San Francisco

The Best Beaches in San Francisco

When the fog clears, you can't beat these views.

saira / Unsplash
saira / Unsplash
saira / Unsplash

When people think of San Francisco, the word “beach” rarely comes to mind, but we actually have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. (Are we biased? Yes. Does that make it untrue? Absolutely not.) That beauty is mostly a result of the views, specifically the ones of the Golden Gate bridge that connects the Pacific Ocean and the Bay.

And while our beaches aren’t the kind that people dream of when they think of California,  we’ll take glacial water, staggering cliffs, abundant wildlife, and stunning views over crowds of sunbathers and surfer bros any day, even if it does require donning a puffy jacket 99% of the time.

If you prefer your beach day without a winter jacket, your best bet is to do is the exact opposite of what most of the world does and go in any of the months that aren’t summer months, especially if those months are September or October when sunshine and shoreline come together and you can actually take off your shoes to feel the sand beneath your toes.

Unsplash/Natalie Chaney
Unsplash/Natalie Chaney
Unsplash/Natalie Chaney

Marshall’s Beach

Presidio
Marshall’s Beach, the most secluded beach on this list, is like a mini Baker Beach but without the crowds. (The nudists, on the other hand, are just as prevalent, if not more so.) The beach has views you’ll never get sick of-perhaps the best of the Golden Gate Bridge from outside the Gate-and is hidden amongst steep cliffs, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular for people who want to literally let it all hang out. If you prefer to avoid frostbite, it’s also a great spot for bird watching, probably because dogs aren’t allowed. 

What to know: Keep in mind, the reason this is SF’s most secluded beach is because it’s also the hardest to access. Not that it’s actually that difficult, but you do have to get there by foot on the Batteries to Bluffs Trail (about 10 to 15 minutes depending on which direction you come from). One thing to keep in mind: the beach is pretty narrow and can be almost completely submerged during high tide, so check the tide times before you go.

Flickr/Fido Factor
Flickr/Fido Factor
Flickr/Fido Factor

Fort Funston

Lakeshore
If we were a dog, then Fort Funston would be our favorite beach in SF by far. That’s because this former harbor defense installation is the most off-leash dog-friendly beach in the city. There are always pups of all breeds and sizes running on the beach, playing fetch, and generally living their best lives. The beach has literally (but not at all metaphorically) gone to the dogs. Humans go there to hang-glide (the cliffs are 200 feet), check out the WWII ruin Battery Davis, hike through the dunes, appreciate native plants, and pet every single good boy and girl that asks.

What to know: Fort Funston has lots of trails to explore, including the very steep one down to the beach that’s a breeze to get down, but a small form of torture to climb up. The surf and undertow can be extremely dangerous, so steer clear if you’re not a strong swimmer and keep a close eye on any children.

madichan / flickr
madichan / flickr
madichan / flickr

Clipper Cove Beach

Treasure Island
Everyone talks about how foggy San Francisco is, but one aspect of our weather that doesn’t get as much airtime is the wind. During the summer, the ocean is still super cold, but the inland areas get really hot, and, fun fact: the cool air moves inland because high pressure (cold air) always flows to low pressure (warm air). This is what brings our beloved fog ashore, as well as that gusting wind. Wondering why the wind gets even more ferocious in the afternoon? That’s because it gets even warmer inland as the day progresses, but the ocean temp doesn’t change. 

Now that our science lesson is over, we can get to our point, which is: because fog and wind travel through gaps, during summer months, the best beaches to visit are the ones that are protected. Which, as you may have guessed from the “cove” part of their name, is a category into which Clipper Cove definitely falls. 

What to know: You’ll still want to go earlier in the day since much of the beach ends up in the shade in the afternoon, but that actually works out well because as the shadows start to creep across the sand, that’s your sign that it’s time to go to Mersea, a cool shipping container-style restaurant, for fish tacos and a margarita.

cheng / Shutterstock
cheng / Shutterstock
cheng / Shutterstock

China Beach

Seacliff
On a warm weekend, Baker Beach is going to be crowded and parking is going to be impossible, which is why those in the know, which is now you, go to China Beach, a tiny sheltered cove between Lands End and Baker Beach. While the views are almost as amazing as Baker Beach, China Beach is a lot smaller, which means if it’s above 75 degrees and sunny, you’ll still want to get there early to snag a good spot. When the sun isn’t shining, China Beach is still warmer than most other beaches, a major perk of the whole “sheltered cove” thing. At low tide, check out the tide pools or walk to Baker Beach to see starfish, anemones, and mussels clinging to the cliffside. (Just don’t linger too long unless you want to be cut off by the rising tide and forced to take the long way back-about 15 minutes walking through a residential neighborhood.)

