Baker Beach, Ocean Beach, Muir Beach…our favorite local beaches can get, well, crowded once the sun starts shining. Avoid the crowds and head for a beach that’s off the beaten path. Here are our favorite Bay Area seaside secrets.

North Bay

Black Sand Beach
Frolic, dance, lounge: your little beach bums may be inspired to do all three on your first visit to Black Sand Beach in Marin. This half-mile stretch of chocolate-colored coastline, just northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge, is roughly the size of Baker Beach with only a fraction of the crowds. Walk ten minutes down the 253 wooden steps from the dirt parking lot then spread a blanket behind one of the several rock outcroppings. Little toes will no doubt enjoy a dip in the refreshing 58-degree water when the afternoon heats up!

black-sand-beach

photo credit: honan via flickr

Get There: Take Alexander Avenue, the first exit north of the Golden Bridge. Make an immediate left and go under the freeway heading west. Follow Conzelman Road all the way up. Continue down past Hawk Hill and when the road levels, look for a dirt parking lot with “Upper Fisherman’s” sign and restroom on the left.

Heart’s Desire Beach
For a beach suited for kids of all ages, pack your clan up and head to Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay State Park. The low key beach is super protected (read: no big waves) and the water crystal clear. Picnic tables, bathrooms and nearby hiking trails make this a hotspot for families looking for a relaxed ocean experience.

hearts-desire-beach

photo credit: steven belcher via flickr

Get There: Budget 25 minutes from the Bear Valley visitor center. For specific turn-by-turn directions, click here. 

San Francisco

Marshall’s Beach
Where can you find one of the best views of our Golden Gate Bridge? Top spot in our book is Marshall’s Beach in San Francisco’s Presidio. The recently renovated Batteries to Bluffs Trail leads directly to this little nugget of sandy serenity. The path to get there is just 0.3 miles long, and the views from the beach elate, with the iconic arches appearing close enough to touch. Sandwiched between steep bluffs, the beach is refreshingly tranquil; the only sound you hear is the swash of the waves. As with many hidden beaches, the clothes-free crowd sometimes flock to this spot (hey, we’re just sayin’!), the sights from here are mostly Heavenly.

marshalls-beach-sf

photo credit: Alejandra H via Yelp

Get There: Park at one of two entrances on Lincoln Boulevard in the Presidio. One is just south of Fort Scott, on the west side of the road near the “Coyote Crossing” sign, and the other is about .5 miles further down Lincoln Boulevard with a small “Batteries to Bluffs” sign on the west side of the road. At either entrance, follow the Batteries to Bluffs Trail toward Marshall’s Beach.

South Bay

Bean Hollow State Beach
Unassuming, beautiful, and a favorite once discovered: guaranteed the kiddos will never want to leave this gem on the San Mateo Coast. Located 3 miles south of Pescadero, this succulent stretch of golden sand requires no hike-in, yet on most afternoons the place is wonderfully uncrowded. Spend the afternoon exploring the many tide pools and playing fetch with the pup as Bean Hollow is one of the few dog-friendly beaches in the region.

bean-hollow-beach

photo credit: Ray Bouknight via Flickr

Insider Tip: For a little beach-hopping, a 1-mile (each way, 2 mile round-trip) afternoon stroll on the bluff-top trail leads to Pebble Beach.

Get There: Bean Hollow State Beach is 17.5 miles south of Half Moon Bay and 3 miles south of Pescadero on Hwy 1. The trail to Pebble Beach goes north from Bean Hollow. Dog-friendly!

Grey Whale Cove
For a secluded beach experience head to this destination that sits right off of Highway One past the new tunnel (if you’re driving South). We love this beach for its isolation. Walk down the path and the couple flights of stairs (do not try to scale down to the beach off the path) and you’ll be greeted with stunning views and clean water and sand.

gray-whale-cove

photo credit: wonderlane via flickr

Insider Tips: Since it’s fairly isolated there are no bathrooms at this beach. You’ll park in the large parking lot across the street and need to cross the highway so be careful. And, while the Yelp reviews point out that this is a nude beach, our local editor has frequented this spot at least 10 times in the last year and has never seen any nudity. Lastly, contrary to Yelp reviews this beach is not dog-friendly.

Get There: If you are driving South, the parking lot to the beach is located about less than 5 minutes past the exit of the new tunnel as you are heading on Highway 1 towards Half Moon Bay. Turn left into the parking lot and leave your car there (above the parking lot there are great, easy hiking trails). Carefully cross the road and head down the path to the beach.

What are your favorite hidden beaches? Any we should add to our list?

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— Mireille Schwartz