Put on your bathing suit, grab the sunscreen, sand toys and snacks because the Bay Area is awash with amazing places for beating the summer heat.

Nothing says summer like water – whether you are jumping in the ocean, diving into a lake, sliding in a water park or playing Marco Polo in a pool. So put on your bathing suit, grab the sunscreen, sand toys and snacks because the Bay Area is awash with amazing places for beating the summer heat.

 Marin

Located in Tomales Bay State Park, Heart’s Desire Beach has shallow, calm waters that make it an excellent spot for families with small children. Little ones can wade in the water and build sandcastles without having to worry about large waves. The water also tends to be warmer than at other beaches because of its location in a sheltered cove. 

It’s also a great place for picnicking and clamming while offering beautiful views of the bay. There are restrooms, barbecue grills, hiking trails and plenty of wildlife. Kayaking is a popular activity in this area and rentals are available through Blue Waters Kayaking (bluewaterskayaking.com/rentals). 

Inverness Park Market (12301 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Inverness) is a favorite spot for picking up picnic supplies with its farm-fresh delicatessen. Dogs are not allowed at the beach. 1100 Pierce Point Road, Inverness. parks.ca.gov/?page_id=470.

More Marin spots: 

Chicken Ranch Beach. Like Hearts Desire Beach, it’s in Tomales Bay and offers relatively calm, shallow and warm water which is great for families with small children. It can be difficult to find since the entrance from the road is unmarked. Dogs are allowed on leashes. 13000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Inverness. parks.marincounty.org/parkspreserves/parks/chicken-ranch-beach.

China Camp Beach. Not only does China Camp State Park offer tons of history about Chinese immigrants, but it also has a beach where visitors can swim, kayak, picnic, hike and enjoy scenic views of San Pablo Bay. From Highway 101, go east on North San Pedro Road for five miles until you enter the park. parks.ca.gov/?page_id=466.

Marinwood Aquatic Facility. Located in a scenic park next to a playground, it features a 25-yard length main pool with a double-flume waterslide, as well as a tot pool for children under 7. It opens in spring and closes in late fall. People can purchase a pool membership, punch pass or pay a daily drop-in fee. 775 Miller Creek Road, San Rafael. marinwood.org/pool/pool.

McNears Beach. In a sheltered cove on San Pablo Bay, this beach offers expansive views, a fishing pier, kayaking, trails, tennis courts, picnic grounds and a large pool and snack bar that are open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. 201 Cantera Way, San Rafael. marincountyparks.org/parkspreserves/parks/mcnears-beach.

Stinson Beach. People have been swimming, hiking, picnicking and fishing at this spot for centuries. On hot days, the parking lot often fills by noon. Lifeguards are on duty and the snack bar is open during summer months. Dogs are allowed on leashes in the parking lot, picnic area and adjacent county beach but not on the National Park Service beach. 3785 Shoreline Highway, Stinson Beach. nps.gov/goga/stbe.htm.

 San Francisco 

A short walk from Fisherman’s Wharf and next to Ghirardelli Square, Aquatic Park Cove within a historical maritime district park is a great spot to enjoy scenic views while kids splash around in the surf-free waters and serious swimmers do some laps. 

With its proximity to so many tourist spots, this is the perfect place to take out-of-town visitors for a picnic lunch on the beach or in the grassy park nearby. Even if you don’t want to swim, it’s a nice place to dip your feet in the water after a long day of walking. 

Picnic supplies can be purchased at grocery stores nearby on Bay Street or head to Fisherman’s Wharf for clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. 

Parking is limited in this area. Public transportation recommended. 499 Jefferson St., San Francisco. nps.gov/safr/planyourvisit/aquaticparkcove.htm.

More San Francisco spots: 

Crissy Field East Beach. With one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, this is a popular beach. It’s a great place to picnic, fly a kite, watch acrobatic kite surfers and splash around at the water’s edge. 1199 E. Beach. presidio.gov/places/east-beach.

Hamilton Recreation Center. This city-owned, large indoor heated pool has two waterslides and offers swimming lessons. It is available to rent for swim parties. Closed on holidays. Check website for daily swim hours. 1900 Geary Blvd. sfrecpark.org/facilities/facility/details/hamilton-pool-215.

