10 Best Beaches in the San Francisco Bay Area

It goes without saying that I am a total beach bum at heart. While it still remains a life goal to travel the world one beach at a time, I do love exploring new local beaches whenever I am back in the Bay Area. Sadly Norcal beaches always get the bad rep of being the “not so pretty/cold beaches” compared to its prettier cousin – the quintessential sunny Socal beaches. But having explored a bunch I guarantee that you will find a beach you love here in beautiful Norcal too; there’s so much beauty in a dark moody beach too dont you think?! None of these beaches are quite swimmable and are mostly considered dangerous to be in the water, so please exercise caution in and around the water. But my fave activity to do in these beaches if not swim – get my toes sandy of course! Over the past couple of years Anush and I have explored a ton of local beaches and safe to say that now we definitely have our top faves whenever we want to get a dose of Vitamin Sea. So without further adieu here is my list of the 10 Best Beaches in the San Francisco Bay Area (going from North to South) :

1 ) Black sand beach in Marin County : Did you know there is a black sand beach here in SF? This gorgeous beach is located in the Marin headlands, which is a stunning drive by itself. On a clear day, you will see stunning views of the Golden Gate and the bay from the top of Marin Headlands.

Black sand beach

2 ) Baker Beach and China Beach : Listing these two SF beaches side by side as I love both of them for the spectacular view they have of Golden Gate Bridge! Great for that perfect tourist postcard photo opp!

Baker Beach

China Beach

3) Grey Whale State Cove :This beach is a little south of Pacifica, we recently discovered this hidden gem last fall and we cant wait to go back! Its usually quite empty and the views are simply breathtaking! As the name implies, this beach is a also good spot to see migrating whales in season.

Grey whale state cove

4 ) Montara Beach : Located right next door to Grey whale state cove, Montara beach has the prettiest colored water, smooth sands (IMO wayy better than Pacifica!) and spectacular views of the Pacific. Its a wide beach that is great for spending the afternoon or walking along the long sandy stretch.


5) Poplar beach, Half Moon Bay : Without a doubt this is our personal FAVE and the beach we have probably visited the most no of times here in the Bay. Tons of reasons why we love it –

  • easy/cheap parking
  • not so difficult climb down to the actual beach (compared to other beaches in Half Moon Bay)
  • hugee beach so even if its crowded you are sure to find a secluded spot
  • the sand is so pretty and soft
  • dog friendly beach (for those of you who want to bring your pooch friends)
  • close proximity to the town of Half Moon Bay
  • Although there are no facilities on this beach and the water is far from swimmable, there are other fun activities you can do like – enjoy the magnificent cliff walk along the bluffs or even horseback riding on this beach!

All in all this is an ideal Norcal beach for spending the day, I highly recommend it!

Poplar beach

6) Cowell State Ranch , Half Moon Bay : We love love Cowell State not only for the beautiful beach but also the picturesque half-mile walk from the entrance to the lookout point. At this point both the north and south beaches unfold for majestic views. The south beach is off limits during harbor seal calving season, and you are sure to see tons of seals here! There is public access to the north beach along a steep staircase. This beach is usually pretty secluded and is simply so so stunning. Many times Anush and I have been pretty much some of the only few people on the beach making it such a memorable experience.

Top 2 pics : Cowell State Ranch

7) Beach at Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay : This beach at the end of the bluff walk at the stunning Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay is a great place to have a beach picnic or bbq or even just relax after a fab brunch at Navio at the Ritz (the Saturday’s farmers market brunch is our absolute favee – highly recommend it!)

Ritz, Half moon Bay

8) Davenport Landing Beach : Davenport is one of our favorite sleepy little Norcal beach towns. Its literally a couple of streets that make up this town along highway 1. While most people go to the main Davenport beach, our fave is this hidden gem called Davenport Landing Beach, especially in the spring – for the prettiest blooms and best weather. Its also super popular among the surfers.

Davenport Landing

9) Shark Fin Cove, Santa Cruz : I generally do not go to beaches in Santa Cruz that often cos they are usually super windy and cold (even when I have been to them in the peak of summer)! But the ones along highway 1 are crazy gorgeous so definitely worth a visit. My personal faves are Bonny Doon beach, Panther beach and Shark Fin Cove. I would highly recommend driving down this stretch during early spring when the wildflowers are blooming, its a sight to behold! Shark Fin Cove is a tiny stretch of beach but makes for the best photo opps – both in day and night (if you are into night photography!).

Shark Fin Cove

Wildflowers along highway 1 in Santa Cruz (April-May time)

10) Carmel City Beach – This beach handsdown wins for the prettiest beach in Norcal. On a sunny day one will certainly mistake this place for a tropical beach haha cos the sand is SO white and the water is such a pretty blue! Located in the heart of charming little Carmel this is a great stopover while on a little weekend getaway to Carmel or Big Sur.

Carmel City beach

Hope this list helps you plan your next beach day here in the Bay Area! What are your personal faves? xoxo












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