By DENNIS WYATT
Is the 100-degree heat in the 209 getting to you?
Then head to the beach and cool off.
We’re not talking sandy spots at Woodward Reservoir, Modesto Reservoir or even Orange Blossom or Caswell State Park along the Stanislaus River.
You’re still baking at the reservoirs while the river parks do offer sandy spots in the shade but it’s still hot.
Instead pack up the necessities and head to the Pacific Ocean. But instead of taking the sun screen grab a sweatshirt or jacket.
The best place for a cool time at the beach in the summer is San Francisco.
There’s a reason why someone once wisecracked that the coldest winter they ever spent was summer in San Francisco.
When the average high is 95 degrees in the Northern San Joaquin Valley it’s 55 degrees along the beaches in San Francisco.
Once you get on the 120 bypass it’s 86 miles until you pull into the parking lot at Ocean Beach.
While Ocean Beach is the main attraction there are actually a series of beaches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the San Mateo County line that you can access that are overseen by the National Park Service. Together they come to a collective seven miles of beach.
The best way to Ocean Beach after you cross the Bay Bridge and get onto Highway 101 is to take Van Ness Avenue all the way out so you drop down to Ocean Beach passing the venerable Cliff House.
Ocean Beach is arguably the easiest beach to access in Northern California. Not only does it run for four miles along the Great Highway but there is endless parking.
It is popular with surfers due to its current and tides. That said this is not the beach for the casual swimmer or even to dip your toes in save for just exploratory excursions near the sand. That’s due to “upwelling” that shoots frigid water from below upward as the ocean current hits undergirds formation and pushes out to sea the warmer surface water. There can be treacherous rip tides. That said there’s still plenty of fun to be had in the sand or running across the wet, smooth sand as waves retreat.
The southern section of Ocean Beach near Sloat Boulevard is considered to be among the cleanest in California.
There are also 16 fire pits between stairways 15 and 20 that you can use to enjoy a cool evening watching the waves or lounging on the beach after dark. Fires need to be out by 9:30 p.m., and must be doused with water as sand will not snuff out all embers. Groups of 25 or more using fire pits must obtain permits from the park service.
Just south of Ocean Beach is Fort Funston Beach. It’s a steep and somewhat strenuous short hike back up from the beach but it is well worth it. This is considered one of the premier hang gliding spots in the country. Weekend visits will assure you of being able to catch hang gliders taking off from the cliffs and soaring out over the ocean.
There are paved loop trails above the cliffs. If you go far enough south, it is a great place just to kick back in the sand and take a nap.
My favorite beaches are between the Cliff House and the Golden Gate Bridge. Mile Rock Beach below the Sutro Baths ruins is 243 feet down to a narrow beach. The views are incredible. At low tides you can venture into rocky outcroppings.
Next as you head east toward the Golden Gate Bridge you will come along a series of smaller beaches such as Marshall Beach and China Beach. You must descend to the beaches and keep in mind high tides will cover segments of them and limit areas you can explore. This is not a place to go swimming.
Further up is Bakers Beach. It is a half mile long swath of beach with stunning views of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate along with its namesake bridge. It is an incredible setting for a picnic. Keep in mind the more northeastern part of the beach is clothing optional.
There’s an entirely different vibe at the Chrissy Field Beach east of the Golden Gate.
They are different — and equally impressive views — of the bridge and bays.
This a community beach that is bustling with activity along with plenty of people barbecuing and enjoying the grassy field and accompanying beach. Almost every weekend there is some type of event. This is where competitions such as marathons involving an Alcatraz swim are based. The best reason to drop by might just be the kite surfing. It is regarded as one of the best places in the planet to kite surf thanks to the thermals and how air and water movements are impacted by the shape of the bay as water flows through the Golden Gate.
I can’t write about visiting an outdoor spot in Northern California without mentioning if there is a great hike or two in the area.
There is a 5.5-mile hike you can take one way starting on the southern end of Ocean Beach and working your way toward the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza. It takes in or passes all of the previously mentioned beaches except Fort Funston. That’s endless ocean views and plenty of windswept trees and other vegetation. Round trip, expect to spend about five to seven hours. You could also add a 2.4-mile hike over and back the Golden Gate Bridge (there is no crossing charge for pedestrians) that would take an additional one to two hours depending upon your pace.
The best afterwards is the appetite you have worked up can be handled in a city with one of the greatest and most diverse dining options in the world.
For more information on the various beaches go to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area website.