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The Best Bay Area Beaches

The Best Bay Area Beaches

By California.com
December 15, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe. 

Some people consider the beach a holiday destination, but for Californians, going to the beach is just another Tuesday. The San Francisco Bay Area coastline in particular is quite dramatic—no two beaches are alike. Whether you’re seeking a tranquil spot to ease your mind or an untamed shoreline where the waves unapologetically crash into the rocks, the Bay Area has countless options for you. Sink your feet in the sand and listen to the calming murmurs of the waves at the best Bay Area beaches you’ll ever visit.

The Best Beaches in San Francisco

Head to Baker Beach to admire the crashing waves and unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Baker Beach

Location: Bowley Street and Gibson Road, San Francisco

Dogs allowed
: Yes

With unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the pounding Pacific Ocean, Baker Beach is undoubtedly one of the best beaches in San Francisco. The public beach used to be a part of the Presidio, a former U.S. Army military fort. Now, the popular destination attracts visitors looking to savor the scenery, enjoy a beach day with Fido, watch the sunset, and take advantage of the photo ops. The best time to come here is early in the morning when all you’ll hear are the waves racing each other to the sands. 

Go on a romantic date with your S.O. and stroll along the scenic shores of China Beach.

China Beach

Location: 340 Sea Cliff Avenue, San Francisco

Dogs allowed: No

Tucked between Baker Beach and Lands End in S.F.’s Sea Cliff neighborhood is the gorgeous China Beach. Back in the day, Chinese fishermen used the beach as a campsite. Locals now come here for sunbathing, tide-pooling, and picnicking. Swimming here isn’t recommended, though—there are many possible dangers and a lack of lifeguards. But don’t let that stop you from visiting. Thanks to its spectacular views, China Beach is definitely among the best beaches in San Francisco.  

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Warm Beaches In San Francisco

Don't these waves just look so inviting? All we want in life is to run shoreside and dip our toes in the shimmering waters.

Ocean Beach

Location: Sloat Boulevard and Great Highway, San Francisco

Dogs allowed: Yes

Just past Golden Gate Park, you’ll come across Ocean Beach, one of the coolest Bay Area surf spots. The five-mile stretch of sand is one of the warmest beaches in San Francisco, making it perfect for swimming. Occasionally, the clipper ship King Philip—which met its demise in 1878 as it left San Francisco Bay—emerges from the sands just offshore. While you’re here, go on an easy coastal hike to rejuvenate your mind and soul. 

Admire the beauty of Fort Funston Beach as you explore the network of coastal trails.

Fort Funston Beach

Location: Skyline Boulevard and John Muir Drive, San Francisco

Dogs allowed: Yes

With strong winds and sandy cliffs dropping 200 feet, Fort Funston Beach is known for its hang-gliding opportunities. A network of trails also makes this spot ideal for hiking and horseback riding. Considered one of the wildest beaches in the Bay Area, the dog-friendly beach is a hidden gem in San Francisco and a well-kept local secret. (If you’re a Pisces, this is the beach to visit based on your zodiac sign.) 


The Best Beaches South of San Francisco

Stroll shoreside along Montara State Beach. The jaw-dropping scenery will refresh and rejuvenate you.

Montara State Beach

Location: Second Street and Cabrillo Highway, Montara

Dogs allowed: Yes

Looking for the best California surf spots? Ride the waves at Montara State Beach. As one of the best beaches south of San Francisco, Montara State Beach is one of the cleanest you’ll ever visit. There are multiple hiking, horseback riding, and biking trails in the area, so even if the weather doesn’t allow you to swim, there’s always something to do here. 

Thornton State Beach

Location: John Daly Boulevard and Skyline Boulevard, Daly City

Dogs allowed: Yes

You’ll find Thornton State Beach nestled below tall bluffs, hidden from the public eye. This remote beach is famous for its hiking and equestrian trails along bluff terraces that provide breathtaking views of the waters. Although it’s one of the best beaches south of San Francisco, erosion at the cliffs has created a challenge when accessing the beach. Now, it’s operated by Daly City as an overlook platform with majestic vistas of the Pacific.


The Best Beaches in Half Moon Bay

Have you ever seen a more beautiful coastline? Visit Poplar Beach to enjoy sandy shorelines and glimmering azure waters.

Poplar Beach

Location: Poplar Street and Railroad Avenue, Half Moon Bay

Dogs allowed: Yes

End your search for the best beaches in Half Moon Bay—Poplar Beach is where you’re going. This city-run beach is popular among dog walkers, horseback riders, and picnicking families. Animal lovers also flock here since it welcomes dogs (unlike many other beaches in the area). Openly welcoming visitors and their four-legged friends, Poplar Beach is undoubtedly one of the best Bay Area beaches

Venice Beach - Half Moon Bay State Beach

Location: 400 Venice Boulevard, Half Moon Bay

Dogs allowed: No

So you thought there was only one Venice Beach in California? Well, the Bay Area has its very own. Located in the middle of Half Moon Bay State Beach, Venice Beach lies between two creeks: Pilarcitos and Frenchmans. Hikers, joggers, and cyclists frequently use the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail along this beach. Even though swimming is dangerous here due to cold water temperatures and strong rip currents, it hasn’t stopped Venice Beach from being among the best beaches in Half Moon Bay.

Tunitas Creek Beach

Location: Tunitas Creek Road and Cabrillo Highway South, Half Moon Bay 

Dogs allowed: No

Leave it to Tunitas Creek Beach to give you the best beach experience of your life. It’s a “blink and you miss it” spot that provides incredible views of the Pacific Coast. The beauty of Tunitas Creek Beach lies within its quiet and secluded nature. There aren’t many crowds here, which is perfect for you to enjoy your beach day playlist in peace. Visit here once, and you’ll understand why it’s one of the best Bay Area beaches


The Best Beach in Bodega Bay

Is there anything more beautiful than the sunset at Arched Rock Beach? We think not, so grab your cameras and capture the stunning scene.

