A Shore Thing: Beaches Perfect for Splashing & Swimming

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Grab your beach chairs, picnic blankets and sand toys, and hit the shore. From the Pacific Ocean to freshwater rivers and lakes, there are loads of choices in the San Francisco Bay Area for splashing around with the littles. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen, snacks and plenty of water—hydration is key. Ready to explore? Check out our list of fun aquatic destinations for keeping cool on a hot summer’s day.

Photo: Crissy Field, Olivia Boler

San Francisco

Crissy Field
When the sun’s out, East Beach is full of families building sandcastles, digging and running in and out of the waves. There’s room for everyone, plus ample parking, although it can get a bit crowded on weekends. For those wanting to avoid the surf, a lagoon makes an ideal splash spot for little ones. The beach is popular with the city’s dog owners so be prepared to make some four legged friends. The west end of Crissy Field, though smaller, is another great option. The Warming Hut offers sandwiches and goodies, there are BBQs and picnic tables and the kids can while away hours playing in the more gentle surf and looking for crabs. While the water is usually clean and safe, watch out for posted signs and wildlife, and go in the morning as the wind usually gets up by mid-afternoon.

Mason St. off Marina Blvd.
San Francisco, Ca
Online: nps.gov

Photo credit: Erin Feher

Aquatic Park
Home to the famous Dolphin Club and their rivals the South Bay Rowing club, there are lots of serious swimmers in the water here. See them as inspiration for your little ones who can play on the beach and splash in the surf-free water within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Aquatic Park Promenade is currently closed for construction, but the cove and beach are still accessible via Jefferson Street. The beach isn’t spotless (you’ll likely find the odd cigarette butt) but don’t let that put you off. You are a short stroll from Fisherman’s Wharf and if the kids tire of the beach, there are the historic boats at Hyde Street Pier to explore for a small fee ($10 for those 16 and older; free for the 15 and younger set).

900 Beach St. at Polk
San Francisco, Ca
Online: nps.gov

Photo: China Beach, Kit Ng via Flickr

China Beach
Tucked into a practically secret cove, this hidden gem in San Francisco’s tony Sea Cliff is a sweet sandy introduction for little beachcombers. Back in the Gold Rush days, it was the campsite of Chinese fishermen and their boats. There’s a monument commemorating this bit of history at the beach’s entrance, where there’s also parking. You’ll need to go down a few steps to hit the sand. Take in the views of the Marin Headlands and build a sandcastle, but be careful of the surf, which can be unpredictable.

Sea Cliff Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
Online: parksconservancy.org

Photo: Angel Island, Linh L. via Yelp

Angel Island State Park
Accessed by ferry from San Francisco and Tiburon, Angel Island is a special place to hang out by the water for the day. The gently lapping Bay waters and sandy beaches of Ayala Cove and Quarry Point are protected by winds, thus ideal for little water sprites to explore. There are some picnic benches off the sand and open grassy areas for a blanket. The only traffic is the guided-tour tram and park vehicles, so bring bicycles when a break is needed from all that water play. There are also great hikes, from easy to moderate. No picnic? No problem! The Angel Island Company Cafe serves up delicious salads, sandwiches, wraps and other goodies.

Online: parks.ca.gov

Photo credit: Sabine Klensch

East Bay

Lake Anza
Set in Tilden Regional Park, this popular, dog-free swim spot always feels like a local secret, tucked away in the midst of hiking trails, below the picturesque hills. The stretch of sandy beach is sheltered from the wind and typically gets plenty of sunshine. Hungry swimmers can recharge at the Lake Anza Beach Club with nachos, smoothies, sandwiches and ice cream. Club is open on weekends only. When the kids are done with sand and water, the park also boasts a carousel and steam train, so there’s still plenty to explore. The Lake Anza swim season runs from the end of April to mid September with lifeguards on duty daily. The cost is $3.50 for adults, $2.50 for kids. Parking is free. Open from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Mon-Sun.