North Beach Swimming Pool. A cool pool, at 77 degrees, and a warm pool, at 86 degrees, accommodate a variety of aquatic programs for all ages. Recreational swim days are available year-round except holidays. Bring exact change. 651 Lombard St. sfrecpark.org/facilities/facility/details/north-beach-pool-218.

Ocean Beach. When the weather is warm, head to the Pacific Ocean – but know the water will still be frigid and the surf can be dangerous. Point Lobos Avenue and Great Highway. parksconservancy.org/parks/ocean-beach.

Sava Pool. With its large south-facing windows, this 25-yard, eight-lane multipurpose pool has plenty of natural light and views of Stern Grove. Open year-round except holidays. 2699 19th Ave. sfrecpark.org/facilities/facility/details/sava-pool-220.

Peninsula

At this four-mile stretch of beach, Half Moon Bay State Beach is popular for surfing, fishing, swimming and sunbathing. There are also camping facilities and trails for biking, hiking and horseback riding. If you plan to camp, reservations are highly recommended. 

You should not swim if there are rough surf conditions. Check with a park staff about ocean conditions if you are not sure. There are no lifeguard stations at Half Moon Bay State Beach.

The visitor center at nearby Francis Beach, with coastal and cultural history exhibits, is open on weekends and is free. Downtown Half Moon Bay has grocery stores and restaurants if you need picnic supplies or a place to eat. Dogs, fires and drones are not allowed on the beach. 95 Kelly Ave., Half Moon Bay. parks.ca.gov/?page_id=531.

More Peninsula spots:

Joinville Swim Center. Swimming lessons, locker rooms with warm showers and lawn and deck areas are on tap at this city recreation center that features a large lap pool and a kiddie pool. 2111 Kehoe Ave., San Mateo. cityofsanmateo.org/3396/Joinville-Swim-Center.

Menlo Swim and Sport. The complex includes an Instructional Pool, Performance Pool and Play Pool with splashing water fountains and falls and shallow areas for wading. The center includes drop-in swim hours, locker rooms, swimming lessons and picnic areas. Burgess Pool: 501 Laurel St., Menlo Park. menloswim.com.

Pacifica State Beach. Better known as Linda Mar, this wide crescent beach is popular with surfers and dog walkers (on leash only). It provides restrooms and showers. State Highway 1 and San Pedro Avenue, Pacifica. parks.ca.gov/?page_id=524.

Parkside Aquatic Park. Bordering the Marina Lagoon in San Mateo, this park has a sandy beach with a roped-off swimming area, boat launch ramp, picnic area, playground and restrooms. No lifeguard is on duty. 1595 Seal St., San Mateo. cityofsanmateo.org/3340/Parkside-Aquatic-Park.

Pillar Point Harbor Beach. This beach is entirely protected from ocean waves by the harbor’s jetty walls, making it a good spot for dipping feet in the water, sandcastle building and bird watching. Dogs are allowed on leashes. 4000 Cabrillo Highway N., Half Moon Bay. californiabeaches.com/beach/pillar-point-harbor-beach.

East Bay

For a beach day, it’s hard to beat Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda. The sand stretches 2.5 miles along San Francisco Bay, with beautiful views of the city as a backdrop. In summer, the weather is often warm, the waves are gentle, and the surf is shallow enough for little waders. When the wind kicks up, the beach’s west end is a fun spot to watch kiteboarders’ acrobatics.

You can choose to enter the state park, jointly managed by the City of Alameda and the state, at the west end, which has changing rooms, picnic areas and a large parking lot ($5 when the kiosk is attended). That’s the site of the Doug Siden Visitor Center at Crab Cove, a small interpretive center and aquarium with exhibits and naturalist programs on San Francisco Bay ecology. It’s also the location for Alameda’s popular annual Sand Castle and Sculpture Contest, which is scheduled for June 10 at 9am.

But many beachgoers park along Shoreline Drive, which has a protected bike lane along the beach, or in nearby the neighborhood. Unlike the Bay Area’s many secluded shorelines, Crown Beach has a decidedly suburban vibe, with the large South Shore Center just across the street. You can pick up picnic supplies at one of the grocery stores or lunch from several fast casual eateries. An Italian ice or soft-serve custard from Rita’s is the perfect ending to a day spent at Crown Beach.

