Ocean Beach is where San Francisco meets the Pacific Ocean, where urban energy meets wild natural forces. Depending on which part of this four mile stretch you choose to visit, your experience can vary widely from a secluded afternoon in the sand dunes to a crowded city vibe near the bonfire pits and volleyball games. The weather out here is equally variable, which adds to the mystique. Whether planning a family outing or some Ocean Beach photography, this comprehensive location guide will help you make the most of your time at San Francisco’s western edge.

Kid sprints down sand dune with brother laying on san behind him.

Ocean Beach Access Points and Directions

Beach Chalet & Kelly’s Cove 

The vibe: Generally referred to as the “north end,” this is Outer Richmond’s slice of oceanfront. This zone has a more urban feel, with a paved beachfront promenade, lots of (often very cool) graffiti, and a huge expanse of popular firepits and volleyball nets. 

At the northern end of the beach is Kelly’s Cove, which abuts the spectacular cliffs and rocky outcroppings of Lands End. I love Kelly’s Cove for family photo sessions. The rocky sandstone cliffs add incredible composition on sunny days, and texture and scale in the fog. 

Just to the south is a section of beach in front of the Beach Chalet restaurant, which is great if you are hoping to combine some beach time with some park time. Golden Gate Park is just across the street!

Address & GPS pins: 
Kelly’s Cove – 704 Great Hwy, San Francisco, CA 94121
Beach Chalet – 1000 Great Hwy, San Francisco, CA 94121

Directions: From the south, follow the Great Ocean Highway until just before climbing the hill to Land’s End. From the north, Point Lobos Avenue splits from Geary – just follow this down until you hit the beach. And from the east, Fulton and Balboa avenues terminate right at this end of Ocean Beach. 

Cost: Free!

Parking hours & availability: The north end parking lots are open 24/7 and there is always plenty of parking.

Access: A paved oceanfront promenade runs the entire length of the north end of Ocean Beach. Beach access via stairs.

Secluded Dunes at Judah

The vibe:  Right in the middle of the beach, this is where the heart of San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood meets Ocean Beach. The N-Judah streetcar will bring you straight to the Great Highway, and restaurants and shops are within a block of the beach. The beach itself has a wild feel, as you are right in the middle of a mile of steep sand dunes and sea oats. 

The Judah dunes at Ocean Beach are my go-to for local families looking for a beach sunset photoshoot. I am able to capture a snippet of the urban environment as we walk towards the beach, then we can lose the city roaming around the dunes or at the water’s edge. The Marin Headlands are a powerful backdrop to the north, and on a clear day, the Farallon Islands are visible to the west. 

*Local tip – there’s a quirky, homespun little garden dividing La Playa Street from the Lower Great Highway. Kids LOVE to explore this hidden-in-plain-view corner.

GPS pin: Judah St. and La Playa St.

Address: 1400 Great Hwy, San Francisco, CA 94122

Directions: Headed north or south, follow the Lower Great Highway until you reach Judah Street. Don’t use the Upper Great Highway as there’s no way to exit at Judah. From the east, follow Judah until you hit the beach.

Cost: Free

Parking hours & availability: Parking is limited to street parking, but you’ll find plenty on weekdays along the Lower Great Highway. Sunny weekends can be busy.

Access: Beach access requires a substantial walk over soft sand.

The Great Highway Park

The vibe: Starting during COVID, the Great Highway became a part-time pedestrian walkway. A hotly debated topic, the arrangement as of writing is road closure (pedestrian park opening) from noon on Friday through the weekend, and on holidays too. Expect vehicle traffic during the week. 

The Great Highway Park spans 2 miles of beachfront and is four lanes wide. All means of self-powered transit are welcome. Not only has the park become a favorite for walking and biking along the beach, but the Great Highway Park organization has begun scheduling community activities throughout the year. Check out their Instagram to stay in the loop!

I hosted a Popup Photo Studio at last year’s Great Hauntway event. Click here for the Great Hauntway gallery to check out the best costumes!

