As a native New Jerseyan, my family is often a bit confused about just how big California is. When I lived in San Francisco, I received a lot of questions about the warm weather and how often I go to the beach, questions that greatly amused my native San Franciscan friends.
The beaches of southern California are very different from the beaches of northern California, just as the weather is significantly different. San Francisco is often foggy and chilly, even during the summer months. There’s a reason why August is frequently referred to as “Fogust.”
But even though you won’t find as many warm, sunny beaches in northern California as in southern California, that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.
From San Francisco beaches that offer incredible views to beaches just a day trip away from the city, I’ve compiled a list of the best places to enjoy warm (okay, maybe not that warm) waters and sandy shores around San Francisco. Pick your favorite beaches from this list, and you’re bound to have an amazing day in the sun!
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The 10 Best San Francisco Beaches Perfect for a Day Trip
1. Head to Santa Cruz’s Famous Boardwalk
Located a little under two hours south of San Francisco by car, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is one of the best places to visit around San Francisco for a fun, beachy day. The boardwalk is connected to Main Beach, one of the best beaches near San Francisco and a great place to cool off during a hot summer day.
Santa Cruz is a big surf town, so don’t be surprised when you see surfers dotting the waters here, but you’re also welcome to get in the water yourself for a swim. After a day of laying out in the sun, head to the boardwalk to ride classic rides like the Giant Dipper, play a round of mini golf, challenge your friends to carnival games, or gorge yourself on the most enormous funnel cake you’ve ever seen.
2. Enjoy Gentle Waves at Crissy Field East Beach
Located in the lovely Presidio and sporting stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Crissy Field East Beach is one of the best beaches in San Francisco for families. While tourists pack onto Baker Beach, Crissy Field East Beach tends to be more popular with locals.
Many of the beaches around San Francisco are surrounded by water that’s unsafe for most people to swim in, but this beach is known for its gentle waves, perfect for dipping your toes in. This scenic location is also famous for its kitesurfing, so keep your eyes peeled for these impressive athletes during your visit.
3. Have Fun at Coyote Point Recreation Area
Found about a half-hour drive south of San Francisco in San Mateo, Coyote Point Recreation Area is one of the best San Francisco beaches for those looking to get active. While you’re here, you can enjoy swimming, windsurfing, biking, fishing, sailing, kayaking, and more.
There are also ample opportunities for kids to explore. Little ones will love pretending to be knights on the castle-and-dragon-themed Magic Mountain Playground. For even more fun, head to the CuriOdyssey, where you can get up close to animals and play around with hands-on science exhibits.
4. Surf at Pacifica State Beach
Also known as Linda Mar, Pacifica State Beach is one of the best beaches near San Francisco for those looking to ride some waves. Located about 30 minutes south of San Francisco by car in Pacifica, this beach is famous for its surf, so you’ll often find expert wave-riders hanging ten when you visit here.
Be advised that due to the high surf, swimming is not recommended. And if you’re new to surfing, be sure to get out on the water with a professional who can help you out. Nor-Cal Surf Shop offers lessons at this beach. And when you’re done riding those waves, grab a bite to eat at the strange-yet-wonderful Taco Bell on the beach.
5. Hike around Fort Funston
To be clear, you don’t go to Fort Funston in the hopes of spending the day chilling out in the water. There’s nothing chill about the water here unless you’re talking about the temperature. The surf and undertow are extremely dangerous, so be sure to stay away from the water.
That said, Fort Funston deserved a spot on the list of the best beaches in San Francisco for its incredible views. There are several trails to take here, all of which offer you a fantastic panorama, thanks to its 200-foot-high bluffs. Also thanks to the bluffs, you’ll often see hang-gliders taking off and soaring through the sky here.
6. Lay Out on the Soft Sand of Stinson Beach
You can find Stinson Beach over in Marin County, about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. When my partner and I were living in Richmond over in the East Bay, where the weather would often get much hotter than it was over in San Francisco, Stinson Beach was where we would go to enjoy the heat and cool off in the water.
Known for its soft white sand, this beach is often considered one of the best beaches near San Francisco for swimming. Stinson Beach is open and used all year round. In the winter and spring, you’ll find surfers out in the water, while the summer brings about swimmers and people who simply want to relax on the warm beach.
The town of Stinson Beach itself is considered one of San Francisco’s only true beach towns. Here, you’ll find tons of locally-owned restaurants, beach-themed shops, and laid-back vibes.
7. Enjoy the Sights of Rodeo Beach
Also in Marin County, Rodeo Beach is another top spot my partner and I would visit during hot summer and early fall days. Head north of San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge, and you’ll find this beach about a half-hour drive out of the city.
Unlike Stinson Beach, however, swimming at Rodeo Beach is not recommended. You also won’t find pillowy white sand here. Instead, the ground is made up of red and green pebbles.
But with cliffs surrounding it and a lovely lagoon at its heart, Rodeo Beach is one of the best beaches in San Francisco for those looking to go on a hike, take in the views, watch the surfers, or look for rare animals.
8. Go Whale Watching from Gray Whale Cove State Beach
Located about a half-hour drive south of San Francisco near Half Moon Bay, Gray Whale Cove State Beach is another one of the top San Francisco beaches for animal-watching and scenic beauty. The beach features a sheltered cove surrounded by cliffs that drop sharply into the ocean.
Surfers do often go in the water here, but most people would find the water too cold, especially if they aren’t wearing wetsuits. Additionally, you may stumble across a riptide here, so it’s important to stay vigilant around the water.
The beach is best for simply enjoying the beauty, whether that means from a beach chair on the sand or from the beach’s hiking trails. As the name implies, seeing gray or even humpback whales here isn’t unheard of. If you have a high enough vantage point, you may see gray whales in the early winter and early spring, while humpbacks arrive in the summer.
9. Hike around Muir Beach
Muir Beach is another Marin County find, located about 40 minutes north of San Francisco by car. Featuring a tranquil cove and scenic trails, this beach is a perfect place to spend the day basking in natural beauty.
You’ll also find numerous animals abound on this beach, especially if you take the time to check out the tide pools. For an incredible view and a chance to spot whales from the shore, check out the Muir Beach Overlook.
10. Take a Ride to Carmel Beach
A little over two hours south of San Francisco is Carmel Beach, found in the fairytale-like Carmel-by-the-Sea. Carmel Beach itself boasts soft sand and scenic views. If you time your visit right, you might even see a tournament happening on the famous Pebble Beach golf course high above the beach.
Carmel Beach is easily accessible from downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, where you’ll find cottages that look like they popped right out of storybooks, as well as tons of excellent restaurants, cute shops, and charming hotels.