Besides being sheltered, other perks of China Beach are a picnic area with grills and a monument to the Chinese fisherman who used the cove as a campsite during and after the Gold Rush.

What to know: The beach is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), which means that you can drink beer and wine, as long as it’s not in glass containers. Dogs, on the other hand, are not permitted.

Sharon Mollerus / flickr
Sharon Mollerus / flickr
Sharon Mollerus / flickr

Mile Rock Beach

Lands End
A relatively short walk along the Lands End Trail will bring you to the staircase that leads down to this tiny, rocky beach with views of the foundation of the Mile Rocks Lighthouse that was mostly demolished in 1966. Even if you’re just stopping for a break on your hike, it’s worth it to take a minute to visit this tranquil spot, grab a seat on a log, and watch the Pacific crash against the boulders and spray up into the air. Even better if you do it at sunset with a can of wine in hand.

What to know: The trail to get to this beach is about one mile from the visitor center and the 243-staircase is unsigned so it’s best to bring a map with you.

Patrick Civello/Shutterstock
Patrick Civello/Shutterstock
Patrick Civello/Shutterstock

Crissy Field

Marina/Presidio
What was once a US Army airfield is now a true San Francisco treasure. If you’re new to SF, you may not be aware that Crissy Field wasn’t always a 100-acre recreational wonderland; in fact, it was literally toxic thanks to the dumping of hazardous materials by the aforementioned Army. But let’s let the past be the past and just be thankful that the National Park Service and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy teamed up to bring what they described as “a derelict concrete wasteland” back to its original glory and then some. Their hard work and dedication transformed it into one of the prettiest places to visit in the city, thanks to dunes, a tidal lagoon, excellent bird watching, kiteboarders and windsurfers, and all of SF’s greatest hits views, including Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, the Downtown skyline, and the Marin Headlands. 

Set up a picnic and grill hotdogs and hamburgers, grab a sandwich at the Warming Hut, or explore Fort Point (an impressive piece of “Third System” architecture that sits directly below the Golden Gate Bridge and is not technically part of Crissy Field, but is on the same promenade). The most popular spot for a true beach experience is East Beach, which is where you’ll watch kite surfers fly through the air, and can even wade in the water since this is Bay water not take-your-breath-away (literally) frigid Pacific Ocean water.

If you get tired of relaxing on the sand, there’s also bird watching at Crissy Marsh, more beach (and lawn) at the West Bluffs (this is also the best place to picnic/grill), the waterfront promenade where you can walk, jog, or bike, as well as tons of other spots where you can just kick back with your dog, a beer, and that sandwich from Marina Subs you were smart enough to pick up on your way.

What to know: Parking can be found in beachfront lots west of the Marina gate. If the wind and fog become too much, you can escape in the aptly named Warming Hut with a mug of hot chocolate. Fishing and crabbing without a license is permitted at Torpedo Wharf at the west end of Crissy Field.

Mountain Lake Beach

Presidio/Inner Richmond
Mountain Lake Beach is one of SF’s last surviving lakes and is totally under-the-radar. The 1,700-year-old freshwater lake and surrounding area were recently restored, which means native species are slowly coming back, and the animals are living their best lives. (If you even dabble in ornithology, you’ll want to bring your binoculars.) This is definitely more of a “pack a picnic and enjoy a quiet afternoon” type of spot than a “gather a bunch of friends for a party” type of spot. If you’re in the need for a little moment of serenity, you’re almost guaranteed to find it here.

What to know: The lake can be reached via the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail​, or visitors can bus, walk, or bike in from the Inner Richmond.

