It is true that my love of the ocean runs just as deeply as its waters, but what is also true is that I am constantly torn between two shores: East and West coast. I certainly don’t think I could ever claim to choose a favorite, but I do appreciate the vast beauty and differences that the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic offer me. Experiencing the rocky coasts and cold waters of Maine this summer has inspired this article, as I reflect back upon the beaches that get me through the rest of my Bay Area Year. Since moving to Oakland, I have set out on many ocean-seeking expeditions, sometimes through the fog, and often in spite of the distance. This has helped me hone what I feel to be my three favorite Northern California beaches, as well as my three favorite Southern Maine sand and surf spots – they may be 3,000 miles apart, but they all hold a very dear place in my heart!
1. Rodeo Beach
This beach is about 3 miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge, which makes it a bit of a round-about adventures for us East Bayers – but certainly worth the trip! Rodeo Beach is beyond charming – it’s actually like a little slice of Maine, right there in California, especially if you make your way through the seaside town of Sausalito before or after. Sheltered by cliffs and surrounded by a nature preserved lagoon, it offers a safe and fairly accessible (also wheelchair accessible) location for some lounging, picnicking, and strolling by the sea. Although, I must warn that the beach is less sand and more pebbles, so be prepared to bring heartier sandals than I did my first time visiting! The upside-the amazing stones you can find (but not collect nor keep), including: jasper, carnelian, black agate, and jade – adding to the breathtaking nature of the often windswept scene.You can also enjoying hiking here or watching birds from and elevated vantage point by heading south along the Coastal Trail near Bird Island.
Fun Fact: On Sundays and holidays, MUNI actually provides bus service between San Francisco and Rodeo Beach.
Bathroom Situation: Restroom facilities at the main (northernmost) beach parking lot include outdoor showers.
2. China Beach
This is hands-down my favorite and go-to city beach any time I am in San Francisco, because despite the fact that it’s public, it is tucked away and feels private. Perhaps this is because it is located in the Sea Cliff neighborhood of just outside the Golden Gate nestled between Baker Beach & Land’s End. It offers an endless amount of spots to relax and take in the majestic view overlooking the Marin Headlands from above, as well as various beach spots and boulders to explore. I also really love how much of a boost of nature I get every time I visit – I have often spotted seals and dolphins swimming offshore, as families of crows and pelicans take flight above head. A true meditation reprieve from the chaos of city life.
Fun Fact: To sunbathe out of the wind, there is a small deck on top of the large lifeguard station.
Bathroom situation: Restrooms and cold water showers are open sunrise to sunset, and having had to use them more than once I’ll say their cleanliness can be, well, a crap shoot! It is also important to note they are at the bottom of the steep hill of stairs required to climb down to reach the beach at the bottom (there is a driveway I think can be used when needed as well – I mean, I would just do it and not ask permission if I needed to be dropped off as opposed to walking, but that’s me).
3. Seabright Beach
This long sandy beach between the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and Harbor, has been one of my long-time favorite escapes. It certainly offers a taste of what beach living is all about. Nestled in a quaint part of town, complete with rustic cottages that give off summer-all-year-long vibes, I especially love how you are set away from the matting crowds, yet still able to view them. There is also the tiniest, cutest baby lighthouse at the end of the point, which I have a strong affinity for (I suppose because it reminds me of Maine). In terms of accessibility, a sand wheelchair is available for use here or at nearby Twin Lakes State Beach.
Fun Fact: I love that Seabright had fire pits available – first come, first serve, which allow people to have bonfires and BBQs and general celebrations of merriment abounding with friends, to keep the fun going past the gorgeous sunset.
Bathroom Situation: Restrooms with outdoor showers on site (have yet to grace them with my presence so I can’t give an accurate review).
1. Ogunquit Beach
TripAdvisor has actually rated Ogunquit Beach as one of the Top 25 Beaches in the entire United States – go Maine! Firstly, credit should be given to Maine’s indigenous Abenaki people for naming Ogunquit, which translates as “beautiful place by the sea.” Ogunquit is a peninsula of sandy beach and grassy dunes that stretches for three and a half miles, and forming a natural barrier between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ogunquit River, where you can also stop swim, bodysurf, search for shells, and ride the tide on a tube.
The middle part of Ogunquit Beach is known as Footbridge Beach, which you can access via a footbridge that crosses the Ogunquit River. Also, it’s super gay! Imagine if San Francisco shrunk down to like a tiny fraction of its size then throw in quaint coastal scenery and lots of queers commingling with vacationing families.
Fun Fact: You can also take a stroll along the epic Marginal Way—a mile-long cliff walk that extends along the ocean from Perkins Cove to Shore Road near Ogunquit Beach, passing the Marginal Way Lighthouse en route (and this is what the Seabright lighthouse reminds me of, duh).
Bathroom Situation: Varied depending upon which part of the beach you’re sitting on, but public bathrooms are available.
2. Crescent beach state park, Cape Elizabeth
This gem of a beach, feels like a far-away escape, but is really just 20 minutes south-east of Portland, ME. Its name is due to its crescent-shape, which is backed with dunes and seems to be a favourite with young families, who appreciate the gentle surf, snack bar and shady picnic area. Because of its length, it’s also a popular spot to take a nice long beach stroll, or fly a kite.
Fun Fact: The views are certainly peaceful and telling of exactly where one is located – extending from lobster boats and bouys bobbing in the waters of Kettle Cove, to Richmond Island, which is a 200-acre private preserve just offshore.
Bathroom Situation: Restrooms are on site.
3. Goose Rocks Beach, Cape Porpoise
Located in Kennebunkport, this site to behold has nearly three miles of wide sandy beach. A barrier reef offshore is known as Goose Rocks, which helps protect the soft, white sands of the beach, is visible at low tide. This is a perfect spot for one to spread out their beach blankets and chairs (and I suppose umbrellas too if that’s your thing) for an epic day of sunbathing, swimming, and searching the shore for sand dollars – not to mention getting some high quality relaxation time in! There are no stairs or steep inclines so those with concerns about mobility can easily navigate the paths to the beach. Perhaps while parents are taking a moment to themselves, their children can run, fly kites, build sand castles, play Frisbee, soccer, bocci ball safely without cause for concern about other beach-goers.
Fun Fact/Bathroom Situation: Although there are actually no bathrooms on site (and majority of parking is permit only) when researching this facet of the beach, one online reviewer gave this helpful tip: “As other reviewers have mentioned there are no facilities or concessions on the beach, so plan accordingly. This year there are public bathrooms at the General Store on the Corner of Kings Highway and Dyke Road.” Yup, take your bottom to the general store if you can’t stand to urinate in the ocean, or need it for other reasons.
In the end, no matter what beach on either coast you chose, you are set for a day on the seashore you won’t soon forget! If you have a favorite East or West coast beach you think should be featured in the future, share in the comments below! Until then, you can catch me mermaiding off the coast of Maine!