Surrounded by water on three sides, San Francisco shares its western border with the mighty Pacific. The sandy shoreline buffering the city by the bay from the ocean surf is known as Ocean Beach. This 3.5-mile beach sits south of Baker Beach and runs between the Cliff House to the north and Sloat Boulevard to the south. Ocean Beach is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and offers visitors a raw juxtaposition to the adjacent urban setting.
On a clear day Ocean Beach provides expansive views north toward the Marin coastline and Mount Tamalpais and south to Pedro Point near Pacifica. The views and often sizeable surf create a sense of rugged openness that is hard to find elsewhere in the west coast’s most densely populated city. Autumn and winter days are often greeted with sunny skies and light winds, making Ocean Beach a pleasant place to walk, run, bring the dog, and hang out with family and friends. Spring and summer days are often foggy and cold here. Fortunately, beach fires are permitted on the north end in designated fire pits.
Biking and walking paths run parallel to the beach on the east side of the Great Highway and offer nice views and access to the entire stretch of sand. Golden Gate Park’s western edge ends at Ocean Beach and provides options for combining outdoor city excursions. Take note of the snowy plover habitat along the dunes in the middle and northern sections of the beach, as these beach-dependent birds are classified as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
From October through February Ocean Beach can turn into a world-class beach break when conditions align. Outgoing tides, offshore winds, groomed sandbars, and consistently large surf converge for A-frame perfection on occasion. Like many beach breaks, however, Ocean Beach can be fickle. Strong tidal currents influenced by the ebbing and flowing waters of the bay affect the condition of the waves, and a change of the tides can kill good conditions within minutes. “Scoring” Ocean Beach requires a constant and vigilant eye.
Novice surfers beware, the surfing here is not without its risks, and a few surfers have died here. This coastline's exposure to powerful winter swell means frequently large surf that is best left to the experienced. When conditions are big, the paddle out can be next to impossible, the impact zone and tidal currents life threatening, and the water brutally cold. There are gentler days, but Ocean Beach is not a recommended place for beginners learning to surf because of currents and quickly changing conditions.
Parking is available in two lots located at the northern and southern ends of the beach. The north lot is across the Great Highway from Golden Gate Park and Beach Chalet restaurant. The south lot is located where Sloat Boulevard terminates at Great Highway.