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August 1998

Kind: Hard rock cliffs with pocket beach.
Location: Take 25th Ave. 1 block past Lincoln to Scenic Av. (left) becomes Sea Cliff Avenue. Lot on the right between 27th & 30th.
Facilities: Water, showers, restrooms.
Fee/Open: No fee. Hours unrecorded.
Dogs: Good. Easy access. Small beach.

James Phelan Beach, nicknamed China Beach, exists in what is today the very upscale SeaCliff District where homes are presently going easily for $4 million. Historically however, this beach was once an area chosen by chinese immigrants to live along the outskirts of town while they scratched and clawed for opportunity amongst a none-to-subtle anti-immigration sentiment. This of course is the source of the nickname "China Beach." It is a small beach about 50 yards long which is completely contained by the dark rock of the cliffs here. It has an enthusiastic history as a nude beach. At one time it was considered 'the' nude beach of San Francisco, a title which it came to share with the north end of Baker Beach. The sandy part of the beach is backed by a rather large concrete railed terrace, the 'mezzanine,' which is elevated about 8' over the sand, and allows people to gaze out at the sea or down at whatever. This platform also supports a large restroom and shower structure which is unique for a San Francisco beach. Its presence points to the fact that this is the best beach for swimming in the city, a quality engendered by the cliff enclosure and the baffling of dangerous currents and waves by rock formations in the water. It is not a beach for exploring, rock climbing, solitude, or privacy. It is also short on vantage as the view outwards towards the open sea is tightly framed and includes nothing but ocean. In spite of its high priced neighborhood, the beach does not feel 'gentrified,' and visitors seem to come from all over. It receives a low rating here because of the lack of private space, particularly pretty natural features, or explorable potential.