Beaches / Pacific Coast, San Francisco
What comes to mind when you think of your average Californa beach? Chances are it won't look anything like SF's Ocean Beach.
An average day at "OB" is gray, cold, and breezy - if not blustery. You may see surfers, but they won't be in bikinis... full-body wetsuits is more like it. You probably won't be tempted to go in the frigid waters, but if you are, be sure and read the numerous signs posted warning of the extremely dangerous undertow and riptides (these are no joke, either... people die here every year!)
Have I scared you off? Good! Then I can enjoy the true beauty of OB - which is taking a walk along the awesome Pacific shoreline, preferably during a light rain, when the place is indescribably beautiful! Watching the freighter traffic entering the bay, looking out at the Farralon Islands, hearing the crashing of the surf. This is the soul of Ocean Beach - not the crowds of gangstas and roller-blading yuppies and people yelling into cell phones who descend here en masse on rare hot days.
Between Lincoln and Fulton Streets - or, in other words, the north/south boundaries of Golden Gate Park - is the Esplenade, the most crowded section of the beach, mostly because this is where the parking lots are. If you're looking for the beach scene - such as it is - it's here. To get away from the hordes, you can walk north towards the Cliff House or south towards emptiness.
The Beach Chalet, where you can get food, is close by, as are the windmills and tulip garden - all just across the highway.
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.
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!
Once you get away from the mobs of the Esplenade (the area bordered by Fulton and Judah Streets), Ocean Beach really starts to show it's beauty. And by beauty I mean absence of people.
South of the Esplenade is virtually deserted until you get to Sloat Street (down near the SF Zoo), where there is another parking lot with restrooms. This lot is smaller and quieter than the lots near GGP; most of the people here will be surfers.
Ocean Beach gets a bad rap but it really is a magical place - for walking in solitude and looking at shorebirds and contemplating nature and the vastness of stuff. It's a terrible place to do the "beach thing." If that's what you're looking for you should go up to Baker Beach, or Stinson Beach up in Marin County, or the Boardwalk down in Santa Cruz.
Believe it or not, bonfires are actually allowed on Ocean Beach! Alcohol is not permitted - meaning everyone drinks heavily.
Bonfires are only allowed on the stretch of beach between Lincoln and Fulton Streets. Friday nights especially you can see several fires from the parking lot.
While beach bonfires with friends can be fun, I would not suggest that you go alone. The beach is not lit in any way and many unsavory types hang out here at night - from bikers to the local Asian street gangs. I personally know several people who have been assaulted on the beach - all of whom were alone when it happened (fortunately, nothing worse than a bump on the noggin). If you go, go in a group and don't wander too far off by yourself!
(Ocean Beach is perfectly safe during the day)
***UPDATE: New fire rings have been installed! This is great actually - makes it a lot less messy. For an article about the new fire rings and fire regulations click here.
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.
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.
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.
My sister, having lived in California for 25 years, assured me there were seals on this rock...all the time. The rock is actually called "Seal Rock". So I looked and then looked closer. No seals...so her explanation was...there are sharks in the area that have perhaps scared the seals away. I wish she had thought of another explanation... :((
The drive down the coast to this "Seal Rock" is breathtaking. The sights along the way are beautiful. If you've never seen the Pacific coastline, you should definitly take Highway 1 down the coast and take it in.
Originally a cemetery, in 1908 most of the bodies were moved to make room for a new 18 hole golf course. Lincoln park has grown to its current 193 acres by absorbing such military facilities as Fort Miley. Today Lincoln Park contains large tourist attractions such as the museum at the Legion of Honor, alongside small monuments like the USS San Francisco Memorial and the Monument for the first Japanese ship to visit the United States. From the beautiful public golf course there are views of the Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and the Golden Gate Bridge. You can also see the ruins of the Mile Rocks Lighthouse about a half mile offshore, and the Sutro Baths and Fort Miley ruins can be explored on foot. Various trails wind through the park taking you past cliffs, overlooks, and even a few unofficialy clothing-optional sun bathing areas.
Ocean Beach is very cleverly named as it is indeed a beach along the ocean. Known for its cold water, strong undertow, and big waves Ocean Beach is a favorite for local surfers, but is best avoided by swimmers. Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation, Area Ocean Beach also borders the city's Golden Gate Park.
Famous landmarks at Ocean Beach include the Cliff House & Sutro Baths and Seal Rock. The first Cliff House was built in 1858, but has been rebuilt numerous time to its present state as a popular restaurant. The Sutro Baths were built in 1986 at the base of the cliffs north of the Cliff House but burned in 1966; the ruins remain along the rocky coast. Seal Rock is also at the northern end of the beach and is known for the sea lions that frequent the area.