Lake Anza Rd. off Central Park Dr.
Berkeley, Ca
Online: ebparks.org

Photo credit: Cull Canyon, Dena J. via Yelp

Cull Canyon
The lagoon here is ideal if you’ve got little ones because of the gentle gradient. The kids can splash around in the shallows and build up their confidence in the water while you post up at one of the shaded picnic areas, enjoy the white, sandy beach and dig in for the day. There’s a bathhouse and vending machines, plus lifeguards are on duty daily from May 31 through August 19, 11:00 a.m.to 6:00 p.m.. A beach access fee applies ($3.50 for adults, $2.50 for kids) but parking is free.

18627 Cull Canyon Rd.
Castro Valley, Ca
Online: ebparks.org

Photo credit: Del Valle, Olivia Boler

Del Valle Regional Park
This spot has not one, but two swimming beaches opening for the season. While swimming is permissible through much of the five-mile-long lake, the East and West beaches offer lifeguard services between 11:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. from June through August. And when the family’s all toweled off, the park has picnic facilities, boat rentals, and a visitor center to keep you occupied. There is a parking/entrance fee of $6 per vehicle.

7000 Del Valle Rd.
Livermore, Ca

Photo credit: Don Castro, East Bay Regional Park District

Don Castro Regional Park
Swimming in the lagoon is this park’s main attraction. The sandy beach is surrounded by mature trees and has easy parking ($5 fee on weekends and holidays). There’s a large roped off section at a depth of two feet for the little ones to paddle in and the lifeguards are vigilant. Swimming is only allowed when they are on duty, 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily during the summer. There is a vending machine and a large lawn area when you’re done with the sand. No dogs are allowed, and beach umbrellas and wheelchairs are available for those who need them on a first-come, first-served basis. The beach access fee is $2 for kids and $3 for adults.

22400 Woodroe Ave.
Hayward, Ca
Online: ebparks.org

Photo credit: East Bay Regional Park District

Shadow Cliffs
Just a mile outside downtown Pleasanton is a sweet sandy spot for swimming, picnicking, boating, and general fun in the sun. A former gravel quarry, this little swimming lagoon is ideal for kids to cool off and splash around; even early in the morning the water is far from chilly. There’s a bathhouse and refreshment stand open on weekends in spring and fall, and daily during summer months. Lifeguards are on duty June through mid August, but swimming is allowed throughout the year. The cost is $6 per vehicle and there’s a $2 fee to bring a dog, although they aren’t allowed around the swim area’s sandy beach.

2500 Stanley Blvd.
Pleasanton, Ca
Online: ebparks.org

Photo credit: Contra Loma, Kai R. via Yelp

Contra Loma Regional Park
What about a nice, protected swimming lagoon in the heart of an 80-acre reservoir? Boating, picnicking, biking, and nature study are all popular at Contra Loma Regional Park, and the swim lagoon has a sandy beach with restrooms and a concession stand. Lifeguards are on duty 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily from June to mid-August. For those making a day of it, there are shady picnic areas and even swim lessons and a Junior Guard program held at the lagoon in the summertime. Similar to other East Bay Park swim spots, there is a small beach access fee of $3 for adults and $2 for kids, plus a $5 parking fee.

1200 Frederickson Ln.
Antioch, Ca
Online: ebparks.org

Photo Credits: Crown Memorial Rich L. via Yelp

Crown Memorial State Beach
Located in Alameda, this is the most popular beach spot in the Bay Area with 2.5 miles of white sand and shallow warm water. It comes with an extra bonus: a view of San Francisco’s skyline. Crown Beach is safe for swimming and kid friendly, but keep in mind there is a bit of a tide at times (check out this free app, Tides Near Me, that will tell you about tidal conditions). At the west end of the beach is a bathhouse with changing rooms. Swimming is permitted during park hours year round. No lifeguards are on duty and four-legged friends are not allowed on the beach. Next to the bathhouse are picnic tables, barbecue pits and lots of lawn area for ball games. Check out the 51st Annual Sand Castle and Sand Sculpture Contest, held in front of the bathhouse on Saturday, June 10, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Have a peek into their special events page for other summer activities.

