Beaches / Pacific Coast, San Francisco
Fort Funston is one of my favorite places to visit in San Francisco whenever I'm in a contemplative mood. It just have that calming effect on me. Perched high up a cliff overlooking the pacific ocean, I have a birds eye view of the many activities around me: big ocean liners slicing through the waters of the pacific on their way or coming out of the bay, dogwalkers trying helplessly to keep up with their tireless canine friends, lovers walking hand in hand and sneaking a few kisses on the beach below, seabirds and sea lions trying to steal a fisherman's catch (i don't know why i find this so funny), birdwatchers watching...uh...birds, :))>, hikers on their daily strolls, and if your lucky, hangliders dancing in the sky. Yes, this is a hangliding mecca, and when the wind and weather is just right, they come to this place in droves. Someday, I will join them, :))>. Go there a couple of hours before sunset to enjoy the aforementioned activities and just to soak in the vibe of the place, then find a good spot to marvel at one of the best sunsets in San Francisco, with the seemingly never ending ocean as the foreground. Do take good care of this place for me though, because it's very fragile. Do not climb over fences and step on the plants, they're there to keep the soil from plunging into the ocean. Stay on the trails. You can get there by taking the Great Highway heading south from Ocean Beach or the Cliff House. Once you past John Muir Drive (Stop Light), you will see a sign on your right, enter that narrow road that leads into a huge parking lot. Enjoy!
If you came to San Francisco expecting to surf, one of the best beach for beginner and intermediate surfers is Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica, just 20-minute drive south of San Francisco...UNDER CONSTRUCTION
This is a picture of me taken in San Francisco's Presidio, which used to be an army base but has always been a scenic area off the 49 Mile Scenic Drive in the North western corner of San Francisco.
Behind me is the San Francisco Bay and the Marin Headlands. Marin County is the wealthiest county in the Bay Area. There are many hidden gems in Marin County. To get there, you cross the Golden Gate Bridge leaving San Francisco. For a wonderful drive, take the Coastal Highway 1 to Stinson Beach, a lovely little area to relax at. Or to Muir Woods or Hike Mt. Tam.
If you continue up the Coastal Hwy 1, you'll find yourself at Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" was filmed. It's a wonderful, tranquil area with friendly people and nice cafes and restaurants. Somewhere over there is Pt. Reyes, a place discovered by Sir Francis Drake and at one point an area claimed by England.
Eastward of this is the infamous California State Prison "San Quentin" where prisoner's on California's Death row await to be executed. Yes, in California, there is the death penalty but because of the extensive legal process, fewer than 5 executions seem to occur per year.
Just recently Scott Petersen was placed in San Quentin.
Beyond San Quentin is the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The land where some of the world's greatest wines come from. I will recommend the Rodney Strong 2001 Merlot which costs $10 in Costco. However, cheap or expensive, you will seldom make a bad choice in buying Californian wines.
The city of Santa Cruz is located about 2 hours north of San Francisco. It is a picturesque, sleepy little place in the summer when most of the students from UC Santa Cruz are not in residence. This city's incredible beaches are very popular with windsurfers, but I was awestruck by their beauty. The water actually looks silver in the light of mid-afternoon.
On a particularly windy day, the waves are fierce along the Pacific Coast Highway. Sand blasts across the highway. (Not a good place to take the top down on the car!)
But on a sunny, nice day you will find lots of people walking, running, playing with their dogs. However, you'll find darn few swimming because it is COLD!
Located at the west end of Fisherman's wharf between Ghiradelli Square is a lovely park and beach that offers wonderful scenery without the tourists, or at least not that many. Take a stroll, rent a bike or rest and take in the views of the bay and Alcatraz. The park includes a visitor center, a maritime museum, and a maritime library. Visitors can board historical ships and learn about old maritime skills and crafts. Aside from the Historical ships, the park and beach are pretty, peaceful and inviting. Street Vendors line the park in a street fair sort of way, and the park has benches situated in a lovely garden atmosphere offering nice views. It's much less busy and touristy than both Fisherman's and Ghiradelli Square. Makes a nice stop from one to the other.
Consider driving south along California Highway 1 to Monterey. It has beautiful beaches and breathtaking scenery of the ocean. The beauty of nature is definitely the most enjoyable part of this trip. See my Monterey travel page for more information.
Most visitors to San Francisco dismiss the idea of going to the beach here because they have heard "it's not Southern California", or "it's too cold". Actually I had four days of OK beach weather in February. As long as you find a beach with cliffs to block the wind, if the sun is out it will be fine. Swimming, now that's another story. This is the northern part of Baker Beach, one of the areas many nude beaches. As I build these pages I'll add some of the other clothing-optional locales. Nudity is perfectly accepted here. The National Park Service maintains the property and asks only that naturists stay north of the sign warning of hazardous surf. The views of the Marin headlands and passing ships are breathtaking. The beach can be reached by bus 30 from behind Fisherman's Wharf, transfer to bus 28 which takes you to the Golden Gate Bridge viewpoint. Then you walk underneath Highway 101 and follow the trail through the Presidio down the hill and take the steep sand stairs DOWN. It's a steep descent. An alternative approach is to take bus 1 from downtown and go west on Sacramento Street and California Street until you get to 25th Ave. Get off there and walk north on Lincoln Blvd. and follow the sign for the beach. There are restrooms and picnic tables, but no food vendors.
Before the Cliff House burned down for the final time, there use to be a dome over one side that housed the sutro baths, a swimming and recreation area within the Cliff House. Although the original structure is gone, there remains a HUGE hole and a really funky foundation. When the tide is in, the waves crash over it. There are also concrete platforms and staircases on the sides of the cliffs so you can look straight down at the tides. If you dare, walk through the "creepy" tunnel that goes from one side of a cliff to the other.
Hire a car and take a trip down the coast to Santa Cruz.
Its a laid back coastal town completely different than what I thought it would be.
No built up arcades or hellraising is done here, not that I could see anyway and I WAS looking for it.
I lived in Sunset area when I was in San Francisco. My friends' apartment was just a few blocks from the seashore. Whenever she was busy and had to leave me alone for a few hours, I walked to the seaside and enjoy the sea view and fresh air.
It is not really off the beaten path, but the street southbound from Carmel to Big Sur is one of the best places I have ever been to. But follow my advice! Get some traffic information when you plan that trip.
The beach isn't something you tend to think about when you think of San Francisco, but there is one and it's not at all bad. Go right to the end of the Golden Gate park and a little bit more besides, and there you have it. Don't walk because it's a long way, but the bus will take you right to it.
You don't want to miss the spectacular views of Big Sur south of San Francisco along Highway 1. You may feel more comfortable driving north along this winding road instead of south if seeing the edge makes you nervous.
These woods just past the GG bridge and north of the city are enchanting and are a world away from the rat race that is city life.