Ocean Beach

Located on the ocean side of San Francisco is Ocean Beach. I laughed when I first heard the name. The only name less original might be Beach Beach or Sandy Beach. Regardless of what one calls it, this is a gorgeous white expanse of sand.  This is not a swimming beach.  There are no lifeguards and undertows are listed as a hazard.  You can, however, walk, wade, sit, surf (well, whether or not it’s recommended, folk do, at their own risk), sand surf, enjoy bonfires, watch sunsets, birdwatch, decompress in the glory that is the natural world without having to stray from an urban area.


I usually arrive via the Judah Line of the Muni.  I grab it at the Market and 4th underground and ride it to the end.  There is a café right at the end that is convenient if you’d like a grab a coffee and sandwich for a little picnic on the beach.  Then one crosses the Great Highway, another nifty name, and then there are only the sand dunes between you and the beach.

The plants you see are Ice Plants.  They have beautiful flowers that are mostly pink in this area, though you may also see them in white and yellow. Originally from South Africa, they were brought over to stabilize ground along railway tracks and roads, but they are so hardy and have spread so widely that they are now seen as an invasive species that is making life difficult for native plants.  They are pretty, though.



Drag across the image to scroll through the scene.

This is a spectacular place to watch the sun sink into the Pacific, even when the clouds move in, and sometimes, especially when the clouds move in.


Drag across the image to scroll through the scene.

The beach can get busy, especially on weekends, but it’s so big, you can find breathing room even when there are a lot of people around.


Drag across the image to scroll through the scene.

Dawn is a wonderful time to really enjoy the sound of the surf and birdwatch without much distraction, though fishermen and surfers will start appearing pretty early. One morning while arriving before sunrise, I came across a couple who thought they had the beach to themselves and, well, we were all pretty surprised.  Best to say no more.

The beach begins in shade, with the sky and any clouds first being touched by the rosy light of day.  As the sun continues its ascent at the other side of the city, you will see brightness begin on the water and the line will continually move towards you until the sun is high enough to chase away the shadows that have retreated to the foot of the dunes.


Here, you can see that demarkation line between night and day.


Different birds will be hanging around depending on the time of year you are hanging around. Here, a flocks of Marbled Godwits!


There are signs around letting folk know that this is a habitat for Snowy Plovers, so when I first saw this little critter and friends, I thought I was seeing Snowy Plovers.  So exciting!  Then I learned more about shore birds and discovered this is actually a much more common bird, a Sanderling. Sanderlings are nicknamed “wave chasers,” and if you watch them for a while, you’ll see why.

The top of the head of a Snowy Plover is flatter, the beak is a little shorter, and there are some coloration differences, depending on whether the bird is in breeding plumage or not, so if you are interested in plover vs sanderling, check it out before you visit. There are photos of the plovers on the posted signs, but sometimes it’s helpful to look at two side by sides to make things more clear, especially when just learning.


At the foot of the Cliff House and the Camera Obscura, where the ocean turns into the bay, are the Seal Rocks.



I’ve seen different things on these rocks, depending on when I’ve visited.  This trip were pelicans; other times, cormorants; sometimes, they are just lovely, lonely rocks; and, sometimes, I’ve actually seen seals that have managed to hoist themselves up on the rocks.


Early morning seems to be a good time for fishing here.


You’ll never know what to expect.  Here, a fellow is sand surfing. At least that’s what I call it. It may have a different official name.




Point Bonita Lighthouse can be seen across the mouth of the strait.


Click on the above image to enter the scene.

This begins at the foot of Judah Street, then jumps closer to Seal Rocks.

Leave a Reply