GPS pin: The middle of the Great Highway Park

Address: Pacheco Street & Lower Great Highway

Directions: Assuming you are visiting when the park is closed to vehicle traffic, just head towards the beach anywhere between Lincoln Street and Sloat Blvd. When you can’t drive any farther, you have arrived!

Cost: Free

Parking hours & availability: Parking is limited to street parking, but you’ll find plenty on weekdays along the Lower Great Highway. Sunny weekends can be busy.

Access: The easiest access is found at Lincoln, Judah, Taraval, and Sloat intersections with the Lower Great Highway. Here you will find gently-sloped, paved paths to the Great Highway Park.

Man squeezes baby to cheek in front of sunset and rocky beach.

I’m David Enloe, and I photograph Bay Area families that are super proud of where they live. My easygoing presence puts everyone at ease, and I focus on candid emotion and moments of connection. No posing, no stress.

Ocean Beach Stairwell Map

The north end of Ocean Beach has 28 stairwells that are often used as landmarks. Use this map to help!

Ocean Beach Photography

Before we dive into weather and seasons, I want to share a set of Ocean Beach photos to guide your expectations and inspire your creativity. Urban meets the raw Pacific, both sunshine and fog are embraced!

Ocean Beach Weather

Ocean Beach SF is open to the full force of the Pacific Ocean. Any season can bring just about any weather, so I will do everything I can to help you predict and prepare for it.

Weather forecasts

Searching the internet for “San Francisco weather” is not good enough. Downtown SF is often in full sun, while wet fog envelopes Ocean Beach. If you see “partly sunny” or “partly cloudy” or “partial” anything…well, prepare for everything! Oh and definitely avoid the beach when strong winds are mentioned in the forecast! A few characteristics of each season are included in the seasonal considerations section below, but here are my favorite forecasting tools.

National Weather Service point forecast
Current San Francisco fog map

For the modern user looking for a dynamic forecast map, Windy.com offers a really helpful interactive map. Toggle the “cloud” layer to help visualize the fog trends throughout the day. And remember, take it all with a grain of salt!

Windy.com San Francisco

Ocean Beach SF webcams

There are a number of excellent webcams available via the surf forecast website Surfline, but you either have to pay or start a free trial. 

If you search around for “Ocean Beach San Francisco webcam” there are a few intermittently available via local businesses and residents. At the time of this writing, you can watch 30 seconds for free right here.

Seasonal Considerations

Like I said, seasons in San Francisco carry no guarantees, but here are the general trends. 

Summer brings the notorious coastal fog that often envelops Ocean Beach. Afternoon winds are also likely. One thing to remember – the warmer it is inland (central valley), the foggier it is at Ocean Beach. News headlines of “heatwaves in California” rarely apply to the coast.

Fall is the busiest time at Ocean Beach, and with good reason. This is your best chance for sunny skies and light winds, crisp mornings and glowy sunsets. If you are a photographer or are scheduling a photoshoot, October and November are a good bet.

Winter is wildly variable at Ocean Beach. One day can be warm and sunny and windless, the next can put you right in the middle of a raging cold Pacific storm. In fact, the days before and after winter storms often present the most beautiful weather of the year. As a San Francisco family photographer, I love when clients have the flexibility to take advantage of these winter weather windows.

Spring brings vibrant flowers in the dunes and a lot of sunshine. However, winter storms often show up as late as April, and by May the westerly winds can become intense. During spring I suggest visiting during the morning hours (when the winds are lightest) and having a backup plan (maybe Golden Gate Park) in case the winds are too much.

Tips for a Memorable Experience

Here are some tips, written by a local, to help you have a safe and enjoyable day at Ocean Beach.

Dogs at Ocean Beach

From Kelly’s Cove to Stairwell 21 (northernmost end) off-leash play is permitted most of the year. 

South of Stairwell 21, all the way to Sloat Blvd leashes are required except from the 15th of May until the 1st of July. 

For more dog details, check out my guide to dog friendly beaches in San Francisco.

Woman walking four dogs off leash on beach in front of Marin Headlands.

