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June 1, 2010 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Is there an ocean beach in San Francisco, or an hour or so away via public transportation, where it will be warm enough to lounge and swim the first week of July?

My husband and I are taking a short vacation in San Francisco at the beginning of July. I assumed that going to the beach would be a part of this vacation, only to discover that San Francisco is not really very...hot. Is there any hope for two landlocked Canadians? We're willing to travel an hour or so away via BART and/or bus.
posted by kitcat to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The ocean in that part of California is never warm. You're in the Japan current, the Pacific Ocean equivalent of the Gulf Stream. On the west coast of North America that current is coming south, carrying cold water with it down from Alaska and Siberia, and even in July and August the water will be very cold.

Surfers in August wear wet suits.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:34 PM on June 1, 2010

Not sure about public transport options but you could try Stitson Beach. There is public transport to Mt Tam and the hike from there to Stitson is about 15 miles (not sure if that's your thing).
posted by special-k at 3:35 PM on June 1, 2010

Generally, July is not the hottest month in the Bay Area. Even if the weather is warm, the water will be cold (it's flowing down from Alaska), so swimming will depend on your ability to make like a polar bear. Santa Cruz is about 2 hours south, it's in it's own bay and is generally a bit warmer than San Francisco but the water temp will be about the same. My last time at the beach was a 90+ day in Santa Cruz and the water was still cold enough to make your feet hurt.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:37 PM on June 1, 2010

You can go to...Ocean beach. It's in the city, and in early July the fog lifts after 11 AM or so.

You have a good chance of being okay. Later in the summer, the fog hangs low all day. Bring some layers. San Francisco is really weird that way.

If you go on a Sunday, I think Golden Gate park is closed to traffic. Depending on where your hotel is, you could rent bikes, ride through the park, and wind up at the beach. Or take the 48 Geary.

You'll have a blast. Take a sweater, and wear a light tank top beneath. It's not a southern California experience, it's different, but there's a lot to love.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:41 PM on June 1, 2010

The beachfront in Alameda isn't too bad. It can actually be warmer there but it's not going to be like Malibu, ever.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:43 PM on June 1, 2010

...And if you're planning on actually going into the water, please know that Ocean Beach has no lifeguards and treacherous currents. You can get knocked down and swept out even if you're only in up to your knees.

I think Stinson has lifeguards, at least on part of the beach, but the water will still be wicked cold. Northern California is not really good for the kind of lying-on-the-beach and swimming-in-the-water kind of vacation. If you go to Ocean Beach you can warm up afterwards at the Beach Chalet (they make their own beer) or the Cliff House.
posted by rtha at 3:49 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

The real answer is nope. Beaches in Ontario are warmer at that time of the year. There are lots of nice beaches. There may even be warm weather. There will be no warm water.
posted by GuyZero at 3:51 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Resign yourself to the possibility of chilly, foggy weather, which is common in July on the coast until you get about 200 miles south of San Francisco. Bring sweaters or you'll end up buying them at a markup like most of the tourists.

That said, if you are fortunate enough to get some warmth and sunshine, Baker Beach in San Francisco is beautiful (much nicer than Ocean Beach) and has a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and you could certainly sunbathe and splash around in the waves for a bit, though the water is chilly, and like Ocean Beach the waves can be dangerous. Also the north end is clothing-optional if you're into that sort of thing. Realistically it's the only nice beach within easy public transit range, and easy to incorporate into your sightseeing since you can walk there from the Golden Gate Bridge.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:52 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

N-Judah and L-Taraval Muni trains take you to either end of Ocean Beach. If you take N-Judah you can stop off on Stanyan St. go a few blocks north, and see the Haight. Either can be caught from that Market St. line of stations. BE SURE TO PAY, GETTING ON AT THE BEACH (if you go there and take these trains). Muni has lots of transit cops who like to catch non-fare-payers.

Take layers. In July it'll be cool, most likely (the East Bay warms up, the air rises, which creates a vacuum, sucking lots of cooler ocean air on shore. Or it could be hot. No way of knowing.
posted by Danf at 3:53 PM on June 1, 2010

If you're going to be here on a Sunday, you can take a bus to Rodeo Beach in Marin. It's an absolutely beautiful spot, though I don't think it will be any warmer there than in SF proper.

Others have mentioned Ocean Beach. I live about 20 minutes away from there via the N-Judah muni line so I go a lot. Again, it doesn't solve your temperature problem, but on sunny days Ocean Beach is definitely warm enough hang out in a bathing suit, and some people do swim there (those people are much tougher than me).

