China Beach is the best beach bargain in town: sun, sand, and million-dollar views without the million-dollar mortgage. The small public beach is located in San Francisco's exclusive Sea Cliff neighborhood, where the mansions of celebrity residents, including Robin Williams, Sharon Stone and Metallica's Kirk Hammett, hide behind high hedges, protective of their privacy. Home-owners here pay megabucks for the gorgeous panoramic views of the ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge. But you can have it all - well, the views at least - for free.
China Beach, a short stretch of sand that lies between Lands' End and Baker Beach, takes its name from Chinese commercial fisherman who plied these waters in San Francisco's early days, There's a small parking lot with less than 50 spaces, and the beach can be reached by a either a paved walkway or a long, steep flight of stairs that are often half-buried in sand. Athletically inclined visitors will find this sandy stair-master makes for a fantastic cardio workout. There's a concrete pavilion with cold-water showers for washing off the sand, restrooms facilities, picnic tables and grills, and a small sunbathing deck. The rocky cliffs of Lands' End provide some shelter from the wind blowing in from the ocean, which means less sand in your egg salad sandwiches. Swimming is not advisable as the tides are very strong here.
The small parking lot and restrictive on-street parking mean the beach never gets overcrowded. China Beach is located on 490 Seacliff Avenue at El Camino Del Mar; there are signs on the surrounding streets to guide you. SF Muni can get you there, on the 29-Sunset bus. The beach is open sunrise to sunset. Parking and admission are free.