Ocean Beach stretches about 4.5 miles from Cliff House to Fort Funston along the Great Highway.
So, you're downtown in Union Square, or someplace in Chinatown or North Beach, rubbing elbows with all the other tourists doing the northeast quadrant thing in the City, right? You vaguely suspect that less than six miles from this tiny urban jungle lies the Pacific Ocean and the splendid Golden Gate National Recreation Area. You look on your map and see that Geary St. goes all the way to ocean, so you go for broke and jump on the express bus. A half an hour later you see the ocean and suddenly realize that this little exploration was worth it.
You chose right.
Most tourists don't get out to the end of the city. True, it really doesn't compete with all the touristy stuff downtown because, well, San Franciscans live out here, not downtown with all the other New York refugees and tourists. The Richmond district, where you are at this point if your following my lead, is not a very exciting neighborhood. It's typically foggy and brisk out here, and the population is primarily Asian or Russian, but it has it's charms. The Sutro baths are a great place to begin walking along the coast trail that will lead you through some of the most scenic parts of the G.G.N.R.A... Walk along past Fort Miley and find the Coast Trail that will take you to Land's End, and then past the Palace of the Legion of Honor. On a clear day, with the bridge in the background, one can argue this area easily defeats any of San Francisco's scenic attraction. It can't be beat. Keep walking along and you will pass through Sea Cliff (the Beverly Hills of S.F.) and along past Baker Beach and you will be even closer to the Bridge. After a few turns and up Lincoln Ave., you will be in the Presdio... and then, just a little further ahead...
Ocean Beach which is located on the Western tip of San Francisco along the Great highway and the coast of the outer richmond and sunset districts of the city. The cliff house and Sutro Baths are situated along the coast a little further north yet still within San Francisco Bay.
I grew up in this area and still live here. As a child I remember our family going to the beach many a weekend and either packing a lunch and playing on the beach or having lunch at the Hot House which unfortunately is no longer there. Then we would go and explore Playland at the beach which was a mini theme park type area. Unfortunately years ago the city voted to tear it down and build condos. Hey, I was too young, I didn't have a vote.
I still frequent the beach almost everyday. I'll leave my home and walk down to the beach and along the great highway path up to the cliff house and sometimes farther to Sutro Park and baths and then back home. It's a long walk but very inspiring for me.
There's nothing like that salt air massaging your skin as a light breeze cools the limbs. One day I was walking along the beach when I stumbled upon a crowd of people with what looked like a horse. I didn't have my glasses on and was at a distance so I wasn't sure what I was seeing. As I drew nearer I saw that it was a camel. I have no idea what it was doing there but it was a great photo opportunity. It's almost as though the camel were having a photo shoot with all the people taking pictures. I got close enough to pet his or her fur and it was so soft and warm. That was quite a sight. You just never know what or who you're going to run into at Ocean Beach.
It's a great place to have some time away from the bustling streets of the city and just enjoy what nature holds.
There is a photo of the camel inside.
Fort Funston is another great place in SF to get in touch with the outdoors. This is a rugged stretch of Pacific coastal headlands, sand, and dunes south of Ocean Beach. At the bottom of the cliffs there's a windy beach for good for walking and running dogs, but nor not swimming or sunbathing.
This place is especially popular for dog owners. You will always find a lot of them here, and they are OK off-leash. If you are afraid of dogs this probably isn't the best park for you, but realize that the dog owners here are generally regulars and the dogs well behaved. I've never encountered a problem.
Fort Funston is one of the best hang-gliding spots in California. If you are into this sport, you already know this. Other visitors can enjoy watching the fun. There is even a wheelchair-accessible viewing deck.
After our misty, windy, cold trip to Point Reyes, we drove south on Highway 1 to Stinson Beach. Surprisingly we had left the fog and clouds on the point, and were blessed by a magnificent sunset. We were a little late since the park closes at sunset, but we quickly lit the charcoal and wrapped the hot dogs, and fresh corn with aluminum foil. While I was playing 'chef' Sheila took the camera to the beach and captured one of the most beautiful sunsets ever! I'm sure this would have been a nice place to spend more time, but even our brief visit was well worth the drive. Unfortunately Hwy 1 was closed for repair south of Stinson Beach, so we were detoured over Mt Tamalpais, by Muir Woods National Monument, and though Mill Valley to get back to Berkeley. But even that twisting mountain road was an awesome drive with spectacular views of the city lights.