Best Beaches of the Bay

Southern California might be better known for its beaches, but I think
that just gives Northern California some of the best hidden gems.
We feel lucky to live less than an hour from some beautiful coastline
that we love to enjoy all year round…especially during the random
warm snaps in the spring and fall when they are less crowded.
We may not get to swim in the ocean as much here in NorCal,
but our unique beaches make up for it in stunning scenery :)
I’ve listed a little rundown here, and would love to hear more!

Davenport Beach
A string of beautiful beaches are clustered around the little seaside town of Davenport. It’s just 10 miles north of Santa Cruz, and south of Half Moon Bay…meaning you have to go through one of those to get to it, but it’s worth it! We love stopping at Whale City Bakery for some fish & chips + olallieberry pie with ice cream and taking it across the street and down to Davenport Beach. Parking is in a large lot on the ocean side of Highway 1, and then a few different trails wind down across railroad tracks to the beach. It is a little bit tricky to get down there with some steep parts, so be careful! Once you’re down there, find the tide pools on the south end of the beach. Take in the sea stacks and cliffs and caves. You won’t want to leave!

Shark Fin Cove
Just south of Davenport you can find this smaller beach with spectacular sea stacks. There’s a turnout off the road and you can follow a steep trail down to the beach to catch the rocks in all different lights. It’s probably more scenic for a photo than enjoyable for hours at the beach, but worth seeing. Davenport Landing Beach is also nearby and a favorite for surfers.

Scott Creek Beach
3 miles north of Davenport, Scott Creek Beach is easier to access from Highway 1 than Davenport and Shark Fin. There’s a pretty viewing area with benches overlooking it, and it’s fun to watch the kite surfers. The surf here is more dangerous, so not ideal for swimming! (It’s too cold anyway ;)

Half Moon Bay
The way to see the beach at Half Moon Bay is through The Ritz HMB. It’s open to the public, so drive in at the guarded gate and tell them that you’re there for the beach. You’ll get a password for the covered parking garage and there are free spaces! If it’s super crowded you can pay for valet but we’ve never had to! Walk the property on the path to the left of the hotel. There are bathrooms by the golf course, and as you continue along there’s a stairway down to the beach. It’s a gorgeous walk, but you will want a stroller for little ones. You can leave it at the top of the stairs by the bike rack! The beach has gentle waves, beautiful cliff views, soft sand, boulders to climb, and sometimes little tidepools. It’s never too crowded and just so uniquely stunning! Afterward you can go sit by the fires on the Ritz patio and order marshmallows for roasting s’mores :)

Pescadero State Beach
Quiet and beautiful, this beach in Pescadero features sandy coves, rocky cliffs, tide pools, fishing spots (per city’s name), and picnic facilities. Bonus, on the other side of the highway there’s Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, a great spot for bird watchers. But the prime real estate here is the smooth-sand shore.

Natural Bridges State Beach
Probably the best beach in Santa Cruz. You can pay for parking or just park on Swanton Blvd if you don’t mind the long walk down (if you don’t have toddlers or too much to pack in). There are showers and bathrooms at the back of the beach tucked in a cove. There’s a beautiful natural bridge covered with hundreds of different sea birds. At low tide there are amazing tidepools if you walk over to the rocks opposite the natural bridge. You can spot little crabs in the tidepools and sealife all over the rocks. Back behind the trees there is a little nature center and hike to see the monarch butterflies in November/December. This is totally a family beach with something for everyone!
This beach is just south of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, but not as crazy.  There is a rock tunnel you can go through if you want to go check out the boardwalk. There are fire pits on this beach, so as you walk out you do go past a lot of driftwood and old burnt wood. They have volleyball nets and there are usually more crowds here, but it’s fun and family friendly!
Twin Lakes is the next beach down from Seabright and a good beach for kids. If you get there early and get a parking space then it’s not too far to walk out. There are bathrooms and showers accessible!

Capitola is a favorite. So darling and charming with the colorful houses, and easy with little kids because you can park right there and be on the beach with bathrooms & showers & restaurants. They have a wharf with fun restaurants and ice cream on it.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
One of the most colorful, happy, crowded beaches is the main Santa Cruz beach. Yes it can be packed in the summer and a little touristy due to the Boardwalk, but if you’re in the mood for it then it can actually be fun…especially with kids! Get some treats, go on the rides, and enjoy the beach! There’s also a calmer part further down the beach with volleyball nets and some more space.

