San Francisco Beaches

Get Away From It All South of the City

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 /

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.

Sharp Park Beach and Pacifica Pier

Pacifica Pier  Photo by Thom Watson /

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.

Rockaway Beach

Photo by Thomas Hawk /

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.

Pacifica State Beach

Taco Bell at Pacifica State Beach   Photo by Thomas Hawk /

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 State Beach

Gray Whale Cove   Photo by Andy Sternberg /

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 State Beach and Lighthouse

Montara Lighthouse   Photo by Matthew Isles /

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.

For more information about this south San Francisco beach see Montara State Beach and Point Montara Lighthouse.

Virtual Parks provides a panoramic view of Montara Mountain and Point Montara Lighthouse.

James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve / CC BY 2.0

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

More San Francisco Beaches

Point Reyes Beaches   Marin County Beaches  San Francisco Beaches 
Half Moon Bay Beaches  San Francisco Beaches Visitor Information