The San Francisco Bay Area’s Best Beaches

While the beaches of the Bay Area leave much to be desired--Nor Cal beaches will never end up on Dr. Beach’s Best Of lists–there are some choice strands within an hour’s drive of San Francisco. And now that it is officially San Francisco’s summer (September-early November is when our unmerciful fog finally lifts), here are some of the Best Beaches in the Bay Area.

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San Francisco might have one of the most innovative food scenes on the planet; it might be home to revolutions and tolerance, stunning scenery, and fantastic tourist features. But this peninsula, despite being hugged on three sides by water, can not boast award-winning beaches.

That being said, I have my faves. Though my go-to beach in the city is Ocean Beach (this is for convenience as well as an abundance of food choices a couple blocks away), the best beach in San Francisco for views is Baker Beach, a sliver of sand on the ocean side of the Golden Gate Bridge with outstanding photo opps of the bridge, the sea, and the nudists on the eastern span of the beach. Unfortunately parking is annoying, especially on the few warm days we get in these parts.

Those lucky Marinites, not only get to boast fantastic hiking trails, but also some fine beaches. There are many to love (and if I left any out, feel free to add them below in the comments). Closest to the city, my family loves to hike the almost 2-mile Tennessee Valley trail to Tennessee Beach (bring a picnic so you can stay awhile). If you have more time and fancy a jaunt on the windy CA-1 to Stinson Beach, you’ll be rewarded with golden sands and massive waves. For a more mellow, yet very lovely Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay State Park. This beach day is best capped off with a memorable trip to shuck oysters along the sea.

Sorry to out y’all, but the East Bay’s beaches leave much to be desired. Sure I love walking along the bay and calling my fellow San Francisco residents, “Sucka!” for being in the fog, while I escaped to the abundant sun, but still, going to East Bay beaches often leaves me sad. With the exception of two notable destinations.

In Albany, go peep the Albany Bulb. OK, the beach isn’t all that, save the broken logs that act as climbing structures for the kids, and the sweet views of the bay. But the trail through this park is one of the Bay Area’s hidden gems. A former dump for the remnants of the Bay Bridge that collapsed in the 1989 earthquake, now The Bulb a public art space. Hundreds of squatters and public artists have created some wacky sculptures, paintings and found material pieces worth exploring as you stroll along the bay.

If you’d like a more traditional beach experience, you have to go to Alameda’s Crown Memorial State Beach. Known for its sand dunes, bike paths, and small town charm, this is the East Bay’s choice for warm summer beach days.

However, when I want a real beach complete with surfers, people swimming, dogs, and sand castles, I head to the San Mateo County Coast. My most favorite Bay Area beach (and I am not including Santa Cruz here) is Pacifica’s Linda Mar State Beach. Akin to a southern California beach, with a wide swath of sand and heaps of surfers in the water, this family fave also offers bathrooms, nearby restaurants, and tidepools.

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A jellyfish washed ashore in Half Moon Bay

Farther south along the coast are a handful of sweet turn offs with hiking trails to unpopulated beaches. Depending on the fog and tides, I like to stop at Montara Beach, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, or keep driving until I get to Santa Cruz–the queen of Northern California’s beach scene.

What are your favorite beaches in the Bay Area?

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For information on how to get to these beaches and more, order a copy of Northern California: An Explorer’s Guide.

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4 responses to “The San Francisco Bay Area’s Best Beaches

  1. Pingback: Northern California Weekend Getaway: Half Moon Bay | Planet Playground·

  2. Pingback: I’ll Leave My Heart in San Francisco | Planet Playground·

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