If you really want to get super hot, find a way to go to Santa Cruz or Capitola.
posted by thebergfather at 3:55 PM on June 1, 2010

GuyZero nailed it succinctly. The beaches here are beautiful. Sometimes the weather is beautiful and warm. The water is not warm, ever.

FWIW, the last time I attended a 4th of July BBQ at Ocean Beach, I was wearing a winter hat and a heavy coat....and I was still cold.
posted by gnutron at 4:01 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

IMO no beach on the Pacific is warm enough for swimming. My native Californian wife however, disagrees, and makes faces of disgust at the North Carolina water, which she calls "bathwater."
posted by reverend cuttle at 4:06 PM on June 1, 2010

My advice, take some extra time and go up to Sonoma county and spend time on the Russian River if it looks like it will be in the high 80's or 90's that week. Weather here in July can be fickle, you never know week to week what you're going to get but if it's sunny and nice (85F+), the weather in Sonoma should be warm enough to tolerate some swimming in the Russian River.

As noted above the ocean is going to be pretty cold, and while some of the beaches are great it's probably not going to be the experience you're thinking of. I'd try to find some rivers inland and away from the ocean to enjoy. Even when it's sunny out at this time of year it can get cold pretty quickly in the afternoon here if you're near the bay.
posted by iamabot at 4:20 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I live on the CA coast just below SF, and I often end up having to use my heater in July. Seriously. September is usually the best bet for warm weather. That being said, you could still end up getting a nice, sunny day with warm weather, just don't count on it. And as everyone else has already said, swimming will only be fun if you like really cold water.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:29 PM on June 1, 2010

There's a beach right next to the San Francisco Zoo that I thought looked pretty nice, and it's easy to get to on mass transit. (In fact, the preferred route is to take the train that goes through that tunnel under the hill, which you've seen in movies so many times e.g. in "Dirty Harry".)

I don't know what the beach is named, though, so maybe someone else has already brought it up. And if you go there and end up not liking the beach, you can go to the zoo instead.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:29 PM on June 1, 2010

That's just the southern part of Ocean Beach (near Sloat). Still cold. Still usually foggy.

I second the Russian River recommendation if you want to actually swim in water that won't freeze your butt off. Healdsburg or north, to avoid the annual Santa Rosa sewage spills.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:35 PM on June 1, 2010

Several of the beaches mentioned here are incredibly dangerous. Do NOT go swimming at baker beach or at the Russian river! Don't even go paddling. There is a small, sheltered cove in bodega bay is your best bet for that but be careful anywhere. Really your best bet for swimming is in the bay unless you are a really good swimmer (uses to surf that coast).

Due to upwelling the water is actually coldest in the summer, low 50s is the average.
posted by fshgrl at 4:39 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

To clarify, swimming in the Russian river is fine. Swimming in the ocean at the mouth is bad news.
posted by fshgrl at 4:41 PM on June 1, 2010

What the heck is wrong with the Russian River? It has good officially designated swimming holes and even the non-designated spots are fine.

It's true a couple people drown there every year, but it's a very popular place to hang out and people get BOMBED drunk and then go in the water even if they've never swum a stroke before. I am assuming this isn't you.

Ocean Beach IS often dangerous. Stinson, up north, has lifeguards, and Bolinas is in a relatively current-free cove (not always, though). Neither Stinson nor Bolinas are convenient to get to from San Francisco.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:45 PM on June 1, 2010

Ah... on lack of preview, I completely agree.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:50 PM on June 1, 2010

I'll put in another vote for Alameda. It's far enough from FS for the fog to burn off (maybe) and the water is shallow enough to warm up. It's not the Mediterranean by any stretch, but it's the best I've found in the Bay Area.
posted by lekvar at 4:52 PM on June 1, 2010

Though Santa Cruz or Capitola might be a bit warmer (in the high 70s if you're lucky), the water will be cold and the traffic will be bad. Public transportation from the San Francisco Bay to the Monterey Bay is not very practical.

When folks say the water is cold, they mean COLD. I grew up here and think nothing of wading in rivers of recently-melted snow or the Atlantic in December.
posted by annaramma at 4:55 PM on June 1, 2010

Santa Cruz here. This question got me interested enough to hop on my bike, ride down to the beach and jump in the water. I jumped out a minute later and came home. There are plenty of nice beaches between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, but the water tends to be a bit too cold for prolonged swimming. On the other hand, I hate being cold. Some people like it, but the water is not "beach resort" warm. But that does not preclude a blanket and a picnic lunch and a great time at the beach. Santa Cruz is a little over an hour from the city if you have your own car. Public transportation can be done with Caltrain and some buses, but that would take a lot longer than an hour. I would suggest going to any of the previously mentioned beaches closer to the city and planning on wading around, but maybe not swimming.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 5:23 PM on June 1, 2010

There is a small, sheltered cove in bodega bay is your best bet for that but be careful anywhere.