Justin Oliver / Unsplash
Justin Oliver / Unsplash
Justin Oliver / Unsplash

Baker Beach

Presidio
Thanks to “this is why we live here” outside-the-Gate views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands, Baker Beach is frequented by locals and tourists, as well as brides and grooms wanting to get that perfect wedding photo. Also: naked people. At least on the north end where clothing is optional, a thing more people than you’d expect take advantage of considering how cold it usually is. 

The view (of the bridge, not the naked people!) isn’t the only thing that makes this mile-long beach the most popular in SF. It’s also dog-friendly and has a picnic area with grills tucked away in a Cypress Grove right off of the parking lot. Nearby, there’s also an interesting piece of history: a Battery Chamberlin, which holds the last “disappearing gun” of its type on the West Coast. 

As far as the weather goes, it’s hit or miss. On sunny days, it can definitely be warm enough to lay out in a bathing suit, and on foggy and windy days, you’ll want to wear whatever it is you wear in the snow. Regardless of the weather, you definitely don’t want to go into the water because the currents and rip tide are no joke.

What to know: Dogs are only permitted off-leash north of Lobos Creek and must be leashed to the south of it. Head to the beach early to get decent parking and a grill at the picnic area.

pikappa51/Shutterstock
pikappa51/Shutterstock
pikappa51/Shutterstock

Ocean Beach

Sunset and Richmond
You’ll occasionally see people dropping in at Fort Point, but when it comes to consistent and quality surf spots in SF, OB easily takes the prize. (And not just because there really aren’t many others, although also that.) The 3.5-mile-long beach spans from the zoo on the south to the Cliff House (R.I.P.) on the north-and is also SF’s widest beach by far, so even on the hottest day of the year, it’s still easy to find a spot to chill.

Ocean Beach is also popular because of its 16 fire rings where you can build fires from 6 am to 9:30 pm from March 1 to October 31. They get snatched up quickly on the weekends, but if you get there by 6 pm during the week, there are usually a couple available. If you want to see something totally novel, go when the tide is very, very low, walk to Ortega Street, and try to see the ribs of the hull of “King Philip” sticking out of the sand just offshore. It’s one of 20 ships that wrecked on the beach between 1850 and 1926. It’s a rare occurrence (only happens every couple of years, if that), but it’s very cool when you catch it.

What to know: Like almost all of SF’s beaches, you should not go in the water due to a strong shore break and monster rip currents (seriously, Ocean Beach is one of California’s deadliest beaches due to drownings), but you can let your dog play off-leash from stairwell 1 (Fulton Street) to stairwell 21 (across from Beach Chalet). Just make sure he’s on a leash between Lincoln and Sloat because tickets are a common occurrence for beach-goers who break the rules.

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Daisy Barringer is an SF-based writer who, as a teenager, fell asleep hidden in the dunes of Baker Beach on a Thanksgiving family outing. Don’t worry; the turkey didn’t burn. Her family couldn’t find her, so they went home to make sure dinner wasn’t ruined (before sending someone back to fetch her). Follow her on Instagram @daisysf for more “fun” stories like this.

San Francisco

How to Celebrate Black History Month in San Francisco

Support and celebrate SF's Black community.

Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade

Though it’s something we need to be doing every day of every month of every year, Black History Month encourages us to pay tribute to the struggles and oppression generations of Black Americans have faced, as well as their often-neglected triumphs and achievements that have helped shape this county and make it better. It’s a time to reflect on how we can do better to confront racism and oppression, which this year’s theme, “Black Resistance,” echoes. This is especially important in a town like San Francisco, where the Fillmore District was known as “the Harlem of the West” before the city displaced a vast portion of the neighbourhood’s Black community in the ’60s and ’70s. This displacement continues today, as the Black population is the only racial group that has declined in every census since 1970.