Eighth St. and Otis Dr.
Alameda, CA
Online: ebparks.org

Photo Credit: Keller Beach, Abby T. via Yelp

Keller Beach at Miller Knox Regional Park
The City of Richmond gifted this hidden cove with swimming beach to this East Bay park. It also has a fishing pier and a hilltop with excellent panoramic views of the Bay. Note: no lifeguards are on duty at the beach. Picnic tables and restrooms are nearby. If sand and water lose their charm, you can go for a bike ride along the lagoon, play ball on the lawn or visit the model railroad museum – all part of the Miller/ Knox Regional Shoreline in Richmond. Dogs are not allowed in the lagoon. Parking is free, and there are no entry fees.

900 Dornan Drive
Richmond, CA 94801
Online: ebparks.org

North Bay

Chicken Ranch Beach
Don’t let the name put you off; this beach is hidden away just north of Inverness off Sir Frances Drake Boulevard and nestled along the west shore of Tomales Bay. Parking is free but the beach is poorly signed so be sure to check directions before you leave. When you reach the parking lot, a short trail leads to this mellow sandy beach with a gentle gradient. The water is both warmer than the Pacific and wave-free so it’s perfect for paddling. While the beach isn’t huge, there’s plenty of room to spread a blanket, have a picnic and even fly a kite. There is a restroom and some benches. Dogs are allowed on a leash and you’ll see paddle-boarders and kayakers as you look out over the water towards West Marin.

Sir Francis Drake
Marshall, Ca
Online: marincounty.org

Photo credit: Schoonmaker Beach, Brian D. via Yelp

Schoonmaker Beach
Nestled in the calm waters inside a yacht harbor, this is a perfect beach spot for families with small kids. The water is sheltered and the beach has a gentle gradient, perfect for knee-high splashing. More fun: it is surrounded by boats docked in the marina. There are a number of restaurants nearby as well as grocery stores for picnic supplies. The word is out on this once secret beach though, so the beachside parking fills up quickly. If you’re not cut out for all-day relaxation, the Sea Trek Kayaking Center is right on the beach and kayak rentals start at $25 an hour, with options for kids and lifejackets for all.

99 Liberty Ship Way
Sausalito, Ca
Online: Schoonmaker Beach

Paradise Beach
Paradise is well-named. This bayside gem is quiet and secluded with mature landscaping, colorful poplar trees, wildflowers and rolling grassy hillsides above the San Francisco Bay. The beach runs along the east shore of the Tiburon Peninsula, nestled in a residential neighborhood. There are lots of picnic spots, fishing off the pier and a sandy beach with no surf—perfect for paddling. Pets are not allowed, and watch out for the parking fee, $5 during the week, $10 on weekends. The first Saturday of the month is free.

3450 Paradise Dr.
Tiburon, Ca
Online: marincounty.org

Photo credit: NcNears Beach, Cate H. via Yelp

McNears Beach Park
Set in a beautiful sheltered cove along the shores of San Pablo Bay, this narrow bayside beach offers a fun, safe place for swimming and water play. If the kids are happier in a swimming pool, there’s one right on the beach, open Wednesday to Sunday, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or 6:00 p.m. on weekends. Entry is $5 per person. As a bonus, there’s a snack bar, sand volleyball courts, picnic areas and newly renovated tennis courts. The pier is popular with anglers fishing for sturgeon, bass, perch and crab. The gentle gradient also makes carry-in boat access easy for kayaks and canoes. Be prepared for the parking fee, $5 during the week, $10 on weekends. Entry and parking are free the first Saturday of the month.

