You don’t have to travel far and wide to experience a fantastic beach day in the Bay Area. Jump on public transit or a bike and you can reach any of these beautiful beaches; all are located within San Francisco’s city limits.
Photo courtesy of Eric F Savage/Flickr
Baker Beach – Cocoa-colored Baker Beach attracts droves of San Francisco denizens on warm (not necessarily summer!) days. With the cliff-hanging mansions of Seacliff on the south side, a sweeping view of the Marin Headlands across the sea, and the Golden Gate Bridge a seashell’s throw away, Baker Beach provides ample photo opportunities and plenty of tourists take advantage. Dolphins often frolic just offshore, and the topless and the nude frolic on the northern patch of sand (to the far right if entering from the parking lot). If you want to bare all, it’s a mellower scene in the early afternoon; more gawkers and weirdos traipse the beach as sunset approaches. Facilities are limited (bathrooms consist of porta potties and a couple of stalls), so bring food and drink with you (nearby Geary Street has a couple of decent delicatessens).
Photo courtesy of Maanskyn/Flickr
China Beach – Seldom-visited China Beach is a laid back, sheltered cove of soft greyish-brown sand. Reached by a steep stairway, the beach is allegedly named for the Chinese fishermen who anchored their boats offshore and camped in the cove during the late 1800s and early 1900s. At low tide, it’s possible to walk from China Beach to Baker Beach; look for mussels, anemones, and starfish sticking to the craggy rocks. Swimming is extremely dangerous, but the beach is lovely for a picnic, sunbathing, or for the kiddies to romp around. Grills and picnic tables are available on a first-come/first-served basis, and dilapidated restrooms and cold-water showers are also present. The far-reaching views from China Beach make the Golden Gate Bridge look miniscule compared to the surrounding landscape. The winds can be extremely gusty, so bring layers.
Photo courtesy of Genista/Flickr
Ocean Beach – Underrated by most locals and beloved by surfers, the wide swath of fine Ocean Beach sand swirls white and black like Oreo cookie ice cream. It’s certainly exposed to the elements, which makes the beach downright brisk with windchill and stubborn fog; however, on a rare hot day (mostly in late fall and early spring), Ocean Beach is total paradise. Solitude is everywhere as the beach is endlessly long and impossibly wide. The rip current is strong so be wary of swimming. Instead, gaze in awe at the graceful athletes tackling the brutal surf with ease. San Diego has nothing on these guys and gals – that water is cold, and great white shark sightings are common. If it’s your lucky day, you may catch a glimpse of the King Philip, the 1878 shipwreck that bares its timbers from beneath the shifting sands on the rarest of occasions. Ocean Beach is also popular for sunset bonfires; a Safeway supermarket sells firewood a couple of blocks away. No facilities exist at the beach, but the bathrooms in the Beach Chalet across the street are easily accessible.
Photo courtesy of grant_loy/Flickr
Crissy Field – Originally a U.S. Army airfield, the thin, grey, ribbon of sand stretches along the bay, not the ocean, and provides stellar views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Marin. Kite surfers and windsurfers benefit from steady winds while dozens of sailboats bob across the bay. Crissy Field is a popular BBQ spot, running path, biking trail, and family play area. The Warming Hut, at the western end, sells snacks and has toilets.