Best Beaches to Play Hooky

In honor of the great weather we’re having this week, I’m reprising my piece on the best beaches for playing hooky. Here is how to call in sick. But hurry: the fog returns this weekend. Tip: When you want to find out if it’s foggy on the coast, before you go, check the fog-view satellite during daylight hours. (Click on the 1K visible satellite, and the 2K fog satellite.)

No car? Fear not. Take Muni to Baker or Ocean beach. Baker Beach is often warmer and always sexier—you can tan nude at the north end (pack a slingshot to ward off the slack-jawed boys spying from the cliff tops). Ocean Beach‘s saving graces are easy access and close proximity to the super-cool Camera Obscura and Louis’ Restaurant, the greasy-spoon diner with the million-dollar views.

Weekend traffic is horrendous in Stinson Beach, but not on a Thursday. Sprawling for three miles, Stinson is one of Northern California’s rare long, sandy strands. And it’s a primo spot for a beach party: not only are there freestanding fire grills, but alcohol is permitted on the beach (no glass). One caveat: Make sure your passengers aren’t the sort to get motion sick on tortuous Hwy 1.

If you can’t deal with bridge traffic or carsick friends, head south. Grey Whale Cove (aka Devil’s Slide) is California’s only state-sanctioned nude beach, and has sugary-soft white sand with stunning vistas. If bare breasts make you squeamish, continue two coves farther south to the locals’ favorite, Montara State Beach (aka McNee Ranch). Though it’s close to Hwy 1, the sand is long and wide, and at low tide, you can comb critter-packed tide pools.

Southern San Mateo County beaches have the most variety. Among the best: Gazos Creek State Beach is ideal for long walks down sandy strands—and it’s usually empty. If you long for New England-style beaches, those compact crescent-shaped rocky coves, head directly to Bean Hollow State Beach, the only dog-friendly beach this side of Half Moon Bay.
Gay boys and grlz have one (fabulous) choice: San Gregorio, the big daddy of Northern California gay beaches. Normally it’s sopped in by fog, but not this week. Head north of the state beach parking lot—way north—to the private lands where nudists have built driftwood shelters. (There’s an exclusive private parking area down a toll road on private property, but its location is the province of the gay underground. Ask your ‘mo friends, or park at the state beach and hoof it north.)

The best beach for off-leash dogs is Fort Funston, at SF’s southeastern edge. When you tire of playing fetch, you can watch hang gliders take their lives into their own hands. The best beaches for barbecues are in San Mateo. Read my tips on cooking over an open fire. It’s easier than you may think.

Beach days are rare. We live at the westernmost edge of Western civilization, at the very margin of land and sea, but we get so caught up in our day-to-day dramas that we forget to recognize what’s around us. The time is now. In the words of Horace: “Seize the day! lest the years imprison us.”

More beaches, hotels, restaurants, and hikes in San Francisco