime spot is just south of the more heavily visited Goat Rock State Beach, which sits at the mouth of the Russian River. Follow signs from Highway 1 into Goat Rock State Beach, but park on the left hand side of the road at the parking lot for Blind Beach (which gets bonus points for allowing dogs, unlike Goat Rock). The trail down to the beach is windy and steep, but worth it for the solitude it delivers. Plus, Blind Beach has a stunning view of an impressive natural rock arch just a quarter mile offshore. Tide pools amongst the huge boulders at the north end of the beach are endlessly fascinating. Harbor seals and sea lions love to frolic in the waves here. Some of the best bouldering in Northern California is on the grassy bluff above. What more could you ask? A place for dinner and a drink when the sun goes down, you say. The Blue Heron in Duncan Mills serves up some killer cuisine just 15 minutes away.
Is your favorite San Francisco Bay Area beach not on the list? Tell us about it! Comment below or drop a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.