Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA
“hidden” treasures well worth investigating
At first glance Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA, may look like just a big sandy coldish beach. But don’t be fooled… it is a recreational paradise well worth investigating. Look around and you will soon find a variety of outstanding attractions, activities, and nearby neighborhoods which make this longest beach in SF a recreational paradise for local insiders. Check out the details below and find their precise locations on our Ocean Beach map
Be sure not to miss nearby areas such as Sutro Heights Park, Sutro Baths, & the Lands End trailhead at the northern end of the beach and world-class Golden Gate Park, the nifty Judah Street neighborhood, and Fort Funston to the south.
The best way to enjoy these gems is by foot or bicycle. Dog walking is legally allowed on most of Ocean Beach so don’t forget your best friend! Don’t forget your jacket either since the weather can be foggy but even then there are great and beautiful things to do.
Ocean Beach – the North End
… the only part most outsiders ever see
At the north end of Ocean Beach is the Cliff House, a historical tourist destination. It has been renovated in the past 10 years to make the dining & drinking areas much classier. Look west through the big picture windows to see seals at nearby Seal Rocks, sometimes whales, and on clear days the Farallon Islands wildlife refuge 27 miles west.
We enjoy hiking down to the nearby ruins of Sutro Baths. Less visible and slightly inland is Sutro Heights Park, a quiet beautiful little park with great views. North of Sutro Heights Park is a big parking lot overlooking Sutro Baths and adjacent one end of Lands End trail, which many natives consider to be the nicest nature trail in San Francisco.
Other items of interest are Camera Obscura, housed in a little building that looks like a camera on the south deck of the Cliff House, and Kelly’s Cove Beach, the birthplace of San Francisco surfing immediately south of the Cliff House.
Ocean Beach – Golden Gate Park Section
West of Golden Gate Park is the portion most SF residents refer to as “Ocean Beach.” The beach here is so large, 2 football fields wide, that it is rarely over crowded. It has good parking and has been a favorite SF sunbathing spot since the 1800s.
Most people don’t realize that Ocean Beach also has world class surfing with challenging waves from 2-12 feet in height including good tubes to barrel through. The locals consider this area more an underground surf scene though in 2011 it became much more visible as one of the 12 stops on the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour. (note: on 11/2/11 Kelly Slater won his 11th World Championship, the most ever won, in front of thousands right here in SF). Depending on water conditions, these professionals take off from either Stairway 18-20, across from Beach Chalet Restaurant in Golden Gate Park, or from Stairway 1 at Kelly’s Cove close to the Cliff House.
Across The Great Highway in Golden Gate Park (see Golden Gate Park map), are the Beach Chalet and Park Chalet restaurants which both have interesting settings but less interesting food. On nice days you can dine with your dog on the east lawn of the Park Chalet Garden restaurant downstairs. On nasty days check out the second story west ocean view from the Beach Chalet restaurant upstairs. Downstairs there is also a San Francisco history area and restrooms.
At The Great Highway/John F Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park is the Dutch windmill, built 1902 and donated by the Netherland’s Queen Wilhelmina. The adjacent Tulip Garden was named after her. It’s 10,000 tulips are a sight to see when they bloom in March. Further south is the recently renovated Murphy Windmill, which at six stories tall with spars 114 long was the world’s biggest windmill when built in 1905.
Ocean Beach – The Great Highway section
… the “secret” part of Ocean Beach
This “secret” part of Ocean Beach is known mainly to those San Francisco residents who live within a few blocks. Most other locals don’t know that much about this interesting area.
Along this 15-block section Ocean Beach is hidden from the road behind beautiful sand dunes. Another reason this section is little known is the weather … which is typically foggy in the mornings and but often clears in the late afternoon. Even so this portion is a great nature walk (if you bring a warm jacket) and is rather empty except for a few walkers and surfers (exception: on warm sunny weekend days hundreds of sunbathers come from out of the local woodwork).
Many locals enjoy the paved walking and bike riding trail that runs along the east side of The Great Highway between Lincoln Way and Sloat Blvd. It goes for 15 blocks with no breaks for street crossings. On the west side of The Great Highway there are unpaved dune trails in the sand going the same distance.
Nearby is one of our favorite funky neighborhoods Judah St, Outer Sunset which is popular with the the young surfer & hippie “in crowd.” It feels like a little Santa Cruz and is not so down and dirty as Haight-Ashbury. Trouble Coffee Company and Java Beach Coffee are two popular Judah St coffee shops we recommend. The Outerlands Restaurant has good food but there is long wait on weekends; weekdays are much better.
Ocean Beach – west of the San Francisco Zoo
… not much here
You can find more parking lots here and even some public restrooms at Sloat Ave/Great Highway. Though there is no sandy beach west of the Zoo (there are only boulders which have been dumped in to protect the highway from wave action) it is still possible to walk along this stretch without getting on the highway itself.
We sometimes park south of the Zoo and walk on further south to get to the north end of Ft Funston. You have reached Fort Funston when The Great Highway turns inland. Just at the turn you will see a rough but marked trail in the Fort Funston sand dunes in front of you.
Fort Funston, San Francisco – the North End
… beautiful natural dunes here
The largest remaining sand dune field on the SF Peninsula is at Fort Funston. A few hundred years ago, much of the west end of San Francisco was covered by dunes like these. Several thousand years ago such sand dunes covered the entire SF peninsula and extended out to the Farallon Islands 27 miles away.
The north end of Fort Funston is sometimes closed for habitat restoration. But, when it is open we take a nice loop trail — start at the south end of Ocean Beach, progress south through the Fort Funston dunes, take a big trail west down to the beach, then head back north along a quiet beach to where we started. The north end of the Fort Funston beach ends at Ocean Beach where mounds of boulders are stacked up to protect The Great Highway from ocean surf. Some surfers clamber up these boulders but we prefer to pull ourselves up a break in the sand bluff using a rope left there by previous hikers.
Fort Funston, San Francisco – the South End
… this is heaven for dogs and hang gliders
This beautiful natural area, accessible from Hwy 1, is generally recognized as the biggest, best, and most beautiful dog park in all of San Francisco and probably the world. It is also one of the top hang gliding spots in the U.S.
On weekends the southern end of Fort Funston is often filled with hundreds of dogs (no leashes required) and dozens of hang gliders. It also has a big beach which the dogs love. It is a short hop by car from Ocean Beach to south Fort Funston or a longish walk via north Fort Funston.
Ocean Beach in San Francisco, CA, and its nearby neighborhoods are relatively little known or appreciated even by local natives. However, we find this long beach is so interesting, unique, and usually uncrowded that it is becoming one of our favorite parts of San Francisco. We definitely recommend urban exploring in the Ocean Beach area for an excellent weekend adventure!
- Ocean Beach map – Precise locations of the things to do described above
- Judah Street page & map – More things to do along Judah Street
- Golden Gate Park page & map – More things to do in Golden Gate Park
- Best dog-friendly parks page & map – More places to go with your dog
- Ocean Beach Kelly Cove – detailed weather and sports info for local athletes.
- Back from Ocean Beach, SF, to San Francisco Attractions
- Back from Ocean Beach, SF, to Best things to do in SF
- Top of page and Home page