Arched Rock Beach

Location: Highway 1, Bodega Bay

Dogs allowed: No

When you’re cruising around Bodega Bay and notice a large rock with a hole in it, you’ll immediately know where you are: Arched Rock Beach. This absolute must-see beach has several vista points and endless space for walking around and exploring the area. Stroll along the rugged Sonoma coast stretching as far as the eye can see—it’s worth visiting even in the cold. With cool breezes and fantastic panoramas, Arched Rock Beach is without a doubt the best beach in Bodega Bay

   
The Best Beaches in the Bay Area for Swimming

Live life on the wild side and head to this clothing-optional beach to experience exciting waves and indulge in the views.

Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Location: Cabrillo Highway, Montara

Dogs allowed: No

Gray Whale Cove State Beach is one of the best beaches near San Francisco. (Note: It is also clothing-optional.) Featuring abrupt cliffs, wave action, and erosion by the infamous Devil’s Slide, the beach is surrounded by natural wonders and smooth sands. As the name suggests, it’s a wonderful spot to view whales migrating in season, too. Join the marine mammals in the water and take a dip in one of the best beaches in the Bay Area for swimming

Pacifica State Beach

Location: 5000 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacifica

Dogs allowed: Yes

Also known as Linda Mar Beach, Pacifica State Beach is a 0.75-mile-long, crescent-shaped beach that’s the best place for splashing around in the Bay Area. Many people come here to learn how to ride the waves—it’s the perfect surf spot for beginner surfers thanks to the gentle swells. The northern half of Pacifica State Beach is backed by dunes, and the area has multiple hiking trails that take you through the hills to many gorgeous vantage points. Here, you’ll also find a waterfront Taco Bell, so there’s no need to pack for a picnic when you’re going to the best beach in the Bay Area for swimming


The Best Tide Pools in the Bay Area

Lose track of time as you explore the magnificent Pescadero State Beach. Feel the sun kiss your skin as you do run wild and free by the shore.

Pescadero State Beach

Location: Pescadero Creek Road and Cabrillo Highway, Pescadero

Dogs allowed: No

At Pescadero State Beach, you’ll discover rocky coves, mounds of sand, sweeping wetlands, and a rock arch. This dramatic and scenic spot also boasts some of the best tide pools in the Bay Area. The mile-long shoreline is a common fishing spot, too. With birds, mussel shells, driftwood, and tide pools surrounding you, you’ll realize that Pescadero State Beach is an awesome place to take photos in the San Francisco Bay Area

Seal Cove Beach

Location: Cypress Avenue and Beach Way, Moss Beach

Dogs allowed: No

There are so many tide pools ready for exploration at Seal Cove Beach. Also known as Cypress Cove, the beach is located within the JV Fitzgerald Marine Reserve; many visitors come here to marvel at the diversity of the Golden State’s tide pool geology. Once you’re done discovering the best tide pools in the Bay Area, nearby trails lead you into a cypress forest that is straight out of a fairy tale. 

Kid-Friendly Beaches in the Bay Area

In need of a family day at the beach? Look no further than Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach.

Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach

Location: Eighth Street and Otis Drive, Alameda

Dogs allowed: Yes

Spend a beach day with the children at Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach. Not only is it a wonderful kid-friendly beach in the Bay Area, but it’s also one of the warmest beaches near San Francisco—the soothing waves are perfect for the little ones learning how to swim. This city beach boasts fantastic views of the S.F. skyline, which makes your day here even more worthwhile. 

Hearts Desire Beach

Location: 1208 Pierce Point Road, Inverness

Dogs allowed: No

We listened to our hearts, and they told us to go to Hearts Desire Beach. This kid-friendly beach in the Bay Area has everything you need to make your beach day ideal. Considered a hidden gem in Marin County, the beach's water is pretty shallow, making it safe for children wanting to splash around in the waves. You can also hike around the nearby trails that guide you to stunning spots in the area. 


The Best Beach Towns Near San Francisco

Recharge as you feel the soft sand beneath your toes in Bolinas. Take a beachside stroll and relax as you listen to the sound of the waves.

Bolinas

Location: Marin County

Bolinas is a gorgeous coastal community located 13 miles northwest of San Francisco. This small town is home to one of the best Bay Area beaches: Bolinas Beach. People visiting this place often go to Bolinas Lagoon—a 1,100-acre tidal estuary.

Princeton-by-the-Sea

Location: San Mateo County

Princeton-by-the-Sea is a quaint, beautiful locale and one of the best beach towns near San Francisco. The picturesque area is known for being a historic harbor town where most people spend their time fishing. 

El Granada

Location: San Mateo County

Only 30 minutes away from San Francisco, El Granada is an affordable California beach town. The top places to check out here are Pillar Point Harbor and Mavericks Beach—the most coveted surfing location in the Golden State. 

Stinson Beach

Location: Marin County

Drive 35 minutes north of San Francisco and you’ll arrive at Stinson Beach, a popular day-trip destination for people living in the Bay Area. Stinson Beach is close to multiple attractions in California such as Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods National Monument. 

Marshall

Location: Marin County

The mystery of Marshall is what makes it one of the best beach towns near San Francisco. Located on the east shore of Tomales Bay, the unincorporated community has an unknown population but got its name thanks to four brothers from the Marshall family, who set up the dairy industry here in 1850. While you're here, make sure to try one of the most iconic foods in California: fresh oysters, which are plucked right out of Tomales Bay.

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