Kind: Major beach with a narrow dune margin.
Location: From the Cliff House to Fort Funston, along Great Highway for the width of the Sunset District (3 miles). Massive parking extends from Lincoln Way continuously to the Cliff House. Medium roadside parking area south of Sloat fills quickly on a weekend. In between, street parking is possible along 48th Ave with periodic pedestrian accesses over and under the highway. No parking along the Great Highway expressway.
Facilities: Upper Great Highway has a very well defined bike lane. No facilities exist along the beach, including restrooms, water, pay phones or tables of any kind. Restrooms do exist at some crossing points on the city side of Upper Great Highway but frequency and specific locations are not recorded. One is known to exist at Judah.
Fee/Hours/Regulations: No fee. Unrestricted access day and night. Dogs off leash area.
Dogs: Excellent. Vast off-leash areas. Water fun. Many other dogs.
Although the dirtiest and sometimes most crowded beach in San Francisco, it must be conceded that ocean beach is distinctive in good ways too. It has a massive expanse of incredibly flat insertion which makes it very shallow and good for wading (although this can also lull one into a false sense of security about these very dangerous waters and people continue to drown here time after time from rip tides). The shallow insertion also makes for large 'slick' areas which are great for reflection photography. Also, quite a bit of work has been done to restore dune grass along the eastern edge of the beach. This protects Great Highway and the community from sand drift, but also provides an interesting explorable maze and opportunities for relative privacy in the style of 'the wary gopher.' There are periodic storm drain housings which can be perceived as a positive or negative presence depending on your point of view. I experience these structures as a positive thing, for they are a montage of grafitti, cracked concrete, massive rusting iron bars and are generally interesting in a delapidative kind of way (living ruins). People occasionally make bonfires on the beach at night, and the freedom to do this is a distinctive feature of this beach. The beach is usually on the crowded side throughout its entire span. It is a 3 mile raceway for people, horses and patrol vehicles. It is closed for July 4th. It has black, oily seeming sand. It is great for sand sculptures, and interesting kites often are often in the air at the north end. The extreme north end is a point of interest, not because it is so close to Lands End, but because of the way the sea interacts with this termination into a rising embankment and cliff with breakwater boulders -- funneling and unusual, creating strange currents and fleeting waterways.
Best Features: Freedom -- fires and gatherings appear to be allowed at night. This beachline extends unbroken for 8 miles from the Cliff House to Mussel Rock. Extremely flat beach allows for large 'slick' areas -- nice aesthetic possibilities.
Worst Features: Dirty, black sand has a grotesque aspect and smells mildly of creosote. Not a beautiful beach. The shallowness of beach insertion masks dangerous waters. Often crowded. Visitors to this beach are commonly loud when in groups.