If you’re looking for ways to celebrate Black History Month, there are lots to do. Whether you want to educate yourself by attending films, performances, or conversations, share the joy at a parade or dance party, or do a little bit of it all at a drag show, here are just a few ways you can get involved and have a lot of fun while doing so:

Visit San Francisco Public Library branches for workshops, films, performances, and more

February (and throughout the year)
Library branches and online
SFPL’s “More Than a Month” celebration focuses on the theme of resistance this year. Family-friendly and adult events include film screenings, musical performances, book clubs, workshops, and more.
Cost: Free

Museum of African Diaspora
Museum of African Diaspora
Museum of African Diaspora

See art, poetry, films, talks, and more at MoAD

February (and throughout the year)
SoMa
Right now, at the Museum of African Diaspora, you can see the first and only West Coast exhibition of “The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion,” which highlights the work of 15 contemporary fashion designers “whose images present radically new perspectives on the medium of photography and art, race and beauty, and gender and power.” The museum, which has a robust year-round program and event calendar, has a slew of events to attend, including youth poetry readings, film screenings, open mic nights, book clubs, artist talks, and more.
Cost: Event prices vary; GA to visit the museum is $12 but free every second Saturday of the month

Check out films, art, reading, talks, and more at BAMPFA

February (and throughout the year)
Berkeley
There is always something interesting to discover at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). During Black History Month, you can see films by Pratibha Parmar, “Felwine Sarr: Music, Freedom, Africa,” a conversation through music with the Senegalese writer, scholar, composer, musician, and more.
Cost: Varies

Old Skool Cafe
Old Skool Cafe
Old Skool Cafe

Enjoy menu specials honoring Black community members at Old Skool Cafe

February (and throughout the year)
Bayview
For Black History Month, Old Skool Cafe is adding the favourite meals of notable Black community members to the menu each weekend. The nonprofit, youth-run supper club helps at-risk, formerly incarcerated, and foster care youth ages 16-22 gain the skills and experience they need to succeed in various front and back-of-house restaurant roles. Bayview hero/community advocate Mrs. Dorris Vincent is first up, followed by Judge Trina Thompson, Delroy Lindo, and Mayor London Breed.

Yerba Buena Gardens
Yerba Buena Gardens
Yerba Buena Gardens

Walk beneath the Marting Luther King, Jr. Memorial waterfall

February (and ongoing)
Yerba Buena Gardens
Did you know that Yerba Buena Gardens is home to the country’s second-largest memorial to Dr. King? Visit the sculptural waterfall featuring glass panels inscribed with his inspiring words at 750 Howard Street.
Cost: Free

Attend the Commonwealth’s “Dreaming Forward: A Celebration of Black Joy, Power, and Excellence” conference

Thursday, February 9
Embarcadero
On behalf of Dr. Sheryl Evans Davis and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, the Commonwealth Club is hosting its second annual Dream Keeper Initiative, a day-long conference/celebration/call-to-action featuring special guests, including April Ryan of TheGrio and CNN.
Cost: Free

Courtesy of Oakland First Fridays
Courtesy of Oakland First Fridays
Courtesy of Oakland First Fridays

Celebrate Black Love at Oakland First Fridays

Friday, February 10
Telegraph Avenue from West Grand to 27th Street
Telegraph Avenue transforms into a dining, shopping, and art-appreciating party on Friday, February 10, from 5 pm to 9 pm. There will be food, artist, and retail vendors and a host of Black artists, authors, and entertainment. Please note: This event was rescheduled from February 3 because of potential rain.
Cost: Free

Have a ball at an all-Black drag show at Oasis

Friday, February 10
SoMa
“Reparations with Latrice Royale” is an all-Black drag show hosted by Latrice Royale, the beloved Drag Race star who also happens to be celebrating her birthday.
Cost: $15 to $60

Dance all night and shop all day at the Afro Soca Love carnival and marketplace

Friday, February 10 ‚Äď Saturday, February 11
341 13th Street, Oakland
Afro Soca Love creates experiences that act as a “gateway to building bonds and strengthen relationships-between communities, individuals, and Africa and its diaspora.” See for yourself at the all-ages marketplace (Saturday), where you’ll find food and drink, fashion, beauty and wellness, home decor, and more. But before the shopping comes the dancing at the 21+ Friday Night Carnival, a culturally immersive music experience with music from all over the world.
Cost: The marketplace is free; tickets to the Friday Night Carnival start at $20

See a live performance of “Words That Made the Difference: Brown vs. the Board of Education”

Saturday, February 11
Unity Palo Alto
See a live theatrical performance based on the true events that occurred in the fight to end school segregation. The script draws from trial transcripts of the five cases brought together in front of the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Earl Warren’s memoirs, and the play is set in the courtrooms where it all happened. There will be a Q&A with the playwright before the performance and the cast afterward.
Cost: Free

Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company
Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company
Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company

Go to the I, Too, Sing America album release party

Saturday, February 11
Mission
Head to the Brava Theater Center to celebrate the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company’s album release of the music created for I, Too, Sing America, a soulful and uplifting performance that moved audiences when it debuted last year. The night includes an album-listening and sing-along party, DJs, dancing, an open bar, and more.
Cost: $40

Go on the Black Liberation Walking Tour of West Oakland

Saturday, February 18
West Oakland
Take a walk with David Peters, founder of the West Oakland Cultural Action Network, and Gene Anderson, the author of Legendary Locals of Oakland, to learn about resident voices and document sites of cultural and historical significance in the neighbourhood. Peters is a local native, and Anderson is an Oakland historian whose family has historical roots in West Oakland.
Cost: $50 ($30 for West Oakland residents)

See a screening of The Black Kung Fu Experience followed by in-person demonstrations

Sunday, February 19
Great Star Theater, Chinatown
The Chinese Historical Society of America is celebrating Black History Month and social unity with a screening of this film about how a group of African American pioneers became respected in a subculture dominated by Chinese and white men. Afterward, there will be demonstrations and talks with Sifu Donald Hamby and Sifu Troy Dunwood, who “will speak about their success as internationally recognized martial arts masters, their Chinese Kung Fu teachers, and what this practice means in relation to diversity, race and inclusion issues.”
Cost: $15

Sip wine made by Black winemakers at a free tasting event at STEM Kitchen + Garden

Thursday, February 23
Dogpatch
STEM Kitchen + Garden is hosting an afternoon wine tasting celebrating Black-owned wineries in its gorgeous indoor/outdoor space, and best of all, and it’s free to the public!
Cost: Free

Bayview Opera House
Bayview Opera House
Bayview Opera House

Attend the San Francisco African American Arts & Cultural District Gala Fundraiser

Saturday, February 25
Bayview Opera House
Enjoy an evening of talent, fashion, and community inspiration at SFAAACD’s 1st Annual Gala Fundraiser. Carla Duke, Television News Director at CBS-KPIX Chanel 5, will host the event, which includes inspiring words from keynote speaker Aniyia Williams, an artist, tech creator, and system-preneur.
Cost: $100

Attend a Black History Month & Chinese New Year Poetry Reading on Angel Island

Saturday, February 25
Angel Island
There is so much history in poetry at the Angel Island Detention Barracks Museum, which makes it a fitting location for poets Chun Yu and Michael Warr. The co-founders of Two Languages/One Community will share their poems and stories in English and Chinese, accompanied by projected images of text and photographs.
Cost: $10 to $21

Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade

Feel the joy at the Black Joy Parade

Sunday, February 26
Downtown Oakland
This parade and festival celebrate the “Black experience past, present, and future.” Be prepared to experience “more Black joy than you ever imagined,” starting with the parade (beginning at 14th and Franklin) at 12:30 pm. The family-friendly festival follows (main entrance is at 19th and Franklin) will include 200-plus Black-owned small businesses selling food, drinks, clothing, art, and more. There will also be two stages with Black performers, including The Black Joy Choir.
Cost: Free

Take a sound bath at Grace Cathedral in honor of Black History Month

Monday, February 27
Nob Hill
Take an immersive sound bath featuring Fractals of Sound, a collective of top Bay Area musicians Egemen Sanli, Phoenix Song, and Sam Jackson, with special guest Destiny Muhammad. Together, they will create a “soundscape deeply rooted in world music,” allowing you to take a meditative journey in one of the most beautiful places in San Francisco.
Cost: $25 to $75

See Tsitsi Dangarembga and Angela Davis at City Arts & Lectures

Tuesday, February 28
Civic Center
Co-presented with MoAd, City Arts & Lectures is hosting novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga and scholar and activist Angela Davis for what’s sure to be a riveting conversation.
Cost: $36

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Daisy Barringer¬†is an SF-based freelance writer who spent many childhood days wandering around the Exploratorium. Follow her on¬†Instagram¬†to see what she’s up to now.

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