A beach of one's own

At these Bay Area beaches, you'll have the ocean to yourself
Lisa Taggart

On summer weekends it seems we're all looking for the same escape: the beach. When you get to the surf only to find more crowds, parking hassles, and someone blasting '80s rock on a too-loud boom box, you realize this is no way to relax.

What you need is a beach of your own. Though these four Bay Area beaches require just a bit of hiking to get to (and, in Wildcat's case, perhaps more than a bit), the effort makes you appreciate the destination even more. What's more, it keeps away crowds.

Finding sandy solitude

Fort Funston, San Francisco. Though the viewing platform and hiking trails tend to fill up, if you climb down to the beach and head south, you can find untrammeled sand. Off Skyline Blvd. (State 35), just south of Lake Merced. Golden Gate National Recreation Area; (415) 239-2366.

Horseshoe Cove, San Mateo County. Also known as the Gulch or Cracks, this beach in between Pescadero and Pomponio State Beaches is an undiscovered gem. The unmaintained trail down to the sand is steep and a little eroded, but once down you will probably be the only one on the sand. Note: There isn't a parking lot―just a dirt pullout. Beware of the blind curve. Pullout is 3 1/2 miles south of the Pomponio State Beach main entrance off State 1; (650) 879-2170.

Shell Beach, Inverness. On Tomales Bay, this pocket beach is a rarity in the Bay Area for its perfectly swimmable water. A short (1/2-mile) trail leads in; the trail continues on to a second pocket beach. Though Shell Beach is popular with locals, it still doesn't get the same kinds of crowds that continue west to Point Reyes. End of Camino del Mar, off Sir Francis Drake Blvd. just north of Inverness. Tomales Bay State Park; (415) 669-1140.

Wildcat Beach, Marin County. The hike to this Point Reyes National Seashore beach is about 6 miles, which cuts down on the number of visitors. And it means you've really earned a relaxing beach afternoon when you get there. Trailheads at Palomarin, Five Brooks, and Bear Valley Visitor Center; walk-in campsites nearby. Point Reyes National Seashore; (415) 464-5100.

What you need is a beach of your own. Though these four Bay Area beaches require just a bit of hiking to get to (and, in Wildcat's case, perhaps more than a bit), the effort makes you appreciate the destination even more. What's more, it keeps away crowds.

Finding sandy solitude

Fort Funston, San Francisco. Though the viewing platform and hiking trails tend to fill up, if you climb down to the beach and head south, you can find untrammeled sand. Off Skyline Blvd. (State 35), just south of Lake Merced. Golden Gate National Recreation Area; (415) 239-2366.

Horseshoe Cove, San Mateo County. Also known as the Gulch or Cracks, this beach in between Pescadero and Pomponio State Beaches is an undiscovered gem. The unmaintained trail down to the sand is steep and a little eroded, but once down you will probably be the only one on the sand. Note: There isn't a parking lot―just a dirt pullout. Beware of the blind curve. Pullout is 3 1/2 miles south of the Pomponio State Beach main entrance off State 1; (650) 879-2170.

Shell Beach, Inverness. On Tomales Bay, this pocket beach is a rarity in the Bay Area for its perfectly swimmable water. A short (1/2-mile) trail leads in; the trail continues on to a second pocket beach. Though Shell Beach is popular with locals, it still doesn't get the same kinds of crowds that continue west to Point Reyes. End of Camino del Mar, off Sir Francis Drake Blvd. just north of Inverness. Tomales Bay State Park; (415) 669-1140.

Wildcat Beach, Marin County. The hike to this Point Reyes National Seashore beach is about 6 miles, which cuts down on the number of visitors. And it means you've really earned a relaxing beach afternoon when you get there. Trailheads at Palomarin, Five Brooks, and Bear Valley Visitor Center; walk-in campsites nearby. Point Reyes National Seashore; (415) 464-5100.