Eighth Street and Otis Drive, Alameda. ebparks.org/parks/crown_beach.

More East Bay spots:

Aqua Adventure Waterpark. Smaller than some other area waterparks, Aqua Adventure can be more manageable and affordable for families. There’s still plenty of water fun, with a four-story waterslide tower, a 200-yard lazy river, a 25-meter lap pool and separate water playgrounds for young children and toddlers. 40500 Paseo Padre Parkway, Fremont. goaquaadventure.com

Cull Canyon Regional Recreation Area. This chlorinated lagoon is popular with families because its shallow water is fun and safe for little ones. Find plenty of picnic tables, a white sandy beach, a bathhouse and lifeguards on duty. But plan to arrive early because capacity can be capped for the day. 18627 Cull Canyon Road, Castro Valley. ebparks.org/parks/cull_canyon.

Del Valle Regional Park. When the weather heats up, head to this nearly 4,400-acre park 10 miles south of Livermore, for its five-mile-long lake with swimming, windsurfing, fishing and boating, The two swimming beaches have lifeguards on duty. There are also  hiking, camping, horseback riding and naturalist programs available. Check the website to make sure the lake is open for swimming as it can be closed or have advisories posted due to algae levels. 7000 Del Valle Road, Livermore. ebparks.org/parks/del_valle.  

San Ramon Olympic Pool and Aquatic Park. The zero-depth entry play pool includes a water play structure with spray features, pouring buckets and a slide. There’s also a lap pool and an Olympic pool. Afternoon recreation swim time includes a popular seasonal Splash N’ Dash inflatable obstacle course for those who can pass a swim test. 9900 Broadmoor Drive, San Ramon. 

sanramon.ca.gov/our_city/departments_and_divisions/parks_community_services/aquatics.

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor. This large waterpark is the place to go for water thrills in the East Bay with rides and attractions from mild to wild, including a water playground, lazy river, wave pool, an area for younger kids and five waterslides for the daring, with a minimum height of 48 inches. 1950 Waterworld Parkway, Concord. sixflags.com/hurricaneharborconcord.

Silicon Valley and Coast 

Mention a trip to Santa Cruz and many think of Main Beach (bit.ly/3sahBqV) with its wide swath of sand and relatively sheltered surf, and the rides of the Beach Boardwalk only a few steps away.

But you also won’t want to miss Natural Bridges State Beach on the northern edge of town, which draws families for boogie boarding, splashing, swimming and sunbathing. The weather here can sometimes get a little blustery, but the beach makes good use of the wind by being large enough for flying kites. 

A short walk through the sand leads to public access tidepools. During low tide, you’ll get to ooh and aah at sea stars, shore crabs, sea anemones and other colorful ocean life. Be aware that there are no lifeguards. Tidepools can be slippery and rogue waves come out of nowhere, so keep a close eye on the kids. 

This state park also offers picnic tables, barbecue pits, water faucets, restroom facilities, a visitor center and park store with items celebrating marine life and the park’s monarch butterfly sanctuary. That’s a must-see while you are here. 2531 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz.

thatsmypark.org/parks-and-beaches/natural-bridges-state-beach.

More Silicon Valley and coastal spots:

Morgan Hill Aquatics Center. This city pool offers swim lessons, swim team and lap swimming. There are picnic areas, a party room, cabanas and an 18-hole mini golf course. 16200 Condit Road. morganhill.ca.gov/189/aquatics.

Monterey State Beach. A favorite for surfing, tidepool exploring, kayaking, beachcombing, kite flying and volleyball. This flat beach is also good for fishing and whale watching. Del Monte and Park avenues. parks.ca.gov/?page_id=576.

Raging Waters. Northern California’s largest water park offers 23 acres of thrilling slides, kiddie rides, wave pools, a lazy river and other family attractions for all ages. 2333 S. White Road, San Jose. rwsplash.com.

Vasona Lake County Park. While the lake is not open for swimming, visitors can get onto the water via paddle and row boats. Plus, young anglers can cast a line for black bass, crappie, catfish and bluegill. This 152-acre park and connecting parkway includes 45 acres of lawn which can be used for informal play such as frisbee tossing, softball or soccer. 333 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos. parks.sccgov.org/santa-clara-county-parks/vasona-lake-and-los-gatos-creek-county-parks.

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