The waters off BB are cold and choppy over the summer. It's also prime shark season. You'd be better off staying close to the city. Also, there is no public transport whatsoever to BB.
posted by special-k at 5:26 PM on June 1, 2010

Apparently Mark Twain didn't really say "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco," but he should have. Despite being a native and life-long Bay Arean, I haven't been into the ocean deeper than my shins since I was 7. The water here is cold. There's a reason the surfers around here all wear wetsuits. Brr.
posted by Lexica at 5:43 PM on June 1, 2010

There's a lovely tiny beach at the Half Moon Bay Ritz Carlton. You don't have to be a guest, you can just go visit for the afternoon. We took our puppy there on Christmas Day and it was lovely.
posted by joshu at 6:15 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thirding or fourthing Alameda. I like Crown Beach. Warmer than any of the true ocean beaches like Stinson or Baker.
posted by zippy at 7:53 PM on June 1, 2010

IMO no beach on the Pacific is warm enough for swimming...
posted by reverend cuttle at 6:06 PM on June 1
THIS. I'm in San Diego and the water is always cold to me. Maybe there'll be a little while in August on a sunny day when you can surf or swim actively without a wetsuit for an hour or so, but it's never warm enough to just float around and hang out in it.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:08 PM on June 1, 2010

"Pacifica" was apparently an inside joke with Balboa. This flatlander (Michigan is my home) has explored the beaches of Cali from Morro Bay to Bodega Bay--but given the wide range of California that is only a subset. Counterintuitively, as folks have said upthread, summer is neither the warmest nor sunniest time on the San Francisco to San Simeon run.

That said--and again, others have said it--plenty of fun can be had on the beaches in & around SF in July. Just not swimming so much. Geary>>Point Lobos>>Seal Rocks/Cliff House to go see the giant camera obscura. That's at the north end of what I guess would be Ocean Beach.

If there's any way to rent a car, go up to Marin and seek out Muir Beach or head south for a day trip to Point Lobos (near Monterey) and then on to Pfeiffer State Beach (or Jade Cove or Partington Cove--hard to find but absolutely worth it).

Seriously, layers are your friend. It can be low 50s & foggy & then the fog lifts, the sun is bright & it's a beautiful, balmy 80. Every trip has revealed memories that are worth far more than the cost of a rental car & an extra day or two.
posted by beelzbubba at 8:54 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Russian River is great, except that the fastest public transit option (Golden Gate Transit route 72, which is an express version of the 80/101) only runs north for a few hours at the end of the day and is over 2 hours each way, while still only getting you as far as Santa Rosa. There's county transit to get you from SR to Healdsburg, but clearly the overall trip is a mis-match with the described limits.

If you're open to car rental instead, there are beaches in Sonoma and Marin counties that are routinely sunny and 70s (or warmer) in July. I can think of at least 3 on the coast, in addition to the many beaches along the Russian River. One of the coast ones, Dillon Beach, even has shallow sandbars that are lovely for ankle wading; though I wouldn't recommend going out much deeper. But none of these could you get to easily by public transit. Going north, 90 minutes by car is about as good as you get. Sounds like the Alameda option would be better.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:46 AM on June 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much, folks. You guys have clearly tried really hard to come up with something for us. But it sounds like we won't be swimming. I should have put this down earlier, but just got my head straight on it and figured out my Fahrenheit to Celsius conversions: in order to swim, I would want the water to be at least 65 degrees and the air to be around 80. It sounds like this scenario is unlikely. We may go to the beach for the scenery, but not for the swimming. It's still going to be an awesome vacation. Thanks again and hopefully we will return one day later in the year and use all this great info!
posted by kitcat at 6:25 AM on June 2, 2010

Let me whole-heartedly agree that you will have an awesome vacation and not be wanting for anything to do in San Francisco.
posted by GuyZero at 9:38 AM on June 2, 2010

The other option, if you're set on swimming, is a lake. The central part of California has a number of lakes where the air temperature will be downright hot in the summer, and the water will be warm. Not the ocean, at all, but you will be able to swim.

List of State parks
posted by gingerbeer at 11:21 AM on June 2, 2010

The water warms up at the southern end of Tomales Bay -- that's a pleasant place to swim, and it's close to Point Reyes National Seashore, which is spectacular.
posted by gum at 12:10 PM on June 2, 2010

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