201 Cantera Way
San Rafael, Ca
Online: marincounty.org

Photo: Heart’s Desire Beach, Sarah P. via Yelp

Heart’s Desire Beach
This gem is located in Tomales Bay State Park. Shallow waters far into the Bay make it a great splash-and-play area for little ones. Picnic tables and barbecue pits are on site as well as restrooms and changing rooms. Bring your own picnic and supplies or you can stock up in the shops of Inverness. Heart’s Desire Beach has two parking lots for easy access, and there’s a parking fee of $8. Note that when the lots fill, no more cars are permitted, not even to drop off people or gear. Dogs are a no-no.

1208 Pierce Point Rd.
Inverness, Ca
Online: Tomales Bay State Park

Photo: Johnson’s Beach, Tammy M. via Yelp

Johnson’s Beach
Take me to the river! The Russian River, that is. Johnson’s Beach is a popular, family-friendly destination for paddling around in a fresh water environment. A roped-off area especially for tots is a perfect place to splash around on a hot day. The beach is run by a resort, which features a lodge, cabins and camping, so come for the day or for a mini-break. Hit the snack bar for hot dogs, burgers and ice cream. Looking for some fun activities? Rent a kayak or inner tube. There’s no entrance fee to the beach, but day parking costs $5.

16217 First St.
Guerneville, Ca
Online: johnsonsbeach.com

Mom’s Beach
Officially, this Russian River beach is named Forestville River Access, but locals know it as “Mom’s Beach” because it’s a small, peaceful place to bring the kids. The rocky beach surrounded by redwoods is also a popular fishing spot. Leashed dogs are allowed and parking is free. A short trail from the parking area leads down to the beach. There is only a pit toilet during the summer months, and open hours are 7 a.m. until a half-hour before sunset. Bring your blankets, beach chairs, sunshade, toys and picnic, and you’re all set for aquatic fun!

10584 River Dr.
Forestville, Ca
Online: parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov

Photo: Linda Mar Beach, dizzylizzy1227 via Flickr


Linda Mar Beach
It’s official name is Pacifica State Beach, but locals know it as Linda Mar or the beach by the nicest Taco Bell ever. Kid-friendly and dog-friendly, Linda Mar is popular with surfers, and often beachgoers will see surf campers being schooled in the art of riding the waves. Bring a picnic blanket and some sand toys, and get digging! Restrooms are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Parking is $5 for four hours, or $9 for all day.

5100 Coast Hwy (Hwy 1)
Pacifica, Ca
Online: cityofpacifica.org

Oyster Point Marina Park
This sandy beach, over two acres long, has a roped off area for swimming in the peaceful waters. There is no lifeguard on duty but the site has picnic areas, restaurants and all the fun of watching the comings and goings of the nearby yacht club. The water is part of the Bay and is tested weekly for safety. There’s a flock of Canada Geese that have taken a liking to this beach, too, so watch for closure signs or check the County of San Mateo Health System site for details.

95 Harbormaster Rd. #1
South San Francisco, Ca
Online: smharbor.com

Photo: Parkside Aquatic, Mellissa B. via Yelp

Parkside Aquatic Beach
This San Mateo gem has not a wave in sight. On one side of the sandy swim beach, there’s a play structure for kids, and on the other side, picnic tables if you prefer to keep the sand out of your sandwiches. The waters are part of the Marina Lagoon, between San Mateo and Foster City. There’s parking and restrooms as well as accessibility for boating and a sand volleyball pit.

1595 Seal St.
San Mateo, Ca
Online: cityofsanmateo.org

Editor’s note: You might have noticed, we did not include South Bay beaches. That’s because Santa Clara County has a policy that prohibits swimming in reservoirs and lakes. But the list above has plenty of nearby options that will make up for it. Guaranteed!

Did we miss a hidden gem? Share your insider tips with us and let us know what your favorite beach is in the Bay Area in the comments below.

—Olivia Boler and Sabine Klensch

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