The Bay Area has no shortage of beaches, but not all of them are created equal. For that reason, we’ve scoped out six beaches that are cooler than everyone else’s beach. These are the sandy spots that will have your friends saying, “You went where?” while you grin mysteriously, knowing all the while you were within easy disctance of the city.
For each sandy spot, we’ve sussed out the good (“The Sunny Side”), the bad (“The Sand in Your Teeth”), and a tip or two (“The SPF”) to make your beach trip a breeze. Meet the best beaches near San Francisco.
Best Beach to Hop, Skip, and Go Naked!: Bonny Doon Beach, Davenport
The Sunny Side: Don’t be shy! This ocean-cliff oasis will feel like your own private beach. Quiet and secluded, it’s the perfect place to go au naturel without a second thought. Expect dreamy sunsets, beach walks, and few people who tend to keep their distance.
The Sand in Your Teeth: The beach can get windy and kick up sand. Check the weather before heading out, and bring along a good pair of shoes to navigate the trail down to the beach, which can be slippery.
The SPF: While the official mantra is that nudity is banned, the signs are largely ignored. Stay in the quieter areas and don’t bother other beach-goers and you should be fine. To feel truly communal, join the Community Seed Earth Spirit Fellowship for their summer beach clean-ups.
Directions: Take Caltrain south to the San Jose Diridon Station. Then take the Santa Cruz Metro bus 17 to the Santa Cruz Metro Center, and catch bus 40 or 42 for Bonny Doon. Note that this can be quite a haul. Should you choose to drive, there is paved parking on the west side of Highway 1 (arrive early for a spot). Cross over the railroad tracks and follow the trail to the beach. The clothing-optional area is at the north end.
Best Beach to Get Wild (Sort Of): Año Nuevo State Park, Pescadero
The Sunny Side: There’s a reason this is a “best beach” list instead of a compilation of “best hikes” or “best camping spots.” Many of us like the idea of the wilderness, but let’s face it: We’d rather hit the beach. Año Nuevo offers the perfect dose of wildlife and walking trails—with all the comforts and level ground of a beach (let’s not strain ourselves, people). Take a self-guided tour during summer months, or hop on a guided tour to see the elephant seals during breeding season (December to March). Picnic tables, restrooms, and drinking water are available at the visitor’s center.
The Sand in Your Teeth: Given the fact that it’s limited to guided tours during breeding season, and that this stretch of coast tends to be cold and windy year round, the park is more a nature fix than your typical day at the beach.
The SPF: Break out those layers and bring a thermos of hot cocoa if you come early in the morning. From April to November, can pick up a permit at the visitor’s center to set out on self-guided walk.
Directions: It’s best to drive to this one. The park is located 30 miles south of Half Moon Bay, just west of Highway 1. The hardcore, and those staying overnight, could take SamTrans to Cabrillo Highway and Pomponio beach, and then bike from there. The bus journey with transfers takes just under 3.5 hours, with an additional 1.5 hours of biking.
Best Beach to feel like a Kid Again: Main Beach, Santa Cruz
The Sunny Side: It may seem an obvious option, but there is little that can beat the seaside nostalgia found at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. And if you’re looking to be in the center of things, look no further. The beach itself is a hub for volleyball, surfing, kayaking, and fishing on the pier. And when you get tired of the sand, venture over to the boardwalk to enjoy the funnel cake and coasters that childhood dreams are made of.
The Sand in Your Teeth: Hailed as “the place to be” and the best place to people watch, Main Beach can get crowded, especially in the summer months.
The SPF: Get there early to snag a prime slice of real estate on the beach, or head out to Felton first to check out Roaring Camp Railroads and then ride the historic train that runs to the Boardwalk. The Boardwalk offers regular discounts throughout the summer, including $1 nights, Pepsi nights, and a free Friday Night concert series. Visit the Boardwalk site for details.
Directions: Take Caltrain south to the San Jose Diridon Station. Then take the Santa Cruz Metro bus 17 to the Santa Cruz Metro Center, and it’s a short walk to the Boardwalk.
Best Beach to Feel the Love: Asilomar, Pacific Grove
The Sunny Side: Its name is Spanish for “Asylum by the Sea,” and Asilomar State Beach could not feel more like a romantic haven. Only a mile long, this beach packs it in: rocky coves, white sand, tide pools, and a dune preserve. Take your sweetie kayaking, bike riding, or for a sunset stroll. To make it extra special, cozy up in a rustic room at Asilomar Conference Grounds, a stunning landmark structure designed by Julia Morgan.
The Sand in Your Teeth: Beware that there are no restroom facilities on the beach.
The SPF: You can’t find this gentle breeze and soft evening light in any old place. Break out those cameras for a Facebook-worthy photo shoot (you know you want to).
Directions: Public transit from San Francisco can take upwards of five hours—worth it if you plan to stay for the weekend, but not so much if you’re going for the day. If you wish to ditch the car, take Caltrain south to the San Jose Diridon Station. Then take the Monterey-Salinas Transit bus 55 to the Monterey Express and catch bus 1 to Asilomar. Should you drive, be sure to carpool and get there early, as parking can be a struggle.
Best Beach for the Dog(s) Days of Summer: Kehoe Beach, Tomales Bay
The Sunny Side: One of the only pet-friendly beaches in Point Reyes, Kehoe is perfect for any pup. Even the journey to the beach—with its wildflowers, mustard plants, and other four-legged beach bums—is an adventure. Long stretches of sand are great for playing fetch, taking a walk, and sniffing out the other visitors, making the beach a great spot for a high-energy hound who is restless from city life.
The Sand in Your Teeth: The bathrooms at the head of the trail are notorious for being stinky. Go before or prepare to hold your breath!
The SPF: There aren’t many places around for food and drink, so pack extra water and a picnic lunch (plus a doggy treat or several). Note that the endangered snowy plover makes its home here, so watch for signs telling where dogs are not allowed.
Directions: Point Reyes is located approximately 30 miles (50 km) north of San Francisco on Highway 1. You can take Golden Gate Transit bus 101 San Rafael Transit Center, and then the West Marin Stagecoach (bus 68) to the Inverness Store. However, this is a 2.5-hour journey, and from the store you’ll have to catch a taxi to take you the remaining 15 minutes to the trailhead (you may be better off doing a car-share).
Best Beach for Eye-Candy: Surfer’s Beach, Half Moon Bay
The Sunny Side: Half Moon Bay is a surfer’s paradise, making it the perfect place to check out all the athletic ladies and gents riding the waves. The southern part of the beach is the best place to lay out, stroll the sand, or rest your eyes from the beach bods. Stay for sunset (who knows—perhaps you’ll find a hottie to share it with you).
The Sand in Your Teeth: Getting down to the beach can be an obstacle course. Be careful while crossing the busy road to the beach entrance and heading down the steep trail.
The SPF: Surfer’s Beach attracts locals and some pretty serious surfers, so if you decide to head for the waves, please, play it cool.
Directions: Take Caltrain south to Hillsdale, and then catch the SamTrans bus 294 to Highway 1 and Kelly Avenue. The beach is about a 15-minute walk away.