Safety First

The primary dangers at Ocean Beach are found in the ocean. In many locations, gently sloping sands make for safe splashing around in the shallows. But at higher tides and on the north end especially, steep dropoffs to deep water create a dangerous setup at the water’s edge. Rip currents often lurk just beyond the shoreline. When in doubt, keep a safe distance, especially with kids and pets. 

If exploring the rocky outcroppings at Kelly’s Cove, or the foot of the sand bluffs south of Sloat Blvd, be cautious of incoming tides. It is possible to get stranded as the water level rises. 

*Surfing Ocean Beach San Francisco is really dangerous. Ocean Beach is a popular surf spot but is only for experienced and competent water people. If you have ANY doubt about your ability to handle the conditions, DO NOT paddle out! Try Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica for a more beginner-friendly option.

Dress for changing weather

It can truly go from T shirt to puffy weather in under 10 minutes. Bring layers, bring lots of them! Make sure you have a windproof outer layer to cut the breeze. The sand at Ocean Beach is super fine-grained and dark, so I wouldn’t wear anything that you care too much about. 

If you are joining me for an Ocean Beach photoshoot, I suggest choosing outfits that complement the coastal environment. Earthy tones, pastels, and light neutrals work well against the backdrop of sandy beach and ocean blue. I also love darker reds, especially for maternity photos in the dunes.

Flowy items can capture the energy of the wind and create dynamic, visually captivating shots.  And during the warmer months, I highly recommend sandals as we often spend a lot of time with our shoes off!

Extend the Adventure

Farmers market. If you’re visiting on a Sunday, head to the Outer Sunset Farmers Market, located near Ocean Beach. Browse through a variety of stalls offering fresh produce, artisanal products, food vendors, and live music. You can find the market at the intersection of 37th Ave. and Ortega St.

Golden Gate Park. This pairs really well with the Beach Chalet. If it is sunny, the park can offer much-needed shade after spending hours on the beach, and if the weather is cold and windy, it can offer shelter. And if you’ve had enough time outside, consider visiting one of Golden Gate Park’s museums – the California Academy of Sciences or the de Young Museum are nearby.

San Francisco Zoo. Home to a wide variety of animals from around the world. Spend a day exploring the exhibits, attending animal feedings and shows, and even riding the Little Puffer Miniature Steam Train.

Evening bonfire. If you are looking to end the day in style, get a permit from the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department for a bonfire near the Beach Chalet. Relax, roast marshmallows, and enjoy the sound of crashing waves.

Leave No Trace

Sustainable practices are at the heart of my business. The Enloe Creative is a proud member of 1% For the Planet, and is a certified California Green Business. Ocean Beach also happens to be my backyard, my gym, and my sanctuary. Please take care of it!

Remove your own trash, follow disposal guidelines for beach fires, pick up after your pet, and maybe even participate in one of Surfrider SF’s many cleanup events.

Restaurants near Ocean Beach SF

  • Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant (1000 Great Highway): Enjoy American cuisine and craft beers with an ocean view.
  • Java Beach Café (1396 La Playa Street): A cozy Ocean Beach cafe for coffee and light bites just off the Great Highway.
  • Andytown Coffee Roasters (800 Great Highway): Sip specialty coffee and savor delightful pastries near Ocean Beach.
  • Devil’s Teeth Baking Company (3876 Noriega Street): Indulge in mouthwatering pastries and famous breakfast sandwiches.
  • Hook Fish Co. (4542 Irving St): Sustainably sourced seafood with an Outer Sunset take on fast casual. Busy on sunny days and weekends – order online to avoid a wait!

Historical Perspective

The Ocean Beach coastal area was once inhabited by Ohlone and Coast Miwok tribes. As Europeans arrived, Ocean Beach underwent a transformation, leading to the construction of the Great Highway and the establishment of the Sutro Baths. With climate change and rising sea levels, coastal erosion is becoming a greater threat to the city’s infrastructure every year.

Among the historical highlights, the shipwrecks along Ocean Beach, including the King Philip, serve as poignant reminders of the area’s maritime past. Today, remnants of these shipwrecks can still be glimpsed during low tide near the section known as the “Murphy Windmill,” just south of the Beach Chalet.

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