Baker Beach at sunset.

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March 9, 2016
Baker Beach at sunset.

Top San Francisco Beaches

They may not be the sandy, sun-drenched variety Southern California is known for, but San Francisco has no shortage of beaches. If you’re looking for a beautiful outdoor excursion, San Francisco’s beaches offer breathtaking views as well as plenty of hiking, kite-flying, surfing, relaxing and more.   

BAKER BEACH
This popular beach in the Presidio offers the best ocean view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. Large waves and rip currents make the water unsafe for swimming and surfing but it is a beautiful place for sunbathing and picnicking.  You can sometimes watch sea lions and porpoises in the early morning. There are also lots of cafes in the nearby areas of the Richmond District along Clement Street. Or, enjoy a hike by picking up the Coastal Trail on the cliffside of the beach. Please note that the north side of Baker Beach is “clothing optional” and is often frequented by nude sunbathers. Later in the day stop by North Beach for a delicious meal at the North Beach Restaurant—a top ranked Italian Restaurant in the heart of the neighborhood.

How To Get There To reach Baker Beach using a public transit system take the #38 Geary Outbound and transfer to the #29 Sunset Bus. Be sure to request a transfer pass when boarding the #38 Geary. If you are driving, signs are provided along Lincoln Boulevard to reach here. Free parking lots are available but on a sunny day these fill up very fast.

CHINA BEACH (East Beach)
 If you are looking for one of the safest beaches for families, China Beach offers shallow waters for kids to play in and sometimes has lifeguards on duty during the summer. This tiny cove is tucked between Lands End and Baker Beach and also features a spectacular view of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge. It is also a great spot to have a picnic or a barbecue. Or, take a walk during low tide from China Beach to Baker Beach and find starfish, anemones, and mussels clinging to the rocky crevices of the cliff. Named after the Chinese fishermen who camped here in days past, you can see a monument to China Beach’s early residents near the parking area at the end of Sea Cliff Avenue. 

How To Get There China Beach is located at Sea Cliff and 28th Avenue in the Sea Cliff neighborhood. From El Camino del Mar, follow small brown signs that say "Public Beach." Parking is very limited at China Beach, with less than 40 spots available. To take San Francisco Muni, get off the #29 bus at Lincoln/Camino del Mar and 25th Avenue and walk west, or take bus #1 to California and 30th Avenue and go north. Both are about five blocks away.

LANDS END
One of the lesser-known and visited beaches in San Francisco, Lands End is a hidden gem secluded behind the dramatic cliffs west of Lincoln Park.  Accessible via a steep trail, it is best to wear sturdy shoes to get here. While the beach itself is a beautiful spot for sunbathing or picnicking, swimming is prohibited due to dangerous water conditions. It is the beautiful hiking along the bluffs that really make Lands End a must-see attraction. Along the way, you’ll see hillsides of cypress and wildflowers, catch glimpses of old shipwrecks, wander around the old ruins of the Sutro Baths or visit the Lookout Visitor Center. There are also wheelchair accessible trails from the trailhead at Merrie Way parking lot. After a visit to Lands End, enjoy a meal or a cocktail at the historic Cliff House.

How To Get There Park your car at West Fort Miley, or you can also look for parking at El Camino Del Mar, and the Cliff House. 

OCEAN BEACH
A classic California beach experience, Ocean Beach stretches along the entire west side of the city and offers panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Swimming is not advised here due to dangerous rip currents and extreme cold water temperatures. Usually only the most experienced surfers are found swimming at Ocean Beach and extreme caution is advised. Enjoy walking along 3.5 miles of coast, flying a kite, or having a picnic or bonfire in one of the beach’s designated areas. You can also grab a delicious cup of coffee at nearby Java Beach or a meal at the Cliff House. The San Francisco Zoo is also nearby and makes for a great full day itinerary for families.

How To Get There There is parking along the Great Highway as well as on the numerous side streets along Ocean Beach. It is also accessible by a number of buses and the N-Judah and L-Taraval Muni lines.

Photo by Clint Sharp / CC BY-NC-SA

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