Head south of the city, and San Francisco beaches take on a very different character. The urban landscape fades away, as Highway 1 winds around the rugged and largely undeveloped coast in San Mateo County. You'll pass beaches and small coastal communities that are more rural than urban
Photo by Thomas Hawk / flickr.com
The San Francisco beaches in this area provide a playground for urban dwellers and suburbanites in the south and east bay areas. You can enjoy fishing and clamming, hiking, bicycling, surfing... and, of course, decompressing. There are tidepools and good vantage points for watching whales and other wildlife.
Just 15 miles south of downtown San Francisco, you'll reach Pacifica (population 45,000), where you'll find sandy beaches and a fishing pier. After that, we'll head south until we reach Half Moon Bay.
Pacifica Pier Photo by Thom Watson / Flickr.com
This 1,140 foot pier is a popular spot for salmon fishing, while the beach is a good spot for surfperch fishing. You'll find concessions, a bait shop and wheelchair-accessible restrooms. Open year round. This beach can get pretty windy, with rough surf. There's shoreline access along Beach Boulevard.
Photo by Thomas Hawk / flickr.com
Located south of Pacifica Pier, this narrow, sandy beach is a popular fishing area. You'll find hiking and bicycling trails and wheelchair-accessible restrooms. A paved bike path leads over the ridge toPacifica State Beach. Challenging surfing beach.
There are two parking lots, one at the south end and one at the north. The Pacifica Visitor Center is nearby, at 225 Rockaway Beach Blvd.
Taco Bell at Pacifica State Beach Photo by Thomas Hawk / flickr.com
Formerly known as San Pedro Beach, this wide crescent-shaped San Francisco beach is popular with surfers and can get crowded. Be aware of often hazardous rip currents and cold water. Fishing and clamming are permitted. Dogs are allowed on a leash.
Located in downtown Pacifica off Highway 1, near a cove of pine and eucalyptus trees. Restrooms and outdoor showers. There's parking off Highway 1, and a park-and-ride lot on weekends at Crespi Drive and Highway 1.
For more information see Pacifica State Beach
Gray Whale Cove Photo by Andy Sternberg / flickr.com
This San Francisco beach (a.k.a. Devil's Slide) is not easy to get to. The parking lot is east of Highway 1 and you must cross the road to access the steep trail to the beach.
You'll find a small picnic area on the bluffs above the beach. The surf is hazardous and no dogs or fires are permitted. Sunbathing is popular at this clothing optional beach.
For more information see Gray Whale Cove.
Montara Lighthouse Photo by Matthew Isles / Flickr.com
This sandy San Francsico beach features tide pools and surf fishing. There are hiking, bicycling, and horseback trails at Montara Mountain (also called McNee Ranch), which is a part of the park. The surf is dangerous here.
You'll find a parking lot and stairs at the north end of the beach, and a steep path to the beach across from Second Steet. Restrooms are available.
The lighthouse is a day-use area, and a hostel. This is a good spot for watching the annual migration of gray whales. Bicycle rentals available.
Elephant Seal at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
Located in Moss Beach, this 3 mile long reserve is a good place to explore tidepools. Ranger or volunteer led tidepool walks are sometimes available, especially on Saturdays. You'll find hiking trails along the bluffs. This is a popular diving area, but take care not to remove or disturb any marine life or habitat.
Picnic tables are located at the entrance, in a sheltered cypress grove. Restrooms are available. Park at the end of California Street in Moss Beach.
For more information and to download a map of the reserve see Fitzgerald Marine Reserve