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Which Bay Area Beach Has the Best Sand? We Tested 4 Popular Beaches

The Bay Area has several fantastic beaches. But if you’re used to the pristine white sand of SoCal beaches—or Maui—you might be disappointed!

The Bay Area’s beaches are more rugged, rocky, and windswept than warm and tropical. And because they’re located in dramatically different geographies, their sand can vary tremendously.

Which Bay Area beach has the best sand for building castles, walking, or just mushing with your toes? Here’s our breakdown of the Bay Area beaches with the best sand.

How We Chose: We chose the best sand by driving to each of these beaches and taking close-up photos of the sand. Yes, people probably thought we were crazy! We also spent time walking on each beach, building sand castles, etc. And we polled a group of Bay Area residents for their thoughts, too.

Stinson Beach

Stinson is one of our favorite beaches in the Bay Area. It’s a big (3 mile) expanse of sand with a snack bar and restrooms, as well as a quaint little surfing town.

How’s the sand? Here’s an extreme closeup.

Stinson Beach sand

Because of Stinson’s location in the rocky and chilly North Bay, its sand is coarse and a little grainy. It’s definitely not the pebbly sand of the Point Reyes beaches to the North, but it’s also not nearly as fine as the tropical sand on beaches in Hawaii.

Basically, Stinson has great sand for lounging or pitching a tent. Because of its coarse grains, it’s also easier to clean off your clothes or swimsuit—so lounge away!

That said, it’s harder to build a sandcastle with the coarser sand of this North Bay beach. Surfing? Yes. Castles? Maybe.

Bean Hollow State Beach

Shell fragments, but a nicer color, at Bean Hollow

Bean Hollow State Beach is the cleanest beach in the Bay Area. It’s also quiet and a bit off the beaten path, in the coastal town of Pescadero.

As the beach shares a Pacific Ocean location with its neighbor to the North, Stinson Beach, it has similarly coarse sand.

One difference that we noticed, though, is the fact that Bean Hollow seems to have more shell fragments mixed into the sand. This gives it a bit of a speckled appearance. It does have a more conventional, yellower color, though.

You’ll find hardly any litter on this beach, though, and limited seaweed and other contaminants. It’s a great choice for a lovely beach walk!

Crissy Field

Many people think that the sand on this urban beach right in the Presidio must be artificial, but they’re wrong. 

Most of San Francisco was originally sand dunes.  Chrissy Field is just a rare part of the city that’s been allowed to remain sandy. Really, it’s the built up parts of San Francisco that are artifices!

That said, although the sand on Crissy Field is natural, this popular city beach gets a ton of traffic. That means more debris and litter mixed into the sand than you might find elsewhere.

You’ll also find plenty of traces of the scrub grass that once dominated these dunes. 

Crissy Field has nice sand but lots of scrub grass (see bottom right)

The sand itself is fairly fine grained, though, and lacks the pebbles you often find on the more exposed North Bay beaches. Great for kids who want to dip tiny toes!

The Best Sand in the Bay Area: Half Moon Bay

Stunning sand at HMB!

Half Moon Bay’s beaches have the best sand in the Bay Area.

Why? Half Moon Bay is the best of both worlds geographically. It’s got good exposure to the Pacific, but as the name implies, it’s a protected Bay.

That means luxurious (by NorCal standards) sand that’s fine-grained and a classic straw yellow color. You won’t find the pebbles of the more rugged North Bay beaches, or the shell fragments of the more exposed beaches further South.

It’s great for building castles, and tends to pick up and reflect back the sun (no, HMB isn’t always foggy). It’s also great for lounging and playing, although the less firm texture does make walking and running a bit harder.

Overall, though, when it comes to the best sand in the Bay Area, Half Moon Bay is our top pick! Check out Half Moon Bay State Beach.

Feedback from Locals

To make sure we were on the right track, we also reached out to an online group of Bay Area locals to get their thoughts on the best sand.

Not everyone was happy! One person responded, “Why would we tell you, and crowd up our favorite beaches?”

Half Moon Bay was a popular choice. One person wrote “There’s a stretch around half moon bay with poofy granules of sand which I love”

Ocean Beach was a popular choice. We may need to go there next. A resident wrote “Ocean beach. You can really feel it sandblast your calves when its windy. Mother nature’s exfoliation”

Locals also recommended places outside the Bay Area, like Big Sur, Carmel, and San Diego.

Overal, though, many locals felt Half Moon Bay had great sand, just like we did.


To sum it all up, here are some things to keep in mind when you’re choosing a Bay Area beach based on its sand:

  • Stinson Beach’s sand is great for lounging, since it has coarse grains and is easy to remove. It’s harder to use for castles and not as comfy on your feet, though.
  • Bean Hollow is clean and has lovely shell fragments, but it’s still a coarse grain (love the color, though)
  • Crissy Field’s sand is the “OG” San Francisco sand, but watch for scrub grass.
  • Half Moon Bay has the finest-grained sand and is lovely for a walk or for castles.

There you have it—the best sand, but also the best sand for your target activity. To each their own, we say! Now, head out there and dip a foot into it, Bay Area!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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