From surfs to silky sands to sparkling blue waters, the Bay Area has a beach for everyone. But for those new to the area, choosing from the long list of destinations may be a daunting task. Here is a local’s selection of beaches worthy of a day trip from Stanford.
The following beaches are reviewed based on their cleanliness, beauty, location, amenities, sand quality, accessibility and admission costs.
Half Moon Bay State Beach
Just a 40-minute drive from Stanford, Half Moon Bay State Beach is a go-to for many Bay Area natives for its natural beauty. The 4-mile-long strip, comprised of several separate beaches, features a narrow stretch of sand to relax on before the stunning blue waves of the ocean.
Though the beach’s blue water and soft sand are pleasant, the highlight of the Half Moon Bay experience is the scenic drive and breathtaking flowers atop the coastal cliffs.
Starting at Stanford, the route guides you over the sparkling Upper Crystal Springs Reservoir and through tall trees and lush green mountains. Simply sitting in the car and listening to a gentle playlist while staring at the gorgeous flowers and distant waves was undoubtedly the best part of my visit to Half Moon Bay.
|Accessibility||7 (steep slopes in some areas)|
|Admission cost?||$10 (for parking)|
|Distance from Stanford||20 miles|
Pacifica State Beach
Popular for its surfing (and “the world’s most beautiful Taco Bell“), Pacifica State Beach offers a stark contrast to the quiet beauty of Half Moon Bay. Though I lack firsthand experience surfing, I can confidently say that the surfers swaying atop the waves looked like they were having a blast.
The beach is widely liked beyond the surfing crowd. Despite visiting on a cloudy weekday, the beach was packed with families playing frisbee or lounging in chairs, all accompanied by pop music playing from somebody’s portable speaker.
|Location||9 (many shops just across the street)|
|Distance from Stanford||30 miles|
Known for its proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge, Baker Beach is the one spot I knew I couldn’t skip in this review. The impeccable view of the historic bridge establishes its place as one of the Bay’s most iconic shorelines. Located at the northern tip of the city, it borders the famous Presidio, allowing easy access to scenic trails and museums full of California’s history.
The beach is a feast for the eyes in all directions. On its right is the iconic and larger-than-life Golden Gate Bridge, ahead lies the green Marin Headlands of the North Bay and, looking left, I was greeted with houses in all colors of the rainbow dotting the cliff side.
|Distance from Stanford||35 miles|
Montara State Beach
Montara State Beach’s magical charm lies in its glimmering blue-green waters and light, pristine sand. The smaller visitor population compared to other Bay Area beaches is a bonus. The peaceful ambience and mesmerizing scenery make this the perfect place to spend an afternoon.
If you want to hike, park near the northern end and watch your step as you head down the steep, narrow path leading to the quieter side of the beach. Otherwise, park on the southern side and either settle down in the more crowded areas, or trek 10 minutes northward to set up camp in the more serene setting.
Overall, Montara State Beach is unparalleled in its natural beauty, from the light spotless sand to the breathtaking coastal cliffs. I will definitely be back with my whole family, lounge chairs and a beach umbrella.
|Distance from Stanford||28 miles|
Santa Cruz Beach
When I visited Santa Cruz Beach on a Saturday afternoon, nearly every square foot of sand in front of the water was occupied by sun tents and umbrellas. The atmosphere was unrivaled: music blasted from speakers in all direction, mixing with the sounds of people laughing with their friends.
The historic boardwalk features a diverse selection of rides that can either pack a punch, like the thrilling Fireball, or entertain the whole family, like the relaxed Sea Swings.
Santa Cruz Beach is ideal for those looking to spend a day of unbridled fun. I recommend visiting on a weekday or early on a weekend so parking isn’t too difficult. Go on rides until you’re dizzy, then sit on the beach enjoying lunch from the vendors as you gaze out at the sparkling water. Finding a spot may be difficult, though!
|Distance from Stanford||45 miles|
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.