San Gregorio Beach
This beach is close to Half Moon Bay, and it’s a State Park so you pay for parking or park for free up the road. It’s never very crowded, but beautiful and driftwood-strewn with grassy bluffs above.  There are some outhouse type bathrooms at the top, so it’s nothing fancy but feels wild and more untouched.

Stinson Beach
This is a definite favorite beach to escape San Francisco without being too far away. It’s about 30 minutes across the Golden Gate Bridge, and it’s a more quiet and local gem. The main parking lot does fill up by about 10 AM, so try to get there early. There is street parking if not…or do the best of all, and hike the Dipsea Trail down to it and take the shuttle back!!

Black Sands Beach 
Just below the Marin Headlands in Golden Gate National Recreation Area sits this unique black sands beach. You can get a good view even just from the parking lot, but you can also hike down the wooden steps and all along it. Just beware…like many beaches in this area, it’s clothing optional so be prepared! :)
China Beach
This is one of the best little beaches in San Francisco, with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge right from the beach. It’s a small beach enclosed by rock walls, so on a rare warm summer day it can be hard to find a spot…but it’s worth it! You can park in the lot below the intersection of El Camino Del Mar and Sea Cliff Avenue, then walk down the ramp or stairway.  It’s right near Lands End so it’s perfect to walk around and explore before or after the beach!
Ocean Beach
This is the city’s biggest and probably most popular beach. It’s not good for swimming because of the riptides, but the scenery and sand is the best. We love having bonfires here with friends!Baker Beach
Another great beach with views of the Golden Gate, but also views of beachgoers with no suits on ;) so take in the bridge and nothing else!Rodeo Beach

This is a unique rock beach in Marin County. It’s made up of small pebble stones in red, green, brown, blue, etc. You can see the rocks at the south end of the beach, and get a view of Bird Rock with the arch in the center. To find this beach, follow signs to Marin Headlands Visitors Center and then turn west on Bunker Road. You’ll then see signs for the Rodeo Beach parking lot and picnic area.
Kirby Cove
This is a tiny little scenic cove facing the Golden Gate Bridge, that you might recognize from the swing facing it! I don’t know if there’s a better beach view! You can see the whole GG Bridge and SF cityscape. You do have to walk a steep, mile-long train down to the cove. It starts in the parking lot above Battery Spencer and it’s worth the walk! One day I want to camp here, since there are campsites!

Montara State Beach
After navigating an unstable dirt path down to sea level, you will be rewarded with a smooth-sand beach and stellar views of the Pacific. Montara Beach is approximately a 25-minute drive south from the city, just after Pacifica and Devil’s Slide, and eight-miles north of Half Moon Bay. Secluded and relaxing.
Other beaches we want to check out soon include: Devil’s Slide (Grey Whale Cove), “Taco Bell” Beach, Fort Funston Beach Walk, and so many more! Let me know your favorites!


'Best Beaches of the Bay' has 4 comments

  1. January 16, 2017 @ 9:02 pm anita

    It’s a little further north, but how about Glass Beach?


    • emi

      January 16, 2017 @ 9:24 pm emi

      Yes by Fort Bragg? We’ve been there and loved it!! Definitely a trek to get there though!


  2. January 17, 2017 @ 1:45 am Colleen

    My dad grew up in Half Moon Bay and my mom grew up in Moss Beach, so while they (like most locals) hate the Ritz and the Pumpkin Festival (haha!), there are some amazing beaches in the area! We really like visiting Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, especially at low tide (there are amazing tide pools!) and it’s a great spot to see sea lions sunning themselves (just be sure to be respectful and don’t get close to them!). Also in Moss Beach, just across Hiway 1 is one of my all-time favorite parks (Moss Beach Park) which was funded and built by the community. There’s a lighthouse and shark tunnel and castle and it is super fun for all 5 of my kids (ages 2-12). I also recommend Half Moon Bay State Beach, which is technically four separate beaches–my favorite is Venice Beach, because it has easy access (you have to pay for parking though). Also I love Pescadero so much, and highly recommend going into town and getting a sandwich at Arcangeli’s Deli and eating in the cute little picnic area behind the store along the creek!


    • emi

      January 17, 2017 @ 2:11 pm emi

      this is all amazing!!! i didn’t know your parents were local! i am saving your recs and can’t wait to try them out!!



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