When Is the Best Time to Visit Ocean Beach, San Francisco?
There’s nothing better than lying on a sandy beach with a good book, on a hot day, is there? Unless it’s having a swim or surfing in the water.
However, it can be a bit frustrating when you get to the beach and find there’s far too many people there who had the same idea as you. We decided to find out the best time to visit Ocean Beach, San Francisco.
Where is Ocean Beach, San Francisco?
Ocean Beach is on the west coast of the city of San Francisco, California. It’s next to Golden Gate Park and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This means it is protected as a historic and ecological site. It faces the Pacific Ocean
Ocean Beach is notorious for its foggy weather during late spring and summer however, this doesn’t deter the surfers. Late fall and early spring are the best times to visit if you want to avoid the fog. During the winter months, the middle of the day is the best time to visit as the fog usually clears for a few hours.
Sloat Boulevard is at the southern end of the beach and is known to be one of the cleanest beaches in California. Although the sand often looks black, this is because it contains tiny magnetite particles that wash up on the beach when there has been a storm.
The water at Ocean Beach is cold with an average temperature of 13.2°C or 55°F. Its strong currents and waves make it popular among seasoned surfers, but it also means that it is dangerous for swimmers and even waders. The mixture of the cold temperature and strong rips have been responsible for several deaths. In 1998 alone, seven people died.
Things to Do at Ocean Beach, San Francisco
Surfing at Ocean Beach is only for the advanced or expert surfer who knows the beach well. We’ve mentioned how dangerous the water is, but it bears repeating. The fog makes it difficult to see and the temperature of the water is extremely cold.
In winter the swell comes from Alaska and Japan. In summer it comes from New Zealand and the South Pacific. Waves begin to form from the shifting sand below the water which creates the giant waves that surfers enjoy so much.
Again, Ocean Beach is not for swimmers.
The Cliff House has a long and varied history. It was originally built in 1863 but has burned down twice since then. It’s now part of the Sutro Historic Landscape District and offers a spectacular view of Ocean Beach and Seal Rocks.
On Saturday mornings you can enjoy a continental breakfast when you join a tour that walks you through Sutro gardens and is guided by John A. Martini. John is an author, historian, and retired National Park Service Ranger.
After your walk, you’ll be hungry again and you have several options to choose from at Cliff House. The bistro restaurant was completely restored in 2004 and the views are stunning. The Zinc Bar and Balcony lounge features a hand-carved bar built in 1889.
Sutro’s restaurant has a more modern, casual look, but still offers those incredible views. The Lookout café is located in the Land’s End Lookout Visitor’s Center and offers a selection of food sourced locally. And yes, the views are stunning.
Bonfire’s are a regular sight at Ocean Beach, San Francisco and there are pits specifically for this purpose. These can be found between stairwells 15 and 16, and 21 and 28.
Bonfires are not permitted elsewhere on the beach and neither is alcohol or overnight camping.
Visit the Beach Chalet
This is another popular spot for dining at Ocean Beach located at 1000 Great Highway. Like the others, it has stunning views of the beach and free parking. The menu features locally sourced seafood and dishes such as Grilled Pacific Swordfish and Riptide Red Beer-Battered Fish & Chips.
The Beach Chalet was originally opened in 1925 as a changing room for people to use before getting into the water. It now provides indoor and outdoor dining, a gift shop and bar.
On the first floor of the building you’ll see a wraparound mural that was painted by Lucien Labaudt. It shows San Francisco as it used to be in the 1930s. The mural is complemented with stories from the Depression area.
Also on the first floor is a three-dimensional toy model of the Golden Gate Park.
It’s not just food that’s available at the Beach Chalet, they also have beers made locally by Master Brewer, Aron Deorsey. Who wouldn’t want to sip a beer called Sea Serpent or Enter Sandman spiced ale? The Chalet Brewery’s 21st Anniversary Pre-Prohibition Lager is also popular. Between 6pm and 9pm on Friday nights you can enjoy your beer while listening to the live music.
Dogs are allowed to run free between stairwell 21 and Cliff House at any time during the year. However, we would advise you to visit the beach with your dog during less populated times of the day or year.
Dogs are also allowed to run free from the area south of the Beach Chalet. However, this is only permitted between May 16 and June 30, each year. Dogs must be leashed in this area for the rest of the year.
Snowy Plovers are sparrow-sized sea birds that live on the beach and spend most of their time running along the edge of the water. They are on the list of Threatened Species which is why dogs must be leashed at certain times of the year.
The Snowy Plovers can be seen on Ocean Beach for most of the year, but during the summer months they head off to find less-populated areas.
How to Get to Ocean Beach, San Francisco
Parking is a breeze at the beach, so driving is one of the best ways to get there, at any time during the day. San Francisco’s forefathers were good planners and the streets are laid out in a grid pattern.
If you take the streets that are named east to west, rather than numbered, you will end up at Ocean Beach, along the western edge of San Francisco. Look for the Great Highway which runs along the length of Ocean Beach.
There are free parking lots at Sloat Boulevard, across from the Beach Chalet, near the Cliff House, and at Golden State Park. These can get busy in summer and the weekends, so you should plan to arrive early or to visit at quieter times during the week.
If you’d rather look at the view instead of watching for street names, public transport is the way to go. Options include the N-Judah and L-Taraval street cars from Embarcadero, downtown. The N-Judah goes as far as the Cliff House and the L-Taraval to a spot near the San Francisco zoo.
The 38-Geary bus will take you from Market Street, downtown to a stop ear the Cliff House. Hop-On Hop-Off tours are a fun and inexpensive way to get to the Beach. Their double-decker tour buses stop near the San Francisco zoo and above the Cliff House.
The Best Time to Visit Ocean Beach, San Francisco
Ocean Beach is a popular and beautiful beach to visit at any time of the year, but if you struggle to manage cold and windy weather, the summer months will be the best time for you to visit. If you’re driving, try to arrive early before the free parking lots fill up.
During the spring, fall, and winter months the beach is often covered in fog, so the best time to visit is around the middle of the day. This is when the morning fog has lifted, and the afternoon fog has not arrived yet.
Whatever time you decide to visit Ocean Beach, San Francisco, you won’t be disappointed by the beauty of this popular spot.