Not just any beach, Ocean Beach is the longest in San Francisco and the only one where you’ll find whole sand dollars by the dozen. These two incentives alone will have the kids wide-eyed, as if a day on the beach weren’t reason enough to expect oodles of fun.
How to get there: On the very western side of the City, mostly south of Golden Gate Park. Take Balboa, Fulton or Lincoln west.
What to see: Come in the morning for “sand dollaring,” or else, walk further down the shore, away from the Cliff House toward the dunes, where collectors haven’t snatched up all the treasures from the sea. Ocean Beach is a magnet for locals, who read books here by day and light bonfires by night. Tourists like to come here, too, watching the kites reach their zeniths and the surfers riding giant crests.
When to go: The best, or sunniest, days for this beach are September and October.
How to dress: You’ll want to bring layers for the oft-windy weather and fog, but the view of the Pacific is prime, and the long stretch of sand will have the kids doing cartwheels.
Where to have lunch: Unless you score one of those prize calm, sunny days, Ocean Beach isn’t an ideal picnic spot. Save yourself some sand in your sandwich and hit up one of the local establishments for some grub. Warm up your bellies with some cocoa and coffee at the Java Beach location on La Playa at Judah, or check out the simple lunch menu at Outerlands Café, which includes one of the city’s best grilled cheese sandwiches. And don’t forget about the Beach Chalet at the entrance to Golden Gate Park, with its extensive kids’ menu and live music (including the summer concert series featuring Charity and the JAMband).